Last week's episode of "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." was hyped through the heavens as an essential companion to the blockbuster "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." But if you're looking for the real tie-in? An episode that doesn't just wrap up "Ultron" but sets up major ramifications for the Marvel Universe? Then you have to watch tonight's (May 5) episode, "Scars."
Mild spoilers for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." past this point.
One of the problems with the first half of this "crossover" was that the references to the "Avengers" sequel seemed shoved in at the very end, lip service rather than an essential companion to the plot -- and in fact, as I detailed last week the main plot was awesome... So instead, I went to bat for how Marvel should cut out the cross-promotion entirely.
I was wrong.
This week's hour shows everything that's good with a shared universe. The secret behind "Theta Protocol," the secret project Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been working on for a year while pretending to recruit new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is revealed, and for anyone who just left the multiplex it's a doozy.
And like last year post-"Captain America: The Winter Soldier," this reveal opens the show to a whole host of new character interactions and conflicts... Not to mention intrinsically changing the dynamic on the show.
That dynamic, by the way, is the intersection of Coulson's commandos, and the "real" S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Robert Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos). Ultron gets name-checked multiple times during the episode, and the villain's murderous rampage in Sokovia has a direct impact on what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, and how it works going forward.
But that's not all: not only does "S.H.I.E.L.D." wrap up "Age Of Ultron," it also sets up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe... They've been dancing around it for weeks, but the secret society of powered individuals Skye (Chloe Bennet) has joined finally gets a name -- and for fans, it's exactly the name you thought it was.
And that's pretty huge, because without any more tiptoeing, "S.H.I.E.L.D." is directly setting up a Marvel movie nearly four years in the future. We're not getting a hastily green-screened appearance by Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), or a passing reference to Thor. And we're beyond reacting to the movies... This is the TV show leading the way.
Which is great news for the future. If I was to revise my opinion of last week's ep (which I will), it's not that the show shouldn't tie into the movies, it's that it shouldn't do so halfway.
The producers of the show have been pretty straight up about the challenges they've faced in coordinating with the film division, both in plots and in mere budget. So "S.H.I.E.L.D." has been lagging behind. Instead, here, the movies can -- and should -- follow their lead.
Plot and character wise, "S.H.I.E.L.D." is finally firing on all cylinders. There's two twists not based in the MCU, but that organically come out of the plot of this season that I guarantee you will not see coming. And the emotional ties the group has built up over the past two seasons are working in seamless harmony. "S.H.I.E.L.D." is now the legitimately exciting, twisty, great show -- with superpowers -- we've always wanted it to be.
And as a bonus, this week's episode shows a road-map for how the show and the movies can work in parallel; rather than one holding up the other. If we have more of that, "S.H.I.E.L.D." will be less like last week's episode, and more like this week's.