If an episode of Agents of SHIELD airs, and it’s decent but unmemorable, do you still review it?
Let’s bitch it out…
Have you ever watched an episode and felt very uncertain about how you feel? ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is that kind of episode – it checks all of the boxes and even advances the narrative, and yet it feels…oddly perfunctory and mildly unmemorable. The episode is split into two storylines that each take equal precedent: the search for the truth about T.A.H.I.T.I. and the search for Ward (Brett Dalton). Unfortunately neither of them really pop.
The mystery behind the alien writing has felt stale since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. treated Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) resurrection like the equivalent of a narrative whipping horse, returning to it over and over again. Unfortunately it was never as compelling a story as the writers seemed to think, and while its return as a compulsive disease this season has proven more interesting, if I’m being honest, the Obelisk and Ward are far more interesting.
I’ll admit that part of my disinterest in the alien code is the fact that we’ve never been given a rationale for investing in it. Coulson is being driven slowly insane by it, but it’s clear that SHIELD isn’t going to kill him so there’s no danger that the truth won’t be uncovered before he expires. We also have no ties to the other SHIELD agents who were “cured” and had their memories erased, so their execution by Sebastian Derrick (Brian Van Holt), an “assassin from the dark side of SHIELD” (lol), doesn’t exactly carry a lot of tension. Only the bit in which Coulson submits himself to torture via the memory machine in order to discover the truth has any real flair, even though we already know who the villain is since we saw Derrick kill a woman in the opening scene.
Still at least this brings to a close this particular (unsatisfying) storyline. Even if it feels abrupt to suddenly have the incessant craving satisfied by the revelation that the “map” is actually a three-dimensional representation of a city, it allows SHIELD to move into a new chapter and finally leave the writing behind.
On the flip side is the Ward chase, which keeps May (Ming-Na Wen), Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki), Tripp (BJ Britt) and Hunter (Nick Blood) occupied. None of them are really given much to do – this is more about deciphering Ward’s agenda and seeing him acting in a solo capacity in the outside world. Not surprisingly he turns out to be very adept at spotting and avoiding capture. If the fact that he still has moves doesn’t qualify as a shocker to any fans of the series, his delivery of Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) – served up on a platter – is at least a bit of fun in an otherwise dark (and surprisingly gruesome) episode.
Next up: a date with Ward’s brother.
- Ward’s end of episode telephone chat with Skye (Chloe Bennet) has all of the hallmarks of a stalker boyfriend, complete with ominous threats disguised as affectionate promises of “see you soon.” Dalton continues to excel as the morally compromised murderer. Although he’s clearly not out to hurt the team, let’s hope he’s never fully salvaged either.
- Speaking of hope: I’ll admit that when I saw that genre vet Joel Gretsch (The 4400) was playing a character named Hank Thompkins (aka Agent Klein), I got excited. Unfortunately it amounts to little more than a cameo role, so here’s hoping that Agents of SHIELD plans to bring him back in a larger capacity later on. Otherwise…what a waste.
- I like how Coulson delivers his big speech to a group of SHIELD agents, of whom only the front row (aka the main cast) are visible. Pity those extras in the back!
- Did it seem strange that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) was kept completely in the dark about Coulson’s writing and its connection to GH-325. I’d completely forgotten that not everyone knew until the extended bit that served to make Simmons look like an idiot as Skye and Coulson exchange knowing looks. Why bother to keep her in the dark?
- Finally, the conversation between Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Mac (Henry Simmons) about brain hardware never being fully erased is clearly little more than foundation for Fitz’s eventual recovery. Still, Mac’s continued support for Fitz, including first person shooting games to strengthen Fitz’s hand/eye coordination, is kinda sweet.
Your turn: do you have any ideas of what the city is question is or is it obvious to the Marvel fans? Are you happy that the writing storyline is done? Do you hope Thompkins returns in some capacity later? Are you excited for Ward on the loose? Sound off below.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on ABC. Next week sees the return of Raina, Whitehall and the Obelisk. Here’s a preview: