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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Finally Got These 3 Things Right

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Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) /ABC's Marvel's Agents of SHIELD seems to have finally stabilized with its 13th episode, "T.R.A.C.K.S.," in terms of both its overall ratings and plot structure.

The episode attracted 6.54 million live viewers, scoring a 2.1 rating among viewers ages 18 to 49. That's still a big drop from the 11.9 million viewers who watched its premiere, but a steady improvement from the 6.37 million viewers who tuned into the 12th episode two weeks ago.

As expected, the show was still overshadowed by CBS' (NYSE: CBS  ) NCIS, which pulled in 19.3 million viewers with a whopping 3.0 rating.

(Source: ABC)

The good news, however, is that "T.R.A.C.K.S." appeared to have finally put the show back on the right track. (To quote Agent Coulson, "See what I did there?") Better writing, tighter direction, and a more "Marvel-ous" plot finally came together in one of the strongest episodes of the season.

Let's take a look at three things that SHIELD's lucky 13th episode finally did right, and what it could mean for the future of the show.

1. Funnier 'Whedonesque' writing

For fans of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) /NBC's Chuck, the setup of "T.R.A.C.K.S." might seem extremely familiar. Both "T.R.A.C.K.S." and Chuck's Season 3 episode, "Chuck vs. The Honeymooners," take place on trains, on which espionage-fueled chaos ensues. And both were written by regular Chuck writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc. Both writers had only previously written one episode of SHIELD (Episode 7, "The Hub"). In my opinion, their snappy writing style works very well for the series.

As a result, the characters' banter is much funnier than before, and more on par with Joss Whedon's actual writing.

Agent Simmons dramatically acting out a fake backstory with Coulson's neglected daughter, Agent Fitz, imitating a stereotypical American's culinary tastes ("Some place affordable with big portions"), and Agents Coulson and Ward struggling to operate the holo-desk without Fitz and Simmons were definitely the highlights of the episode.

2. A better continuation of previous plotlines

Meanwhile, the writers continued to tie together some more loose plotlines into a unified plot.

We finally got to see the villainous Quinn get taken down, Mike Peterson reborn as Deathlok, and a few more hints about the Clairvoyant. Even the relationship between Agents Ward and May (which initially felt like a shark-jumping moment) was evolved more naturally.

There were also hints that Graviton, which some viewers had assumed that the writers had forgotten about, will soon return as a major super-powered villain.

Deathlok revealed. (Source: Author's screenshot)

More importantly, the show appears to be evolving from a procedural, "monster of the week" format to a more serialized one -- which bodes well for future character development. There are now at least four main questions -- Agent Coulson's revival, Deathlok's future, Skye's fate, and the identity of the Clairvoyant -- which should keep more viewers tuned in.

3. A hint at more Marvel-ous things to come

One of my previous complaints about this show was that it had drifted too far from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Basically, many of the early episodes felt like by-the-numbers imitations of Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX  ) X-Files and Fringe.

Fortunately, the show seems to be getting back on track. Stan Lee's cameo, for example, bears as much weight as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) in the earlier episodes. For many Marvel fans, Lee's appearance is a huge stamp of approval for the show.

Meanwhile, SHIELD fans are probably well aware of two other big shots joining the show later -- Bill Paxton as Agent John Garrett and Jaimie Alexander reprising her role as Lady Sif (from the two Thor films).

Lady Sif will guest star in an upcoming episode of SHIELD. (Source: Marvel)

For those viewers who aren't familiar with the comics, Agent Garrett, like Deathlok, is eventually turned into a cyborg to save his life. Lady Sif's upcoming storyline will deal with Lorelei (played by Elena Satine), an Asgardian villainess who has unrequited feelings for Thor.

Although the show still notably lacks the huge Hollywood cameos from the main cast of The Avengers, it's still shaping up to be a solid comic book show with more robust connections to the Marvel universe.

What does SHIELD mean for Disney?

Meanwhile, ABC's parent company Disney just reported its first quarter earnings, and the results are impressive -- its revenue rose 8.6% year-over-year to $12.31 billion as its net income climbed 33% to $1.84 billion. Both its top and bottom line growth topped Wall Street estimates.

However, Disney's broadcasting (mainly ABC's) revenue, which accounts for 29% of its Media Networks' revenue, declined 2% year-over-year to $1.53 billion. Meanwhile, operating income at the segment, plunged 32% to $178 million, only accounting for 12% of the Media Networks segment's bottom line.

