After taking the summer off, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘ returned to ABC with a brand new status quo. With the peacekeeping organization falling apart after the events of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, Agent Phil Coulson has been promoted to Director and was given the arduous task of rebuilding from the ground up. But without the resources and personnel that they once had, things are proving to be more difficult than anticipated, especially since HYDRA has something new up their sleeve at every turn.

The first episode of the second season picks up months after last season’s finale. Coulson has been scouring the globe in search of agents that are still loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D., but with the team still not where it should be, he has brought in Isabelle Hartley and her team of mercenaries. Even with the additions of this trio, weapons expert Alphonso ‘Mac’ Mackenzie, and The Playground’s caretaker Agent Billy Koenig, the crew from The Bus is considerably less than 100% thanks to the fallout of last season. But at the end of the day, none of these setbacks are stopping the all-new S.H.I.E.L.D. from protecting the world from new and unusual threats at all costs.

Now that the airwaves are littered with superhero/comic book shows, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ really needed to step their game up this season due to the highs and lows that caused some fans to jump ship last season. Though those of us who stuck around were rewarded in a big way, the show needed to do something to bring their audience back and keep them there and I feel like ‘Shadows’ is definitely a step in the right direction. By freshening up the concept with this underground bare bones operation, the show offers something new and exciting to watch. But the new premise also works because of how far all these characters have come since last season.

The most hard-hitting change on the team comes from the more technical-minded side of the group. After Fitz’s sacrifice for Simmons, he was left with severe brain trauma, which was not something that I was expecting to see. Usually, shows will create an off-screen miracle that would bring a character back to the way that they were, but ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is giving us the repercussions of Fitz’s actions. This storyline immediately became one of the most interesting things about the new season by the end of the episode where we saw the full extent of the damage. The reveal that Simmons was in Fitz’s head for the whole episode was just heartbreaking. Devastating even! I am so curious to see how Coulson and the team handle this situation moving forward because both the characters and the audience don’t want to see Fitz left behind or FitzSimmons be apart.

Until that incredibly emotional (Oops! I almost said “mind-blowing”.) reveal of Fitz’s condition, I was really interested in the evolution of Skye. Since we last saw her, she has turned into quite the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent thanks to some training from May. But moreover, she has hardened as a person because of Ward’s betrayal. When she’s sent in to retrieve some intel from her incarcerated former teammate, it was reminiscent of Black Widow interrogating Loki in ‘The Avengers,’ but there were more emotions at play. Brett Dalton did a great job with being so manipulative that it was hard not to hate him even though he was trying to help Skye. But what are his motivations? It’s clear that he still has feelings for her, but Skye’s feelings seem to be completely out the window. She has bigger things on her mind, like the strange alien markings from last season or Coulson’s state of mind or whatever the mission is for her currently. This setup in the first episode could lead to some very cool places for Skye’s character development, so I can’t wait to see which route they take with her.

The main team members weren’t the only shining stars of the episode. There were a ton of guest stars that left an impact as well. Personally, I loved seeing Howling Commandos Jim Morita and Dum Dum Dugan in the flashback at the top of the episode. I hope we see more of them in ‘Agent Carter’ later this year. In the present, Lucy Lawless’ Agent Isabelle Hartley was a great addition to the team. Although it was a huge bummer to see her go so soon, she put into motion an awesome storyline with Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter, which will probably see him become a reluctant ally because of his resentment towards Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. for his partner’s demise. And finally Brian Patrick Wade as the Absorbing Man was awesome in so many ways. Aside from John Garrett, he might be my favorite ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ villain so far. The show stepped their CGI game up with this character too, so his path of destruction looked great. Chances are that we haven’t seen the last of Carl “Crusher” Creel and I look forward to our next encounter.

‘Shadows’ did a great job of carrying over the momentum from the second half of last season. Though this episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ was super heavy, it totally hooked me because of the new direction that Director Coulson and the rest of the gang are heading in. When the episode started, things were just good. There were great cameos and explosive action, but there was the possibility that once shows like ‘Constantine’, ‘Gotham’, and ‘The Flash’ got rolling, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ could fall to the wayside. However, by the end of it all, I don’t see that happening. While DC does tend to top Marvel when it comes to the small screen, the House of Ideas isn’t going down without a fight. This was an awesome start to the season and I hope that we keep riding this wave of excellence without falling into the same mistakes of last season.

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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ starring Brett Dalton, Ming-Na Wen, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Chloe Bennet, and Clark Gregg airs on Tuesdays at 9:00pm on ABC.