has had an interesting year. Debuting with some of the biggest numbers of the fall TV season, the show has been in a controlled descent since--never really in free fall, but almost dropping, dropping, dropping...until a timely tie-in with Thor: The Dark World created a two-week bounceback before the midseason finale resumed the decline. The series has also suffered criticism from fans (many of whom feel it's not Marvel Universe-y enough, since there have been almost no recognizable names or concepts introduced) and critics (who largely point out that almost all of Joss Whedon's shows have throwaway first seasons). The point is that this wasn't a show that focused on big moments--it's somewhat more understated than that, so it's a bit hard to single out great moments. In the case of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was more like a few great episodes or really strong subplots as opposed to one particular moment that blew you out of the water. There were a few, though, that deserve mentioning...
The Birth & Death of a Super-Villain In "The Woman in the Flower Dress", we're treated to the origin of a super-villain and the first bona fide roots of the Marvel cinematic universe planted into the show being revisited to keep the organic continuity in play. Unlike Mike Peterson from the pilot, our would-be Scorch has a much less sympathetic arc. Essentially, his push is from bitterness regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. having him stifle his gift for years. Rather than playing him up as "the caged bird", they play up the egotistical elements of his desire to be known. Still, it shows that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tactics can inadvertantly set folks down the wrong path, while purposely giving no real justification for keeping a man's powers caged. While it may have been over the top in some aspects and too subtle in others, it is important as it demonstrates the overall organization's apathy towards a few "broken eggs" contrasted against Coulson's battered conscience from the circumstances.
In "F.Z.Z.T.," we got to see Coulson consoling a doomed firefighter in the final moments of his life. Having picked up an energy-based Chitauri virus, there was no salvation for Tony Diaz--so Coulson stayed with him as long as he could, giving him a sense for the positive aspects of what's on "the other side" before leaving the man to die in explosive solitude. It was a great character moment for Coulson, and a moving, well-acted scene on both sides of the table...but more than that, it was the show being gutsy in a way that it hadn't yet. Up until now, every time we'd seen a death it was basically just a guidepost for the story. The day after "F.Z.Z.T." aired, we wrote that the scene with Coulson succeeded in "making the victim something more than just an object used to guide S.H.I.E.L.D. from place to place. That's the kind of thing you expect from shows like The X-Files or Bones, where reviewers use the word "smart," not from a persistent underachiever like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been so far this year."
Melinda May's prank In "Repairs," we learned that May was not always the crazed action junky we've come to know her as. At one point, she and Coulson were model agents, sure, but in their downtime she was a bit more like Fitz, Simmons and Skye--prone to pranks and fun to be around. The exact nature of what transformed May was exaggerated and bounced around throughout the episode, but it boiled down to a traumatic experience during a rescue mission from which she and Coulson were lucky to return. There was a subplot running through the episode of Fitz and Simmons trying (clumsily) to haze Skye, and it came back at the end of the episode in a surprising fashion: The post-credits sequence featured the group playing Scrabble; Fitz, who had been napping, comes in with his ace covered in shaving cream, accusing everyone of having pranked him. In the pilot's chair, May chuckles. May and Ward start their affair This one was great because, let's face it, these two are a far better couple on paper than Ward and Skye, even if by TV logic the latter pair were the show's "designated couple" since the pilot. Now, what will happen with this relationship remains to be seen. Certainly right now the show is trying to play with expectations a little by carrying it on (albeit in secret) while Fitz takes a run at Skye in one episode and Skye starts to get suspicious about Ward and May in another. Whatever they do with it, though, it was a genuinely surprising moment, and those have been pretty tough to come by so far on S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to be playing it safe on a lot of fronts.
Coulson's massage In "The Well," the never-ending riddle of Coulson's resurrection seemed to finally take some real steps toward resolution. The post-credits sequence showed us that Coulson is well aware something is fishy, and ever since then, he's been working harder to find out just what. Could his quest put him at odds with Big S.H.I.E.L.D.? Who knows--certainly it will be interesting to see what and how much Centipede reveals to him (or to the audience) when the show comes back in an episode that's being teased as chock full of answers.