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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t usually jump out on many great TV lists, but after a shaky (to put it lightly) start, it has become a fairly reliable watch. Even when it fails, it does so spectacularly, kind of like the first four seasons of American Horror Story.

By the time the show started getting good, too many of the initial fans and hopefuls had jumped ship (it was a really bad first few episodes, really, skip them, start on episode 12 “Seeds”). Any startup hope and goodwill was gone.

They’ve been missing out.

First things first, the first half of the first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a trite mess of teases and too much predictable and quirky character work on a procedural drama. It was NCIS with less structure and some special effects every other episode.

After the second half, roughly episode 10, it finally started delivering something that showed some promise in bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen via the touch of Joss Whedon’s brother Jed. Then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came and the show proved it could handle its share of the shared MCU with the Hydra storyline and the dissolving of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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The few episodes before the Hydra turn, we get to see some non-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Marvel Comics characters like Deathlok, Iron Man villain Blizzard, and Lorelai (not Gilmore, the sister of Enchantress); we even get a pretty nice cameo from Lady Sif. It’s these episodes before the return of Hydra that finally use the visual effects budget for greater effect, but thankfully, after the entry of Hydra into the show, we get a lot more hand to hand and shoot ‘em up action.

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The very long path of unnecessary set ups introduced us to Phil Coulson (oh yeah, he was revived after The Avengers, weird conspiracy thing, Tahiti is a magical place, it all ended up being more or less unimportant but vaguely interesting) and his selects ragtag group of agents tasked with “special cases.”

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The main character is Skye, a sassy computer hacker who wants to do the right thing and ends up being an Inhuman (Daisy Johnson aka Quake) later on into the series, which brings us into the Kree lore. She is the audience surrogate but can often suffer the “Kate from Lost” syndrome, meaning that it is a guarantee when she decides to do something on her own, it is the complete wrong decision.

Now that she’s out of the way, the best characters and reasons to watch S.H.I.E.L.D.: FitzSimmons. Introduced as a joint entity, Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz are the team’s science component, who are inseparable friends with some serious will they won’t they going on.

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Fitz is just adorable, funny, and is always the underdog you want to root for. Simmons is the persnickety, feisty, and also adorable complement to Fitz, as they often banter and argue as everyone else in the room can’t even with how perfect they are for each other. Remarkably, this sustains well into season 3, a lot better than anyone would expect due to tensions within the team and their tasks.

I know, sounds like more of a rom-com. That’s why on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Melinda May, a.k.a. The Cavalry.

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Stoic and to herself, May is the muscle of the group and possibly one of the most badass women on TV, only jumping into action when necessary. Rumors are abound as to why she earned the nickname of “The Cavalry” and she does not take kindly to the moniker nor the variant stories as to its origin.

Near the end of season two, a season high is the episode in which the true story behind the nickname comes from is finally unveiled, “Melinda.” Ming-Na Wen, known mostly for drama, brings it to her character, also only when necessary, with tense moments that expose her when she would rather keep her metaphoric armor.

May isn’t the only female badass on the show. Improving after the Hydra infiltration, the show added Mockingbird a.k.a. Bobbi Morse played by the surprisingly formidable Adrianne Palicki.

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As opposed to May, Morse is often jubilant, peppy, but still all business as she kicks ass with her signature (but possibly impractical) dual staves. She has brought more action and fun to the show since her introduction, which was sorely needed because sometimes it becomes quite a bitchy pout fest all about feels.

The Hydra storyline hasn’t only done well, it sadly also brought a bit of a rut to the flow of the show where the villain always ends up being someone they trust. Over and over again. Even keeping some characters far past their expiration point.

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Even though that is going on, when the show focuses on relationships between their protagonists and their goals, S.H.I.E.L.D. excels. Recently the show hit a series high with “4,722 Hours” which focuses on Simmons being trapped on a mysterious planet, being tormented by an unseen force (Ego, the Living Planet?).

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The episode was uncharacteristically dark, but still was buoyed by Elizabeth Henstridge’s bubbly Simmons, trying to survive with positivity like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

This isn’t the dark and gritty section of the MCU where Daredevil is, it’s the cartoony fun one where The Avengers took place with cheesy one liners and Hulk smashing.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The show has been able to bring in a lot of good guest stars including Patton Oswalt, Edward James Olmos, and Blair Underwood. They even occasionally get S.H.I.E.L.D. characters from the MCU movies, especially during the Winter Soldier phase.

With the progression of the current Inhumans storyline no doubt leading to Captain America: Civil War, there is still more potential and hope with what the show can do. Even if their big showdown with Lash was kind of a letdown.. unless it’s paving the way for something else.

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