Overview: The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fight off Hydra while facing the threat of the uncanny Terrigen outbreak. ABC; 2015; TV-PG; 10 episodes.

Many Heads, One Tale: After a series-defining, comeback, second season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had the next task of using the storylines and characters that worked really well in Season 2 in a follow up season that would hopefully prove that their one good season wasn’t a stroke of luck. Thankfully, the folks over at ABC struck hard and fast with a half-season that was action-packed, full of heart, and full of Marvel fun.

The biggest achievement of this half-season was bringing in all the main players they had in the season prior, and structuring the half-season around them and their different dynamics. Ten main characters are definitely a lot to handle, but the half-season found weird yet very interesting ways to pair up certain individuals and let the story take it from there. Last season’s biggest character, Skye, develops a brother-sister/partner relationship with Mack, as she goes from an Inhuman struggling to control her abilities to a leader of a team of Inhumans, while Mack starts shaping up to be what is most likely the best candidate for Director of S.H.I.E.L.D..

The half-season made many of those unpredictable yet very sensible pairs, another of which is May and Hunter, who totally get each other when it comes to divorces, but can never quite get along, which is exactly why the two being paired up on a mission to take down Grant Ward, the man who screwed both of them, is extremely entertaining to watch. Brett Dalton makes for an excellent villain as well, as we finally get to see him take on the role of the main antagonist. Dalton has been really good at turning his “vanilla” characters into memorable individuals. He has this way of amplifying and spicing up the preconceived image of the “pretty jock” that it comes off entertaining rather brilliantly.

The chunk of the emotional turmoil of the half-season comes in the form of Bobbi and FitzSimmons, the three broken characters trying to put themselves back together from the events of last season. Bobbi recovers in time for a satisfying comeback at the end of episode six, but the FitzSimmons storyline lingers on, creating one of the few compelling “will they, won’t they” relationships I’ve seen on television. It’s actually tough watching their relationship bloom at times, knowing that they would give the world for each other yet their current situation won’t allow for it to happen at all.

At the center of all this is Coulson, the foundation of the series since day one. Coulson has fun repartee with new character Rosalind Price, and he still functions as the audiences’ entrance to an episode. As he oversees the different missions, we see the characters evolve throughout each episode. Despite many characters, the half-season managed to tell one cohesive and character-centric story, and even managed to take it all the way to a touchdown mid-season finale.

4,722 Hours: It was definitely a fast-paced season. The mystery of “Who is this new villain Lash?” lasts just about three episodes. The cliffhanger of last season is resolved by the second episode. The mid-season finale itself felt like pay-off of a whole season’s worth of stoylines. Given this quick pace, it’s surprising that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to slow it down for an episode and give us an episode focused on one main character’s flashbacks. The result is one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest hours.

In an episode that is basically The Martian meets the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we find Jemma Simmons as loses hope and finds it again, and ultimately, come into her own as a staple character of the show. She finally shows how much Fitz means to her, but they’re separated by galaxies and she’s got her hands full trying to restore hope to Will, another survivor on that planet. The two bounce off each other really well, and as she said, “I’ll be the voice of hope and you’ll be the voice of doom. We’ll keep each other in check.” And as the two characters accept their fate and find comfort in one another as the sun rises on the planet for the first time in years, the finale of the episode becomes the most cinematic the show has ever attempted at being.

Chaos Theory: The show introduced characters and components with ease, and in ways that served the overall story. Especially with the villains. The reveal of Doctor Andrew Garner as Lash is an ingenious way of adding another layer to May’s character, without compromising her development last season. The half-season got even deeper into Hydra, bringing in Von Strucker’s son and Powers Boothe’s character from The Avengers, and even creating a larger history for the organization that transcends its introduction in The First Avenger.

Its utilization of the larger portrait of the MCU is admirable, but it’s when the show focuses its world around the story that it really fires on all cylinders. Last season saw the introduction of the Inhumans, and this half-season takes it one step further by sort of bringing in the Secret Warriors. They’re building the team and individual characters up first, instead of dropping them on us in the first episode. That’s really been where the show’s succeeding; long term planning executed with quickly paced and character centric stoylines. The result has been an incredibly satisfying mid-season finales such as this one.

Overall: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an example of how to handle a comic book TV series ensemble. This half-season alone made a case for it being a worthy MCU product.

Rating: B+