My paper for MULT2060. Enjoy!
Ward is back…again. Ugh. Like the regenerative mythical creature upon which the secret organization Ward is part of is based on, he just won’t die. And it wasn’t hard to figure out from the marketing campaign which of the original main six cast members was returning, since the other five are very much alive. As much as this is a turn off when the show returns on April 4th from a brief hiatuses, I’m still going to tune in or pull the show up on my DVR when it airs. Why? Partially because it’s Marvel. What the company has done in the past decade has been phenomenal and they haven’t missed a beat since they resurged with the release of the Iron Man movie in 2008 (iMDB). The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, is expansive and with the exception of a few lackluster Netflix exclusive titles, it is the model that all the other movie studios are desperately trying to achieve. The other reason I stick around are the characters. This season’s second or quite possibly third arc has been somewhat lackluster; a few good episodes are in there that hold my attention but the plot is lacking. But watching Agent Phil Colson struggle with his good solider persona to Melinda May being just kickass to Daisy/Skye taking on more leadership roles is the core of the series. As the characters grow and develop, it’s nice to know that they’ll always still be there, because they serve a far more important purpose. They are our connection to the MCU between the long months of movie releases. For half the year I get to see what’s going on in this ‘parallel world’ that not only tackles the fallout from the Marvel movies but is tied back in to the real world. That in part makes it feel more grounded to the audience rather than things happen just ‘because’. Even the MCU as a whole is an echo of our society and current events as both the movies and our timeline moves forward. Marvel’s Agents of Shield, or MAOS, is just a small, but important part of the whole that reflects the two worlds.
I often like to explain what is canon or which movie studio has the rights to what in these types of projects, since each movie studio has a different take on the source material. A good example is with how 20th Century Fox handles the X-Men movies: their continuity is all over the place whereas Marvel and Disney’s MCU is mostly linear (Collider). And because the rights of certain characters are tied up with another studio, writers and producers have to work around those challenges like what was done with MCU’s Civil War (Collider). It should be noted that this only for live action production; anything animated, video games, and of course, comic books, is still under Marvel (Collider). This is due to the language written into the licensing agreement between Marvel and studios a, b, and c (Collider). “A licensing agreement is a partnership between an intellectual property rights owner (licensor) and another who is authorized to use such rights (licensee) in exchange for an agreed payment (fee or royalty)”, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. Back in the early 90’s, Marvel and other comic book companies were having a really rough time (Collider). Sales in comics were lacking so in order to generate revenue Marvel inflated the market with collectibles (Collider). This backfired badly and Marvel filed for bankruptcy in 1996 (Collider). In order for the company to keep going, they either had to give up movie rights to characters or passing up on contract rights that were expiring (Collider). For the most part, Marvel chose the latter, and most of its characters were bought up by various movie studios (ironically Captain America was left alone) (Collider). Any movie studio using a character can use that character however they like but they still must check in with Marvel creatively (Collider).
As of now, Fox owns the right to the X-Men (including Deadpool) and the word ‘mutant’ (Collider). This is why the MCU is pushing ‘enhanced humans’ and the Inhumans to fill in that huge part of the Marvel universe Disney can’t tap into (Collider). While Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are mutants in the comic books, they are shared between Fox and Marvel, but in the MCU they are ‘enhanced’ and there’s only one Quicksilver running around in one universe and one Scarlet Witch in the other (Collider). Fox is also sharing the rights of the Fantastic Four with Constantine Films, however due to the lackluster F4 film two years ago, rumors have occasionally come up that the rights will be returned to Marvel (Collider). Certain alien species are shared with Fox and Marvel, including the Kree and Skrulls (Collider). But just because Fox owns a certain character doesn’t mean there can be flexibility. Recently, Fox traded Ego the Living Planet back to Marvel so they could change the skillset of Negasonicteenage Warhead in Deadpool (Collider). Fox also had the rights to Daredevil but lost those rights back to Marvel in 2012 when they failed to meet the contracted licensing agreement to be in production with a film during the time period of the character’s contract (Collider). Other properties that have returned to Marvel include Blade, Ghost Rider, and Man Thing (Collider).
Sony also licensed the rights to Spider-Man and all of the characters tied to that property. (Collider). While they have been fairly successful, the last few films have caused the studio to reboot the property twice and even ask Marvel for help (Graser). Under the current agreement, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will appear in three MCU films and three Sony films (Graser). When Spiderman is in the MCU, Sony won’t receive a box office cut and vise versa (Graser). Very recently the studio announced that after Avengers Infinity War, Spider-Man will no longer be in the MCU (Collider). But because the contract is until 2020, speculation is that both studios will renew the contract (Collider).
