Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Orientation

"I'm not comfortable at the pace at which we deal with new trials and tribulations."

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes to space with a twist that makes this fresh season even more exciting. I mean...

Time travel on top of outer space? I'm a very happy Agents fan right now. This show has covered so much Marvel ground already that it should be called "The Adventures of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and keep them going through the craziest corners of the Marvel Universe. Do I hear ten seasons and a movie?

It has become Agentsmodus operandi to shake things up at the beginning of a new season and place its characters in different positions and situations. I like that because it gives the show a boost of freshness and usually serves well the arcs that are being built. Part of that writing strategy is to temporarily isolate one or two of the protagonists from the others. Season two had Simmons infiltrated in Hydra, season three had Simmons isolated on an alien planet and May on an extended leave from S.H.I.E.L.D., and season four had rogue Daisy. Now it's Fitz' time to fly solo, although we don't see much of him because Iain De Caestecker was busy shooting a movie.

Forget about Fitz, though, everyone else is in fraking space, so it's safe to say the show has shaken things up by placing nearly everyone in a different setting. Did it pay off? Yes, yes it did.

Part One

"No reason to send a message back to Earth. We're already here."

How about that big twist, huh? There were several hints during the first half hour that the team was in the future. Virgil knew a lot about the agents, he said that he had studied their history, that he believed they would come to save humanity. But the closing moments of "Part One" still landed a big punch as, frame after frame, we saw the pieces coming together. That image of a destroyed Earth was very powerful, and May's and Simmon's reactions captured the gravity of the moment perfectly.

What happened? What destroyed Earth? Virgil knew that Fitz hadn't traveled through, he even had a postcard with a message from Fitz: "working on it." On what exactly, on getting them back? Working from the present/past to save the Earth? Was he the one that sent the others to the future? And how does sending them to the future save the past? So many questions.

While the Earth-is-destroyed revelation was dark, the first hour was very funny. I loved how the characters reacted to everything that was thrown on their way, from Simmons trying to apply the scientific method, to Mack showing that his robot-movie-based paranoia also applies to alien movies. In fact, apart from a moment here and there when his negativity was overwritten, Mack was an absolute hoot and made me laugh many times. Several of the quotes I listed below are his. The funniest moment came when he argued that splitting up was a bad idea (he was right!) and next thing you know we have this hilarious shot of everyone walking in group, with Daisy leading them and ready to quake any alien threat. Cue Coulson: "This has to be the coolest we've ever looked."

I also liked that the agents were asking the right questions. Daisy asked Coulson if what was happening had anything to do with his deal with the Ghost Rider. Yo-Yo wondered if they had been plugged back into the Framework (I think I would have thought the same thing). This isn't just good continuity, it's clever writing for the characters.

The new characters were also pretty cool. I was sad to see Virgil go so quickly, I liked him a lot, but I understand why it needed to happen. Deke, however, is going to be recurring, so it's a good thing that he had instant chemistry with the cast. He is kind of a space version of Hunter, in that he has a want-no-responsibility attitude, but you know that deep down he cares.

If there is one thing in "Part One" that I didn't enjoy so much, it was the Kree soldiers. They were just uninteresting, like pretty much every Kree villain that has appeared in the MCU so far. The only moment I took them seriously was when they were freezing Yo-Yo's hands, that was scary. But you know what, they were quickly dispatched, so it's not like they hurt the episode a lot, and after their demise the story built up strongly to the big reveal.

I kind of wish only one episode had aired this last Friday, not because a super-sized premiere wasn't fun, but because the closing moments of the first hour were so powerful that they would've been the perfect note to end the premiere with. But the scheduling of the show is tighter this season, and we did get a second episode right after the first, thus we jump to...

Part Two

"The boat sank."

And, apparently, Daisy sank it. Or did she?

Tess said that a cataclysmic event tore apart the Earth, but that no one knew for sure what happened – the Kree confiscated history. Deke claimed that Daisy Johnson was the one that quaked the Earth apart. That's a bold claim right there, mister, where is your evidence? He also implied that S.H.I.E.L.D. was trying to save the world when it happened.

