So I saw the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere the other night, and this is probably the only thing I will ever write about the show. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, on the contrary it’s a lot of fun. It’s just that this isn’t really a TV/pop culture blog. However, I really wanted to touch on a very common “writer’s trick” that the folks behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulled, seemingly without a lot of the Internet realizing what they did. And yes, I should probably warn you that the following contains mild spoilers for the show, but honestly if you’re trying to avoid spoilers for a highly-anticipated piece of entertainment that’s premiered already, then you should probably just stay off the Internet.
The big question surrounding the show is how come Agent Coulson is in it, when the character was clearly killed off in that little movie you may have heard of if you were living on planet Earth at any point during 2012. Early in the show, Coulson explains that Loki didn’t stab him hard enough to kill him, and he got medical help in time, and then he took a vacation in Tahiti. But once Coulson leaves the room two other characters have a conversation in which it’s made clear that the Tahiti vacation was just a fiction, and Coulson “can never know” whatever the truth is. This moment is specifically designed to make you think that the show’s writers are keeping a secret, and you must continue to watch the show to find out what it is. And I guess I can understand why you’d fall for it.
If you’re twelve years old.
Everyone else should have a good enough sense of pattern recognition to recognize when the writers of a show are just trying to get us to keep tuning in. Remember Star Wars? When the original trilogy was being made, George Lucas would talk like there was some kind of big overarching story that he’d made up in advance, when in fact he was pretty much making things up as he went along. Or what about Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica from the 2000s? That show had all kind of mysteries from the very beginning, like the nature of Baltar’s “Head Six” or the meaning of the Opera House dream. And everyone was just sure that the show’s writers had all of this stuff figured out in advance, only to discover that they really didn’t, and they’d set it all up with no idea how they were going to pay it off. I never watched Lost, but I understand its creators did basically the same thing.
I’m not telling you not to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Just know that the reason Coulson is alive is because the powers that be needed someone from the Marvel cinematic universe to be a regular in the show, and Clark Gregg is easier to get than Samuel L. Jackson. Enjoy the show, but don’t scrutinize every episode for clues on the secret of Coulson’s resurrection, because there aren’t any.