Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a bit of a surprise announcement. A S.H.I.E.D. movie was often rumored post Iron Man, so it took the place of that. The popular hashtag #CoulsonLives was a part of this. Once it was revealed that the agent who supposedly died in The Avengers would be a recurring star, hype skyrocketed. While it did take a bit for the majority of the characters to become people viewers cared about, the show ended up being one of the most fun ways you could spend a Tuesday night.
After the finale, it's fun to think about the world-building that was established in the very first episode. The show began as riding off the premise that it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When it first started you couldn't go one episode without hearing about "New York." While it was a bit jarring at first to hear the same Avengers reference over and over again, looking back it actually made sense. Think about it, the invasion of New York in that world was one the most terrifying things to happen in modern day. Hurricane Sandy even when it was technically over it was talked about for months to come. Realistically, people in that world would still be talking about New York.
While some episodes can be called standalone, (such as 'The Well' and 'Repairs') each of them play into a much bigger picture. The first one introduced Mike Peterson, a nice guy whom eventually is forced into becoming Deathlok. Throughout the season there's the ongoing plot of Coulson trying to find out the details of his rebirth. We also have Skye who is looking for her parents. Easily the most important was the Clairvoyant. This eventually lead into the final arc of the a season, Hydra. In 22 episodes, it's an accomplishing feat to be able to juggle all these plot points. Were they handled properly?
Deathlok was a very cool addition. The sad truth is that the show can't use anyone truly "important" cause it might interfere with the films. (So don't expect Baron Zemo.) It used a lot of obscure characters no one's heard of. (How many knew the Enchantress had a sister named Lorelei prior to watching?) It did however feature Victoria Hand, a mildly popular character. Deathlok is perhaps the most well-known of the comic book appearances. It was definitely a mistake of Marvel to reveal he was going to be in the show prior to his actual appearance. When the big cliffhanger revealing the Deathlok insignia on Mike Peterson came, it was no surprise or big gasp. That aside, the portrayal was good. (It's a shame he didn't look more like his comic book self.) I hope the show uses him more in the second season. With him now officially something of an anti-hero, it would be interesting to see what the writers can do with him.
Coulson's T.A.H.I.T.I. plot was the biggest one driving the show before Hydra entered. It produced a great amount of mystery, with an okay payoff. The conversation he had with Nick on it was perhaps too brief, but still not terrible.
Going into each of the characters now, let's talk about Skye. It took quite awhile for her to become likable. Just when she was starting to, she semi-betrayed the team in 'Girl in the Flower Dress'. But by the finale, she was a well-established character. The season sadly doesn't answer the vital questions abut her. Thankfully, this won't be counted as a negative since season 2 is green-lit and will be airing in September.
-Fitz and Simmons, while somewhat hard to understand at times, remained a nice bubbly duo to have around. They retained a nice brother-sister relationship with hints of a subtle romance. It was only in the finale where Fitz revealed his true feelings subtly. It would have been nice if the finale gave some indication of his condition. Simmons simply stating "He's alive" and then the cast minus him standing for the closing group shot indicates he won't be a recurring member.
-Melinda May right from her first appearance established she was going to be the 'hardcore' member of the group. It's hard not to like her, though admittedly she did come off as unnecessarily mean in some episodes.
-Triplett came later in the show. At first it was hard to like him, primary cause there was a forced romance between him and Simmons right off the bat. (Thankfully it looks like this was dropped.) Later when he officially joined the team he became likable and I look forward to seeing what he brings to the table in season 2.
-AGENT WARD. Ward was established early on as the likable, unbeatable guy who did things by the book and stuck by Coulson's side. One of the greatest things about this show is that it isn't afraid to bring about unexpected plot twists. Ward revealing himself to be a member of Hydra was truly unexpected, and changed the way viewers looked at him. While he probably lost a lot of fans, he made for a great antagonist. While he was somewhat generic as a good guy, as a bad guy that generic-ness can be looked at in a whole new light. I am very happy the show didn't go the cheesy route and had him redeemed by the end. After mercilessly killing Shield agents, that would have brought the show down. Hopefully we'll see him again in season 2.
THE CLAIRVOYANT/John Garrett. The Clairvoyant was the main antagonist of the season. The big question throughout the episodes was his identity. As the Hydra plot settled in, Victoria Hand looked to be the prime suspect. But when she's eliminated by Ward, it turns out it was Garrett, a higher up in Shield and friend of Coulson. Bill Paxton played this character wonderfully, adding a sense of humor and powerful presence none of the villains displayed.
Raina was a mild recurring character. She's interesting, because she doesn't seem to be inherently evil yet far from heroic. It'll be interesting to see what she does in season 2. Po was perhaps the best antagonist aside from Garrett. He was killed off much too early. Quinn was annoying, but a well-written character. Graviton was a bit funny considering he was the complete opposite of his cartoon appearance from way hack in the opening episodes of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. His story never went anywhere, so I assume it will be expanded on in the next season. Victoria Hand was great, though it's very disappointing she was killed off. She had so much potential, also being one of the biggest comic-related characters. If someone was to be called underused, it'd be her.
It was tricky at first for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to find its footing. It took a bit, but eventually the season found a tone much like The Avengers. It's often light with quippy jokes, but can get very dark too. It's great how it used what happened in the current films. (The Thor: The Dark World tie-in was disappointing though.) The entire Hydra plot originating in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was fantastic and felt like a true espionage comic. While the season's budget offered some bad CGI, it is cool how it remained in the superhero-verse. Some of the beings shot dark energy blasts and could teleport. While most of the guest appearances were somewhat disappointing. we did get an episode featuring Lady Sif, one with Maria Hill, and two with Nick Fury. (The finale's dialogue with him and Coulson was priceless.) By the final episode, the show had developed a perfect tone and delivered a mini-movie every week. With Coulson now officially Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., I look forward to seeing where they go with Season 2 in September!