Archives for : ABC

The Slippery Slope (Part 3)

Agents of Dramatic Posing!

Agents of Dramatic Posing!

The story of how I came to watch ABC/Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is rather brief and simple. Like everyone, I adored The Avengers, and I was devastated when Coulson died, so the notion that this adorable, balding, unassuming but still badass man would be the lead of his own show sounded right up my alley. Plus, as soon as I heard Ming Na Wen (Mulan, in case you didn’t know) would be a regular cast member, I was all but fired up to give it a shot.

Let’s just say as of now, two seasons into the show, I have very mixed feelings about it. Needless to say, major spoilers ahead.

Agents of SHIELD started out slow. Most fans note that the first season drags because it’s still trying to establish a lot, and I also think that because the show decided that Coulson isn’t quite the main focus and instead picked Skye, the little hacker chick/orphan, there was a lot of milling around not moving forward. However, the show’s strength wasn’t in its pacing, but rather that it established our little team really well and made you like almost everyone on it. After all, everyone had their own roles as part of the team: Skye was the hacker/heart, Fitzsimmons was the brains, May and Ward were the muscle, Coulson was the leader, and Trip switched his roles here and there between being extra muscle and providing awesome weapons to help fight. You didn’t have to love each character (I seriously did not like Skye or Ward in season one, for different reasons: Skye was a borderline Mary Sue and Ward was as bland as they come before he revealed he was Hydra) but you did know enough about them to feel comfortable and want them to succeed.

The momentum really kicked up once the Winter Soldier happened and we found out Ward was Hydra, and that Hydra had been lurking inside SHIELD all along. From there, for the most part, the show got a lot better and built up to a finale that I personally think singlehandedly saved the show. It gave us everything we wanted, like it was an apology for how slow the rest of the season had been. I remember telling a couple of my friends that the finale was the best episode by far and made me excited for season two since the team was already established so there was no need to have such teeth-grinding pacing.

Well, SHIELD unfortunately didn’t take that left turn at Albuquerque.

And that’s why they’ve reached the slippery slope.

Season two’s main issue is that they threw the core group out the window and instead introduced a bunch of new characters who took up all the original group’s screentime for no real reason. My personal point of anger was finding out Lucy freaking Lawless, Xena Warrior Princess herself, was in the opening episode only to die ten minutes in. Who does that? Who books kick ass Wonder Woman-lite and kills her off? And the most insulting part is that they killed her off and left us with by far the most irritating character on the show’s entire run, Hunter. But we’ll get to him later.

That aside, over the course of season two we were introduced to Hunter, Mac, Bobbi Morse, Raina (sort of, she was in season one but we get to know her better in two), Cal, Jiaying, Lincoln, Gordon, the “real” SHIELD, and Agent 33. That is a TON of new characters, and it would be different if they just had some cameos here and there, but no. All of them appear in multiple episodes and take the attention away from May, Ward, and Fitzsimmons. (And don’t get me started on the fact that they killed off Trip. I will Hulk Out.) The only people who pretty much kept their screentime from season one are Coulson and Skye. Everyone else is downsized into the background, and it’s frustrating as hell because we actually liked their dynamics and their friendships. Sure, we’re happy Coulson and Skye have explicitly become father and daughter because, let’s face it, it’s adorable, but it’s not fair that they have booted everyone else out of the spotlight when we spent the entire first season getting to know them.

The worst part is that the new characters are all either annoying, not that interesting, or not developed enough. I admit this is personal taste, but I want to light Hunter on fire and watch him scream and die slowly. He’s introduced as this mouthy mercenary, and spends the entire first few episodes either making every single conversation about him or making insulting comments about his ex-wife. Guess what? Said ex-wife, the incomparable Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird, shows up a few episodes later and joins the team. You’d think this would mean we get some introspection into what went wrong or why he’s so bitter, but no. He blames her for everything. Constantly. He insults her to her face, in front of the team, to anyone with ears, and how does she respond to his rude behavior? By sleeping with him. Ah, yes. Feminism at its best. We must always reward selfish, ungrateful, misogynistic, verbally abusive men with sex. Why wouldn’t we do that?

