You've probably heard that Agents of SHIELD has gotten good, right? In a nutshell, the events of that Captain America movie finally gave this show the kick it needed. (It was already improving before that.) But now there's almost a whole season! Which episodes do you actually have to watch? We've got you covered.
Some spoilers ahead...
I've heard from a number of people lately who want to jump on the SHIELD bus, but don't necessarily want to watch the entire season. So here's a quick and dirty list of the episodes that are especially great, or which you can't skip:
Episode 1, "Pilot"
Directed and co-written by Joss Whedon. Sets up the main characters, including the recurring Mike Peterson (J. August Richards). We re-meet Agent Coulson and watch as he recruits Grant Ward, Fitz and Simmons, Melinda May and finally the rogue hacker Skye for his team. Not exactly the best pilot ever, but does include some funny lines and gags.
Episode 6, "F.Z.Z.T."
We're skipping over some episodes where we see more of Project Centipede (which is trying to turn people into super-soldiers) and their gimmick of putting spy-cameras into people's eyesockets. (The eyesocket-cameras also allow people to be killed by remote control if they disobey the instructions that they "see" through their camera-eyes.) The next really good episode is this one, in which the characters (notably techies Fitz and Simmons) really start to "gel" as Simmons' life is placed in danger.
Episode 10, "The Bridge"
This episode sees the return of Mike Peterson, who helps Coulson and his team fight Project Centipede's super-soldiers. This is the first episode where we learn that Project Centipede is behind the eye-cameras that make your head explode if you disobey your video instructions. Also, Skye is investigating the mystery of SHIELD's involvement in her being left at an orphanage when she was a baby.
Episode 11, "The Magical Place"
The folks behind Project Centipede want to learn more about how Coulson came back from the dead, so they can create immortal super-soldiers. Instead of just regular super-soldiers. This episode has a few nice bits with Skye, who's been given a bracelet that shuts down anything electronic, using pure social engineering to find out where Coulson is being held. Plus a jarring final image.
Episode 13, "T.R.A.C.K.S."
We're skipping over Episode 12, where the main reveal is that Skye was classified as a powerful "object of unknown origin" by SHIELD when she was a baby, and an entire village died to keep her from people who wanted to take her. (And the SHIELD agents who found her left her with an orphanage and then went into hiding to protect the secret.) Also, in episode 12, Melinda May tells Coulson that she and Ward are sleeping together.
In episode 13, Coulson and his team are on the trail of the Clairvoyant, the mastermind behind Project Centipede and Coulson's kidnapping. This episode does a weird Rashomon-esque thing of showing almost the same sequence of events from different people's vantage points, but those people are mostly in different places. So it's sort of a loop, for a while, where we get the same half hour over and over. In any case, this episode once again features Mike Peterson, and he's now becoming a familiar character from Marvel comics.
Episode 14, "T.A.H.I.T.I."
Introduces John Garrett (Bill Paxton), a very important character for the rest of the season. And we finally get more of a clear answer as to how Coulson returned from the dead — which ties in with a surprising alien race from Marvel Comics. This episode also introduces Agent Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt), who's a really nice addition to the cast.
Episode 15, "Yes Men"
Like "F.Z.Z.T.," this isn't an episode that actually moves the arc forward all that much — there are a few bits towards the end of the episode, where Coulson deals with the mystery of his resurrection — but it's mostly just a fun hour of television. Lady Sif from the Thor movies shows up, chasing Lorelei, an Asgardian who has the power to control men (but not women) with her voice. Melinda May, in particular, gets to be pretty badass.
Episode 16 Onwards
And starting with episode 16, the show begins playing out the consequences of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's been pretty much must-watch television since then.
Disagree with any of the above? Any episodes we left out that you consider absolutely essential or brilliant? Let me know!