Arrow of SHIELD’s Interest: on Season Finales and Tone (Spoiler alert)

The few times I was able to teach freshman literature, I taught at schools which used the Goia and Kennedy text. One of my favorite lessons I came up with was about Gothic literature, comparing how Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor used the same genre with a very different tone and effect. It was a great lesson in how subtle differences in the end of a short story can leave the reader with a different experience. One student asked, “Why do we read all these writers who committed suicide and stuff?” I said, “Beats me, but look at the ones who did, and compare to the ones who didn’t.”
Something similar could be said regarding the seasons, and season finales, of CBS’s Person of Interest, CW’s Arrow and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have blogged before about how Arrow is my favorite current show and seems in many ways to draw from POI. Between the three of them this season, there are so many parallels in stories and characters I get confused sometimes.
POI:

  • Starts off with a rich guy who’s legally dead hiring a former special forces and CIA operative to help him track down people who are identified by a computer.
  • The rich guy seeks to atone for his sense of guilt over making the computer to begin with.
  • They gradually uncover a number of conspiracies.
  • They build up a team including a talented female hacker and talented female assassin.
  • The police look for a vigilante known as “the Man in the Suit.”
  • The police detective who started the series chasing after them eventually started helping them and started this season being demoted for it.   She eventually got promoted again just before being shot and killed.
  • Each episode features thematically parallel stories from the characters’ “past” that not only help to develop the characters but often relate to what’s going on in the “present.”
  • They have ties to a fictional government spy agency

Arrow:

  • Starts of with a rich guy who has returned after five years of being legally dead hiring a former special forces operative to help him track down people whose names are listed in a notebook given to him by his father.
  • The rich guy seeks to atone for his father’s mistake in getting involved in the conspiracy indicated by the names in the notebook.
  • They gradually uncover a number of conspiracies.
  • They build up a team that includes a talented female hacker and talented female assassin.
  • The police look for a vigilante known as the “Man in the Hood” and later “the Arrow.”
  • The police detective who started the series chasing after them eventually started helping them and started this season getting demoted for it.  He eventually got promoted back to detective just before being beaten nearly to death (cliffhanger).
  • Each episode features thematically parallel stories from the characters’ “past” that not only help to develop the characters but often relate to what’s going on in the “present.”
  • They have ties to a fictional spy agency.

Now we throw in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD:

A spy who has been presumed dead comes back to run a covert team that includes a special forces guy, a talented female hacker, and a  talented female assassin.  They work for a fictional spy agency.  They start off by doing weekly missions for their spy agency but quickly uncover a number of conspiracies (which turn out to be related).   Like Arrow, it’s based upon a comic book universe but started by focusing on more “human” stories, using lesser known characters.

All three shows ended their seasons this week with similar cliffhangers:
1) Various conspiracy threads were wrapped up.  In all three cases, we learned that many adversaries who were thought to be separate were, wittingly or unwittingly, working together.   POI and Arrow ended with the main rich guys losing their businesses and fortunes, and SHIELD ended the season with the title organization in shambles, so all three ended with their main characters losing their support networks and possibly being fugitives.  POI and SHIELD ended with evil organizations getting government contracts.  Arrow ended the season with the government spy agency (ARGUS, DC’s equivalent of SHIELD) being possibly either the new employers of the main team or possibly the main adversary of Season 3.

POI is produced by JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of the “Dark Knight” Trilogy with his brother Christopher) while SHIELD is produced by Joss Whedon.  Both Nolan and Whedon have obvious ties to Arrow‘s parent company Warner, and now Amy Acker has appeared as a regular on POI and a guest star on SHIELD.  In addition to being two of the most popular sci-fi TV and movie writer/producer/directors of the past 10-15 years, Whedon and Abrams are known for using the same actors in multiple projects and for using “Easter Eggs” in their various productions.

Interestingly, I’m not the only one who’s suggested that “the Machine” on POI, or its new competitor Samaritan, sounds a lot like “Skynet” from the “Terminator” franchise.  Summer Glau, who played a “Terminator” on Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles and has starred or guest-starred in a number of Joss Whedon’s shows (appearing with Amy Acker on both Angel and Dollhouse), has been on Arrow this season as Isabel Rochev, who may or may not have died in the season finale but was working with Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson, a character whose codename in the comics was “the Terminator” until a certain movie came out.  However, it’s apparently Whedon who’s slated to produce the next Terminator movie, not Abrams.

Given all the thematic and behind-the scenes connections, it’s no wonder I feel like they’re basically all the same shows!

Nevertheless, there’s something about Arrow that makes it seem like the better, all-around show, and, as I started this review, while the finales had many superficial scenarios, there were very subtle differences in tone that left me with very different feelings.  Each finale had a “cliffhanger” that would have worked as a series finale.  Each tried to be a “game changer,” essentially setting up, as described, a completely different situation for its main characters next fall.

It seems like every week this season, the reactions of fans online to POI have been very negative, though the ratings have stayed solid.  This week, I saw very few positive comments online.  POI ended with narration telling us that “the one thing left when Pandora’s box has been opened is hope,” but it sure didn’t feel that way: or maybe the hope is in the box?  I don’t know, but I felt rather crushed and depressed by the tone of the episode.  Nothing can be the same, and it’s definitely stepping more into “grounded science fiction” and  out of “potentially happening in the world we live in.”  It’s not really clear if they’ll possibly be able to defeat Decima and Samaritan, or even if they’ll try.

Arrow was somewhere in between.  Things were bad, but looking up.  To this viewer, at least, it didn’t seem as depressing as POI yet still not so much hopeful as challenging or exciting: Oliver and company have a new quest, to win back his company.  The episode actually ends “in the past,” explaining a hinted connection between Oliver and ARGUS director Amanda “the Wall” Waller.   There really doesn’t seem to be a clear enemy to defeat at this point, though the seeds of next season’s adversaries may already be planted (not sure if FOX’s upcoming Gotham will put an end to the potential for any future Bat-villains, but I am still hoping for an appearance by Ra’s Al-Ghul.

SHIELD had the most classic cliffhangers, with a clear sense of completion to this season’s stories combined with hints of mystery for next year.  Where, like the other shows, it ended its year with a new beginning for the characters (“The Beginning of the End”), and although it was the least likely of the three to be renewed, ratings-wise, it was very clear where the show will be going, and that the characters ended on a relative high note compared to the others.  As it happened, while it aired first (Tuesday at 8), I watched it last of the three, and the viewing order may have colored my reaction, but it seemed to set a more optimistic tone.

The other thing it got right, as a “comic book show,” was what gave “comic books” their name: particularly in conjunction with the very big name (both as a character and an actor) guest star in the finale (and that’s a spoiler I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it), there was a lot of actual humor in the episode.  As the arch-villain is raving, Special Guest Star says to agent Coulson: “You didn’t tell me he was this crazy?” “He’s kicked it up a notch.”

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