The sad part is Bobbi Morse is actually a fleshed out, relatively interesting character if you ignore the fact that she’s somehow in love with the accumulation of British rubbish known as Hunter. She’s deadly, she’s got her own beliefs about SHIELD, she’s quite friendly and amicable to her team, and unlike Hunter, she’s useful. Add on the fact that’s she’s simply stunning and she was almost my favorite female character aside from Melinda May. Bobbi had some great moments in season two, but ultimately, the show misuses her by introducing “the real SHIELD”, which is a bunch of rude, short-sighted, prejudiced assholes who instead of simply talking to Coulson about his behavior decide to invade his base and take it over and try to dethrone him as director. To their credit, the show points out that Bobbi disagrees with a lot of what the “real” SHIELD does, but she still is a swing-and-a-miss character because she is weighed down so much by being in love with a complete asshole who doesn’t deserve her and doesn’t contribute anything to the team other than a guy with an accent who never shuts up.

Speaking of never shutting up, Grant Ward. Oh God. Where do I begin discussing Grant “Human Trash” Ward? As mentioned above, I didn’t like Ward when he was still pretending to be a good guy in season one because he was just bland: bland looks, bland acting, bland motivations, bland romance with Skye, and bland position on the team. Before Hydra, he felt like a placeholder character, like the kind of guy you play through a video game with because he leaves zero impression and you can just pretend you’re him no problem. Then the Hydra bomb was dropped and I went from disliking Ward to wanting May to use that nail gun on his head instead of his foot (though to be fair, May beating Ward’s ass is the best scene in the entire show, bar none. I rewound it about twelve times.) I think I’d hate Ward less if he had a decent backstory, but he doesn’t. It’s so lazy. “Oh, gee, my older brother made me do bad things and my parents were mean to me, so it’s totally fine to become a Neo Nazi and slaughter innocent agents and betray my teammates and kill people over and over again.” What’s more is that Ward actually believes that he’s just a victim of a bad home life and he wears that excuse like armor. He kills and manipulates and refuses to take any responsibility for trying to kill every single person on the core team but Skye, and that was only because his creeper ass has a crush on her.

Ward is a big sign that the writers are scrambling because he felt like such an afterthought in season two. He only pops up here and there to mug the camera and monologue and pretend like he’s some big scary badass when he’s basically a less attractive, less interesting, less powerful, less grounded version of Loki. To their credit, though, the SHIELD writers absolutely skewer Grant Ward twice before the end of the season. First, they have the core team tell him they wish Skye had shot him in the head and that none of his whining about what his family or Garrett did to him is an excuse for being a psychopath, and second, morphing Agent 33 into a Stand With Ward fangirl (yes, that is what his fangirls call themselves online) and then promptly having Ward murder her by accident. Both scenes were immensely satisfying, and it’s reassuring to know that the writers acknowledged that they screwed up the writing for him and are self-aware about the delusional fanbase he seems to have accumulated. That being said, the show seriously needs to decide what to do with this pain in the ass. He’s directionless, and so it feels like he’s here out of obligation to please his irritating in-denial fangirls. If he wasn’t the most popular character behind Coulson, it’s clear that he would have died this season, but since the show has to keep their ratings up, he’s not going anywhere. He’s an evil sack of slime, and that’s good because we just lost two of our main villains in the season two finale, but they need to give him something to do other than just hovering around and twirling his mustache.

Another major issue is that season two broke up Philinda (Phil Coulson + Melinda May = Philinda, in case that’s unclear.) Since the show started, Coulson and May have been the Mom and Dad of Team SHIELD. It worked. They had chemistry, whether viewers see it as romantic or not, and a powerful friendship that really made it easy to love each character. They had a falling out towards the end of season one since May was reporting in secret to Fury about Coulson’s actions, and it made him feel like she didn’t trust or respect him after all they’d been through, but they managed to bury the hatchet. Unfortunately, season two created unnecessary conflict between them by having Coulson keep things from May, namely Theta Protocol and the fact that he was seeing her psychiatrist ex-husband Andrew, and that led her to distance herself from him. She also seemed to blame Skye’s powers being activated on him and that further caused a rift, and the season ends with her absconding to an unknown vacation, possibly with her ex. May is a cornerstone to the group. She offers not only excellent tactical advice and badass pilot skills but also unmatched combat moves. May is the atomic bomb of the SHIELD group. You drop her in there and everything is flattened within minutes. But what is so compelling about May is she seems so cold on the outside, but now that we’ve seen her through Coulson’s eyes, we know she is just as courageous and caring as he is. We see how and why they need each other, and so breaking them up removes an extremely important human element to the show.

