Everything Wrong With ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Season 3

Everything Wrong With ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Season 3

By Amanda Joyce May 22, 2016 09:30 AM
Photo Credit: Marvel/ABC

This week, Agents of SHIELD had a huge season three finale that allowed the series to close off a ton of its lingering plot threads and open up a whole new storyline for its next season. It went out with a literal bang in outer space, and it didn’t leave fans with any soul crushing cliffhangers to obsess about until it returns in the fall. In short, it did a great job for a season ender. But that doesn’t mean the season as a whole didn’t have a few problems that need to be addressed.

Before I get criticisms for hating the show or anything like that, I’d like to preface my “everything that’s wrong" by pointing out that I do, in fact, love Agents of SHIELD, and have since the pilot episode. The show has really grown into its own and has an impressively talented cast that can make even the most ridiculous storylines compelling because of their performances alone. But throughout season three, despite it’s interesting growth in mythology, there were a lot of issues that could have been avoided to make the storytelling tighter and the season as a whole more enjoyable. This is not meant to hate on the show, just to point out a few flaws that need to be recognized by the team behind the show to make season four even better.

Note: There will be spoilers for Agents of SHIELD up to the season three finale. If you aren’t caught up and keep reading, you have been warned.



Dropped plotlines

For me, personally, this was the most frustrating part of season three as a whole. While there is a larger overarching story with the threat of Hive, many of the smaller plot points that make up that larger story were simply dropped and moved past.

For example, when Jemma returned from her time on an alien planet, she was exhibiting symptoms of PTSD - flinching at noises, unable to focus on the world around her, bright lights bothering her, even carrying a weapon around with her that she had fashioned herself. That lasted all of two episodes until what really happened on the planet was revealed and suddenly, she was cured! I hate to break it to the writers, but that’s not how PTSD works. It’s a long and intense process to deal with the results trauma, and you’re never considered “healed” from it, yet Jemma is practically back to normal.

It’s interesting that Fitz was given a recovery arc for the injury to his brain in season two and Bobbi was given a recovery arc for her torture by Ward at the start of season three, but we never got to see Jemma’s healing process at all beyond her becoming accustomed to Earth’s gravity again as Fitz walks her around the base. Even her later breakdown is revealed not to be a result of her trauma, but of leaving someone behind. For some reason, the writers decided healing wasn’t as important for her as pining for the person she’d met on the other planet.

Dropped plot lines are nothing new for the show though. It’s been steadily introducing characters and plots since season one and then never returning to them. Part of it is likely scheduling of guest stars, like in the case of never getting back to just what Ian Quinn has been up to since he was one of the big bads of the first season. Some of it is likely budgetary concerns - something tells me Gravitonium would be difficult to use on the show on a regular basis now that so many people have super powers. But some of it is just down to the writers wanting to skip ahead to the next thing and not allow development to happen at a normal pace.



Too many guest star deaths

When ABC launched its “fallen agent” campaign, there was a lot of skepticism from fans who’ve been watching since the beginning that a core cast member would actually leave the show via character death. The show has made a habit out of killing its guest stars instead of its main cast, which means it tends to burn through guest stars.

This season alone the show lost recurring characters in Lucio, Giyera, Gideon Malick, Stephanie Malick, Alisha, Will Daniels, Dwight Frye, Andrew/Lash, Rosalind Price, Banks, Charles Hinton, and a slew of background SHIELD agents. You have to wonder how SHIELD manages to have any personnel left at this point outside of the core group since everyone else seems to be canon fodder.

The result of this is that when a bad guy shows up, you expect him to be gone by the end of the season or when a SHIELD agent enters the room that you’ve never seen before with evidence or information on a mission, you know they aren’t making it out alive. It’s not that the show doesn’t have real stakes; Bobbi did end up with serious injuries that prevented her from going into the field after all. It’s just that when everyone other than someone with a multi season contract is expendable, it’s hard to sell the idea that a major death is going to stick.

It also means that sometimes interesting characters who could have had a larger arc on the show, like Alisha who was only ever used as a plot device instead of getting any character development throughout her season two and three appearances, don’t get the due they deserve. Like Kara in season two, we never get to know the real character, just the person she’s been tricked into becoming by the villain she serves.



“Not all heroes are super.”

Everyone remembers that this is the tagline from season one, right? How times have changed for the show where its six core cast were all considered regular secret government employees. Now, out of the nearly dozen main characters in season three, most of them have “special” abilities. May and Bobbi might not have been as high profile a character as Hawkeye or Black Widow, but if the other two get to be Avengers, they might as well be since their skill sets rival the others. Lincoln and Daisy had actual super powers. Coulson got to be enhanced with all the special skills hiding in his prosthetic hand. It’s a whole different ball game than when the show began.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, this is a comic book show, and comic books are often built around the superhero story. It does mean that for a lot of this season, the plots of the regular SHIELD agents felt shoehorned in as the more super power heavy plot lines involving the Inhumans took a front seat. Even though the season was about the taking on the threat of Hive, that story was built more around the discovery of Inhumans and building a super powered team instead of on the core of the SHIELD team we’ve grown to know.

