Agents of SHIELD has struggled in its first season to find its voice as a stand-alone TV show and its identity within the larger Marvel universe. One possible reason is that the show hasn’t developed a formula. “Seeds” does not change this, but while it does not develop a formula unique to Agents of SHIELD, it does borrow an episodic formula familiar to fans of The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fitz and Simmons return to SHIELD Academy after an accident involving technology that they developed while studying at the academy. A student has built a device capable of freezing water in the air, which could be weaponized to freeze enemies to death or create massive weather storms. Donnie, a highly intelligent and socially awkward freshman, is under suspicion for being behind the accident, but when he is later attacked during a lecture, Fitz turns his efforts to befriending him. Meanwhile, Coulson and May head down to Mexico City to find answers about Skye’s past.
The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are shows that introduced monsters or aliens of the week for self-contained stories, but they also developed characters and plot lines that carried through entire seasons. “Seeds” borrows that formula for the episode, introducing a new character with super powers, and one can’t help wondering why Agents of SHIELD doesn’t use this formula every week. So far, there have been very few characters introduced on Agents of SHIELD that have super powers besides Mike Peterson, and he has only been in two episodes. If the show continued in this format with new super humans every week, it would easily win back the audience members fed up with the mystery of Coulson.
Besides the shake-up in format, “Seeds” feels like a radically different show, closer to “Pilot” than “The Magical Place”. Coulson’s flying car Lola is back in action. Fitz and Simmons get some more back-story from their school days. In a moment of panic, May tells Coulson about her relationship with Ward. The Boiler Room at SHIELD Academy has a bartender who built robots to carry drinks down the bar. All of these elements belong in a Marvel TV show. Of course, there are some missteps as well. When Coulson tells Skye about her past, the audio fades out and music plays over Skye’s tears. Later, Coulson tells May what Skye said in their conversation. I don’t know if this was a director’s decision or if Monica Owusu-Breen and Jed Whedon didn’t trust Chloe Bennet to carry the scene, but it was a letdown in an otherwise good episode.
On a last side note, the Boiler Room bar looks an awful lot like The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Are underage dance clubs still a thing, or is this a construct of TV teen dramas?