‘Agents of SHIELD’ slow burn or burning down?

Agents of SHIELD magical place coulson

It’ll be really interesting to see how we feel about “Agents of SHIELD” in May.

The Disney/ABC series, about halfway through its first season, debuted in September to good ratings and impossible expectations. The street-level spin-off of Marvel’s cinematic universe and follow-up to “The Avengers,” the show looked at the non-superhero agents – like Phil Coulson, played in the Marvel movies and here by Clark Gregg – who are left dealing with the aftermath of the Battle of New York.

But while ratings are still … fine … disappointment set in as each successive episode not only failed to hand over the candy – Marvel characters we’ve wanted to see and fantastic events, even on a TV budget – but seemed like a routine supernatural procedural, an “X-Files” knockoff.

The showrunners have promised that “Agents of SHIELD” was in the middle of a slow burn, with the mismatched agents who are the series’ central characters still learning to trust each other and the mystery behind the resurrection of Coulson – who was ostensibly killed by Loki in “The Avengers” – slowly playing out. Sooo slowly. And obviously.

Last night’s first episode of 2014, “A Magical Place,” followed up on the kidnapping of Coulson by agents of Centipede, the organization that has been trying to turn people into superbeings. Centipede wants to know Coulson’s secret – SHIELD’s secret, really – of how you bring someone back from the dead.

Most of the rest of the episode really doesn’t matter and already has mostly disappeared from my memory. Vivid in my mind is the scene in which, through a Centipede experiment, Coulson recalls his resurrection at the hands of SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson. There’s Coulson, strapped to a table, his brain exposed and being probed – seemingly being kntted back together – by a high-tech device.

And the entire time, Coulson is begging to be allowed to die.

It was an unsettling scene and Coulson’s unsettled reaction to the memory makes me wonder if the series isn’t going the way I speculated a few weeks ago in making SHIELD itself a bad guy – or at least an organization that needs reigning in.

That would also appear to be setting us up for the plot of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which debuts in theaters in April and appears to pit the Sentinel of Liberty against at least some elements of SHIELD.

Considering the showrunners of “Agents of SHIELD” – created by “Avengers” mastermind Joss Whedon – would certainly never be able to tip the hand of the Cap movie, it’s possible this is where “Agents of SHIELD” has been heading all along.

We’ll know within a few weeks, certainly by the time the movie comes out in April and the first season of the series winds down in May.

It’s asking a lot of today’s short-attention span, general audience viewers to wait an entire season to get a bead on a show’s characters, tone and plot.

But maybe, come spring, it’ll all make sense to us, and we’ll see if the show’s slow burn has been worth burning some early viewers.

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