On the plus side, that gave us the fantastic additions in a few episodes of Joey and Elena. On the down side, it meant that nearly every other character's’ storyline had to take a back seat to Daisy’s again, just as they did in season two as she found her family.



Predictable storytelling

Over the first two season, Agents of SHIELD threw some surprising curveballs at the audience, like the reveal that Ward had been a Hydra agent the entire time he was involved with SHIELD. Season three though didn’t feel like it had nearly as many curveballs because all of the big reveals were guessed by the audience relatively quickly.

Simmons came back from the alien planet and nearly everyone predicted that she’d have to go back because there was still someone else there. Andrew’s life was threatened and almost the entire audience decided he must have been Lash. Many fans didn’t think Ward would make it out of the season alive and that Coulson would be the one to kill him. Even Lincoln’s death was one of the most predicted for the fallen agent at the end of the season.

I’m not entirely sure what the fix is for this, to be honest. I can’t tell if two seasons was just enough time for the audience to become accustomed to the way the writers of the show employs its twist, or if this is a result of a lot of the audience doing comic book research and hunting for clues in cast interviews. Whatever the reason, I hope the writers find a way to surprise us a little more next season.



“4,722 Hours”

From a standalone episode point, “4,722 Hours” is a huge triumph for Agents of SHIELD. It’s the first time the show has ever spotlighted a single character for the full hour. It was an ambitious shoot in the California desert. It involved a large number of practical and visual effects. It also laid the pressure of success for the episode almost entirely on the shoulder of Elizabeth Henstridge, who, as Jemma, frequently winds up as a background character. As a Jemma-centric standalone episode, it’s fantastic. Within the larger narrative of the season, not so much.

A lot of the problems that viewers have with season three as a whole can actually trace their origins back to this episode, like all those dropped plotlines this season. The introduction of this episode meant that Jemma’s recovery period was cut off, an unnecessary love triangle was introduced, and that consistency went out the window for a while. Much of the way this episode was edited might be to blame. There’s the matter of Jemma’s disappearing and reappearing necklace, the implications that Will was never quite what he seemed, and the reveal that for the most part, she was perfectly safe and content in a cave with company until she made her way through a sandstorm to get to Fitz in the final moments of the episode. It took everything that the show had given the audience about Jemma’s experiences before the episode aired and made them meaningless.

This episode caused fans to put out some intricate theories about just who or what the monster was that chased Jemma and what the real deal was with Will, and nearly none of those theories panned out, even though most of them were more interesting than what did. The show never explained the inconsistencies in Jemma’s tale of what happened and what we saw play out in later episodes either. As Fitz researched Will, he found someone with an interest in astrophysics who went into NASA’s training program practically right out of high school. Jemma met someone who described himself as “not sciency” and couldn’t help her with math. We also had Jemma describe what it felt like to be around the planetary monster, telling the team she could tell it was something that used to have great power and lost it, sounding like he got in her head a little bit, though we never saw that happen either.

In a laundry list of things related to this episode that the writers decided never to come back to: we never found out how the Kree managed to imprison Hive there, where the monolith that acted as a portal actually came from, why no one else had managed to go there and come back, what civilization was repeatedly hinted at on the planet, how Will (and Jemma, for that matter) managed to actually survive for so long, why it seemed like the topography of the planet changed, or why Will opted to put Jemma in a cage when he first encountered her.

When you place the events occurring on Maveth in context of the larger story of the season, nearly none of it makes sense. It’s almost as though the writers had a few different ideas for how this storyline would play out and decided not to commit to one until five episodes later. It’s also important to note that this is one of the longest episodes the show has ever filmed though. There’s around 20 minutes of additional footage that was cut that might make it make a little more sense. I hope ABC and Marvel realize how much fans love extra footage and opt to include it on the DVD release for season three, and maybe help me look back at the episode a little less harshly.


As I said, overall, season three was a very interesting chapter in Agents of SHIELD, but no TV season is ever perfect. Do these criticisms fall in line with your own about the season? Or do you think I was too hard on it? Let us know.

Agents of SHIELD will return for season four in the fall when it will move to 10 PM on Tuesdays on ABC.

Tags: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013), Chloe Bennet, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Brett Dalton, Henry Simmons, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Luke Mitchell, Dillon Casey, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Juan Pablo Raba, Powers Boothe, Blair Underwood, Constance Zimmer, Marvel Cinematic Universe
About the Author
Having graduated with a BS in Psychology in 2008, Amanda opted not to pursue a scientific field, but freelance writing instead. A bit of a pop culture junkie, ...
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