Disney blamed the declines at ABC on higher contractual rates for Modern Family, and an unfavorable comparison to higher revenue from Revenge and Army Wives in the prior year quarter. The slumping network notably finished 2013 in fourth place in overall ratings among 18-49 year olds, behind CBS, Fox, and NBC, in that order.

Agents of SHIELD is one of ABC's rare shows that appeals to both male and female viewers. The majority of the network's primetime lineup consists of female-focused shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Revenge, Pretty Little Liars, and Once Upon a Time.

Agent Carter will make her debut on ABC. (Source: Marvel)

If Agents of SHIELD can at least stabilize its ratings, ABC's next Marvel TV project, Agent Carter, could eventually help ABC catch up to the three leading networks.

The bottom line

In conclusion, I'm encouraged by ABC's efforts to sharpen SHIELD's writing and overall direction. It's far from perfect, but it's definitely a vast improvement over the confused episodes that came before.

What do you think, dear readers? Have the more recent episodes of SHIELD won you over, or are you still disappointed with the direction of the show?

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Read/Post Comments (20) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 1:56 PM, JRobertHanson wrote:

    I'm kind of surprised there was no mention of Castle in the ABC assessment portion of the Article.

    As for SHIELD, this was a very good episode that should carry through for weeks to come.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 4:44 PM, richV13 wrote:

    Why the weekly shilling for this dud of a TV show? It had enormous potential but has failed to deliver. As an invetment focused entity surley you understand that one must eventually cut their losses. Don't be "FOOLED" by a slightly promising episode this show is a dog.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 5:12 PM, IloveLinux wrote:

    Why not bring in some minor characters? Dr. Strange while not a minor one is really cool. Black Panther, Iron Fist are great. Why not use some of the major heroes? Iron Man or Thor or Cap. America. The Vision would be killer. Goodness you have the X-Men. Bring in one. Sad that a great ideal show with such potential is flat and largely boring.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 5:21 PM, ToddRan100 wrote:

    I like this show a lot and watch it with my kids as "event television" each week. We DVR it and watch at a later time.

    But I am surprised the writer here takes one episode and construes trends and projections from it. Really? One episode? Do the Fools endorse a stock based on one day's trading performance? No flippin' way!!!!

    This is about as scientific and logical as that creationist guy's 6,000 yr old planet debate with Bill Nye.

    Mr. Sun, I know you are dealing with a slippery medium like television but please try to be more logical in your approach.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 6:22 PM, alphariusomegon wrote:

    The Fool got fooled again! Joss had always planned for AoS to be this way, even before the show started. He had even stated back then that the show might seem slow at first until mid season, when he's ramp it up to eleven. Which is exactly what happened in Episode 13.

    Perhaps the Fool should stick to critiquing stocks instead of TV shows, because the Fool missed wildly on this one, as to be expected for someone with little experience in the Field of Entertainment.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 6:50 PM, hisradness wrote:

    "T.R.A.C.K.S" was the first truly good AoS. Still TiVo it, and zip through it, but that show proved that maybe they might do something with a show that has so much potential.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 10:02 PM, anth1225 wrote:

    I'm glad Motley Fool is following this show otherwise it would be left drifting in the wind, forgotten.

    I like the show and I like where they're going. Patience seems to be a thing of the past now. Maybe you guys could learn a little with taking the long road as Motley does with stocks.

    I LOVED Chuck and the fact that this was the best SHIELD should speak volumes to where they should get their talent in forming this series.with writers.

    As far as Skye I find that I have a love/hate relationship. I find her intriguing and annoying. Brilliant yet arrogantly stupid. Part of me wants them to take that step and just dump her now that she's been shot and yet another part of me wants to see what powers she'll have as an alien. Maybe she'll be Ms Marvel?

    Loved Mae's character this episode, she's becoming very compelling.

    Judging from Skye's handler discussion with Mae; Fitz is gonna get a beat down!

    Colson Rules!

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 10:04 PM, anth1225 wrote:

    I would also like to add Mae's character speaks volumes without uttering a word.

    This lady is the bomb!

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 10:38 PM, trueLuminus wrote:

    Why do you bring up hints, but don't elaborate on what the heck you're talking about? What hint to Graviton? What hints to the clairvoyant? You didn't even mention the Blonsky situation that we were told about in the episode. Your article is incomplete.

