In many ways, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 4 formula has set it apart from its esteemed competition, including Supergirl, The Flash and Arrow. By introducing pods, S.H.I.E.L.D. almost frees itself from the constraints of the season-long story arc. As such, S.H.I.E.L.D. has less time for "filler" episodes; the storytelling is tighter and faster-paced, by virtue of the fact that each pod must fit into ten episodes or less. Where other shows must meander and bide their time for the season finale, S.H.I.E.L.D. can tell more stories, draw in more aspects from the comics and fit in multiple climaxes and character arcs. Fans simply get more bang for their buck when the season is broken down this way.
Even as S.H.I.E.L.D. starts and finishes several mini-stories within the season, the show still manages to bring everything together for the big season finale. If anything, this makes the climax of the story all the more satisfying. For one, the finale feels fresher, since less time is spent building up to a singular moment or event. Also, because the show has several "conclusions" before reaching the finale, the stakes seem raised in proportion to what came before. A finale built this way also feels like a payoff of all the smaller stories that brought the season to its conclusion, like a reward for sticking with the protagonists through several major struggles.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 has, of course, continued in this tradition. Although it hasn't named its pods, the season can be broken down into three separate storylines: The Future, Thunderbolts and the Rise of Graviton. Each pod has had higher stakes than the one that came before it. For instance, "The Future" storyline focused on the team's fight for their own survival, while "Thunderbolts" saw them try to stop the creation of the Destroyer of Worlds, a world-ending threat. Now, in "The Rise of Graviton," the Destroyer of Worlds has arrived and the team has the literal fate of the planet in their hands. Because of this adherence to the formula, Season 5 is just as strong -- if not stronger -- than its predecessor.
Lately, the superhero television landscape has become pretty crowded. Even so, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stands out, thanks in large part to its clever storytelling formula. After hitting its stride in Season 2, the show has continued to grow and evolve in all the right ways. Its latest development -- the introduction of pods -- has tightened the pacing overall and created a more rewarding climax. Every year, the show comes closer to being the best long-form superhero television show on the air, and that's thanks to its innovative narrative structure. Though simple in concept, this formula has put Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. leagues above the rest.
Airing Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 stars Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Henry Simmons, Ian De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley and Elizabeth Henstridge.