Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has returned to ABC for a second season, following Agent Phil Coulson and his team as they try to salvage something of their mostly-benevolent government organization from the mess left by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The first season was a bit of a mess itself, likely because so much of it was spent biding time and establishing characters until The Winter Soldier’s release. Once Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD was revealed, not just to the audience but to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s public, the series suddenly shifted into what it may have been meant to be all along. The team stopped chasing MacGuffins that were often little more than the trash left behind after the events of the MCU movies. Questions that had been drawn out for much too long were answered. The show claimed a proper super-character for its niche in the MCU in the form of the cyborg Deathlok. And after Nick Fury’s apparent death, Coulson was given the task of, to steal from another Marvel series, protecting a world that hates and fears them. After a lukewarm start, the series upended everything and became something worth watching.

The first episode of season 2, “Shadows”, has none of the first season’s hesitation. It starts by taking a diversion back to World War II for a guest spot by Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos from Captain America: The First Avenger — which includes an important plot point, but also may be a reminder that Agent Carter is getting her own mid-season show. Back in the present day, we even get a proper super-villain right away. Carl “Crusher” Creel, known in comics as the Absorbing Man, makes his MCU debut here working for Hydra. Able to turn his body into any material he comes into contact with, Creel serves as a strong man tasked with one of Agent Carter’s confiscated relics for his Hydra employer. The special effects for his powers were surprisingly clean and seamless for network TV.

After that we’re brought up to speed with what’s become of the team over the last few months. Coulson has been scouring the globe for people still loyal to the SHIELD cause, but he’s had little luck. The team from season 1 has been joined by deep-cover agent Isabelle Hartley, played by Lucy Lawless, and her handful of mercenary friends. They’re keeping turncoat Grant Ward behind a fancy energy wall, but he still manages to be super creepy to Skye. Skye herself, once the impulsive newcomer, shows with every interaction that she’s come into her own as an agent now. And super-genius Fitz, who ended season 1 with brain damage after playing the hero for his longtime friend Simmons, is struggling with serious memory problems and the frustration familiar to anyone who has dealt with a sudden disability.

Though the plot of the first episode of the season takes us right back into MacGuffin-chasing territory, there’s so much else going on that it’s not a real liability. Creel’s superpowers, presented without explanation or apology, bring the show right into the MCU. The characters act like agents who have been working together for a while now, with chemistry but no whiny personal drama (except for creeper Ward). And the ending, where Coulson finds out just how widespread the Hydra threat is, promises an action-packed season to come.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD still airs on Tuesdays, though it’s now in the 9pm spot. It can be seen here in Central Ohio on WSYX, ABC6.