While Marvel has either bought or received back properties after contract expiration, one property in particular is on a legal tether totter (Collider). Universal studios still has distribution rights to the Hulk and Marvel fears if they have a movie with the word ‘Hulk’ in it, Universal will want a cut of the money (Collider). This is portably why Marvel is making Thor: Ragnerok instead of Planet Hulk (Collider).
Because Agents of Shield is still a property that falls under Marvel, Disney is the parent production company of the TV series (Storm). Disney’s purchase of Marvel in 2009 falls in line with Disney’s method of total merchandising and broadening its consumer base (Johnson). Disney’s vertical convergence began with the purchase of ABC in 1995 which also included ESPN (Dominick). This gave films and TV programs from Disney’s production division an outlet over ABC’s network of TV stations and cable channels (Dominick 22). This is why MAOS will only be shown on ABC (unless licensed for a syndication on another network). This also allows Disney to showcase exclusive sneak peaks of upcoming Marvel films, since it will have a guaranteed fan base watching the footage when it’s revealed and also show behind the scene featurettes such as Marvel: It’s All Connected special (Anderson). This is also an example of Disney’s total merchandising by tying together separate pieces of commercial culture (Anderson). In fact Disney was one of two movie studio companies that saw television as a new medium to attract an audience and the first to see a future built on TV’s technical achievements (Anderson). Disneyland, Disney’s TV show that aired Wednesdays on ABC (Anderson). The initial investment sounded like a stretch: a $500,000 loan to air Disneyland and get a 1/3 share in the soon to be built Disneyland park (Anderson). Both NBC and CBS passed but ABC was willing to take the gamble (Anderson). It paid off and Disney kicked off a push for full scale of integration of movie and TV productions (Anderson) (although it should be noted that some TV productions are now been filmed in Vancouver, CA vise Los Angeles to save money like Once Upon a Time and most CWTV shows). A better example is during the Monday Night Football game on ESPN where the Star Wars Trailer for The Force Awakens dropped during halftime (Disney is also the parent company of Lucasfilms) (Pallotta). The trailer would be viewed 125 million times in 24hrs with 14 million from that halftime period alone (Pallotta). And I can guarantee that no one was paying attention to the game that night since three sources I have looked at don’t even mention the teams playing! (It was the Giants vs the Eagles)(NFL).
Starting in Season One, MAOS was this somewhat campy, tag-along ride that not only revealed that Agent Coulson wasn’t as dead as thought in the Avengers but was directly affected by the events of the MCU (Pilot- MAOS). The alien attack in New York City scared people and the world was strange enough before then (Pilot- MAOS). Already a few episodes in, the team lead by Coulson found themselves cleaning up the wreckage left behind by Thor and the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World (The Well- MAOS). While this venture was fun, it kept the viewers wanting more. That all change with the release of Captain America: Winter Solider. On MAOS, there was tension building that something was quite amiss within SHIELD. Someone calling themselves ‘the Clairvoyant’ with access to special technology, particularly cybernetics and information gathering, was causing trouble for Coulson and his team (End of the Beginning- MAOS). They thought they located the Clairvoyant but it turned out to be a ruse and the real Clairvoyant was a high level operative in SHIELD (End of the Beginning- MAOS). The real shell shocker would come in Winter Solider with HYRDA, once thought to be vanquished with the defeat of the Red Skull in the first Captain America, regrouped and infiltrated SHIELD (Turn, Turn, Turn- MAOS). These reverberations were felt within MAOS and would continue well into Seasons 2 and 3. Winter Solider was applauded for being such a great political theater as many Marvel fans feared who would be the Cap’s enemy in the modern age (Gleiberman). With these revelations, Coulson’s team and what remained of SHIELD had to weed out its traitors, including Ward (Nothing Personal- MAOS). This reflects the turmoil of our own political climate, but with a more of feel pulling back to the Cold War Era of Soviet Spies within America. It’s somewhat limited in MAOS but Winter Solider brings it up perfectly with society submitting themselves to surveillance even into our personnel lives for the sake of security.