Sadly, Philinda wasn’t the only pairing (romantic or friendship-wise) to suffer. At the end of season one, Fitz finally confessed that he loved Simmons before sacrificing himself to get her out of the bottom of the ocean. He suffered permanent brain damage as a result, and Simmons was so crushed by both his confession and what happened to him that she volunteered for an assignment to try and give him space. The Fitzsimmons relationship was another truly adorable thing from season one that made it easier to connect with the team, so choosing to sideline them in order to give Skye more screentime and then fracturing their relationship just made everything worse. For a while, we almost had something enjoyable with the relationship between Mac and Fitz, who became buddies bonding over tech, but then Mac’s storyline pretty much derails after the mid-season finale, and Fitzsimmons essentially vanishes from the story for big chunks of time.

Are you seeing the pattern here? SHIELD’s main issues are ripping apart all the relationships that matter and then not knowing what to do with its own cast, aside from Skye and Coulson. Skye may have the most interesting origin story, but season two makes it clear that she can’t carry the entire show. She doesn’t have a rich enough background or personality to do it on her own, so scaling back on everyone else was a major mistake that could possibly lose this show some viewers, myself included. I honestly have gotten to the point of apathy, where I have the show on in the background while I’m doing other things online and glancing up every few minutes with no real stake in what’s happening. SHIELD has been weighed down heavily by too many clichés this season, from Skye’s “SHE! CAN! DO! AMAZING! THINGS!” Mary Sue powers and super special awesome relationship with Coulson to the real SHIELD being a replacement for the annoying World Security Council from The Avengers and The Winter Soldier. The writers need to clear the table and map out where this show is going. As of right now, it’s highly unclear, and even though they are being bankrolled by the most profitable entertainment company on the planet, they cannot expect to survive in the long run if they keep wandering around aimlessly throwing random images at us instead of focusing on what made us care about Agents of SHIELD in the first season.

The good news is that it appears that the showrunners and writers are aware of both the fandom and the reactions people have had to them, so there is a good chance they go back to the drawing board over the summer and figure out what to do. I personally hope they get rid of the extraneous characters and get back to Team Coulson, and that they stick Ward in a role that fits his ass-hat villainy. It’s possible for this show to turn it around, but they are dangerously close to the edge. I care about what they’ve done with it enough to give season three a chance, but it’s got to show that it knows its strengths or it’ll fall into the abyss like so many others.

Things Castle Taught Me About Writing



Monday is usually everyone’s least favorite day  of the week, but it isn’t for me thanks to a wonderful cop procedural dramedy known as Castle. It hit the airwaves in 2009 and has been kicking ass ever since with the help of geek god Nathan Fillion and the delicious Stana Katic.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be the same person I am now without this show—both as a writer and as a fangirl. In honor of its sixth season premiere, I’d like to share what this wonderful show has taught me over the years.

Unresolved sexual tension exists for a reason. Sexual tension. It’s a tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme…wait, no, sorry, wrong story. The titular Castle and his muse, Detective Kate Beckett, wasted no time in sharing steamy chemistry by introducing it literally in the first episode. The first words out of his mouth upon meeting her (at a book release party where dozens of women gathered to drool over him) was, “Where would you like it?” while holding up a Sharpie to presumably sign her chest. Ever since then, it’s been a tango between the two. Castle fancied her from the second he laid eyes on her while Beckett remained unamused and uninterested for most of the first season, but she eventually warmed up to him. One of the most admirable things this show has done is taking the stigma out of the “Will They or Won’t They” trope, which is commonplace in all types of fiction. Castle was able to successfully introduce, explore, and resolve the sexual tension between the characters because the creator, Andrew W. Marlowe, and the cast actively disagree with the “Moonlighting Curse.” For any of you whippersnappers out there, Moonlighting was a 1980’s TV show with starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd as a dynamic duo of sorts who solved cases and had massive amounts of lust between them. However, after the two finally hooked up, the show immediately lost the audience’s interest and got canceled.

