Last month, I expressed my disappointment in Disney (NYSE:DIS)/ABC's Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.
In my previous article, I noted that the show had made three big mistakes -- it was built on dated 1990s cliches, it lacked a deeper connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there was a glaring lack of compelling story arcs or backstories.
Agents of SHIELD's midseason finale, which aired on Dec. 10, showed a continuing decline in ratings, although the story slightly improved.
The finale attracted 6.1 million viewers, giving it a 2.1 rating among the coveted 18-49 demographic, but it also represented the lowest point of the season and a steep drop from the 11.9 million viewers, or rating of 4.7, that it reported from its much-hyped premiere. By comparison, CBS' (NYSE:CBS) NCIS, which also airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, shattered Marvel's SHIELD with 19.3 million viewers and a rating of 2.9.
Although the ratings don't paint a pretty picture, the show ended the first half of the season on a high note, addressing some of the pressing issues I had previously discussed. Let's take a look at three things that Agents of SHIELD's midseason finale surprisingly got right.
1. Tying together loose ends
While I hoped that Joss Whedon would come back to write and direct this episode, Shalisha Francis and Holly Dale did a fine job respectively writing and directing the midseason finale. Interestingly enough, it was also the first time for both Francis and Dale to write and direct an episode of the show. Francis has been the show's co-producer ever since the second episode.
The finale simultaneously tied together several loose plot ends -- it brought back Mike Peterson, the Extremis-infected villain from the series premiere, as a super-powered ally. It brought back Raina, the "girl in the flower dress," who was last seen recruiting individuals into the Extremis/Centipede super soldier project. It also tied the self-destructing cybernetic eye, last seen in the fourth episode, back to the Centipede project.
Tying together these story elements demonstrates that Agents of SHIELD can succeed as a serialized show, rather than a procedural, "monster of the week" one. In this age of DVRs and streaming media, serializing a show offers much more room for character development and suspense. Going "monster of the week," by comparison, feels more like slamming on the brakes every two minutes while driving.
There are a few shows, such as CBS' Person of Interest and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)/NBC's The Blacklist, that are able to balance procedural stories with serialized ones, but so far Agents of SHIELD hasn't been able to pull that off.
2. Game-changing developments
Another problem with Agents of SHIELD was that it was always too safe and predictable. When Agent Simmons jumped out of the airplane to sacrifice herself, we knew she would be miraculously saved. When the plane crashed with a dimension-shifting killer on board, we knew that no one could possibly be killed.
At the end of the midseason finale, several things changed -- Peterson got blown up, Agent Coulson got kidnapped, Agent Ward got shot, and Skye realized that no one would help her solve the mystery of her parents. These developments could change the group dynamic going forward and set a fresh start for the series when it returns in January.
Although I doubt that Peterson or Ward are really dead, Joss Whedon's shows have abruptly killed off main characters before, such as Buffy's mom in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Agent Paul Ballard in Dollhouse.
In my opinion, killing off Agent Ward and replacing him with Mike Peterson could be a great way to significantly improve the story in the second half of the season.
Promises for more answers and more Marvel-ous stories
In a recent interview at Comic Book Resources, executive producer Jeffrey Bell stated that future episodes of Agents of SHIELD will delve more deeply into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He also noted that there would be more momentum in the future, hinting at a reduction of the procedural elements, which have hindered the show's development.
Although I don't believe that any of the characters from the films will appear for more than brief cameos due to budget constraints, there is still plenty of room to draw older comic book heroes into the show.
In another previous article, I mentioned that Ghost Rider, which was recently reacquired by Disney, could be brought back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the show. A reader also noted that the Hulk, who had already been modeled through CGI for the films, could be introduced to the series as well.
Making the show more "Marvel-ous" would definitely be a promising start, since the show resembles Fox's X-Files or Fringe more than The Avengers.
Agents of SHIELD's midseason finale has a promising setup -- we might finally figure out if Coulson is actually a cloned or bionic version of his former self. There will also inevitably be a big battle between the super-powered Centipede soldiers and SHIELD -- which begs the question, will the team need more superhero muscle to take them down? And last but not least, what about Graviton, the supervillain that Coulson accidentally created in the third episode?
A final thought
In closing, Agent of SHIELD's midseason finale solved several problems with the show, but it still has to get a lot of things right to win back viewers, since a lot of hype from The Avengers has already faded.
The tone of the show doesn't necessarily have to be darker -- Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was inferior to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002) due to this belief -- but it needs to be more cohesive, compelling, and more like a show that actually takes place in the same universe as the films.
What do you think, dear readers? Did Agents of SHIELD's midseason finale prove that this show still has a fighting chance, or is it still doomed to fade away before the second season? Let me know in the comments section below!
Fool contributor Leo Sun owns shares of Walt Disney. 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.