Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 0-8-4

"I have the authority to downgrade your ass to a Winnebago."

I'll get the obvious talking point out of the way early. Yes, as rumoured, Samuel L. Jackson cameoed as Nick Fury (there must be a decent golf course near the set). And yes, it was awesome, even if it did result in the premature death of the Bus' new fish tank. Oh well, at least they still have that really nice bar.

After giving us a superhero origin story gone wrong in the pilot, which served both as a nod to the series’ comic book roots and as a reminder that these characters exist in a world where superpowers and aliens are public knowledge, the show went full on Harrison Ford with this episode. We started off with an Indiana Jones-style rumble in the jungle, followed by a dose of Air Force One and mercifully avoiding anything remotely Hollywood Homicide.

This episode could’ve easily been called ‘Team Building Exercise’, as that is basically what happened. For the first half of this episode, Coulson’s handpicked team were acting like nothing of the sort. Ward still wants to be working solo. Fitz and Simmons are questioning their decision to leave the safe confines of the lab now they’ve realised being in the field means people shooting at you. May is keeping mostly to herself. And Skye is unsure where exactly she fits in with this group. Worse still, bickering is at an all-time high. These people need to learn how to work together as a team and they need to learn fast because Gary Oldman Coulson’s old flame has just hijacked their plane.

Two episodes in and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to be a show I really like, if not one I love. Yet. I think I'm getting there, but it's gonna take a few more episodes. My only problem with this episode was just how bloody predictable it was. From the moment Camilla and her men stepped onto the Bus it was obvious they were going to take it over. And it was equally obvious that our dysfunctional heroes would put aside their differences and grievances to save the day.

Rather conveniently, this whole situation resolved all the character conflict from earlier in the episode. Ward learned to work as part of a team and accept Skye. Fitz and Simmons were more comfortable being out in the field. May was starting to open up and joke with her teammates. As for Skye, well it seems like she has finally found a place she belongs, which is unfortunate since she turns out (Holy obvious twist, Batman!) to be a double agent.

The question now is who is playing who? Coulson was very insistent that Skye join the team despite her questionable background. At first I thought it was because he saw some potential in her, but now I’m not so sure. Fury referred to Skye being on the team as a risk and I can’t see a master spy like him allowing Coulson to bring an outsider into the fold unless he was 100% certain about their loyalty. Are they aware she's a double-agent and simply using her to bring down the entire Rising Tide network? That shouldn't be too hard since they communicate with their double-agent via text. And not even a coded text at that. Honestly, where did these people learn spycraft?

Intel and Assets

--The 0-8-4 was a piece of HYDRA tech that had been developed by German scientist who, Boys from Brazil-style, had fled to South America following the fall of the Third Reich. It’s a nice reference to Captain America, but so was last week’s McGuffin. Is everything this team investigate going to be connected to a member of the Avengers? How long before they’re sent to investigate Thor’s long lost dirty laundry?

--We got a few more breadcrumbs about May's past, but part of me doesn't really want to learn any more. I kind of like her as this enigmatic absolute extreme badass.

--Did S.H.I.E.L.D. really send the device in a rocket to the sun? Or was it secretly shipped off to a lab to be analysed? My guess is the former.

--S.H.I.E.L.D. standard issue life rafts are incredibly tough.

--It is becoming increasingly creepy how Coulson automatically says “It’s a magical place.” whenever anyone mentions Tahiti. It's almost like it's a programmed response.

Ward: "Where's your side arm?"
May: "If I need a gun I'll take one."

Coulson: “Ward, you speak six languages. Simmons, you have two PhDs in fields I can’t pronounce. Fitz, you are a rocket scientist. So work it out.”

Skye: “You took a bullet?”
Coulson: “-ish.”

Coulson: “Do you need anything else before I go back and check on the device fueled by evil that's sitting in our cargo hold?”

Camilla: “You’re having a midlife crisis!”
Coulson: “More an afterlife thing, really.”

Three out of four gone before their time fishtanks.

11 comments:

migmit said...

Well, that was MUCH better than the pilot. And not just because of S.J. dropping by (although that surely helped).

At first I was afraid they were going to spend all the time in a jungle, which is very uncool. But no, the main action took place onboard the Bus — and that was great.

To me the highlight of the episode was Ward falling on his back after kicking Camilla's soldier. It appears that Ward is able to fall ungracefully — which makes him human, not some T-1000 he was before.

Coulson might have an afterlife crisis, but he is still the most badass in their team.

sunbunny said...

I thought the exact same thing about the Tahiti response. My new theory on Coulson is that Whedon will hint all season that Coulson is a robot/android/whatever and have it turn out that it's just Coulson.

I saw a lot of Firefly parallels in this one. The bus is Serenity-esque. Skye's hula dancer reminded me of Wash's dinosaurs. The takeover of the plane is strikingly similar to the events of "Our Mrs. Reynolds." There was even a shot looking out of the cargo bay at a desert landscape. Oh, and could May be more Zoe?

Weirdly, all the parallels didn't make me like the show any more than I already did. They actually made me want to turn it off and watch Firefly. I miss Firefly.

I liked Fitz and Simmons much more this time. It's nice when they're not talking over each other. So far, they seem extremely similar, however. Why have two nearly identical characters? I'm totally obsessed with May. I love how often Whedon casts a woman as 'the muscle.'

Great review, Mark!

Patrick said...

I dunno migmit, I think Melinda May might hold the title of Team Badass. I mean, she doesn't even bother bringing her own gun into the field, she just takes them from the bad guys! :) Seriously though, as awesome as Coulson is(and he IS), I think May is my favorite member of the team so far. She's every bit the badass that Ward is, but she doesn't whine like he does. Running a close second though is Simmons, she's just adorable.

