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- Original Airdate: 10/1/2013
- Director: David Straiton (Once Upon a Time, Dexter, Bones, 24, Prison Break)
- Writer(s): Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen (SHIELD’s Co-creators/Executive Producers) & Jeffrey Bell (X-Files, Alias, showrunner for final two seasons of Angel)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is obviously its own thing and comparisons to prior Joss Whedon shows do it no favors nor are they entirely accurate, considering that in a practical “who’s actually running the show day-to-day” sense S.H.I.E.L.D. is not Joss’s show but his brother (Jed) and sister-in-law’s (Maurissa Tancharoen). However, in an effort to ignore the hype and try and contextualize S.H.I.E.L.D. I find myself continually drawn to making comparisons to prior Whedon shows so that I might best know what level of quality I should realistically expect this early in the game.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s second episode (“The Witch”) centers around a domineering mother who has used a magical spell to switch bodies with her aspiring cheerleader daughter, who she felt was wasting her youth. It introduced Buffy’s go-to storytelling tool of using metaphor to explore social issues inherent to teenage life, in this case the tendency for parents to sometimes attempt to live through their children. You will find “The Witch” nowhere near anyone’s top 10 episodes, but it is fun with a nice twist and admirably sinister ending (a woman trapped inside a cheerleading statue).
Angel‘s second episode (“Lonely Hearts”) centers around a body hopping demon who trolls for potential victims at a popular Los Angeles singles club. It re-inforces the show’s film noir aesthetic by establishing Angel as a character who will always be viewed with suspicion by proper authorities, in this case Kate (Elizabeth Rohm) the cop who mistakenly believes Angel to be the killer. In exploring the night club scene, it takes immediate advantage of the show’s big city setting relative to the small town setting of Sunnydale on Buffy (where the only club was The Bronze). Doyle’s (Glenn Quinn) crush on Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) as well as his choice to keep his demon side a secret are introduced. Similar to “The Witch,” it is a competent episode with a nice story twist, although it is jarring to watch it now and see just how much imagery they were borrowing from Batman in the early days to establish Angel as a dark avenger.
Firefly‘s second episode (“The Train Job”) sees the crew take a job to rob a train only to discover the goods they’ve been hired to steal are actually critical medical supplies needed by the dying citizens of a nearby town. It immediately plays with western tropes (a train robbery), and establishes the moral code for each crew member by exploring how they’ll respond to a common ethical dilemma (e.g., Jayne just wants to finish the job, couldn’t care less about the ethics). It ends with a cliffhanger which establishes that unbeknownst to the crew they are being tracked by mysterious men who want something to do with River (Summer Glau). This is arguably the best of all second episodes for Joss Whedon shows, and not coincidentally it’s also the only one written (technically co-written) by Whedon.
Dollhouse‘s second episode (“The Target”) has Echo (Eliza Dushku) imprinted as the perfect date for an outdoorsman, who turns out to be a sadist attempting to isolate Echo in the wilderness so that he may hunt her for sport. It establishes the danger presented to the dolls and the unpredictable nature of some of the clients as well as Boyd’s (Harry Lennix) level of concern as Echo’s handler, but also just how far he will let that concern override his direct orders. The rest of the plot is devoted to advancing mystery as the notion of a rogue, former doll named Alpha who is on a murderous rampage and inexplicably obsessed with Echo is introduced. It is a largely forgettable entry in a show filled with them.
That brings us to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., whose pilot I disliked but gave a pass because it was still just a pilot. The good news is that “0-8-4” is better than the pilot.
*Plot Spoilers Aplenty Below*
As established at the end of the pilot, the team is off to investigate a code 0-8-4, which means it’s something they know nothing about (as a way of contextualizing, a line from Coulson indicates Thor’s hammer falling from the sky in New Mexico was also an 0-8-4). At the ancient Incan temple containing an apparent alien device lodged in its wall, the team first comes under attack from local military, whose leader has a prior (likely romantic) relationship with Coulson. Let the flirting commence after a quick truce is reached. Shortly thereafter, both entities are attacked by local rebels, whom Skye admires for using social media to unite but never envisioned being shot at by them. This attack reveals just how ill-prepared and incompetent Fitz, Simmons, and Skye are in the field of combat, and they’re all (including the military unit) lucky to escape to the SH.I.E.L.D. plane with their lives.
Once on the plane, we find out the artifact Grant forcibly took with them is incredibly unstable (like Incredible Hulk gamma radiation unstable), and the military unit witnesses the apparent incompetence of the crew and takes over the plane since the artifact was actually commissioned by their government years prior using ex-HYDRA scientists. Now with a common enemy to unite their forces, our band of heroes escape custody, punch a hole into the side of the plane to suck out most of the bad guys (but not their hot, chesty female leader), and toast it all off with a shared drink in the cargo bay as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents inspect the total damage to the plane in horror.
