In an early scene of “The Magical Place”, Fitz yells out to Simmons, his better half/Wonder Twin, “It’s time, Simmons. Embrace the change.” It is a strange bit of dialogue that feels more like a message to the audience of Agents of SHIELD than a line meant to move the plot along. For a show that is still in its first season, Agents of SHIELD has been oddly stagnant. There are only two episodes left in the show’s initial 13-episode order, and the mystery of what happened to Agent Coulson has still not been solved. Fitz is signaling to the audience that change is coming and to brace themselves for revelations, but the question is whether those revelations are too little and too late.
“The Magical Place” is a perfect example of the show’s potential and its infuriating problems. All of the sequences with Coulson’s team working together feature brisk pacing and the reappearance of Saffron Burrows as SHIELD bureaucrat Victoria Hand is a welcome sight. Even Ward gets a laugh taking unorthodox measures while interrogating a prisoner. Coulson’s team hasn’t worked this well together since “FZZT”, another episode where a main character is in mortal peril.
As the cast is starting to click and find their groove, however, the problems with the show are outweighing everything that is working. Watching a TV show should not feel like a chore, especially one with super-humans, comic book villains, and Clark Gregg, and the fault lies in the writing. Every week, Agents of SHIELD teases that something is wrong with Coulson’s death. He obviously didn’t go to Tahiti. “The Magical Place” gives some answers, but as predicted with “The Bridge”, the answers are disappointing. The writers have all of the Marvel universe to drawn from, and yet the big reveal is not specific to this world. Dr. Streitan vaguely refers to surgeries and substances, and robots poke at Coulson’s brain. Is that it?
ABC and Marvel have an arsenal of characters, worlds, and concepts at their fingertips. Most shows use their first season to build their world and its rules with the hope that they also create some memorable characters along the way. The writers on Agents of SHIELD have a huge advantage. People already know and love the world of Marvel and SHIELD. To be a success, the show needed to create a team of new characters within this world and spend the first season perfecting the ensemble’s chemistry. With two episodes left in their initial 13-episode pickup, the cast’s chemistry is much improved but hardly magical, and unless the writers move past Coulson’s death in a hurry, there won’t be enough to draw loyal viewers back for a second season.
One last note: Rob Huebel’s appearance in this episode as Lloyd Rathman is odd, and not in a good way. He is a hilarious comedic actor, but there isn’t much for him to work with. It doesn’t make sense to cast someone so funny and not give his character more humor.