Joss Whedon has oft referred to his Xander-centric Buffy episode “The Zeppo” when talking shop about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. His point? That S.H.I.E.L.D. is basically about the people behind the scenes; the people who are ignored. In this crossover episode, the agents (plus Skye) are tasked with a correspondingly non-glamorous job: tidying up after Thor et al. Thankfully, the show spares us what is sure to be some pretty dull clean-up, by taking a abrupt left turn: the villains du jour have found an ancient Asgardian artifact called the Berserker staff, which causes them to go, well, a bit berserk, and its up to our trusted agents to stop them.
There’s a bit of a quandary, isn’t there? Overlap the two plots enough that people in the know will be satisfied, and viewers who haven’t seen Thor: The Dark World yet won’t be completely confused. The show straddles the line somewhat dissatisfyingly; while it sure won’t alienate (har-har) or befuddle anyone, its ties to the film are paper-thin. Yes, it has to do with Asgard, but other than that? No relation to the movie. Many hoped this media-hopping crossover would save S.H.I.E.L.D. from its steadily declining ratings. It was certainly a solid (and at times rollicking, with shocking twists and everything – I’m looking at you, Agents May and Ward) episode, but did it have enough punch to get them on their way to a second season? I’d have to say no.
As tie-ins like this take a large role in the marketing strategy of the show, you can count on the fact that we’ll be seeing more episodes like this. That’s a given. But the question is, should they? In order to draw in the viewership that they so desperately need, it’s going to take a bit more than a half-hearted crossover episode; the format could certainly work for them if done right, but they’re going to have to iron out the creases and find a more compelling means of tie-ins. Unfortunately, it looks like our “Zeppos” still need to find their legs.