‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: “The Writing On the Wall”
Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its seventh season 2 installment in "The Writing on the Wall,” as the team investigates a string of murder victims with the mysterious writing etched on their bodies, Coulson begins to lose his composure, and Ward carries out his own nefarious agenda on the run.
Last week's ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode "A Fractured House” saw Hydra staging an attack on the U.N. to look like S.H.I.E.L.D.'s work, bringing the team up against Ward's senator brother Christian (Tim DeKay), so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series continue its marvelous new season?
Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' season 2, episode 7, “The Writing On the Wall”!
Earlier today Adweek ran an intriguing article on the difficulties of shows enticing viewers to return after a wobbly first season, something that we’ve heard discussion aplenty over in recent weeks with Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ after the ‘Age of Ultron’ trailer leak squandered a major ratings spike opportunity. It’s a real shame, too, as where shows like ‘The Bridge’ might not capture broad appeal even with its return to form, hot damn if ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ isn’t coming alive in season 2. Given the week off, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a vague hour that saw Bobby Cobb running around with doodles on his chest, but “The Writing on the Wall” took a major leap forward on the alien writing thread, driving at an impressive pace along the way.
A moment early on drew my concern, as Skye and Coulson griped about the oft-repeated mantra that “it’s all connected,” seemingly repeating a mistake ‘Gotham’ made last night in outright stating the series’ core concept, without actually illustrating the point, or expounding on any of the puzzle pieces that seemingly connect to one another. And where a serial killer with the alien writing tattooed on his chest might have swung in any number of directions, ‘Agents’ surprisingly made good on its promise of connections by tying together Coulson, the killer and his victims as participants in the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, which itself has far deeper ties* to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than we might have though for the series.
*We’ll try to tread lightly on spoilers, so you may wish to avoid this paragraph, though it seems those hoping for an ‘Inhumans’ – Kree tie-in may get their wish after all. Nothing was stated outright, but the fact that the T.A.H.I.T.I. scientist mentioned the almost-assuredly Kree body to have been on Earth for thousands of years, with the GH-325 pushing its recipients to find the lost “city” revealed by the writing, almost all perfectly sync with the ‘Inhumans’ mythology. I wouldn’t expect to see Attilan outright, or meet Black Bolt within the context of the show, but it’s certainly one of the more overt MCU tie-ins we’ve seen for ‘Agents.’
Not only that, but “The Writing on the Wall” actually kept up its pace in arriving at said conclusion, with a surprisingly meaty turn for Clark Gregg, one that dovetailed with last-season's glossed-over revelation that he himself had been the one to lead the project. Here we got to see Coulson come unglued even moreso than we’d observed with the writing, as his guilt over causing the many failures and subsequent deaths of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project pushed the newly-minted director into some dark places, going so far as to imprison Skye to confront the last remaining survivor himself. The incorporation of last season’s memory machine seemed also exceptionally mature for the series, capitalizing on some of its newly-improved visual flair to paint a disturbing vision of how the writing and memory revising had destroyed many more lives than his own.
On the other side of the story, turning Ward evil continually proves itself among the best possible salvages of a bland character, as Brett Dalton clearly relishes in the ex-agent’s newfound freedom, not only from the cell, but from his S.H.I.E.L.D. persona at large. Both Ward and Bobbi Morse crackled electricity at one another as the disgraced Hydra mole easily countered the erstwhile Mockingbird’s undercover identity, just as readily as he’d earlier thwarted Tripp’s efforts to retake him at the depot.
Where previously Ward’s incarceration too often saw the character swearing he’d changed for the better without any opportunity to prove it, here we actually got the chance to see Ward putting his abilities to a twistedly altruistic use, even dropping a “Strucker” mention as he delivered Bakshi to the team from afar. That, and you just know the inevitable fight between Ward and Mockingbird (and May, why not?) will pay off these ever-boiling rivalries in a throwdown to rival May’s assault on her own doppleganger.
Best of all has been ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ taking care to make the journey every bit as important as the destination, and “The Writing on the Wall” kept some important character beats in play as it delivered impressive revelations about the alien writing, and its larger role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only that, but Ward’s presence in the world has yielded a number of exciting story elements to play with, particularly now that we have Bakshi taking his place as the team’s prisoner, with the promise of returning Ward’s brother Christian to the fold as well.
It’s really rewarding to see ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ deliver so consistently these days, especially before anything that might be considered a “midseason finale” of sorts, and “The Writing on the Wall” gave us quite a bit to chew on between the T.A.H.I.T.I. project's darker implications, seeds of distrust between the team, and the search for the mysterious city revealed in the writing. If ‘Agents’ gives us our first taste of the ‘Inhumans’ after all, hopefully the resultant buzz will bring its fans back to the series in the way our ‘Age of Ultron’ trailer initially promised.
AND ANOTHER THING...
- One really interesting point of Coulson's increasingly disturbed behavior was the effect it had on Mack, lending the character a bit more depth than to act as Fitz's translator. Of course, the two still had their bro-moments in video game bonding, while Simmons seemed none-too-happy as a third wheel.
- A lot of great barbs from the hour too, between Ward threatening to make the bus passengers fly, or Coulson snidely retorting how crazy the T.A.H.I.T.I. plan was in the first place.
- Strucker? Strucker, Strucker, Strucker, Strucker, STRUCKER!
- Thankfully, the Hunter-Morse bickering was kept to a minimum tonight.
Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s second season installment “The Writing On the Wall” keep up the momentum as successfully as you'd hoped? How do you think the show handled Coulson's writing revelations? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2's latest, "The Things We Bury" on ABC!