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Marvel's TV universe expands

BY ISAAC HAMLET | DECEMBER 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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Not many people can bounce back from a spear through the heart. But in the two and a half years since his death in "The Avengers" at the hands of the Loki, agent Phil Coulson has managed to make out pretty well.

Since his resurrection, he has assembled a specialized group of individuals and taken the title director of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the agency's collapse in the largely lackluster first season of the show.

Tuesday marked the season two winter finale of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the last episode to be aired until March 2015, allowing Marvel to air the new World War II era series "Agent Carter" in January 2015. The second season of "S.H.I.E.L.D." will come to an end as "Age of Ultron" takes to the screen May 1, 2015.

While the first half of the previous season was largely flat and episodic, leaving people waiting impatiently for the release of the second "Captain America" to tell the story they clearly wanted, the new season has so far had quality pacing. Each episode interlocks with its predecessor, creating a sleek, connected story the first season struggled to grasp.

The new season begins with S.H.I.E.L.D. struggling to stay afloat in a world in which it has become demonized in the eyes of the public. The show has so far taken full advantage of the temperature it has set and alternates the global threats nicely with interpersonal problems. The winter finale spends one moment following the burglary of the keys to a device that threatens humanity and the next showing a main character's twisted reunion with her demented father, who has serviced himself to his wife's butcher in hopes of being able to see his daughter again.

This is the strength of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." this season; while it never abandons the moments of humor and levity token in Marvel media, the show never lets you feel comfortable. (Though this also seems to be its stumbling block at times). The first season revealed one of the titular agents as a traitor working for the criminal organization Hydra. That a team member — no matter how trustworthy — could turn on his own is something the show rarely lets you forget.

But the most impressive thing is that the season simultaneously distances itself from it feature-length film counterparts and ties in more heavily with them. Since its inception, the show has grown enough confidence to resist the urge to needlessly reference the movies with which it shares its universe. While it's not difficult to find allusions to Tony Stark or Nick Fury, they are rarely as garish as they were previously. Perhaps because of this new confidence, the actions of the characters feel more affecting in the world they inhabit.

Only a few months ago, Marvel announced the films it has slated through 2019, notably Captain America 3: Civil War and Inhumans. In the comics on which the Marvel shows and films are based, Civil War reveals a policy requiring all superheroes to be registered with the government that divides the heroes of the Marvel universe. The current Marvel universe has too few heroes populating it to tell this story effectively, but the winter finale of "S.H.I.E.L.D." all but confirmed that it will introduce the Inhumans, a group of people descended from humans who have been genetically altered by aliens. (Sort of like X-Men films, minus the conflicting copyright issues that prevent the Marvel Cinematic Universe from including them.) Their inclusion here offers the future Captain America film a group that might be forced to register as well as a ready set of character for 2018's Inhumans to focus on.

Whatever avenues the show offers for its universe at large, it delivers a more cohesive and engaging experience than it had previously. By the time we begin reaching Marvel's Infinity War films, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." may be as vital a viewing experience as any of the Iron Man or Captain America films, and if it continues on its current path, it might end up just as satisfying.


Marvel Films and Series on the Horizon

Films:
Avengers: Age of Ultron, May 1, 2015
Ant-Man, July 17, 2015
Captain America: Civil War, May 6, 2016
Dr. Strange, Nov. 4, 2016
Guardians of the Galaxy 2, May 5, 2017
Thor: Ragnarok, July 28, 2017
Black Panther, Nov. 3, 2017
Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1, May 4, 2018
Captain Marvel, July 6, 2018
Inhumans, Nov. 2, 2018
Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2, May 3, 2019

TV Shows: 
"Agent Carter" (ABC), January 2015
"Daredevil" (Netflix), May 2015
"Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage" (Netflix), TBA


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