So, let's see. Maybe they were fighting a big bad, Daisy had to absorb some major seismic energy, like she did in " The Laws of Inferno Dynamics," but she didn't release it in time and accidentally destroyed the world. Maybe she went evil and... no, let me stop here, that didn't happen. Perhaps what Deke said isn't true, he is either mistaken or flat out lying.

I think the Kree had something to do with the end of the world, otherwise why would they care enough to erase history? Also, why do they enslave what is left of the human race? I mean, there is no Earth, no large number of humans. What is their gain?

Even though I'm interested to see these questions answered, the Kree are not doing much for me as villains so far. Kasius is so not the type of bad guy I enjoy watching, and I'm not sure his creepy way of life and his creepy cult of silenced servants match the tone of the series. I mean, it doesn't feel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you know? All that gold makeup and the dumb cruelty of "you are marred now, for that you shall die"?

Now, Sinara is an exception. She hasn't said a word, but Florence Faivre (from The Expanse) brings such an authority with her eyes and physical posture. Plus, those metal balls that Sinara controls with her mind are dope, in an evil kind of way.

Evil rulers aside, the second hour had a lot of world building to do, even more so than the first. We learned that the station that houses the remainder of humanity is called Lighthouse, and we met its marketplace, Exchange. Lighthouse is a place devoid of hope, where humans do nothing but survive under the cruel rule of the Kree.

The event called Renewal, under its mantra of "a life spent, a life earned," was particularly upsetting. It reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the dictator is able to turn one oppressed against the other. Tess had her hand forced to kill a fellow human, something that shocked May of all people.

There is an interesting contrast between the agents and the lighthousers. The agents are guided by a combination of their ethics and their will. They have resolve, they are bold, they still hold onto their humanity. Tess, Deke and the others bow down to the law of the Kree, they fall in line, they are used to it. They explore one another and, if they have to, they kill one another to survive. Tess is starting to see the agents as a source of hope, maybe they are the ones that disrupt the system and save the day. But Deke believes that disrupting such a fragile system would lead to no good, better a slave than a dead man, and so he sees the agents as hazardous.

Deke has also built his own Framework, which was a nice surprise. He is "pimping out the Framework," as Daisy said, to placate the people and remove their will to fight back. Daisy is right, but Deke is unable to see it. I loved their argument, it was another showcase of the differences between those who are raised under ideals of freedom and those who are raised under fear. Much like they did in the Framework, on top of fighting their enemy, the agents will have to breathe some hope into the people.

Speaking of the Framework, I think that, from a writing perspective, this time travel story is similar to the virtual reality story. If the mission of Coulson and co. is to save the Earth and, I'm guessing, prevent this future from happening, then by the end of this arc this future won't be reality anymore. That means the writers have the freedom to go as crazy as they want, they are not limited by what is happening on the remainder of the MCU. My opinion? Go crazy. If this is anywhere near as good as the Framework arc was, it will be worth it.

Intel and Assets

- Natalia Cordova-Buckley is now a series regular. About time.

- No Iain De Caestecker in these episodes, not even a cameo, which makes him the first out of the original five not to appear in every episode. Right?

- Ming-Na Wen had a knee injury while filming last season's penultimate episode. She had to go through surgery and is still not 100%. I liked how the writers wrote that into the story. Poor May can't catch a break.

- Mack learned how to speak Spanish in the Framework. It was mandatory in Hope's school. That's both heartbreaking and very handy.

- One of the Kree soldiers suggested that Mack would be a good Crater fighter. We still don't know what that is, though.

- Tess is played by Eve Harlow, who you might have seen before as Maya on The 100. I really liked Tess and thought her sharknado confusion was quite cute. Here is hoping this time she gets to walk on the surface of the Earth.

- Tess implied that Deke lost people he cared about.

- Simmons had one job, to blend in, and she blew it. Now she's stuck with lame Kasius.