The relationship between Castle and Beckett worked because it developed naturally instead of being corralled by the writers. Their actions stayed true to the characters. They constantly made each other better and strengthened their bond before they took a tumble into the bedroom. Many writers struggle with this concept by making several rookie mistakes: resolving the tension too quickly (ex. Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood), dragging the tension along for too long (ex. Ross and Rachel), creating a pointless love triangle where one love interest is clearly the winner and the other gets strung along (Katniss Everdeen and Gale), etc. We’ve all seen this happen in shows/movies/anime/books we love. Castle taught me to fight the urge to force characters together too late or too soon. Allow each character to grow first and then worry about when and how they’ll connect. That will keep things steamy as well as preventing the reader from losing interest or becoming frustrated with the couple.

Supporting characters are the cream in the coffee. If for some bizarre reason you don’t fall in love with Castle and Beckett at first sight, the show has a fantastic spread of supporting protagonists to keep you happy. It is also one of the few shows that found a way to balance these people in Castle and Beckett’s lives, as in no one character steals the spotlight all the time.

More importantly, the secondary characters often provide the subplots that can help enhance the enjoyment of the main storyline. It has become a joke in the fandom that Castle’s daughter Alexis and his mother Martha have helped him solve as many murders as Beckett has due to their troublesome personal lives. It can be difficult building one’s own “cast” in a novel or short story, but it’s ultimately worth it because of diversity. Having more than just one or two characters allows comparisons to be drawn among them. It can highlight implicit and explicit conflict. It can give the character someone to antagonize or sympathize with. Supporting characters are just what their namesake says: they help hold the weight of the story and distribute it evenly.

Themes can be important and juicy tidbits to add to the story. There are a lot of themes in Castle—from overarching concepts like justice vs. revenge or lust vs. love, all the way down to the coffee that the two constantly share and their repeated phrase “Always” in favor of saying, “I love you” before the two became a couple. It has been one of the most enjoyable things about the series over the years. The writers of Castle know their stuff. They are careful to weave the threads throughout the series and create delightful parallels to entice the viewers and make them feel even more connected with the characters.

For example, (spoiler alert!) there’s the line that convinced Castle to begin shadowing Beckett for “research purposes” was after he offered to take her out on a date (and debrief her, ha-ha) and he tells her that it was too bad because it would have been great. The normally no-nonsense Beckett then bites her lip and whispers in his ear, “You have no idea.” Guess what happens the morning after the pair finally sleep together? Castle says, “You were right. I had no idea.” And that’s a distance of five seasons from the pilot to the season five opener. Keeping themes, lines, gags, and ideas like that is what makes the show so much fun to watch. Giving the fiction a definite continuity can further involve your readers and make them a part of what they’re seeing. Furthermore, they can end up hungering for more, like how us Marvel fans eagerly watch the Marvel Universe movies to see small shout outs to other heroes, and the always delightful cameo of Stan “The Man” Lee. Themes, when done properly, are just one more thing to love about a good book.

Keep an eye on your fans. This concept is dangerous, but also well worth the trouble if it works out just right. The Castle writers, creators, and actors are all connected to their audience through social media. Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion both live tweeted the season six premiere, and have done it more than once. They answer questions, post Behind-the-Scenes pics, and generally goof off just like their fans do. They make us feel welcome and tease us with all kinds of interesting things that the show is involved in.

As a writer, it’s important to stay connected to the readers for several reasons: (1) to gauge the general reception of your work (2) to find new readers (3) to catch flaws, criticism, or accidental plotholes that their eyes were good enough to catch (4) to discover new avenues that your work can travel that you may not have considered. For instance, the portmanteau couple name for Castle and Beckett in the fandom is “Caskett” (adorable, right?) and the show’s creators were so tickled by it that they snuck it into a season five episode. This caused a huge uproar of pure glee from the fandom to know that we had influenced our own show. It is a bit harder to integrate something like that into fiction, but it can result in further engrossing the readers when they know that they have your attention. They may even spread your fanbase by telling their friends what they helped create on their favorite show.

Castle’s sixth season has a lot left to show me and I can’t thank the writers/actors enough for giving us such an incredible run over the years. If you’re curious, tune in Monday nights at 10pm EST on ABC to see more of the lovable mystery novelist and his sexy detective. Maybe you’ll learn a little something too.