Note: This article contains spoilers!
Disney (NYSE:DIS) must be feeling pretty good right now about its new comic book based TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
After all, less than two weeks ago, the Marvel-inspired drama officially secured a spot for its full first season on Disney's ABC network, thanks both to the fact it had not only just beaten CBS' (NYSE:CBS) hit drama NCIS with its third-week ratings for the key overall 18 to 49 year-old demographic, but also dominated in the ratings for all key men's demographics with each of its first three episodes.
And while NCIS did manage to take back the overall 18-49 ratings crown for CBS in its fourth week, ABC also stated as of last week the show "is improving ABC's Adult 18-49 delivery in the time period year over year by 175%." What's more, episode four of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. once again maintained the number one spot in all key men's demographics last Tuesday.
To be sure, those of you who've watched the show so far know why: In typical Marvel/Joss Whedon fashion, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is effectively building out multiple long-term storylines to keep viewers hooked.
Consider, for instance, the can of worms they opened two weeks ago by creating Graviton, the show's very first supervillain and a potential big-screen movie tie-in.
Or take Skye, the enemy hacker-turned-ally for whom it's anyone's guess whether she'll turn back to the dark side. Perhaps it's unsurprising then that she's presumably one of the subjects of tonight's episode, the previews for which relentlessly tease that "one of their own will be branded a traitor."
The biggest twist has yet to come
But perhaps the most significant uncertainty at which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has repeatedly hinted is one that resonates with millions upon million of people.
Namely, how in the world did they bring Agent Coulson back from the dead?
Remember, Coulson was brutally killed on the big screen by Thor's brother Loki in Marvel's The Avengers, and the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes it clear Coulson believes his death was faked in order to motivate the famed superhero team.
However, a mere 10 minutes into that episode, viewers got a glimpse of things to come when Coulson references his time "rehabilitating" in Tahiti. After Coulson leaves the room, a doctor muses, "Tahiti...he really doesn't know, does he?" Agent Hill replies, "He can never know."
Though that obviously made it clear there was more than meets the eye to Coulson's resurrection, the fourth episode revisits the dilemma when Akela Amadour -- one of his former proteges who's familiar with the "old" Coulson -- asks Agent May, "What happened to Agent Coulson? He's different."
When May naively replies to suggest he nearly died and has "loosened up a bit," Amadour insists, "But what did they do to him?"
Now I know I'm not the only one dying to know how this turns out, and I'd be willing to bet the show's writers will be happy to string everybody along until the last possible moment until they reveal what S.H.I.E.L.D. is hiding. But can you blame them? Coulson's story is, after all, arguably the heaviest tie-in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. boasts with its massively popular big-screen counterpart. Why not stretch it out for everything it's worth?
In the end, though, even when we put aside all the novelty that comes with the Marvel name, this sort of propensity for grabbing and holding viewers' attention is exactly why I'm convinced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is here to stay for the long haul.
So stay tuned, fellow fans, because I think things should only get more interesting from here.
Fool contributor Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.