There’s a strong element of continuity between the last season of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and this one, inasmuch as the Inhumans dominated the plot then, and apparently will for the foreseeable future. In the process of establishing this arc, the show manages to name-check practically every Marvel movie (including this summer’s “Ant-Man”), reflecting its slightly awkward seat as a role player in the vast and interlocking Marvel cinematic universe.
Season two focused heavily on Skye/Daisy (Chloe Bennet) acquiring and coming to grips with her Inhuman powers, ending with the prospect of unleashing a new host of super-powered characters upon the world. While that presents an obvious threat where SHIELD has cause to intervene, the group runs into some high-powered interference from a shadowy cabal also looking to corral these poor, confused souls.
Constance Zimmer appears as the ostensible mastermind of those efforts, and after her yeoman stint in Lifetime’s “UnReal,” let’s hope the plan isn’t to cast them in a superhero version of “The Bachelor.” Meanwhile, the rest of the SHIELD team continues to deal with emotional fallout from last season, including Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), who gets a chance to escape the lab for a while.
Beyond wrangling Inhumans, this season will mark a somewhat deeper dive into the comics with the “Secret Warriors” plot, assembling gifted agents. More casual observers might see similarities to X-Men in characters coming to grips with newly discovered abilities (here Inhuman, not mutant) that make them different, at the rather sobering expense of their ordinary lives.
Marvel’s commitment to weave “Agents of SHIELD” into its synergistic plans has frequently set up a high degree of difficulty for this series, from the periodic “Hey, the Avengers were just here” movie tie-ins to developing spinoffs and extensions when ratings for this show haven’t exactly set the world ablaze. At least “Agent Carter” had the benefit of occupying a different era, whereas a proposed Mockingbird series would partially come at the expense of the mother ship, at least for viewers who enjoy those characters.
Television obviously can’t compete with the budgets and action found in summer blockbusters (the most elaborate effect in “SHIELD’s” premiere is shown largely in silhouette), but it has an advantage in being able to explore characters. “Agents of SHIELD” obviously possesses a core audience drawn to those attributes, and showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have admirably kept the plot moving ahead — engaging in larger serialized narratives — while grappling with the logistics of those ancillary considerations, which include plans for an “Inhumans” movie.
For all that, “SHIELD” has settled into a reasonable groove as season three takes off. But amid a wave of ambitious superhero projects for TV — from Marvel’s edgier Netflix series to CW’s “The Flash” and CBS’ upcoming “Supergirl” — there’s still not a whole lot that feels particularly super about it.