This week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes a bit of a stumble after two strong episodes coming out of its mid-season break. “Parting Shot” tries to serve as a pseudo-backdoor pilot for spin-off, Marvel’s Most Wanted, but falls flat in its execution. Most Wanted’s concept relies on AoS positioning certain characters in a way that their exit from the show, and subsequent entrance into a completely new show, makes sense. Unfortunately, success in this regard is mixed. While the writers are able to provide an explanatory lead-in to Marvel’s Most Wanted, this explanation feels forced and muddled. "Parting Shot" is able to partially redeem itself with how it concludes its story-line, but it's not enough to completely make up for the convoluted taste left in our mouths.
To put it simply, this week's episode is very sloppy and confusing. The plot is fairly self-contained, and uses the season-long 'search for Inhumans' arc as a vehicle to tell a much smaller story. Paramount to the audience's understanding of this story; however, are two key one-off characters, whom are introduced so quickly that it's hard to follow what makes them so important, how this importance plays a role in the events that follow, and what these characters even look like. The narrative is split between the present and flashbacks; which doesn't significantly hinder our comprehension of events, but leaves me wondering if the climax would have been more impactful if the episode were told in a linear fashion.
I think it’s fair to say that the pressure of setting up Marvel’s Most Wanted hurt this episode in some unforeseen ways. Greenlit back in January, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off shot its pilot around the same time as “Parting Shot” was filmed. From a logistical standpoint, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s show runners didn’t have the luxury to implement a logical farewell arc that could have extended into the latter parts of the season. Instead, these changes to the cast needed to be made quickly; resulting in the forced story-line this episode is faced with.
In terms of action, we are treated to a battle between our heroes and an Inhuman with a unique, though disappointingly vague power. An explanation is provided, but it's a bit out there in terms of realism, even for my tastes. The visual effects and camerawork are stunning for a network show; though, and the series' well-crafted action sequences continue to be its greatest strength. Something that might be of interest only to me is AoS's continued ‘Worf-ing’ of Mack. Make that two out of the last three episodes in which the latest Inhuman provides an initial demonstration of their powers on poor, little Alphonso Mackenzie.
When the dust settles from the fighting, the rest of the episode plays out in a way that feels all too contrived. Most shows are typically written in a goal-oriented sense. Showrunners will start with where they want their season to go, and then craft a series of narratives that will eventually get them there. The opposite, while certainly more organic in nature, is less likely to result in the high-concept, more ratings-favorable episodes that producers typically prefer to build from. Ideally, you'd like to see stories logically flow from the characters and the consequences of their actions. In the case of "Parting Shot," the writers are so desperate to get certain characters from point A to point B that the decisions these characters, and those around them make seem unrealistic and inconsistent.
And yet, despite the house of cards plot and head-scratching climax, "Parting Shot" somewhat manages to save face with its heartwarming final scene. For a show that has more than its fair share of character development problems, I'm impressed that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to generate such a strong emotional response towards characters outside of the season one core. Maybe I underestimated my steadily growing attachment to these characters that AoS has slowly grinded out of me through one and a half seasons. Or, maybe I'm just a touchy-feely sap with an eternal soft spot for a misty eyed Jemma Simmons. Maybe it's both. (It's probably both).
Regardless, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to capture sentiment in a way that not all shows are capable of. And, in the end, maybe that’s all that matters. As much as we tune in to S.H.I.E.L.D. for the MCU tie-ins and super-powered fight scenes, it’s our investment in the characters, and fascination with where they’ll end up, that keeps us coming back, week after week- something that ABC is surely hoping to take advantage of when Marvel’s Most Wanted debuts in the near future.
Written by A Play On Nerds Contributor, Garrett Yoshitomi. You can find his tweets @garrettweets