“The Bridge” is the first season’s hastily-constructed bridge from the pilot episode to the end of the season. It gives the illusion that the season has been building to a confrontation with Project Centipede when it has really meandered with single episode story arcs and false trails. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) returns for the first time since the pilot and gives the team what it has been sorely lacking, which is a superhero. Coulson and his team have encountered super-human abilities and even tangled with an Asgardian, but the point of SHIELD as an organization is to protect mankind and provide superheroes like Captain America with what they need to save the world. Without a central figure to rally around, the team lacks a strong direction, even if they have an interesting villain like Centipede. Like Coulson said in The Avengers, people need a little old fashioned heroics, and Agents of SHIELD might need a caped superhero or two at its center to keep it focused.
There are plenty of moments in “The Bridge” that should have carried more emotional weight. Mike’s son’s kidnapping, Skye’s anger at May, the explosive finale on the bridge, Ward getting shot down; these moments should make “The Bridge” a satisfying cliffhanger that leaves the audience begging for the next episode. Unfortunately, the writers take too many shortcuts and the emotional reaction doesn’t feel deserved. Skye and May’s animosity should have had more time to build up and come to a head. Mike should have been brought in to the team several episodes ago so he could work with them and develop some connections with Skye, Ward, and the gang. Otherwise, the only reason why the audience should feel anything when Mike’s son is kidnapped is because kidnapping kids is wrong. A cute child actor is put into danger but the reaction doesn’t come out of concern for the character, rather a basic knowledge of right and wrong.
As for the tease about Coulson’s death on the helicopter, enough is enough. Viewers deserve answers and the writers have put themselves in an impossible situation. No matter what happened to Coulson, it cannot live up to expectations now. They lost their shot at a bombshell and all they can hope for now is a few small firecrackers. When Agents of SHIELD comes back from hiatus, the show needs to finally reveal what happened to Coulson and move on, hopefully learning from their biggest first season mistake.