Hinted at in Season One and brought into fully in the second half of Season Two, the Inhumans were the answer to the MCU’s lack of mutants. The results of an ancient experiment by the alien race the Kree (introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy), then later abandoned, the Inhumans were a branch of humans that gained extraordinary powers when they undergo terrigenesis through crystals (Who You Really Are- MAOS). The terrigen crystals reacts only when a human carrying the alien genetic code is present; any other humans die and turn to stone (What They Become-MAOS). Coulson and his team are already having a tough time trying to get the disbanded SHIELD back together as they are fighting both the US government, the reborn HYDRA, and even themselves (One Door Closes- MAOS). It is revealed that Skye is one these humans with the Kree genetic code and is gifted with earthquake like powers after exposure to the terrigen crystal (What They Become- MAOS). Skye lacking control of her new abilities and terrified of hurting others, is whisked away to Afterlife, a place where the other Inhumans learn to harness their powers (Afterlife- MAOS). Her Skye meets her mother and father, who had been separate since Skye was very young (Melinda- MAOS). While Jiaying, Skye’s mother, seems to be wishing for a peaceful, yet isolationist life, for the Inhumans, she has a far more sinister plan (Scars- MAOS). Instead of allowing the Inhumans to be monitored by SHIELD, she kills the SHIELD delegates and shoots herself declaring war against the agency (Scars- MAOS). Her plan is to spread the terrigen crystals throughout the world, leaving the Inhumans the only ones left standing (S.O.S.- MAOS). The plan is thwarted but Skye loses both of her parents and Coulson loses an arm (S.O.S.- MAOS).
The tie into the MCU this season was the appearance of Sif, an Asgardian from Thor played by Jamie Alexander (Who You Really Are- MAOS), and the revelation that Coulson’s top secret plan was a helicarrier he salvaged to be used by Nick Fury to help out the Avengers in Age of Ultron (The Dirty Half Dozen- MAOS). While MOAS ties to the real world are somewhat lacking as the last season, Jiaying’s mantra of ‘anyone who isn’t us, is against us’ is a theme that is used effectively in the second season especially with the rise of HYRDA.
At the end of season two, the remnants of the terrigen crystals are swept into the ocean and consumed by fish (S.O.S. -MAOS). While the fish aren’t affected by the crystals, when they are consumed by humans in the form of meat or fish oil pills the crystals fragments activate (Laws of Nature- MAOS). The Inhumans are now everywhere and it up to the reformed SHIELD to find them before the beaten but still a significant threat of HYDRA (Laws of Nature- MAOS). Grant Ward becomes a unique figure during the first half of the season; originally he had planned to completely break ties with both SHIELD and HYRDA but losing his first crush Skye then lover Agent 33, has turned him on a dangerous warpath of revenge. Skye has also taken up her birth name of Daisy and the codename ‘Quake’ as she tries to form her own special task force of Inhumans (Purpose in the Machine- MAOS). The series takes an interesting twist coming into the midseason: HYRDA as it turns out, existed long before it’s Nazi ties (Many Heads One Tail- MAOS). They were more or less an occult waiting for their true leader but the Red Skull misdirected them and now the group is as fractured as SHIELD was in the previous season (Many Heads One Tail- MAOS). Their leader was banished to another world and the true HYRDA has been using all sorts of ploys to bring it back, including resources at NASA (Many Heads One Tail- MAOS). The midseason finale leads to a showdown on another planet where Coulson kills Ward out of revenge for his murdered girlfriend (further turning the cycle of vengeance) but SHIELD fails to stop the hidden HYRDA leader, Hive, from making its way to Earth, using Ward’s body as a host (Maveth- MAOS). This creature is one of the first Inhumans created by the Kree and has the unique ability to control any Inhuman by making them obsessed with it (The Team- MAOS). Several Inhumans are infected including Daisy who turns against SHIELD (The Team- MAOS). This leads to increased fear and apprehension of Inhumans throughout the world and also in part the Sokovia Accords (Emancipation- MAOS). Daisy eventually comes to her senses but carries the guilt of what she’s done with her into Season 4. Hive is defeated by the self-sacrifice of Lincoln, Daisy’s boyfriend, and his death affects her the most (Ascension- MAOS).
