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Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'Back to Its Old Tricks'

The comics veteran writes that the top episode was followed with "Providence," which he found "intolerably corrupting to the series' entertainment value."

Agents of Shield Providence Episodic - H 2014
ABC/Justin Lubin
"Agents of SHIELD"

Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, recaps Agents of SHIELD for THR’s Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.

There’s bitter irony unfolding when Agents of SHIELD’s top episode — last week’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” — apparently turned in the lowest ratings since the series debut last fall. It was obviously the producers’ strategy — and certainly that of Marvel and Disney — that the box-office success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier would bump up SHIELD’s narcoleptic numbers.

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So ABC showcased Plan B: Replay last week’s episode, give the faltering audience another chance to catch up, then drop this week’s offering in the following time slot. A SHIELD doubleheader!

Good plan. No cigar!

Unfortunately, the promise forecast by last week’s adventure — head and shoulders the best of the lot — was nothing more than that. While the lighting, cinematography and editing were more fluid than that of most others, and the dialogue generally smarter and tighter, with “Providence” the show dropped back to being not driven by the mission, but honed to set up future situations — a rehash policy I find intolerably corrupting to the series’ entertainment value.

What the hell is wrong with telling a solid, entertaining, complete story with ongoing characters that grow exponentially during each offering, such as Law & Order or Dexter or The X-Files? Instead of maintaining the dramatic plateau it captured in the previous couple of weeks, Agents of SHIELD was back to its old tricks last night.

Certainly there was an attempt to un-wimp Coulson (more attitude, less stiff upper lip, minor cursing), but his previous miscall of trusting in May’s allegiance to the group and recent breakdown rant in the frosty Canadian environment only served to weaken his character. “I’m sorry,” he sputters to his underlings, voice cracking with overstated emotion. Yeah, I’m sorry, too.

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The most irritating moment, however, unfolded when the carefully established and shocking dead-Fury premise was blown by Patton Oswalt (as agent Eric Koenig), who dropped the news in a throwaway line that it simply ain’t so, Serpico. Of course, we know Fury didn’t bite the bullet, but to blow off the possibility of an explosive, onscreen return is unforgivably cavalier and wasteful.

And SHIELD’s ratings can’t afford that kind of waste.