To Ward's credit though, he did show some leadership later in the episode when the team had to figure out how to save the day. And I appreciate that Ward's griping about having to work with others was given better context in this episode. In the first episode he just sounded like a d-bag, "I don't need any help, I can handle anything on my own." But this time around we see that working solo was specifically what he was trained for, and working in a team really has him outside his comfort zone. That one conversation with Skye about being "100% of the solution" went a long way in making him more likeable.

Still not a big fan of Skye, but I'm curious to see where they intend to go with her. There's two big questions to ask in regard to that text she sent. One, is she still loyal to Rising Tide, or is she staying in with them for Coulson? Two, if she's still loyal to them, does Coulson know what she's doing? My guess would be that he does, this episode clearly shows that he's no fool. So if he knows that she's still working with Rising Tide, is he hoping to convert her by showing her what it is they're up against, or is he just using her? Okay, I guess that's three questions.

The "surprise" appearance by Nick Fury(I put that in quotes because it was pretty well spoiled out on the interwebs before the episode aired) was fun, but I'm concerned about them playing that card so early. It might've been better for Coulson to get an angry phone call from him instead, and save an actual appearance for the season finale, or at least mid-season finale.

Mark, you picked good quotes, but you missed my favorite. When Coulson mentioned that the last 0-8-4 turned out to be pretty interesting, and was asked what it was, he responded simply, "a hammer." :)

Billie Doux said...

Great review, Mark. I enjoyed this one. Ming-Na is standing out for me, too; she's projecting bad-ass so very well. Coulson and the rote response to any mention of Tahiti is interesting but like you all said, it's probably meant to make us think something that will turn out to be something else. Love the plane.

drnanamom said...

This episode was little more clunky than the last one but still a lot of fun. I think the ensemble is coming together much like the team and that is something I really value about Wheedon's work. You may have favourites but it's the team that makes the show. I enjoyed that Coulson wasn't even a bit tempted by his love from the past. The plot was predictable to us but also to him. Lots of fun, thanks for the review!

Jess Lynde said...

Yeah, for me, this was more of a necessary episode than purely enjoyable one. It felt rather predictable, and the team dynamic isn't really gelling for me yet, but this was an first important step on that path.

I did love Melinda May (especially her scene with Coulson in the cockpit), and the kicker with Nick Fury. I'm happy to see so many others enjoying May, because I can never be sure if my fondness for Ming-Na is coloring my response to her character.

The thing about this episode that bugged me the most: that darned in media res opening. I'm so sick of that device. You have to deploy it really cleverly for me to respond positively to it, and in this case it felt completely unnecessary and a bit detrimental. They could have easily just started with Skye showing up and wondering what she was getting into. I didn't need to know that everything was building to a big hole in the side of The Bus. And I might have found the adventure less predictable and more entertaining, if I hadn't known that.

Josie Kafka said...

Mark, this was an excellent review.

But I'm starting to think that this might not be the right show for me. I was underwhelmed last week, and not much more whelmed this week.

The touchy-feely speech about 100% of the solution just felt too on-the-nose for me, like I was supposed to say "awwwww" as the team came together.

Reading your review, I realized that I've never really loved the Avengers-related movies, either. I consider them fun, especially The Avengers and the Asgard parts of Thor (which just looked epic). But this is not my favorite genre.

I'm going to record the shows on my DVR and save them, but not stay current. Could someone send up a signal flair if it suddenly gets dark and moody? :-)

Billie Doux said...

I'm not sure comic-based characters are my thing, either, but I'm definitely enjoying SHIELD and will probably watch it forever. Or until Fox cancels it. Wait. Can Fox cancel a show on ABC?

Mark Greig said...

Jess, that in media res opening bugged me too. I was going to mention it in the review but I already ranted about my loathing of them in one of my Lost Girl reviews so decided to leave it out.

Billie, normally I would say that Fox could indeed find a away to cancel a show on ABC but that was before they renewed Sleepy Hollow for a second season after just three episodes. Now I don't know what to believe. My entire world view has been turned upside down.

Josie, I'll have that signal flair on standby.

Lamounier said...

I thought this episode was entertaining, but incredibly mediocre. You could see the “twist” coming miles away, and when it came they did nothing to make the villain interesting. Come on… I know we use the excuse “Joss’s shows have weak starts”, and good stories take time, but even Dollhouse had more originality on its first episodes. Also, the score going epic all the time is doomed to get old pretty quickly.

Moving on, what worked for me was the team. That was pretty good, actually. I liked the cheese, the one percent stuff, the team watching the rocket launch (gorgeous shot). But even that was different from other Whedon shows. On BtVS, you knew Buffy, Xander and Willow were already big friends by the end of “The Harvest”. On Dollhouse, there’s that amazing moment on the end of “Stage Fright” (the episode with the singer) where Echo shakes her head and shoots a protective glance at Sierra, and you know that somehow they have a strong connection. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.D.A.M.N.I.T.T.H.A.T.’S.T.O.O.M.A.N.Y.D.O.T.S., though, the bond is not as profound. It’s almost as if the team itself is the main character, and that character was the one who got developed on this episode. Good, but not deep. I hope that, with time, the agents form strong bonds, though.

As for the characters: I’m still not buying Coulson as the lead. I wonder if Skye is a strong enough character to carry a mole plotline. Ward is mostly dull. Melinda rules. Simons’ glee over discovering Melinda was the Cavalry was my favorite bit. She had such an innocent, matter-of-fact and delightful trust that Melinda would get them out. “How do we get out of here?” Hee.

Josie Kafka said...

Thanks, Mark. I'll look east every Tuesday night.