Comic shows have become all the rage in recent years, and Marvel got off to an early start with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013. The first three seasons have seen the show evolve from a slightly goofy offshoot of the Marvel movies into a solid show with its own nuanced mythology. S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally returning to the airwaves for Season 4, and the time is now for folks everywhere to tune in and give the show a chance.
Existing fans could certainly use the support of newcomers. While S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted with phenomenal numbers back in 2013, the ratings began to steadily decline as the first season wore on. More than 12 million people watched the series premiere live on ABC in September; by the time the midseason finale aired in December, viewership had dropped to 6.63 million. The first half of the first season just wasn't working for a lot of people. The characters spent most of those episodes flying around and solving a standalone case per week, and it wasn't the sort of exciting serial that some were expecting out of a Marvel show. But that changed quickly and the show hasn't looked back.
First and foremost, the main cast has gotten better and better with each passing season. Clark Gregg began to flourish once he was given the chance to expand Agent Coulson beyond the limited role he played in the Marvel films, and Ming-Na Wen has created one of the most badass women on television with her portrayal of Agent May. Chloe Bennet has grown as an actress thanks to the meaty material of Daisy's Inhuman story. As far as I'm concerned, however, the standouts of the series have to be Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Fitz and Simmons.
Fitzsimmons started out on S.H.I.E.L.D. as the comic relief, but their interactions packed some of the most emotional punches by the end of Season 1. I know I was a wreck by the end of their final scene together in the first season finale. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge have improved in a big way since Season 1, and Fitzsimmons has become one of the most pivotal dynamics of the entire show. Even if you don't know anything about S.H.I.E.L.D. beyond whatever shows up in a "Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." episode prologue, you'll be able to appreciate some of the performances.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has also spent the last couple of seasons focusing on its own serialized storytelling rather than on what's going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No film since Winter Soldier has had a major effect on the direction of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even big moments from projects like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War were only mentioned by the characters. The show does its own thing more often nowadays, and the narrative has become more cohesive because of it. Characters have storylines that run for whole seasons, and the ensemble is balanced enough that most of the agents get a fair amount of focus in a given arc.
Finally, Season 4 looks like it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun. S.H.I.E.L.D. has moved to a later time slot on Tuesday nights, and because there are fewer restrictions on late night network TV, the show may be able to get more daring with its storytelling. The legendary Marvel superhero Ghost Rider is slated to be a big part of the fourth season, and magic will evidently begin to play a part in the action. We've already watched the characters deal with crazy science and unexpected Inhuman abilities; magic will be entirely new. Newcomers to the series won't have any catching up to do when it comes to magic on S.H.I.E.L.D. Throw in a Daisy on the run, and S.H.I.E.L.D. could be more exciting than ever in Season 4.
In hindsight, it's easy to see why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got off to a slow start. Captain America: The Winter Soldier completely blew up the entire premise of the show when it revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated with evil Hydra agents. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could really only tread water until Winter Soldier hit theaters and the small screen action could pick up. The somewhat lackluster first half of Season 1 led into a stellar second half that had critics raving. Unfortunately, the damage had been done in regard to the ratings, and the numbers have been dropping ever since. S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 even sometimes scored lower ratings than The Flash Season 2, and The Flash airs on the diminutive CW. Season 4 deserves a bump in the ratings as it gets better and better.