    As for Skye, she is Jessica Drew (a.k.a., Spider-Woman) and the Clairvoyant is rumored to be the Leader from the last Hulk movie (the scientist guy with the growing head at the end).

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 1:20 AM, NinjinSteve wrote:

    My biggest problem with SHIELD is that it looks sooo cheap. I don't even really care about cameos and characters from the other movies. Improve the writing and give the show a bigger budget. Get better directors and DPs. X-files looked 100 times better than this and that was nearly 2 decades ago. SHIELD looks like some cheesy 90s Sci-Fi channel show. Every episode is CLEARLY shot in Southern California. How many times are they going to shoot in Griffith Park or some lame looking porn mansion in the valley?

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 8:06 AM, bigalnc wrote:

    I wonder how this fits in to ratings?

    We're both long time NCIS fans, so we watch it "live", recording SHIELD. Then, we watch Shield from the DVR, and return to "live" to watch "Person of Interest".

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 8:58 AM, CRMeister wrote:

    Chuck was the best show! I miss it a lot. Maybe Shield can get Zachary, Adam and Yvonne to make guest appearances on Shield - that would be awesome! Or make them regulars - even better : )!!

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 11:54 AM, trebzak wrote:

    The problem for me is that because of the earlier episodes I already hate all the characters except Phil. I tried watching episode 13, and I just couldn't get into it.

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 12:04 PM, yash75 wrote:

    S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to watch a few episodes of "Arrow" and the last few seasons of "Smallville" on how to build a universe for these characters. Take notes.

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 8:30 PM, clfrazer wrote:

    Definitely encouraged with AoS.

    IMHO, they need to develop some of the fringe super heroes & super villians from the comics, peppered with an occasional cameo by more major Marvel universe characters. Budget & continuity with the movies will be a challenge on that last one but I hope they can tie it all together.

    If they keep it focused on Coulsen's team tracking down obscure artifacts & 'made up' monsters or villians/heroes (i.e.-Scorch anyone? LMFAO), then this show won't last. Reinventing Deathlok is fine since I think he has something like 3 different origin stories in the comics.

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2014, at 9:38 PM, darthmoore wrote:

    The trouble with the show to me is no one cares about the characters they havr on the show. There are no major superheros whom the comic book community really wants to see. Agent Coulson is cool, but he and the others really cant carry the show on there own. W e want to see some cool superheros whom we know not Sif show yhe black panther iron fist luke cage anyone, they just mention them they ought to really go full tilt boggie

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 8:51 AM, bunker49 wrote:

    You cant have cameos from the Avengers when they are suppose to think Coulson is dead remember.

    Also remember this shows tag line "Not all heroes are super" the show isnt suppose to be about super heroes its about the normal people that work at shield.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 11:40 AM, rngftw wrote:

    Personally, I could have done without the flashback of ward coming in the train, then after the commercial break we see ward on the train again. There was no "NightNight" grenade to show why that was done, at least to my recollection. It was disjointing and I didn't like it.

    However, sans the "NightNight" grenade plot device. It was a decent episode. AoS lead me back to ABC after more than 20 years because of the way they scattered Moonlighting (like I said more than twenty years, before the web, before DVR's when all we had was TV and VCRs) all over the broadcasting schedule.

    I picked up Once upon Time and Once Wonderland, but I looked at the other offerings and don't care for them.

    I am enjoying AoS, but very many more like this disjointed mess and I might just tune out again.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 12:46 PM, Kensie wrote:

    I agree the episode was much better and like most everyone I'd like to see some superhero cameos. I do like the characters on the show and they seem to be coming together in their development. If they can keep the direction and the writing tight plus a little more action & Shield high- tech gadgets, I think the show could really take off

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2014, at 10:57 PM, TjFanx wrote:

    I know alot of people want bigger name superheroes on the show. But they can't appear on the T.V. show due to legalities.

    It has nothing to do with writers & producers really. But if the character has been in a movie, it's hard to get the studio rights to them. The producing companies that make the movies, don't want any T.V. show continuity to screw up their future plans.

    Arrow gets away with it, because D.C simply doesn't that many franchises ted up in films. And you'll notice most of Arrows villain roster are lesser known villains that have never been in a movie.

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