Using an iPhone for the first time required twenty minutes that felt like a full day of setting up, retrieving and resetting passwords in order to order a pizza. Downloading Angry Birds, not to mention calling anyone, meant connecting one device to four others. There are benefits to that interconnectivity. No doubt. It’s also about stickiness — once someone is plugged into more than one product or service, it makes it a lot harder for them to change horses. That’s why your bank forces you to have a savings account and debit card in order to get a checking account.
In the midst of praising Marvel for creating an expansive movie universe that weaves small details into itself and has now injected latex into a weekly television presence, the potential negatives of its interconnectivity have flown under the radar. All the positives are still there — it creates a great sense of community, rewards fans for being invested and is responsible for 1000% more people using the phrase “easter egg” — but the stickiness of it also threatens non-obsessive viewers with gaps in plot understanding.
That’s why seeing the headline “How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Now Setting Up Avengers: Age of Ultron” gave me flashbacks to screwing up my iPhone registration.
The main reason is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a crappy show, and watching it shouldn’t be a prerequisite for connecting the dots between each new Marvel movie. It’s hard enough just keeping up with each new Marvel movie.
Fortunately, the show is only making overtures at the cinematic universe at this point, using it as a pivot point and winking at the audience. So far, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t creating linchpins or laying down any genuine tracks that lead toward Ultron. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, though, so hopefully that will remain the case.
A cohesive universe is a powerful thing, and as it grows bigger it will give Marvel/ABC/Disney more options for planting important seeds in different media. They have no reason not to. The endgame is hooking new viewers, and a headline like “The Crazy Vital Plot Twist On S.H.I.E.L.D. That Will Change Age of Ultron” is a great way to turn eyeballs in the right direction. The only potential downside is fatigue — forcing an engaged-but-not-completist audience to watch a program they don’t like, not for entertainment, but for factual information.
The good news is that if the show ends up delivering a key piece of plot information for the Marvel Universe, it’ll be on the internet the next day with a spoiler warning we can all ignore. So far Marvel has done an excellent job threading the needle of both leaving colorful breadcrumbs for true believers and offering stories that stand on their own. Moving into Phase II, that balancing act is going to get tougher, and no one should have to do homework in order to enjoy their matinee.