Television this week has been a sharp divide of action, pathos, and more action and slow paced oddness, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Following and Fargo fall into two distinct categories of excitement. S.H.I.E.L.D and The Following are moving on an ever increasing plot escalation where it looks like some series favorites may not make it through the season finale and Fargo looks infinitely interesting, strange and chaotic. In other words a lot like a Coen Bros feature film but on television.
In the Marvel verse, Phil Coulson, played so brilliantly by Clark Gregg, goes through some more great character defining moments. Mad props have to go to Gregg for continually showing us sides of Agent Coulson that we’ve never even expected existed. His little (major?) break down out in the middle of snow where, was illuminating, touching, a little painful to watch, and it ultimately made us fall in love again with this ever present character in the Marvel verse.
In the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. it seems that now that the Humpty Dumpty that once was Nick Fury’s pride and joy will never be put back together again, no matter how many horses and men try to mend its shattered remains.
The issues of lost trust, betrayal and the fact that Garrett is the clairvoyant, means that Agent Triplett will have to do something more to earn our, the audience’s, trust while the other Garrett accomplice, Grant Ward, continues to rub the audience’s face into his Benedict Arnold act. All the while, we continue to hope that Agent Ward is not really a baddy after all.
While it looks like the Marvel verse will suffer even more next week by Grant’s continued skillful ersatz feelings for Skye, and it looks like she will suffer more than the verse if that is possible, the series has finally cranked up enough to become interesting. The slow pacing, the erratic scheduling all make sense now, the show’s makers had to match the big screen epic that was Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Viewers can most likely expect the same thing when S.H.I.E.L.D. gets approved, please ABC, and their gearing up for the next Marvel big screen box office offering links itself to the small screen version. Of course, the network may not renew the show for another season. Remember the Whedon curse.
The Following is the second of the action filled shows, apart from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that actually shocked viewers in an episode that pulled no punches; catching up with Joe Carroll and his murderous ex partner Lily. Both these programs kept the mad carousel moving, unlike the intro to Fargo which relied on sheer pathos and homespun ornery weirdness, in the guise of Lorne Malvo, played with brilliant, menacing quirkiness by Bill Bob Thornton.
Before looking at the small screen version of the Coen Bros classic cult hit, The Following has to be looked at in its mad rush to the season finale. Ryan Hardy, played with grim determination and a reality that is so impressive by Kevin Bacon, manages to infiltrate Carroll’s coven. Joe, again expertly played with a doomed air of self destruction by James Purefoy, captures Hardy, with a little help. After making the preacher, who was foolish enough to take Carroll on, suffer for his indiscretion by making his nemesis’ son kill a Corban-ite in front of the camera, he barely gets out of the camp in time before Lily and her “international house of psychos” attack the camp.
Before Ryan is caught and Lily’s attack, Claire has enlisted the help of Max Hardy and Mike Weston, along with the lady journo Carrie Cook who’s been sleeping in Ryan’s bed, to rattle her former husband by revealing that she is still alive. Max tries to reach out to Mike and he minimizes the discussion and when Hardy’s niece asks him about killing Lily, he does not respond.
Major spoiler here, so if you haven’t watched the episode, The Reaping, do not read this paragraph, Mike Weston, shooting Lily point blank in the chest was as shocking as it was disturbing, as well as savagely satisfying.
Mad, mad, mad props to Shawn Ashmore for stealing the show right out from under everyone. If he does not scoop some sort of award for his performances, someone on the judging panel hasn’t been watching. Ashmore continues to make his character so multi faceted that he seems to be sliding dangerously close to becoming a season three baddie.
If it comes true? Just remember that you heard it here first.
Finally, this week saw the beginning of Fargo. This shrinking of the Coen Bros award winning “true story” released back in 1996 may run out of quirky steam after the first season, or even after a few episodes. IMDb shows that the Coen’s have written the first three shows, shared between Joel and Ethan, so after episode three the series could go anywhere.
The story centers on the seemingly spineless loser Lester Nygaard, played with a fumbling quiet desperation by Brit actor Martin Freeman and the “hitman” drifter who decides to stick around Fargo and spread a little deadly mischief. Bill Bob Thornton, the Arkansas actor who almost specialises in quirky, just look at his marriage to Angelina Jolie and those vials of blood, has an almost beautiful air of determined menace. In his own way Thornton’s character Lorne Malvo is just as quiet as Nygaard.
Perhaps the only complaint about the show is its similarities between the Stephen King novel, and made for TV film, Needful Things. In the King book, a man comes to Castle Rock and opens a very special sort of antiquities shop. One that has a little something for everyone. The cost of these “priceless” pieces of junk is a bit of evil tomfoolery that sets neighbor against neighbor and Castle Rock’s denizens end up fighting for more than their souls.
In Fargo, Malvo is the equivalent to King’s mischief maker. Sure, Lorne has zeroed in on Nygaard, but…This man has enough deviltry in him to affect everyone he comes in contact with. In a short flashback sequence with the talented offspring of Tom Hanks, son Colin plays police officer Gus Grimly, whose contact with Malvo shakes him to his core and he lets the man go without questioning. This small act sets up the residents of Fargo for a spell of “small evil doings” that will turn the place on its head.
The body count was quite impressive considering the slow, almost musical pace of the show, and the twists and turns were interesting enough to keep viewers from changing the channel while the odd town folk were becoming intertwined with Malvo’s nasty tricks.
These three shows, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Following, and Fargo were all great at either catching up, or giving a great intro. The show’s combine to make the first two days of the week on television an almost heady experience that the rest of the week has a hard time replicating.
By Michael Smith