The Problem with Anserws
Well, we got answers…kind of…OK not really. Coulson did die. He was dead for days, kept alive by Fury going to Frankenstein methods to keep this lowly agent alive. Going so far as to have some kind of brain machine operating on his friends brain matter while he begged for death. Coulson’s true memories are one of the more shocking and actually emotional moments in the show. This being Agents of SHIELD however, it undercuts them with wonky structure and a self satisfied grin halfway through, which is unearned.
Answers are never really what audiences want. LOST didn’t really give many for the more mythic questions, largely because said answers would have been boring and bogged down the series, which was the right call. Instead LOST went out on a metaphysical examination on the power of shared experience. George Lucas explained the Force, giving scientific fact to old galaxy mysticism, and everyone chooses to just ignore that bit. In stories we don’t want answers, we want satisfy conclusion to character arcs. “The Magical Place” is both lacking in answers and the character beats.
The confirmation that Coulson died and came back (so he isn’t The Vision) isn’t much of an answer. Everyone has just kind of assumed that this was either original/clone Coulson or he was a robot. So the answer isn’t a very satisfactory one, so why not make like LOST and turn this mythology point into a character point. Dramatize these apparently 7 surgeries Nick Fury subjected his apparently good friend to. Show us what he did that was so ethically repugnant that J. Stretian(Ron Glass) can’t seem to function normally afterwards. Within those beats you could even drop hints that maybe Fury used Hydra, Chituari, or even old Super Soldier tech. That would of added an interesting wrinkle to the shows mythology and given us an experience Coulson. “The Magical Place” tells us how traumatic it was for mostly dead Coulson, he lost the will to live was screaming for death. Instead It pulls away before really doing anything that’s satisfactory. Worst yet, Coulson still wants to get answers and the mystery of his death seems set to continue.
Coulsons plot, which is the ‘C’ plot, is further undercut by structural missteps. The writers, Jeph Leob, and the house directors need to go watch Burn Notice. That’s a show that has a light and carefree tone but takes itself and characters seriously enough that when it comes time for something “serious” to happen it’s treated with the proper gloves and given room to breathe. Jumping from Coulson being beaten and fighting against Centipede and than giving in to Skye doing a Melinda May impression was not good and undercut them both.
Chloe Bennet isn’t the strongest part of this show, and with how underdeveloped it all feels it unfair to say she’s the weakest (it’s one big terrible tie). That said, when “The Magical Place” wasn’t trying to own its serious tone and cutting from Skye in the ‘B’ plot doing her own investigation into Coulson, they kind of made me enjoy Skye as a character. By showing her actually do something totally competent beyond being the greatest hacker ever with nice hair. The team plays it so she is kicked off the bus and forced to act outside the system. Leading her to break a few laws, and have a terrible product placement moment with OnStar. When she walks in doing the Melinda May impression I groaned, it looked very hooky and dumb, but as it went on it worked a bit. She grew in confidence, disarmed a couple of terrible rent a cops. It pays off all the unseen cardio kickboxing the writers like to start on. By the end of the episode she has the bracelet off as well. Chloe Bennet isn’t a good lead for this show along with Clark Gregg but hey you need to find a center somewhere.
Now like most scenes “The Magical Place” the Skye as a badass scene goes on a little too long. The scene between Coulson and Raina also go on too long, dropping into schlocky melodrama. In general this episode has moments where everyone involved is so self satisfied with the minimal work they’ve done. The family reunion on the bus should have been more impactful instead it looked like the actors were all giving each other the look of “ha we’re doing good work”. All the problems Marvel’s Agents of SHEILDS has are still there.