Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 1. Pilot
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013) Season 1, episode 1 is trying to do something inherently difficult. We have had decades of Marvel Comics and, more recently, successful films. To expand on the universe through a television show is asking a lot. First, it must be consistent with the universe as existing fans know it, but the episodes must be accessible to newcomers who think Marvel is a brand of powdered milk. It must also avoid trampling on the toes of the existing film franchise. It would be embarrassing if the television series accidentally foreshadowed some of the themes due to appear in the next film. Then there’s the problem of characters crossing over from the cinema to the small screen. Some of the stars of the big screen might be too expensive for a television production. And finally there’s a terrible burden of expectation. Of late, the film producers have managed to reinvigorate the Marvel universe. It will be a challenge to the television producers on a smaller budget to maintain the standard.
So how does the first episode play out? Well the first mountain or molehill depending on your point of view is the survival of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). He’s been the right-hand person to Nick Fury in both Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012) but, in the latter film, he died. Except here he is and, immediately the writers confront the elephant on the screen and give an explanation. Then, when he’s not in hearing range, the “people-in-the-know” say they hope he never finds out what actually happened. Yeh, well, it’s a solution. So Agent Coulson is back in the saddle and putting together a team to deal with all the new weird stuff after the Battle of New York in the film. This means Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) drives the bus, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is the good-looking one who fights well but is not overendowed in the brain department, Skye (Chloe Bennet) is the superduper hacker, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is a geek and one half of the science team with Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).
The first thing to note is the international character of the team. The science division is British (they ask for less money to ply their trade than comparable American talent) while the bus driver is from Macau with exposure in Hong Kong (even cheaper). This keeps down costs and spreads the distribution load because although Chloe Bennet was born in Chicago, her father is Chinese and she already has a mainland Chinese fan base thanks to her international singing career. This is television program marketing 101. Always cram in as many different racial and cultural groups as possible when casting.
Now on to the plot. This must necessarily be thin because we’re in team gathering mode and meeting the cast is more important than any meat in the plot — that can come in later episodes. So we’re in supersoldier territory courtesy of Captain America. The potential hero in this episode has been treated with some of the still unstable physical enhancer. As in other plots, people with this type of chemical in their bloodstream can literally explode. Fortunately, with an all-British science team on the job, it’s the work of only five minutes of screen time for them to find a way of defusing the bomb. Such are the wonders of British science in the Marvel universe. Frankly, the ending is overly sentimental and feel good. The whole point of Marvel is that not everyone can be saved. I hope this is not a precedent for future episodes. This has all been too easy. Yes it had fun moments and some of the special effects are quite cool, but when it came down to the basic plot mechanics, we were in cliché territory most of the time. This means I’m in holding mode. I can see some potential in the team members, but the initial performances were of neutral quality. For now, they are devices being moved around for the convenience of the plot. If the scripts allow them to come to life and they have some complexity, the series may become watchable. All we can do is wait and see.
For a review of other episodes, see:
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 2. 0-8-4
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 3. The Asset
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 4. Eye-Spy
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 5. Girl in the Flower Dress
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 6. FZZT
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 7. The Hub.