Hello, friends! As we all know from my previous rants, yelled from the tops of tall buildings well past midnight, I’m kind of a major fan of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. So this is a series I’ve created where I can talk, week to week, about a social issue I see in the show that I think is hurting it’s progress in the long run, because remember: if you really enjoy something, you should be open to critiquing it in a helpful way. This is not a place where I will be bashing the show. I love the show. But I still want to talk about some issues it might have.
While I saw a lot of critiques of Agents of SHIELD last season, most of them all seemed to have the same problem: They focused on issues that would no-doubt be addressed in the show, while leaving other, more pressing social issues to the wayside. “Skye’s character is so annoying!” I’d hear, while we completely ignored why fans react to peppy female characters in such a negative way. One of those things is a real issue. The other is not. I’ll give you a hint about which one: it’s the first one.
So this critique will not be focusing on the plot, per se, but on social issues that I see in Agents of SHIELD and in the fandom that I don’t think are going to be addressed by the plot. This is a discussion of not just the show, but the MCU as a whole.
Of course, I have to start this series with a discussion about Isabel Hartley and Victoria Hand. I mentioned in a previous article that Lucy Lawless had been cast as Agent Hartley, and included a lovely piece of Xena/Victoria Hand fanart. I think all of us here at GeeksOut were sincerely hoping that Isabel’s coming to the MCU meant more representation, as well as a possibility that Victoria Hand might come back.
Well, bad news. Isabel died at the end of last episode, after getting her freaking arm cut off. I’m sorry. That’s a false lead. Isabel got her arm cut off, then the SUV flipped and she died because of that. And so now, we go from having a positive discussion about potential to our old favorite: stop killing queer women, everyone. Agents of SHIELD. True Blood. Any franchise ever, really. Stop it.
Now, Agents of SHIELD has billed itself as a high-stakes show. That’s understandable. However, it’s also a show that bills itself on the idea that you can come back from the dead. And so when the writers of the show picked the character of Isabel, they did so with the knowledge that fans of Victoria Hand, fans that knew that she’s a queer character, would pick up on the potential here. There’s a ton of other SHIELD agents they could’ve picked, and they picked Isabel Hartley.
So the problem, then, is that they are teasing us with the potential of queerness, while never actually confirming or acknowledging it in show. There is a brief moment where Lance Hunter mentions that some agents are loyal to SHIELD for personal reasons, and we get a cut of Isabel giving a knowing, sheepish grin. And that’s not good enough. That’s a hint to all queer viewers that there might be something under the surface, but as I discussed in my True Blood recaps: hints and metaphors don’t cut it. We need actual representation. If you don’t feel comfortable saying the word “lesbian” on the show, then why did you dangle Isabel Hartley in front of us? There’s a disconnect, here.
Another issue seems to be the way that the writers are handling the issue overall. In a post-episode when asked, “It seemed like you were going to explore Isabelle being the late Victoria Hand’s (Safrron Burrows) love interest from the comics.” Jeb Whedon responded with “There were versions, but it started to be irresponsible if we addressed it to not address it with more weight and time and energy.”
This is a major problem, one that doesn’t lie solely with Whedon but that seems to be a major TV writer problem overall. Queerness doesn’t have to be a big storyline. In fact, one might even say that queer people go out and live their lives without their queerness being announced in some grandiose display. It’s there, and it can be discussed, but treating queerness like it has to be separate, treating coming out like it’s supposed to be a different story instead of part of the main one, is the real issue here.
It doesn’t start or end with Agents of SHIELD, and while it’s probably foolish for me to hope that there will be some way to bring back both Hand and Hartley the representation they deserve, I want to remind people that this is an issue we need to be looking for in all shows, but we should always be lending a critical eye to fantasy and sci-fi shows. If a man that can turn into metal is a realistic part of the plot, and lesbianism isn’t, don’t you think that’s kind of a problem?
Agents of SHIELD, I love you baby, but this one got messed up.
For a full episode low-down, check out Agents of RECAP.