Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Last season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was its absolute best yet, and for a variety of reasons. The main one being its 10:00 p.m. time slot allowing for darker subject matter ranging from a fully realized Ghost Rider to bloodcurdling androids.
Unfortunately, season 4 ended with a mixed bag of a finale, leaving some of the show’s most loyal fans a bit cold thanks to a lack of resolution for just about every character except for Holden Radcliffe, who did manage to bow out in the best possible way. Aside from a few fun moments, including some thrilling onscreen action with Ghost Rider and Quake tearing through LMDs, “World’s End” didn’t quite live up to its own titular sense of…well, an ending.
Just as the team found its chance to process the aftermath of the Framework, Talbot’s shooting, Fitzsimmons in general (though what else is new?), Mack and Yo-Yo’s relationship moving forward, and Coulson and May’s relationship at least getting some sort of nudge, we jumped forward in time to Coulson in space completely out of context because of…reasons.
So yes, it’s all felt a bit rushed, but that’s the name of the game Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has built for itself over the course of continued success with its formula, characters and outright genre. If season 4 took a trip down the mystical and surreal, why not let our heroes take a jaunt through the cosmos, right in time for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok expanding the universe elsewhere?
Speculation has run rampant surrounding the exact details of Team Coulson’s new normal, and for good reason. Is this season a tie-in for Avengers: Infinity War? Is this the year that introduces Agents of S.W.O.R.D.? Well, season 5 takes its sweet time to answer any of those questions, if at all (and that S.W.O.R.D. business is squelched within about ten minutes). Regardless, “Orientation” is a remarkable two hours of television, both teeing up a new season of a beloved comic book franchise within a larger cinematic continuity and delivering what feels like a semi-pilot for an entirely new show altogether.
As usual, the team’s main mission is to save humanity, though this time surrounded by the sweet nothing of space. “That makes sense,” says Mack to a very frustrated crew surrounded by killer aliens. “It’s the one thing we haven’t done yet.” Mack, for the record, wins the premiere for sheer number of one-liners, particularly in their delivery, which is impressive considering his competition with Clark Gregg.
I’m loving the decision on Marvel’s part to replicate the vibe established by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, as well as Joss Whedon’s Firefly to a great extent. Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell return as showrunners, and you can feel how “in control” they are of the show despite budget constraints and frankly high expectations. And honestly? The Guardians aesthetic fits Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. like a glove, in no small part thanks to the show’s continuing flexibility over four surprisingly distinct seasons, as well as its game cast.
That said, a lot of the weakness to be found in “Orientation” comes through how reactive the core team has become in the wake of new circumstances and story beats coming their way. We spend most of the two hours watching Team Coulson ask questions and punch/banter their way to the answer, leaving little room for pathos and seeds for character development that will pay off throughout the season. We know almost nothing about where these individuals are at emotionally because of how fast we blazed through the finale, and it’s showing. It’s early, though, and a premiere as ambitious as this one is bound to leave some viewers in the dust, for now.
As always, there’s a wealth of new characters to get to know this season, and they’re all equally promising, from the obligatory Han Solo type just trying to get by in his hostile environment (Deke, played by Jeff Ward) to the Kree shot-caller obsessed with physical perfection to the point of body horror (Kasius, played by Dominic Rains, his second Marvel Cinematic Universe role after playing a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Captain America: Winter Soldier).
There’s also Tess (Eve Harlow), the street-wise spacer who counterbalances Deke’s bleak outlook on everyone’s fate. And of course, we’re treated to all the Kree you can handle, serving as this season’s clear antagonist group until something even more unexpected changes the game halfway through the next 22 episodes.
After four seasons and a universe of ideas, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still doing what it does best. It’s constantly shifting the goal posts and surprising its audience with delightful twists and turns, never taking its fanbase for granted or getting too caught up in what’s already worked. It’s a testament to the show’s ongoing experimentation that we can watch these characters get to space and believe that this is far from their final frontier.