Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen
Returns Tuesday, September 29th at 9pm (ET) on ABC
Premise: Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a team of human agents, led by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson, works together to counter alien and superhuman threats to humanity.
Where We Are: Season three starts this fall; 44 episodes have already aired.
What You Need To Know: (spoilers for the entire series) While the series began with a government-backed team of all human agents, over the past two seasons there have been some significant shakeups. A sleeper cell within S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, went active, fracturing the organization and emerging to further their evil agenda. This put the team on the run and cut them off from much of their support structure. Hydra has since theoretically been dispatched, but they will likely be back soon to cause trouble for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent Skye, whose mysterious background was a thread throughout the first two seasons, discovered she is part of a genetically modified race of humans, The Inhumans, who have latent superpowers that can be triggered by exposure to a gas, the Terrigen Mist, which is deadly to humans. Skye is able to manipulate vibrations to, among other things, cause earthquakes (the character she’s adapted from in the Marvel comics is called Quake). She also found out her birth name: Daisy Johnson. There’s been quite a bit of conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Inhumans, but much of that is resolved in the season two finale.
Where We Left Off: (detailed spoilers for the season two finale) Season two ended with a massive battle between S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Inhumans, led by Skye’s mother and fellow Inhuman Jiaying. Seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. as a threat, Jiaying declared war on the team, planning to release Terrigen Mist through the ventilation system aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft carrier, killing all humans aboard and triggering the latent abilities of any unknowing Inhumans among the crew. Skye and the rest of the team managed to thwart Jiaying’s plan with the only significant casualty among the main cast being Coulson’s loss of one of his arms. In the climax of the finale, Jiaying turns against Skye and tries to kill her, forcing Skye’s father, Calvin Zabo, to kill her to save their daughter.
Elsewhere, Agent Bobbi Morse was kidnapped by Grant Ward and Kara Palamas and tortured, but Agent Lance Hunter brings a team to rescue her—though she ends up taking a bullet for him instead—and Ward accidentally kills Palamas. This pushes him to swear revenge against S.H.I.E.L.D. and take over the remnants of Hydra. At the end of the finale, Skye goes to head up a team of Inhumans working with S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Melinda May actually takes some vacation time, and the rest of the team is recovering nicely from the fight. The season ends with scientist Agent Jemma Simmons being sucked into a seemingly inactive alien artifact she’s examining while fish that have been accidentally exposed to Terrigen Mist are shown being processed into fish oil tablets sold world-wide.
Why You Should Start Watching: If the above descriptions read like campy, plot-twisty fun, that’s because over the past two seasons, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has embraced its pulp elements, moving away from the procedural, supernatural case-of-the-week format that bogged down season one. The series has grown increasingly confident, leveling up its characters to make the S.H.I.E.L.D. team feel far more relevant in a world filled with superheroes, even if they rarely stop by for a visit. Skye’s discovery of her powers and family drama centered much of season two and gave it a surprising amount of heart while Adrianne Palicki blasted onto the scene as Agent Bobbi Morse, giving the series an instant injection of power and fun. The changes made to the series throughout seasons one and two have almost all been for the better: putting the team on the run, keeping Ward as a villain rather than trying to integrate him back onto the team, and the showrunners’ willingness to kill off interesting and likable characters when necessary to propel the story. The show has grown tremendously over the past two years, sneakily becoming one of the main four networks’ (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) most fun hours—though The CW has cornered the market on this—and hopefully this trend will continue through season three.
What You Should Watch Beforehand: There is no need to watch episodes before diving in with the season three premiere. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. frequently includes asides as necessary in the dialogue to remind viewers of important background details and any particularly pertinent scenes tend to be included in each episode’s “Previously on…” teaser. If you want recommendations of fun episodes to give you a sense of the series, you won’t go wrong with:
Season 1, Episode 17, “Turn, Turn, Turn”: Hydra comes into the open and attacks S.H.I.E.L.D.
Season 2, Episode 5, “A Hen in the Wolf House”: Jemma, undercover within Hydra, has her cover blown.
Season 2, Episode 10, “What They Become”: The team races to beat Hydra to an ancient, underground, alien city
Season 2, Episode 19, “The Dirty Half Dozen”: The team infiltrates the base of a Hydra scientist to rescue two of their allies.
Season 2, Episode 21–22, “S.O.S.”: The Inhumans, led by Jiaying, and S.H.I.E.L.D. come into conflict in the two-part season two finale.