Then we find out why ABC was so insistent in their advertising that we stick around to the end of the episodes: we get a cliffhanger reveal (Skye appears to still be working for Rising Tide, her infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. being part of the plan all along), and a comic cameo from Samuel L. “Nick Fury” Jackson as he chastises Coulson for causing so much damage to the plane after having it for only 6 days.
*End of the Plot Spoilers*
So, what does “0-8-4” tell us about S.H.I.E.L.D.? That it is an action show whose character development will only come gradually in favor of teasing out mysteries and laying the groundwork for serialized story arcs, which is not an inherently bad or good thing. Similar to the way Whedon used everyone’s love for Fred in the season 5’s “Hole in the World” of Angel, this episode’s primary intent is to unite its core characters around a common goal as a glorified social ice breaker. As such, we get shots of the characters standing in a circle making action hero-y plans as the camera circles them in a non-stop motion, just as it does in “Hole in the World.” The resulting action is well-executed, far more so than in the pilot, with every character getting at least one hero moment (except for maybe Simmons). Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen) continues to delight with each wrist-breaking action scene that one imagines will make her inevitable backstory episode all the more gratifying.
There is a story twist at the halfway point that delights in watching it come together more than it actually surprises. Coulson and Grant get bad-ass points for figuring it out and striking first, even if it was almost literally last second. The military leader, who is named Camilla but I thought of as Chesty McGee, proved that this is a show which will give us a gorgeous Chilean actress/model and ask us to believe her as a tough-as-nails military leader:
The show is still teasing out its mysteries, though not nearly as foregrounded this week as last. Coulson’s continual reference to his experience in Tahiti as being magical is a certain hint as to the true nature of his resurrection, and we got ever so slightly more about Melinda, i.e., she’s a one-man calvary who does not like that nickname (“calvary”). We see how Fitz and Simmons are likely to function as a two-pronged version of Q from 007, though it’s not hard to imagine one of them ultimately feeling redundant after a while.
The surprise ending indicates they are playing a long game with Skye, and that this is a show which has been designed with continual shocks around every corner. However, perhaps it is the sting of the increasingly crazy-town bonkers fasiscm vs. little guy machinations of SyFy’s Continuum, but I am weary of the show’s clear intention to establish an arc in which an Anonymous-like activist organization is presented as a sympathetic antagonistic to less sympathetic protagonists. That way lies the immense potential for far more plot threads than the show can handle, and rather simplistic attempts to use the genre to make social commentary, which inherently places a focus on a collective rather than individual (who are made to be symbols of ideologies). The focal point of this thread thus far has been Coulson, who was treated as a symbol by the quasi-villain during the climactic speech of the pilot, and appears to receive similar treatment in next week’s episode.
That’s all fine and good, but I want to actually care about these characters, not see them moved around as either mysteries to be solved or symbols for ideologies. Luckily, “0-8-4” made me like the characters far more than I did after the pilot. It’s only the second episode. There is a larger story unfolding here. Let’s see how it goes.
-And that which was not made at all clear in the pilot is now clear: Rising Tide is this show’s version of Anonymous, and NOT just Skye all by herself in a van.
-“I am. That’s exactly what I’m imagining during this frown.” As Agent Grant, Brett Dalton is not bad so far at deadpan humor.
-Completely petty and shallow admission: I find Chloe Bennet’s level of attractiveness distracting, constantly thinking that she’d look more at home on The CW than on ABC. As such, I really don’t like the character of Skye, both due to performance as well as regarding her as a poorly written, inadequate audience surrogate figure. However, I may be biased because of my stated distraction.
-Big budget vs. TV budget #1: look at the CGI splendor of Asgard in Thor, and then look at the overly obvious CGI top half of the ancient temple at the beginning of “0-8-4”
-Big budget vs. TV budget #2: to my eyes, the decompressed plane chamber scene looked pretty darn good in comparison to a similar, far bigger budget sequence in Iron Man 3.
-Am I the only one kind of tired of seeing this scenario play it out so often in TV and film:
- Smart Scientist: Techno-babble, techno-babble, techno-babble, techno-babble…
- Tough Guy: [Smart Scientist’s Name], in English please!
- Smart Scientist: Explains concept in clear terms.
- Tough Guy: [Looks Alarmed]
– The overnight ratings were down 33% from last week, the biggest first-to-second-week drop-off of any show of the season to date. However, let’s see what it looks like when DVR figures are factored in as after last week’s mediocre pilot S.H.I.E.L.D. has the look of a show a lot people probably decided to timeshift to DVR viewing since it goes up against The Voice and NCIS.
-Oh, yeah, kudos to LivingTheGeekLife for totally predicting the Samuel L. Jackson cameo.
“Next Week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.“:
What did you think? Like it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments section.