(CBR) It's definitely been an eventful first few months for "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the ABC series set in the same world as Marvel Studios' phenomenally profitable films. While the ratings for the highly hyped show started strong and have remained solid, fan and critical reaction has been mixed at best, with responses including TV Guide dubbing the show "this season's biggest disappointment."
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." hits a benchmark with this week's "The Bridge," hitting both episode No. 10 and its first midseason finale. The episode, written by Shalisha Francis and directed by Holly Dale, is headlined by the first appearance since the pilot of Mike Peterson, played by Joss Whedon veteran J. August Richards. While events didn't go so well for him last time around -- the episode ended with him taken into custody after a rampage at Union Station in Los Angeles -- this time he's working for S.H.I.E.L.D., who's looking for some superpowered assistance in their season-long conflict with sinister organization Centipede.
In an interview with CBR News, "S.H.I.E.L.D." executive producer Jeffrey Bell said "The Bridge" is also an episode where viewers will begin to see threads from prior episodes coming together, and a larger tapestry will start to emerge. He also predicted that viewers and critics who have claimed the show doesn't feel "Marvel" enough may soon get more of what they're looking for.
"I would say, in general, I think fans will experience the episodes as being a bit more 'Marvel,'" Bell said. "I mean that on several levels."
Bell also discussed the criticism the show has received, the freshly revealed relationship between Agents Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen), and when viewers can expect more hints on the ongoing mystery surrounding series lead Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg)'s return following his apparent death by Loki-inflicted impalement in "The Avengers."
CBR News: Jeffrey, let's start by looking a bit at the season so far as whole. With episode 10 coming up, from your perspective as someone with a lot of TV experience, are things around where you hoped them to be at this point, both creatively and in terms of audience?
Jeffrey Bell: Creatively, yes. One of the things that's interesting for us is doing a 22-episode arc; the pace of telling that story. We have to arc something out over 22 episodes versus 10 or 12. What I think people will see in episode 10 is how things we laid out in episode 1 and episode 3 and episode 4 and episode 5 and other episodes actually all start to come together, and you see pieces come together in 10. For us, that's exciting, and I think people see, "Oh, there's been this plan," and what felt standalone is actually connected, but you can still get into it. That's been fun for us, and I think people will enjoy the episode because of some of the cards we turn over with respect to that.
The thing that's interesting about fan responses is, it's all over the place. There are die-hard Marvel people who wonder why Mike Peterson isn't Luke Cage. "We need more Marvel characters, it needs to be serialized." Then you've got people on the other end who want more kissing. There are a lot of different opinions, but I think in general people are responding well to the show. I can't remember the last time I had so many unsolicited people go, "Oh, you work on that show, I love that show," or, "My wife loves that show," or, "My kid loves that show," or, "My brother loves that show." I feel like there's goodwill in the world for that. So that's been cool.
A 22-episode arc is a long-term investment to an extent -- so is it frustrating for you to see people who might have passed judgement on the show early on, or is it a reaction you were expecting?
I learned a long time ago that the Internet was invented really to disseminate three words, which are, "worst episode ever." There are a lot of haters on the Internet -- not just for our show, but in general. I like to hear people to say, "We're in the construction business. We're building things, we're not tearing things down." I think there are a lot of good shows out there that a lot of people hate on.
I don't think we should be led by fans, I think we should have fans follow. People saying, "faster, more, faster, more" -- you can never go faster, and you can never give them enough. You have to trust the stories that you're wanting to tell, have a plan, and hopefully at the end people will go, "Oh, they knew what they were doing, that was cool, I didn't see that coming, that was really satisfying." That's our goal. And we'll find out! But we think we have cool stuff planned, and from 10 on out, we're starting to turn over cards. If you think of 22 episodes as a movie, we're at the one-hour mark in the movie. Things are picking up. We're still building towards the climax before we get to falling action, but you've set the table for what's going to happen.
Second act type stuff.
Yeah. But also at the one-hour mark in a movie, usually it's like, "oh, the best friend dies," or "the person you thought was dead is alive," or "they finally get together." It's a reset of some type. It's something you didn't see coming, or something you weren't expecting, versus just more plot or a larger threat.
Episode 10 is a big ep, and I feel like we deliver, and we'll hear from folks next week.
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