The show played an interesting game of hot-potato with the use of a crucifix necklace that was seen in the midseason premiere flash forward of the season finale, passed around by various members of the cast. The change felt from season two into season three isn’t just reflective of Daisy accepting her identity: Coulson has to deal with an injury that left him without an arm, May struggles to reconnect with her ex-husband, and Fitz is on a mission to get Simmons back after she goes missing at the end of Season Two. What happens to Simmons is one of the more interesting aspects of the third season: Simmons finds herself fighting for survival on an alien planet, the same one where Hive is trapped, though this is not known at the time (4,722 Hours- MAOS). Simmons escapes with Fitz and the rest of the teams help but suffers from PTSD and has trouble readjusting to menial things such as the shower, lights, and sound for a time (A Wanted (Inhu)man-MAOS). The new Inhumans are also struggling to readjust, now feared by normal humans with uncertainty and apprehension. The ones Daisy manages to find and save must undergo psychological testing before being placed into the field, almost like the extreme vetting of US Homeland Security (The Purpose in the Machine- MAOS). On top of this, during the first half of the season, the Inhumans are also targeted by the Advance Threat Containment Unit, almost like an ICE task force (Laws of Nature- MAOS). There is also Andrew Gardner, May’s ex-spouse who is also an Inhuman himself but his incomplete transformation takes on a “Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” motif (Among Us Hide… -MAOS).
Towards the end of Season Three and the release of Captain America: Civil War, the Sokovia Accords are introduced. The Accords are a UN resolution sanctioned by several countries in response to the events of AI Ultron’s attack and destruction of Sokovia, the rise of rouge Inhumans and other enhanced humans, and the accidental bombing of a hotel where several members of a Wakanda delegation were staying at (Captain America: Civil War). This forces superheroes, enhanced humans, and inhumans to register with the government and to check in on a routine basis, and to be called to action if necessary by a UN approved security council (Captain America: Civil War). This is meant for accountability purposes and a deterrent for vigilantism (Captain America: Civil War). As good as these intentions are, some feel like this is far too much government oversight and could lead to prejudice, sparking the intense battle between Iron Man and Captain America (Captain America: Civil War). The Sokovia Accords are almost akin to a terror watch list or even that of a Muslim Registry.
These intense feelings of division are carried into Season Four of MAOS, with Daisy on the run from SHIELD, who has now been reinstated as a legitimate government entity but under different management (The Ghost- MAOS). Both out of fear from the previous infiltration of HYDRA and the Accords, most members of the agency undergo polygraph tests on a weekly basis in an effort to enforce trust and to report suspicious behavior (Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire- MAOS). Daisy, meanwhile, is trying to gather and hunt down members of the vigilante group the Watchdogs, who have sworn to flush out the Inhumans and murder if necessary (The Ghost- MAOS). Her attention is drawn to Robbie Reyes, aka the Ghost Rider, who is neither Inhuman nor an enhanced human, but claims his powers are from the devil (Meet the New Boss-MAOS). Both Daisy and Reyes reluctantly team up with SHIELD to take down a group of ‘ghosts’ who messed around with a magical book known as the Darkhold (The Good Samaritan-MAOS). The real villain isn’t the ghosts but Reyes’s uncle, Marrow, who uses the Darkhold to give himself the power to summon elements (Deals with Our Devils- MAOS). Coulson, Fitz, and Reyes become trapped in another dimeson but are rescued when scientist Radcliff has his android Adia read the Darkhold and create a portal to get them out (Deals with Our Devils-MAOS). Reading the Darkhold has an effect on Adia however and is the drive behind the second half of the season (The Laws of Inferno Dynamics- MAOS). SHIELD and Reyes manages to defeat Marrow but Reyes seems to have vanished and Daisy is reinstated as a SHIELD agent (The Laws of Inferno Dynamics- MAOS). Adia, however, has kidnapped May and has replaced her with a Life Model Decoy that doesn’t know it’s a fake (Broken Promises- MAOS). At the start of the second third of the season, Adia goes rouge and goes after the Darkhold but it stopped by Agent Mack (Broken Promises- MAOS). Senator Nadeer is also causing problems with her anti-Inhuman rethodoric by backing the Watchdogs and killing her own brother when he shows he has Inhuman powers (Broken Promises- MAOS). It is revealed the Radcliff has been behind Adia’s sentience all along and has created more LMDs including another Aida and makes a deal with the Watchdogs ‘Superior’, Russian former SVR Ivanov (Hot Potato Soup- MAOS). Radcliff wants to build “the Framework”, a matrix like simulation that will ease people of their unhappiness (Wake Up-MAOS). The May LMD is eventually discovered, or rather she discovers herself, but things began to get out of hand when Nadeer is killed by the Watchdogs (Hot Potato Soup- MAOS) and several LMDs infiltrate the SHIELD base (Self Control-MAOS). Aida has seized control of Radcliff’s operation, throwing him into the Framework along with the other captured agents (Self Control-MAOS). LMD May allows Daisy and Simmons to escape while detonating a bomb that destroys the other LMDs (Self Control-MAOS). The third arc begins with Daisy and Simmons plugging themselves into the Framework, only to find HYRDA has taken over the world and SHIELD is no more (Self Control-MAOS).