- "Token" is the currency in Lighthouse.

- "Metric" is the identifier everyone needs to wear. Through their freaking wrists!

- Deke referred to a Kree as "Kreeper." That's about right.

- What is left of the Earth is land of the roaches (the alien creatures) now.

- Just to keep track, the agents have dealt with (1) Ghost Rider shenanigans, (2) Aida and her LMDs, who replaced most of the agents, (3) a virtual reality/prison in which Hydra won, and now (4) time travel to a future where the Earth has been destroyed. One threat after the other, no break. Cue Mack's line quoted atop.

Virgil: "You're here. Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. You've come to save us."
Coulson: "Yeah, just to clarify, where is here, who is us, and from what?"

Virgil: "I didn't know how much you would know about our current situation coming in."
Coulson: "Zero. Walk me through it like I'm a child. Like I'm a foreign child."

Coulson: "We're in space."
Mack: "Yeah, that makes sense. That's the one thing we haven't done yet."

Yo-Yo: "Gracias a Dios."
Mack: "Happy to see you too."

Coulson: "Geez, Mack, how hard did you hit him?"
Mack: "What do you mean? As hard as I possibly could. Look, I don't half-hit people. It's a punch, that's why it's called a punch."

Coulson: "We should split up."
Mack: "Hell, no. We are sticking together one hundred percent. Haven't you ever seen an alien movie?"
Daisy: "Mack, it's the best way to cover the most ground."
Mack: "You see, that's exactly what they say before they get picked off one by one. And you know who the first one will be."

Mack (in Spanish): "How do you think Papa Smurf here feels about a little Spanish?"

Daisy: "Find out where the hell and what the hell... sir."

Simmons: "Have you ever flown a spaceship?"
May: "You know the answer to that question."

May: "We'll have to find our own way back."
Simmons (off May's and Coulson's looks): "Well, I'm a biologist, but sure, I can invent time travel. Just give me a minute."

Deke: "Daisy? Pretty name. Like the flower?"
Daisy: "Does that line work in the future?"
Deke: "I guess not."

Simmons: "We've hit the North-Korean-dictator level of creepy."

The first hour was stronger than the second, but all in all, this was an exciting premiere to a promising season. I can't wait to see what comes next, although I'm a bit worried that it might not fit the tone of the series. Three out of four metrics.
--
Lamounier

10 comments:

televisionandotherrantings said...

I'm kind of annoyed that we had to have another dystopia narrative so soon. Honestly wasn't even crazy about the last one myself (I know a lot of people loved it, but I also loved S3 and there are people who hated that so...). Maybe it's that they've strung so many dystopia cliches together and honestly it's kind of blah for me. Not to mention the crew's choices in the second episode were kind of frustrating even if I can kind of see why they would act that way (to an extent) but they were being a bit presumptive and naive (I would have at least waited a day before going against what their new pals had said).

Still that like 3 minutes where they were talking Coulson about the Rider thing, Framework possibilities and the who split-up/stay-together thing was gold. Highlight of the premiere by far. And the visuals were definitely very nice. Honestly it was overall not bad but I just don't really care for it (maybe this is how people felt about S3..well its not a good feeling :( .)

The idea that Kree destroyed Earth is interesting and make a bit more sense (the other reigning theory besides Daisy is Thanos. Maybe it's a Titan AE or Enterprise Season 3 situation where the Free figured out humanity would kick their asses one day and they arranged something so that it was the humans asses that would be kicked. The Titan AE comparisons would be appropriate given Joss Whedon was involved in that one, kind of bringing us full circle. And of course there's the usual murky underworld/pristine overworld and effeminate bad guy cliches that pop up in stuff like Hunger Games and the 2002 Time Machine movie respectively.

Oh by the way Ming Na didn't appear in the S3 premiere if that answers your "original five question"

Anonymous said...

