We take a look at the premier of the much anticipated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a little love and a little snark.
So, if you took Alias, Heroes and Torchwood, threw them in a blender and then strained them through a Joss Whedon filter, you would get Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That is to say, the pilot didn’t show us anything we hadn’t seen before, but it was still fun.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is unabashedly a spinoff of the Avengers movie franchise. The movie references fly and you don’t get a crib sheet. This show just assumes that since the movie made a gazillion dollars worldwide, you probably saw it and it just expects you to keep up.
We kick off with a bang—literally. A building blows up. A seemingly-ordinary stranger (played by Whedon alum J. August Richards) decides to go and see if anyone needs help. And then he does a brute-force impersonation of Spider Man to get to the top floor.
Like a true hero, he saves a damsel in distress and then leaves the scene before anyone can discover his identity. Well, anyone but Skye, the intrepid hacker and truth-seeker who provides the voiceover for the beginning. She works for the Rising Tide, but purely in a hacking capacity.
Rising Tide, it happens, is a thorn in S.H.I.E.L.D’s side. We learn this in the next scene which introduces the handsome, stone-faced Agent Grant Ward. He’s one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s fix-it men, and he has to retrieve something that Rising Tide shouldn’t have their hands on.
This basically introduces our two extremes—the rebel girl and the company man. You can bet these two are going to wind up together. But at least we can rely on Joss to make it interesting.
Grant gets the first great bit in the episode.
Agent Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Agent Hill: And what does that mean to you?
Agent Ward: It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out ‘shield.’
The much beloved Agent Coulson comes in with more Joss dialogue—“Sorry, the hallway is really dark. I think a light bulb is out.”
And we learn that he only died a little bit in the movie. Or, do we? Ron Glass makes an appearance as a S.H.I.E.L.D doctor (the great thing about working for Joss is that you always have a job somewhere in the future) and after some dialogue where they worry about his fitness for duty, the doctor wonders that Coulson “really doesn’t know.”
And Agent Hill says, “And he can never know.”
What might that mean? Marvel comics used to have these Life Model Decoy things that were incredibly life-like. Is it possible this Coulson is only an LMD? We can only speculate.
It turns out, Coulson has been authorized to put together a team. Naturally, it’s going to be a quirky group of misfits that Agent Hill thinks is a huge mistake, because that‘s how these things work. I mean, it wouldn’t be any fun if they got a bunch of people who just followed the rules all the time, would it?
Coulson’s next recruit is an old friend of his, Agent Melinda May. Much like Agent Ward, she doesn’t really want to join Coulson’s group. But he sidesteps that by not giving her a choice. It’s nice to remind these people that the government agencies aren’t a democratic system.
It doesn’t take long for Skye to track down the reluctant, heretofore anonymous hero who is named Mike Peterson. She wants to be his agent, or something, offering to give him a new identity and help him establish himself as a hero. I thought her thing was to expose the secrets that S.H.I.E.L.D is hiding, but it’s early yet and I’m still trying to figure this show out.
Mike flatly refuses her offer, so she lets him go—after pick-pocketing his driver’s license. That is so uncool. Those things are a pain in the ass to replace.
Next up, the final members of our team are introduced—the smart people. You know how we know they’re smart? They have accents. Accents mean you’re smart.
Fitz is your average super genius tech savant. He has an adorable habit of quietly sulking about how people don’t seem to appreciate how smart he is.
Simmons (Fitzsimmons, as they are called together) is the mad scientist biologist girl. Other than finding gooey stuff really cool, we don’t get to learn a whole lot about her.
More Jossness comes our way as Skye is launching into an epic tirade about how no one could ever find her, no one could stop her, etcetera, etcetera, when Coulson opens up her van and Ward puts a bag over her head.
This leads to my next favorite bit.
Ward: There’s two ways we can do this.
Skye: (all snotty) Oh, is one of them the easy way?
Ward: (stone cold) No.
Skye: (worried) No….
Coulson likes her moxy. Coulson is sort of a connoisseur of moxy, having dealt with the likes of Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff. So, rather than use some draconian methods to force her to cooperate, he tries to reason with her.
And when that doesn’t work, he brings out the Super Truth Serum. Only, rather than injecting her, he injects Ward. He then lets her ask Ward whatever she wants, which includes but is not limited to questions about his grandmother.
Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse for Mike. After the doctor who made him superhuman refuses to let him go public, he goes back to the factory that fired him and begs for his job back. And when his old boss refuses, Mike gets a serious case of ‘roid rage. Like, really serious. Whatever the doc did to him, he has some Hulk-like issues.
Seeing him lose it is what turns Skye around. She teams up with Fitz and Simmons to help recreate the events in the building that blew to pieces. Only, to do so, she has to get back to her van.
Mike shows up at the hospital where his damsel in distress is recovering. Only, while she is a damsel and she was in distress, she apparently could handle it. (Ten points to whoever gets that reference.) She is, in fact, the doc that turned him into a super freak. And she’s really pissed that he’s now running around breaking people because he promised he wouldn’t and he didn’t have his fingers crossed or anything.
Well, since she’s of no help, he turns to the only other friend he’s got. He dispenses May without a second thought and then kidnaps—or in his mind, “rescues”—Skye. He needs a new identity and a way out of town.
Skye realizes he’s on the Crazy Train Express and so uses her mad tech skills to signal Coulson and the cavalry. Which is good, as the S.H.I.E.L.D techies have discovered that Mike is going to go nuclear very soon.
Coulson wants to bring Mike in alive and he gets very grouchy with Simmons when she suggests that might not happen. She has an accent, after all, so she should be able to find something to neutralize Mike.
Mike is eventually cornered and Coulson goes to talk him down. Mike gives this rather beautiful speech about how he was told if he worked hard and was a good person then everything would work out, but it isn’t true.
Richards and Clark Gregg are absolutely fantastic in this moment. The discussion of the big guy crushing the little guy is as much about the plight of the average American worker as it is about super beings threatening ordinary people.
The conversation ends abruptly and it looks for a second like someone put a bullet in Mike’s head. But no, Fitz, Simmons and their accents found a way to save the day. Mike is going to be just fine.
The show ends with Coulson asking Skye to join the team. She demurs, but of course she’s going to relent. I mean, she’s a season regular and everything.
In all honesty, it was a little rough. The Joss humor helped to keep it going, but the show is going to have to work todefine itself as something new and interesting if it wants to succeed. It can’t be The Avengers’ bastard child and it can’t be Torchwood: USA. There is a lot of story potential in the Marvel universe, though, so we’ll see what direction they want to go in.
What do you all think? Are you on board? Uncommitted? Hate it? Discuss!