Thursday, May 17, 2018

Agents of SHIELD - A Structural Analysis - Part 2

For Part 1 of this post, which explores the character-driven structure of Agents of SHIELD, see this post. Part 2, below, explores how the showrunners experiment with differently structured plots each season.

2) Gradually More Complex Narrative Arcs

Part 1 demonstrated that the Agents of SHIELD showrunners have been playing with the structure of their seasons since the beginning, largely through the dynamics of protagonists and antagonists. The reality of “pods” for each season can also be determined through the actual plot that the seasons run through. Sometimes these pods are defined by subtitles (as in seasons 3 and 4). Other times they can only be seen through particular turns in the overarching plot. Within each larger pod the showrunners, even from the very beginning, have inserted “mini-arcs” that pay off particular characters, themes, and questions while pivoting to new ones. These pods and mini-arcs can best be discerned through outlines of the plots for each season. Those outlines are below. The titles for the Pods and mini-arcs (except for some for seasons 3 and 4) are my own.

Agents of SHIELD - A Structural Analysis - Part 1

My partner and I only watch one or two TV shows. With two kids and a lot of other things going on, there isn’t much time for anything else. One of our current must-see shows is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and that’s the last time I’ll use the periods). ABC recently renewed SHIELD for a sixth season. In both the week leading up to that decision and in the days since, many have written about SHIELD’s remarkable transition from a show that shed viewers like a molting starling into a vital (but little-watched) phoenix program, renewed every year.

One article on the subject caught my eye both for its attention to one of the show’s much-heralded innovations -- the use of “pods” in its creatively rich season 4 -- and for the ways in which I realized that the articles’ analysis of the seasons missed the mark. The article traces a trajectory of development from a mostly procedural first season, through a serialized second season, into a subtitled third season, and a “pod-ed” fourth season. What this narrative does not see is the way that the showrunners -- Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jeff Bell -- have been playing with structure and narrative since the very beginning. In reality, SHIELD has been doing "mini-arcs" with internal, compounding climaxes since the very beginning. It's just experimented with seasonal structure in several different ways.

SHIELD's experimentation with structure can be observed through two lenses: 1) the use of protagonists and antagonists; and 2) gradually more complex narrative arcs from season to season. Let’s explore both lenses. In order to reduce the amount of scrolling, I've divided this into two posts. You can access the second post through a link at the end of this first one. Obviously, there are spoilers for all five seasons of Agents of SHIELD.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Matthew 14:13-21

Recently, I have become preoccupied by a particular kind of music: the Disney song.

Months ago, my daughter Abby learned a few songs from the Disney film Moana as part of a “Music Together” program. She loved the songs, even though she hadn’t seen the movie. So, about a week ago, we watched Moana together and I found myself quietly tearing up.

I was so moved that I spent some time reading about the making of the movie. Eventually, I read an interview with the man who wrote the lyrics to most of the songs. His name is Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he is most famously known for writing the Broadway musical Hamilton, which adapts the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the United States, through a mixture of hip-hop and traditional Broadway music.

In the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, he talks a little bit about one of the most well-known songs from Moana, “How Far I’ll Go.” The interviewer brings up the fact that serious fans of Disney films have a specific name for the kind of song that “How Far I’ll Go” represents. They call them “I want” songs.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

In the Midst - Psalm 23

A couple of years ago, I was helping to teach a class about prayer. We were teaching lectio divina, which means “sacred reading.” In lectio divina, a short selection of scripture is read several times. Each time the scripture is read, those who are praying dive deeper into prayer. They choose a word or a phrase and chew on it, slowly turning it over in their hearts and minds. Sometimes, lectio divina leads into what is known as Imaginative Prayer. In imaginative prayer, the participants imagine themselves having a conversation with Jesus. They imagine not only what they would say to Jesus, which is what we often do in prayer, but also how Jesus would reply.

That day, as I was praying, I imagined that I was on a boat. I realized that I was imagining Matthew chapter 8, when Jesus and the disciples are out on the water and Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat. Suddenly, a terrible storm arises. The disciples are doing everything in their power to keep the boat from sinking. And Jesus keeps sleeping. There is a terrible storm, and Jesus is sleeping! The waves are crashing, the thunder is rolling, and Jesus is sleeping! The disciples wake Jesus up and ask him to help. Jesus gets up and says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then, he calms the storm.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Way of Love

1500 years ago, Christians began to celebrate the life of a priest. This priest had died as a martyr, that is, a witness to Christ. He had died sometime in the 300s CE.

Many stories were told about this saint. Some said he married Christian women and men in secret, in the days when it wasn't popular to follow Christ. Others claimed that he healed a blind girl, with whom he later exchanged letters. Still others recount that his martyrdom came about because he tried to convince Emperor Claudius II to follow Christ. Claudius, furious over what he considered an exploitation of their burgeoning friendship, had this priest beaten with clubs and stoned outside of Rome.