In the first third of the season, the Ghost Rider was brought in to tie the mystical side of the MCU in preparation for the release of Doctor Strange (Boone). The LMDs further broaden the scope of the rise of sentient artificial intelligence introduced by Ultron and Vison (Abrams). Although speculation, I believe it’s no coincidence that HYRDA was brought back in the third arc. HYDRA is the main enemy of Captain America who is represented in the series by SHIELD, therefore HYDRA will always be present as long as SHIELD is around. Because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is coming out this May towards the end of the season four run and GOTG 2 takes place in the past rather than the continuing present, there won’t be as many MCU tie ins for this final arc (Collider).
The fourth season was bumped up to the 10pm time slot allowing the show to go a bit darker (Fitzpatrick). After all the first act has a motorcyclist with a flaming CGI skull head that goes around murdering people deemed guilty. The tone of the third arc is shot or presented with a dark filter, as this is a far darker world with HYRDA in control and even adds to the element of how ‘unreal’ the simulation is. It’s almost as if the show writers are reacting to the rise of Donald Trump and the nationalistic trends not only felt in America but across the world (Schwartz). Inhumans are treated like third-class citizens, almost how some radical politicians few Muslims and refugees. The vigilante group the Watchdogs fell threaten by the presence of the Inhumans much like some believe too many refugees are armed terrorists. One disappointment is how the writers use May this season: she’s either crazy (part 1), kidnapped and impersonated (part two), or evil (part 3). Props to the actress for putting up with all the directions her character is taking but it’s frustrating to watch her character used in such a way. The only genuine surprise is school teacher/ conspiracy theorist Coulson who still always manages to pull off the untitled role of ‘Dad’ (I’m still holding out that they’ll say Coulson is secretly a clone of Steve Rodgers).
With Marvel expanding into television with several TV shows including MAOS, further expanding the MCU, the company is certainly in a high roll. Many of their movies are listed on the greatest 100 films of all time (Johnson). Although the 90’s was rocky for them, Marvel used revenue generated from royalties of other movies studios to rebrand themselves by 2005 (Johnson). Marvel Studios executive Justin Lambros proposed “a creative hierarchy in which Marvel’s filmmaking operations trumped anything developing in other markets- largely as a result of the cinema’s ability to command larger audiences and build greater exposure for Marvel’s characters” (Johnson). No one knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were until the movie came out and generated positive word of mouth. Marvel’s approach was drastically different than that of DC and Warner Brothers, whom are still struggling to catch up. They forced other Hollywood studios to rethink their positions and how to adapt to the movie going audience, particularly in how they created new relationships both creatively and economy (Johnson). John Caldwell argues “the worlds of film/video workers are organized and rationalized around an extensive set of secondary symbolic texts, trade stories, pedagogical rituals, and technologies” (Johnson). All of these rituals and artifacts serve to manage and inflict the social relations and labor activities, even as they have enable each craft and association to collectively imagine itself as a community (Johnson). Fox learned its lessons after the third X-Men movie, the Last Stand, although took a hit with Fantastic Four (Hoad) but bounced back with Deadpool (Mendelson). Marvel caught Disney Enterprises’ attention and they were bought for $4 billion dollars in 2009 (Johnson). This again, was more on Disney’s part to expand its audience and would make an (almost) similar dead with Lucasfilms three years later (Kratz). The MCU has also expanded further into television with Agent Carter (canceled after two seasons), and the Defenders Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the Iron Fist on Netflix (Boone), with Cloak and Dagger set to premiere on Freeform (Fuller). Daredevil was great but Jessica Jones went on forever and ever and I heard so much bad news from Cage and Fist that I’ve avoided the other two. But for now as SHIELD carries on to the end of season four with uncertainty (as of writing it has yet to be renewed), I’m just hoping things will turn out alright with Coulson and his team. And if it is to end after all this time, let it end with Coulson (or Daisy) saying, “We have a mission. Wheels up in five.”
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