Archives for : the slippery slope

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.

The Slippery Slope (Part 2)

Featuring Nicole Beharie (Abbie Mills), Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), and their usual lack of personal space.

Featuring Nicole Beharie (Abbie Mills), Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), and their usual lack of personal space.

The story of how I got roped into watching ‘Sleepy Hollow’ seems like an old classic. Here I was with my steady lineup of shows and then I heard about a fantasy show with a black female protagonist. Granted, it was on Fox—the Judas of all television channels—but I figured that since I’m in the same business, I should watch the trailer. Needless to say, I was not impressed and thought it was the dumbest premise I’ve ever seen in my life. However, I felt obligated as a fellow woman of color to support a show that featured a black woman as something other than a side chick or a housewife, and gave the pilot a watch.

Since then, I’ve been watching ‘Sleepy Hollow’ with mild interest. Yes, the premise is ridiculous, there is absolutely no logic involved with any of the monster-hunting, and it’s basically like taking one of my books and putting it in a blender with ‘Constantine’ (2005) and ‘Supernatural’, but it’s still harmless entertainment with a twist of diversity.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago. If you’re acquainted with the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ fandom, then you know that the episode “Deliverance” is ground zero for one of the biggest fandom freak outs in quite some time. And rightfully so.

If you haven’t been reading Genevieve Valentine’s io9 Sleepy Hollow recaps, please do. She pretty much sums up my feelings about 80% of the time, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of why the episode was a nuclear holocaust: Ichabod Crane’s witch wife, Katrina, has been staying with the bad guys—her son, Jeremy, the Horseman of War—and Abraham—the Headless Horseman of Death, who was her betrothed back in the day before they all time jumped into modern day thanks to the war with the demon Moloch—in order to “spy on them for valuable information” to later share with Crane and Abbie Mills, his partner, police officer, and fellow Witness (and work wife, if we’re being honest.) In the previous episode, Jeremy got his hands on an evil substance that turned into a spider, crawled into Katrina’s mouth, and somehow managed to impregnate her with a baby version of Moloch. Yes, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence with any amount of sanity in my brain. Katrina escapes to Crane and Abbie to figure out how to get rid of the demon baby before Moloch is born and the war begins.

Where do I even begin with why this episode may in fact do this show in for good? I mean, if I can manage to sidestep the utter creepiness of a son inseminating his mother, or the tired-ass plotpoint of “unwanted supernatural pregnancy,” then the clear reason why this episode did not work is centered around Katrina Crane. Her presence in this show went from exasperating to just plain infuriating.

Look, it’s not like Katrina needs to be a gun-toting bad ass like Abbie to be a good character. I can name plenty of Non Action Girl heroines that are effective and three dimensional. The problem is that she doesn’t do anything useful. She’s such a damsel in distress. She went undercover to spy on the bad guys, and yet all she did up until that episode was send Crane a note with a raven. She has not learned a damn thing and she hasn’t done much other than giving Crane vague messages while she was in Purgatory back in season one. Even though her actions technically started the plot of the series, the fact that the writers staunchly refuse to make her an important asset to Team Witness is grating.

For example, even though Jeremy kidnapped her and left Crane to die in a coffin buried underground last season, Katrina is somehow convinced that there is good in Jeremy and he can be saved. She even gets Crane in on her nonsense, insisting that Moloch’s influence is why he turned out evil. We have not seen one single sign that Jeremy is being controlled, but she and Crane insist to Abbie that their faith in him is why he deserves to be saved. Mind you, Crane goes to Jeremy and asks him to get rid of the demon baby and he pretty much laughs in Crane’s face before leaving, but this somehow still doesn’t deter the Cranes. The blind love they have for someone who is trying to literally raise hell on earth just makes me want to pound my head into the wall until I’m unconscious.

Furthermore, it’s clear that the writers just brought Katrina in for the sake of interrupting the dynamic between Crane and Abbie (affectionately called Ichabbie by those who ship them) and it feels unnatural as hell. To their credit, the tension between the two women is not jealousy. It’s just that Abbie has been busting her beautiful ass fighting Moloch and the two horsemen with Crane, but then Crane will drop whatever he’s doing to coo and fuss over his wife, who constantly distracts him from the work he should be doing trying to prevent the Apocalypse. If Katrina were written properly, she would have a vast knowledge of the dark forces of magic, she would be able to combat Jeremy and Abraham’s schemes with spells, or she would be teaching Abbie incantations that could later help her protect herself (as Abbie usually only has a gun and that never works against the monsters in this show.) And yet here we are, with Katrina preggers with a demon baby whining and screaming and protesting that Jeremy is still worth saving despite the fact that he put the demon inside her knowing that its birth would kill her.

Majority of the fanbase was rightfully angry at this episode because it just brought up how unacceptable Katrina’s presence is in this show because she is not helping any facet of the show move forward. She’s a roadblock, plain and simple. She opposes Abbie for paper thin reasons, she has lied to her husband on multiple occasions, and while she protests that she has no feelings for Abraham, she still seems to like the attention he dotes on her. Two episodes later and Katrina is back with Jeremy and Abraham under the pretense that she’s still spying on them, and she made Abbie tell Crane she was going back to them like an irresponsible coward.

Honestly, the way the Cranes have been acting in the last two episodes have killed off a large part of my interest in this show. ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is not smart or controversial or brilliant. It works because Tom Mison (Crane), Nicole Beharie (Abbie), Lyndie Greenwood (Jenny), Orlando Jones(Captain Irving), and John Noble (Jeremy) all have the acting chops to make this farce of a premise seem interesting. Tom and Nicole have bucketloads of chemistry, whether romantic or not, and they are the core of why people watch this show. This season has lost its way by shoving Katrina into the spotlight but not giving her anything to do, shelving the incredibly awesome Orlando “Trollando” Jones, putting Jenny on a bus for several inexplicable episodes, forcing us to spend time with the charm-deficient mercenary and failed attempt at a love interest for Abbie Nick Hawley, and for taking away the meat of the show that everyone was enjoying and replacing it with dry wheat toast.

The worst part is that ‘Sleepy Hollow’ also isn’t the most popular show on the network. It’s doing alright, but if even a portion of the fans jump ship because of the poor writing, then it could be circling the drain by the time the season ends if they don’t get back on track. While I’m not married to this show by any stretch, I do think what it represents is important and that’s why it deserves a shot at longevity. We need diversity in television—not just with black women, but people of color in general rarely get the chance to be a main character in an urban fantasy or supernatural type show. I want this show to do better because it fills a void. Sure, there are novels with women of color in the lead, but it’s highly rare for television and it needs to be a stepping stone to future diversity-oriented shows.

My hope is that the writers have paid attention to the large outcry that “Deliverance” caused and learn from their mistakes. I hope they write Katrina better, whether it’s giving her something to actually do in the show or letting her go to the Dark Side with the baddies. I hope they stop making up lame reasons for Crane and Abbie to fight. I hope they don’t create a stupid love triangle between Hawley and the Mills sisters (which would be a moot point since I genuinely think Abbie is not interested in any romance period, Crane or Hawley or otherwise). Fingers crossed, Sleepyheads. Hang in there.