Agents of SHIELD TV Reviews

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, “Hub” (S1/EP7)

To read our prior Agents of SHIELD episode reviews please go here.

Agents Shield Hub Soldiers

  • Airdate: 11/12/2013
  • Director: Bobby Roth (Revenge, Prison Break)
  • Writer(s): Rafe Judkins (Chuck) & lauren LeFranc (Chuck)

THE PLOT

So, basically, there is bad weapon (hilariously code named Overkill) out there in a war-torn country (doesn’t matter where), and SHIELD needs to send a 2 man team to disarm said weapon ahead of a full-on assault.  This operation and its related intel are so important and top-secret (only Coulson has the proper security clearance) that our team has to go to the Hub, which is sort of like the Ministry of Magic from Harry Potter but with SHIELD agents instead of wizards.  There we meet Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), an equal to Coulson who is a no-nonsense type who in the course of the episode manages to deceive Coulson as well as work in several digs at him, his team, and even Nick Fury. The actress has been booked for multiple episodes meaning the show just gave us a new mini-villain. Anyway, she selects Grant and Fitz to go on the mission, Grant because he has connections in the area in question and Fitz because his expertise will be required to disarm the weapon.  Obviously, they accomplish their mission, but not before having almost every possible thing go wrong.  Fitz gets a mixed grade as a field agent, his never-shutting-up and “but what about my sandwich?” complaints don’t help but his technical skills and friendliness with the locals do.

While Grant and Fitz go off on their little misadventure, Simmons shrivels away from worry with alarming haste, and Skye is unwilling to simply trust that Coulson knows what he is doing. Neither of them have the necessary security level to be even kept up to date on the progress of the mission.  Skye deduces the mission has gone awry, and uses Simmons to help her hack SHIELD to both get a status update as well as look for the file about her parents.  As annoying as it may be since this is Skye we’re talking about, it turns out that she was right to be suspicious.  Hand actually sent Grant and Fitz on a suicide mission without telling them or Coulson, for as soon as their task is complete they will be left on their own with no extraction team on the way as they believed.   When Coulson confronts Agent Hand she doesn’t back down at all, rather accurately summarizing why his team is kind of a joke (chief culprit of her overall low opinion of them: Skye).

Agents Shield Web

So, Team Coulson just take their freaking plane and go save Grant and Ftiz, although one wonders if the insurgents on the ground had a missile launcher if the plane could have just been shot down.

For Skye’s treachery and refusal to follow orders, she is rewarded with Coulson giving her a summary of the redacted file about her parents, which he says state that a female SHIEILD agent dropped Skye off for adoption.  He’ll try to find out more.  Skye hugs him, unaware that he is lying. There is more in her file than he’s let on, some of it so distressing that he asks May to see if she can dig up anymore about it.

To top off a generally eye-opening episode for Coulson, he spends the final scene being denied access to any information about his or any other agent’s experience at Tahiti.

WHAT I LIKED

-They broke from formula and actually did a cold open (i.e., the scene before the opening title card) that didn’t introduce the villain of the week, but instead featured half of the show’s regular cast.  Plus, they delayed the exposition info-dump (where early in the episode they explain the mission/villain of the week) until a little later than normal.  They’re still following a formula, but it’s nice to see them deviate, even if just slightly.

Agents Shield Hub Soldiers

-I am still not completely connecting with the character of Fitz as there is something with Ian De Caestecker’s performance that feels slightly off to me.  He’s a comic relief presence who is meant to receive a heroic showcase here, yet he’s distressingly unfunny and most compelling thing he’s done to date happened last week when broke containment to help save Simmons.  So, I feared a Fitz/Grant pairing would be a lot of Fitz being annoying and Grant rolling his eyes.  Well…it was totally that (although Grant is so non-emotive he doesn’t even roll his eyes), and yet it still kind of worked.  Fitz actually being somewhat competent in the field went a long way toward making him a more enjoyable character.  However, when Grant totally called Fitz on the obvious “you’re just mad at me because you felt emasculated when I saved Simmons last week” nonsense I didn’t totally believe Fitz’ explanation that he was operating under orders from Coulson to look out for Grant.  I think he was just embarrassed that he was being that transparent, and improvised an explanation that made him seem brave.  

shield-ep-7

-Simmons’ worrying over Fitz as well as her unknowingly recreating her Fitz dynamic with Skye, even finishing her sentences, was both adorable as well as maybe a little over board with the whole “Simmons is freakishly co-dependent” angle.  However, it was fun seeing Simmons and Skye paired together for the first time, and while Simmons still came off as mostly incompetent as a field agent her confrontation with Agent Sitwell (anyone else think of Arrested Development every time you hear that name?) gave her some funny beats to play.  We now know that Simmons is horrible at fake flirting.  Speaking of which, it does seem even more obvious after this episode and last week’s that they are building toward something more than just friendship with Fitz and Simmons.

-“Little bear?”  – “I like to watch him work.”  There’s something adorable about being interrogated by a woman who is agitated because your intrusion is keeping her from watching the big football (or soccer, depending on where you live) game on the TV in the next room.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

-Listen, we all saw The Avengers, and this show operates under that assumption.  That means we all know that Coulson was straight up murdered by Loki.  As such, his presence in the cast of the show has been a source of mystery since it was announced.  The show has decided to stretch this mystery out, playing with the fact that most of their audience already knows something is not right here.  So, pretty much every episode has dropped little hints here and there, and over the past final two episodes Coulson has made huge strides toward suspecting that maybe Tahiti isn’t so magical after all.  However, the problem for me is that this is simply not that compelling because there is power imbalance between how much the audience knows and how much Coulson does.  Him realizing for sure that something is not right with his whole “rehabbed in Tahiti” story at the end of this episode is played like a big moment, but it’s pretty much 7 episodes after we already knew that story was a bunch of B.S.  We’ve known since the pilot since Maria Hill and Ron Glass from Firefly referenced as much.  The more interesting angle to take and the one which would more empower Coulson as well fall more in line with how much the audience knows would have been for him to suspect something immediately, albeit in secret.  Thus, you turn it into a search for the answer as opposed to taking way too dang long to even pose the question as they have here.

