By Andrea Towers
May 14, 2014 at 04:22 PM EDT

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — Marvel’s attempt to bring its tentpole movie franchise to the small screen — burst onto the scene almost a year ago as one of the most anticipated gambles of the 2013-2014 season. On the surface, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had everything going for it: seasoned showrunners who knew how to build a cult series, an expansive universe full of rich history, the promise of enticing characters. But it took awhile for the show to find its feet; early episodes seemed more like a CBS procedural than an action-packed spy show. Obviously, we couldn’t expect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be Iron Man. But those who tuned in hoping for something more fast-paced were initially disappointed.

And then the back half of the season happened. Or rather, Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened — and all of a sudden, the show picked up speed. S.H.I.E.L.D. stopped holding back, instead throwing in unpredictable twists and raising the stakes of both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the television world. Sure, the show’s first season will remain polarizing — but personally, I’m excited about what we’ve set up for season two. Coulson is set to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. as Director, per Fury’s request — but we’re not sure if his brain is actually okay after all. Garrett is dead, at least one of Skye’s parents are alive, and there’s something about her past that may make her more evil than innocent. (Plus, the promise of more Patton Oswalt!)

After a season filled with numerous ups and downs, I tried my best to round up (and sum up) the good and the not so good. Don’t worry — I’m pretty sure I’ve passed Koenig’s lie detector test.

High: Ward is Hydra

Most people (myself included) weren’t impressed by Brett Dalton’s character when the series first started. And that’s what made his turn-around as an evil Hydra baddie so awesome. His psychopathic-stalker-boyfriend-ish tendencies? His ruthless disregard for his friends? His cold and calculating stare? Suddenly, it felt like we were watching an entirely new person. Once we could go back and look for the clues that proved Ward had a hidden agenda all along, we were able to appreciate just how talented Dalton was as an actor, and how much he added to the show. For those who had stuck with the series from the start, it was worth the wait.

Low: Tahiti (or T.A.H.I.T.I.)

It was the big mystery that fueled the show in the first place: How the heck did Coulson (last seen dying after being stabbed with Loki’s scepter in The Avengers) come back to life? We were promised answers; this wasn’t going to be one of those LOST-type mysteries that dragged on for an entire season.

Then we learned the truth. It’s not that the reveal wasn’t intriguing, because the details surrounding Coulson’s resurrection actually played a large role in the season’s endgame. And the circumstances surrounding this particular plot point did give Clark Gregg some of his best scenes. But if we’re being honest, Tahiti ended up paling in comparison to the Hydra/Ward reveal, a much stronger and more surprising twist.

High: FitzSimmons

The best friends and science tag-team had some of the most unexpected (but wonderfully genuine) — especially during those gut-wrenching moments in last night’s finale. On their own, they resonated: Marvel has had a long-standing history of awesome scientists, both male and female. But together, they also stood out. No one on Coulson’s team is a “superhero,” but in a team of people who can do karate and hack computers, Fitz and Simmons were the gentle, very human scientists with a heart.

Low: SkyeWard

Okay. To be fair, this relationship got more interesting once it was revealed that Ward was Hydra. But let’s look at the cast dynamics: with dynamic pairings like May and Coulson, Fitz and Simmons, and even Trip and Simmons, it felt like the show just put Skye and Ward together because their characters seemed to fit — even though in practice, they had zero chemistry.

High: Agent Triplet

I fully did not expect B.J. Britt to make as much of an impression as he did. At first, I had him pegged for an undercover bad guy (good job, show!). Then I had him pegged for Garrett’s puppy (again — good job, show!). Then I figured at some point, he would fade into the background. But when all was said and done, Trip turned out to be a damn good agent who, just like our team, had been betrayed by someone he had put his trust in. Whether it was his chemistry with Simmons or his amusing one-liners, Trip blended in so well that we almost forgot he wasn’t there at the beginning. Plus, learning his grandfather was a Howling Commando? Bell and Loeb, if you don’t follow up on that (or at least make some reference in Agent Carter), we need to have a chat.

Low: Glenn Talbot

I got really excited when it was announced that Adrian Pasdar would join the cast, as I’ve been a fan of his since Heroes. And I thought it was super cool that the show was going to make a fun reference to the man who, in the comic world, worked with General Ross to capture and destroy the Hulk. But when Pasdar’s role turned out to be more of a fly-by than anything else, I ended up being disappointed that he wasn’t worked in better…especially when Bill Paxton made such an impression.

High: Those MCU guest stars

As a show that bridged the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the world of primetime TV, S.H.I.E.L.D. was at its strongest when it could incorporate high-profile guest stars who added to the story. It was nice to see Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill make a brief appearance during the pilot to help set the stage, and it was fun to see a pop up cameo from Samuel L. Jackson in the second episode — but it was more fun to see Maria Hill kicking some butt in a bigger, featured role later in the season, along with Jackson’s prominent finale appearance. And let’s not forget the wonderful Jaimie Alexander, who came down to Earth from Asgard to help a capture a seductive God who had evil plans for our team…

Low: Scheduling? What scheduling?

ABC, you’re to blame on this one. And while it’s typical for network shows to spend a few random weeks on and off the air, the second half of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s first season was plagued by inconsistent blocks of scheduling that annoyed even the most dedicated of fans.

While the series performed moderately well in the ratings, it probably could have performed even better if episodes had aired uninterrupted. We can all relax, as the series has officially been renewed for season two — but let’s take away a lesson from all of this, shall we? The last stretch of all-new episodes was nice, but the “on for one week, off for three weeks model” wasn’t exactly helpful for people trying to jump in on a show that already was hard to follow. According to next year’s just-released schedule, it looks like the show will be moving to 9pm on Tuesdays (a move I predicted on Twitter a few weeks ago following the ratings gain after the show aired one new episode in that time slot), and that I’m hopeful that will allow the show to gain more of a secure footing.

Episode Recaps

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.
  • TV Show
  • 6
  • TV-PG
  • 07/19/13
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