Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, for those of you who don't know, I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm a nerd. As a nerd, I consider myself a generalist in all things nerdy. But I do geek out in certain areas. One of them is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. I just loved the idea of so many storylines tying together across several movies. I got totally into it. And then, after The Avengers, one of my favorite movies because it's just so much fun, came the ABC TV series, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the purposes of this blog, I'm just going to call it SHIELD. It's on a brief winter hiatus right now, but I saw a sneak peek of the next episode and I'm so excited, I just keep thinking about it. So here's a blog post about it.

I've watched this show since the first episode, and haven't missed one. I've even watched all the Marvel movies that have come out since this show debuted, in order to make sure I don't accidentally miss something important. I know some people were disappointed that the show has its own plot and doesn't really tie in to the movies very tightly. As one of my friends put it, "I kind of lost interest when I realized that it's not really about the Avengers, just some people who sort of know them." But as the Marvel folks like to say, it's all connected. I think it's totally fun to set this show in a world where the Avengers really do exist and the events that happen in major cinematic productions also affect the lives of the "ordinary" people who make up Coulson's team of agents. And yes, the show does focus on Phil Coulson, Nick Fury's right-hand-man, who died so dramatically in the Avengers. And yes, he did die. And yes, he's alive now. It's a long story, and one that weaves through the plot of most of the first season. The series premiere poses the question, "What really happened to Coulson?" that gets slowly but surely explored through the course of the season. Along the way, we are introduced to a fun, engaging cast of characters. From the feisty and mysterious Skye, to the nerdy scientist duo, FitzSimmons, to hardened agents Melina May and Grant Ward, Coulson's crew proves over and over that a good team is greater than the sum of its parts. And that learning to work together often serves to bring out the best - and the worst - in people.

I think this show has great writing, decent acting, and a lot of really fun action and explosions and special effects and stuff. In fact, to skip ahead for a second, the winter finale of this season included some of the best special effects I've seen in a TV series. Admittedly, I don't watch a lot of TV. But still, it was awesome. But the real strength of the show is the characters and their chemistry. During the first season, I loved watching the bond that developed between Skye and Coulson, the fun interaction between Fitz and Simmons, and the questionable relationships between May and Ward and the other characters. It took a few episodes for all that chemistry to really start to come together, but once it did and I really started to care about the people in the show, I was totally hooked. It's also fun to see occasional Asgardians and cameos from characters in the Marvel movies, and I hope to see more of those in the future.

I think most people would agree that the real shining moments for this show happened after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Suddenly the plot that had been developing all season had a real focus, and specific enemies, including a brilliant betrayal. The season finale of the show was packed with angst, awesomeness, and fantastic one-liners delivered with the crackling wit I've come to expect from Marvel writers and actors. It was like a Marvel movie condensed into an hour and delivered on the small screen. I loved it, and I loved how it set up the second season, which has been excellent. Although Coulson is still the focus, Skye is also coming into her own, and the show has now shifted somewhat in tone. Instead of just reacting to the Marvel movies, it seems fairly obvious that the show is now building to at least one of them (Inhumans) and possibly more (Captain America: Civil War...?) It's a bold move by the studio but I think it's super fun. I'm eagerly anticipating the show's return on March 3, and trying to keep up with Agent Carter (which is also a fun show) in the meantime.

I'm slightly obsessed with SHIELD. My obsession has inspired internet research, long conversations peppered with exclamation points, and even a mild temptation to actually read comic books - okay, I've resisted that so far. But if you like Marvel movies, or TV shows with action and really good character development, I think you'll like this show. I don't have Netflix or Hulu but I think season one is on Netflix and season two is on Hulu Plus, so you should have time to binge-watch and catch up before new shows start up in March. Do it. Thank me later. And talk to me later, because I do not get tired of talking about this show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Friendship

Through an interesting set of circumstances, I've recently had an opportunity to evaluate some of my closest friendships, and I've learned some things. About life, about friends, and about my friends, in particular.  I think some of it is worth sharing.

I'm not a particularly outgoing person. I used to consider myself an introvert and I suppose that's still true to some extent, although I like people much better now than I once did. I was very shy growing up, and being homeschooled didn't give me much of an opportunity to break out of my shell. It wasn't until after college, when I started my Mary Kay business, that I finally realized that I actually like people. Still, I've never had a huge group of friends. I tend to have a small handful of people that I know and trust, a larger circle of friends I genuinely enjoy spending time with, and then plenty of acquaintances who I'll smile and chitchat with, but who really don't know me at all. Most of those people tend to think I'm sweet. My friends know better. My close friends really know me, and love me anyway. At least, that's how I see it.

I find that in life it's helpful to think the best of people, but not trust them too much. Still, most of the time I'd rather err on the side of trust. There are times I regret that. But I'd rather love people and have real relationships where I might get hurt than put up walls and be fake. To me, that doesn't sound like any kind of life. Anyway, here's what I've learned about true friends:

A true friend is a friend all the time. Good times, bad times, fun times, hard times. A true friend knows my faults, maybe not all of them but most of them, but doesn't fault me for them. A true friend will listen to me go on and on for hours or maybe even days, or sometimes even longer, about what is going on in my life. Even after I say, "Ok, now I'm done. Oh wait, one more thing..." A true friend will listen to my secrets and my fears and keep them quiet. A true friend will have my back when times get tough. A true friend is honest. A true friend won't tell me "oh, you're fine, everything will be okay" when it's obvious that I'm not, and it won't. A true friend won't tell me what to do unless I actually ask for advice. A true friend is willing to let me make my own mistakes, pray me through them, and be there for me afterward without the obvious but belittling "I told you so." True friends can have fun doing little stupid stuff, and big fun stuff, laugh at a gazillion inside jokes, and talk about nothing or important things anytime, for hours if necessary. A true friend has the courage to correct me in person, rather than going behind my back.

I have discovered that I may have fewer true friends than I thought, but I am so thankful for the ones I have. I hope that I am always the kind of friend I hope to have in my life. Because when the hard times do come, and they always will, it's good to have a few good friends.