Marvel's Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Episode 15
UGH. In a week where I am writing about a lot of television shows (and this is every week), sometimes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. falls through the cracks. This isn’t just because it isn’t a very good show, though it isn’t that. It is also because it doesn’t even manage to be an entertaining bad television show. It is bland to the core, a series of retreads and gimmicks that still seems utterly convinced we find its characters complex and fascinating, and its plot twists exciting. We (and by “we,” here, I mean the royal we. Your mileage may vary) do not.
“Yes Men” is another bad episode after the show’s brief resurgence back in January, a turgid series of clichés that is barely enlivened by the presence of Sif. The Lady Sif herself is a fun character to have around, but she is lost in an episode centered around Lorelei (Elena Satine), whose ability to enchant men and pull them into her thrall leads to an episode of the sort you’ve seen about a million times before. These episodes, stories about the weakness of men, tend to play as feminist parables, at least in their own heads, but they never work quite as well as intended. “Yes Men” is theoretically about how a strong, evil woman takes over all the weak men, and we are saved only by a strong, good woman. Except that isn’t really what happens here, at least not completely. What we see instead is Coulson doing a large part of the day-saving as the miraculous man who managed to avoid being pulled into Lorelei’s thrall, while Sif, conveniently a guest character and thus a threat to no man in the show’s cast, finishes off the antagonist. May, the strongest woman on the show, is reduced to a stoic’s version of the scorned woman, in a way that is deeply annoying and honestly, not nearly as progressive as the show thinks it is being with this episode.
It is a common mistake that feminist storytelling needs to denigrate men in the process, but that isn’t really the problem with “Yes Men,” which makes its men look weak and stupid, but largely in service of making its women look…not that much better? As a thematic point, men being easily seduced by a beautiful woman (especially a beautiful woman who has powers of seduction that are irresistible) is not particularly trenchant satire of the differences between men and women, but that doesn’t render it an invalid criticism. The real problems with this episode stem from its treatment of the women it thinks it is elevating, and from its totally inability to be even remotely original.
From the very start, when it becomes clear that Lorelei has power over men, there is not even a vague suggestion that it might, perhaps, be wiser to send a squad of female S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in to clean this one up because obviously if you send Ward to do it he will be enchanted by Lorelei. From there, it’s just a matter of time before the plot doubles back to that plane (always the god damn plane on this show), because of course Lorelei’s global ambitions are best realized from this stupid plane that has some cool gadgets, rather than by setting her sights on anything that could advance her agenda. There isn’t any explanation for why Lorelei would agree to go to the plane; in fact, its another instance of an episode that is yearning for feminism resorting to “because a man told her to” logic to paper over its barely thought through plot inconsistencies.
“Yes Men” actually begins to move toward resolution of one of my biggest problems with the show so far: the inherently problematic nature of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s shadiness in this show. Coulson and Skye agree to break all protocol and stop at nothing to reveal the secrets being kept from them. This sets up the possibility that the team will schism from the larger organization, or at least be in tension with it in ways that will be interesting. But honestly, at this point, I don’t have much hope. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a good TV show, and even when it feigns in the direction of progress, I don’t have faith in it anymore. I’ve seen this show look like it was improving, and every time it has faltered. I’m just not sure how likely it is that even this will be headed somewhere good.
-My new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. review policy: I will write about this show if it bears discussing. I am not committing to writing about it weekly for the rest of this season, because if it continues to be this bad, I’m not sure how much I’ll have to say. But I will write about it if it is a particularly good or particularly bad episode in any given week.
-“I’ve seen worse.” “Wow, thanks.” “I mean, you look better than you wee dying.” “Swingin’ and a-missin’, Ward.”
-“How was Tahiti?” “It sucked.”
-“Fine doesn’t look like this. Not on you.”
-“We are completely in the dark on this.” “That’s where we live.”