My suspicion is that they have taken this angle because they are attempting to tie everything together with sowing the seeds of distrust between Coulson and his team and SHIELD as a larger entity.  As this show will overlap with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it will be tasked with both building up to and reacting to the events of that movie since they share the same continuity.  Well, in that movie SHIELD (or a portion of it) is going to be the bad guy, making Captain America, Black Widow, and new guy Falcon rebels.  Even if we didn’t know that, The Avengers made kind of a big deal about not being able to completely trust SHIELD due to all of Nick Fury’s secrets.  So, now the show has in consecutive weeks hinted at a forthcoming feud between Coulson and the higher-ups at SHIELD.  He’s finally on to them about the Tahiti malarky, and Skye’s file also points to something not on the up and up.

Agents Shield Hub Sitwell

-Simmons tasered a superior officer.  How did she not get punished for that, even with Coulson’s claim that he’d handle it internally?  BTW, it was nice seeing Sitwell again.  I just watched his Marvel One-Shot with Agent Coulson on The Thor Blu-Ray.  It’s called “The Consultant,” and I had somehow never actually watched it.  There’s not much to it, being 3 minutes long, and mostly involves Coulson and Sitwell discussing the latest on The Avengers initiative as a precursor to a brief scene between Tony Stark and a General from the most recent Hulk film.

-Of course you knew she would, but it was still slightly annoying seeing Skye put off helping her teammates (even if just for a minute and half) while looking into the redacted file about her parents.  Coulson continues to support her, and she continues violating that trust, even if this episode ultimately argued she was right to do so.  It’s kind of funny that Simmons did a selfless thing last week in attempting to sacrifice herself for the good of the team, and Coulson kept up the chain of command by scolding her and throwing her out of his office due to insubordination.  This week, Skye is also insubordinate, and she gets what she’s always wanted as well as a hug, one she initiates.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The long game SHIELD has been playing with Skye’s search for answers and Coulson’s gradual realization he needs some answers of his own just got a little bit shorter.  These two story elements both now appear to tie in with the show’s larger arc of pitting our Agents of SHIELD against the entire SHIELD organization.  Plus, for the second week in a row we got new character pairings (Fitz and Grant, Skye and Simmons) and met a SHIELD character from the past, this time Agent Sitwell.  The shape of the season and the direction it is heading has really drawn into focus these past two weeks, and they’ve introduced potential romantic entanglements for Fitz and Simmons.  Really, there was a lot accomplished with “The Hub.”  I just wish I’d enjoyed it a bit more, with my reservations mostly relegated to the overall storyline decisions and not performance or execution.

THE NOTES

1. Comic Book 101: Victoria Hand

First Appearance: 2008

Background: She started out as an accountant with SHIELD before voicing her displeasure with Director Nick Fury’s leadership, thus earning her a transfer and a general “good luck getting a promotion for as long as Fury is around” vibe.  Funny, thing, not too long after that Fury and Tony Stark were forced out of SHIELD, replaced by Norman Osborn.  Of course, Osborn basically turned SHIELD evil (heck, the organization was re-named HAMMER), and appointed Hand to a position of leadership based upon her previously stated displeasure with Fury.  After some major battles went down with HAMMER on the losing side, Hand repented and was awarded with a lateral move into a leadership position with Captain America’s The New Avengers.  Pretty much none of them trusted her other than Captain America, then they kind of did, then they didn’t, then it turned out she was a triple agent, etc.  The main takeaway is that shortly thereafter when she died in the line of duty she went out a good guy, even if for most of the time only Captain America knew that for sure.

Victoria Hand is being played on Agents of SHIELD by Saffron Burrows, who is most known for suffering the indignity of stripping down to her underwear for no good reason while escaping a shark in Deep Blue Sea (a movie also starring Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson).  If you know her comic book history, Victoria’s brief little dig at Nick Fury when referring to how he likes to play favorites makes a little more sense.

2. Agent Coulson Hint(s) of the Week

Every time someone has mentioned Tahiti to this point Coulson has involuntarily referred to it as “a magical place.”  This week it happened again during his conversation with Victoria Hand, except here he paused slightly before he finished the phrase.  Is the conditioning wearing off?  Is he starting to realize that he says that in response to mentions to Tahiti without even meaning to?

Also, at one point Skye refers to Coulson as acting like a robot-version of himself, which is not far off from what a lot of fans have speculated Coulson actually is.

3. Have You Looked at the Ratings Lately?

We’re just talking about overnight ratings here, but last week’s total of 7.15 million viewers was a new series low for Agents of SHIELD.  The problem?  Every single episode since the pilot has technically set a new series low in ratings for the show because the ratings have fallen off with every subsequent episode.  There has been no leveling off or brief uptick.  To put it into perspective, ABC recently canceled the sitcom Back in the Game because its viewership was shrinking every week, dropping from 8 million viewers to 6.11.  SHIELD has been renewed for a full season; there’s no need to worry about that.  However, at some point something is going to have to give if the ratings continue to drop every single week.  If they do, as many people could be watching SHIELD as watched Back in the Game, a far cheaper show whose level of viewership was such that ABC canceled it.

TRAILER FOR NEXT WEEK

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.

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