Agents of shield is the best superhero show..It reaches the happy medium between the Dc shows and the netflix shows. Its consistency since the late end of season 1 has been unreal. I mean how many below par episodes can you recall.
Only Dardevil season 1 and Jessica Jones come close or better it....and Punisher.
Great start to the new season...Another thing that sets it apart is when it does change the status quo like his there is no easy one episode fix (Hey, Flashpoint)...This is the setting so they will commit to this story for at least 10 episodes.

Anonymous said...

"Mack learned how to speak Spanish in the Framework"

Well, calling that Spanish would be quite a stretch. Natalia's is not that good either. I don't know if she doesn't speak Spanish or she's just saying what they wrote for her.

It's like Alias. They sound so incredible speaking German, Russian, whatever, and then they speak Spanish and all you can do is be amazed... cuando eres espaƱol.

I guess the same happens to whoever understands the rest of the languages used.

Anonymous said...

Ok, she's Mexican and has been in an Argentinian series, so probably just rolling with it here.

PS.- Every day I hate recaptcha more and more.

Lamounier said...

Anonymous, Natalia is Mexican and she speaks Spanish, just with a different accent than the one you are used to. And I understood most of Mack said. He is bound to have a non-native accent, especially if Henry Simmons doesn't know how to speak Spanish and is only being coached through his lines.

televisionandotherrantings, I hope this arc has nothing to do with Thanos. Honestly, I don't know why so many fans want Thanos to be involved, I don't want the show playing second fiddle to the movies.

I didn't hate season three, but I think it is the weakest of the series. It is consistent and it doesn't have the lows of season one, but I think it's just average most of the time.

I get where you are coming from, though. I wasn't crazy about the cliches of the premiere either, and Kasius is such a lame villain. But I love dystopian fiction, so I don't mind the writers giving us another one so quickly. I only hope they ace this one too. Hopefully, Kasius will be replaced with a worthy villain soon enough.

Good theory that this could be a Titan AE situation. That would be cool.

yodudeyo100 said...

I like to think, and hope this is an alternate future where Thanos won during Infinity War and destroyed Earth. Maybe (This next part is stretching it), but when Coulson and co. Get back they have to warn Stark or something. I still hope our heroes from SHIELD make a small cameo in Infinity War. They deserve it.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

I agree that the first hour was stronger, and I loved how different parts of the team discovered simultaneously that they were in the future. I also don't want a repeat of the darkness of the Framework arc. I hope we start getting some hints of a way out soon - maybe before episode 5, which should give a little glimpse since we'll finally see Fitz again.

I'm really curious how things will tie to the second pod - since we've introduced time travel (only briefly hinted at before in the MCU, with time manipulation in Doctor Strange, and arriving at different times in Thor: Ragnarok, depending on where/when you exit the Einstein-Rosen rainbow bridge), I would love to see the team go to the past - perhaps in a miscalculated attempt to return to 2017? My dream scenario would be for them to team up with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark sometime in the 1950s (I really miss Jarvis!). They could even meet a young Nick Fury (no clue what his age is, but Samuel L. Jackson was born in 1948), which could explain why Fury was so desperate to keep Coulson alive. But probably too fan-servicey for them to attempt, more along the lines of a time-travel-based show like Legends of Tomorrow or Doctor Who.

Anonymous said...

Lamounier, it wasn't the accent, it was the construction of the sentences. Some of them were just incomplete, like they were just "ok, throw a verb here, a name there and done!".

But whatever, it was just nitpicking. It is what it is.

Thanks for the review!

Lamounier said...

Anon, I get it. In fact, you were right about Alias. If you knew the language, you would likely notice that the accent and/or grammar were off.

I would love to see the team go to the past - perhaps in a miscalculated attempt to return to 2017? My dream scenario would be for them to team up with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark sometime in the 1950s

Katie, that would be so cool!

Gus Brunetti said...

This isn't the first terrible accent in the MCU. Bruce Banner's boss at the factory in The Incredible Hulk has become a point of reference for an American badly, badly trying to pass for Brazilian. I never understood why they didn't just hire a Brazilian actor, since they filmed it in Rio.