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Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder

August 24, 2014 7 comments

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder (Sexton Blake Library, 6th Series, Issue 1, contains the original titular story plus a reprint of “The Wireless Telephone Clue” by G H Teed which was first published in 1922 (Obverse Books, 2014). This takes me back to my youth in the 1950s when I was just getting into my stride with the early adventure and what then passed for thriller fiction. As fast as I could find copies of their work, I was devouring Sax Rohmer, Sapper, Leslie Charteris, Dornford Yates, and a host of others — that was until I discovered the American magazines which signalled, I’m sad to say, a partial abandonment of British thriller and detective fiction in favour of science fiction, horror and fantasy. However, one of the more enduring favorites proved to be the Sexton Blake series. With more than four-thousand stories to work through, I was never going to run out of new material. Then I discovered the films and along came the television series in the 1960s. The television series lacked the wit of The Avengers, but it was a good second best. All of this nostalgia comes into play because Mark Hodder has produced the first new contribution to this series in fifty years. If you’re a fan, this is a red-letter day. If you’ve not previously encountered this heroic sleuth, this is what you need to know.

Sexton Blake, like Sherlock Holmes, occupies rooms on Baker Street and has a housekeeper who, like Mrs Malaprop before her, has a tendency to mangle her words. If nothing else, this introduces a note of levity into the proceedings. There are two key differences between Blake and Holmes. Blake is very much the man of action who takes on a series of individual criminals and gangs, often with an international dimension involving both conventional crime and espionage. Whereas Holmes is into the collection of clues and deductive reasoning, Blake tends to be more intuitive and, although he does depend on solving mysteries, they tend to be more superficial as befits the adventure/thriller genre.

Mark Hodder

Mark Hodder

So in this new story, we’re off and running with one of these 1920s-style slightly science fictional plots in which the dwarfish superbrain working for the Ministry of Defence has created the weapon to end all wars. This is a variety of disintegrating ray which, when held in a relatively stable position, is capable of reducing all in its path to their constituent atoms (or something along those lines). The British naturally have the theory that once this weapon is demonstrated to all interested parties, no-one will challenge the Empire’s hegemony and we will embark on a new era of peace in our time. Our hero has just returned from a jaunt on which he discovered the Ring of Solomon. With the Middle East in a state of ferment, it would be inconvenient if this news was released, so the British government decides to lock it away in a secret vault constructed under the Rock of Gibraltar. To get it there, the Government detaches the latest military airship from its duties as the carrier of this new secret weapon, and so puts all pieces in play. A collector supervillain wants the ring but, when he discovers he might also acquire the weapon, he’s quickly into action. The rest of the story has Blake and his sidekick Tinker fighting the Gentleman, an expert at opening safes, and the Three Musketeers, recently released from prison. The result is one of these very nicely constructed period plots in which our dynamic duo put spanners in the criminal works as we float back and forth between London and Gibraltar. It’s all good clean fun.

“The Wireless Telephone Clue” was the first story in which the Three Musketeers appeared as burglars and robbers fit to terrorise London society. At one level, this is a very simple linear story of three gentlemen thieves who prey on their own class and are making a very good living out of it until, quite by chance, Blake sees two of the most recently stolen items on sale and Tinker hears something unusual on the airwaves. The best way to describe the story is unpretentious. So often, those who write fiction believe they must add detail and pad out the plot. This is efficient in setting the scene, showing how the burglars commit their crimes, and finally watching Blake track them down. There’s nothing very clever about the “detective” side of things. Random chance gives him the information and he and Tinker act upon it to recover much of the stolen loot.

Looking at these two stories in the cold light of 2014, I can understand why the young me would have hoovered up adventure-style thrillers like this. They are very undemanding reads with moderately inventive plots and a bare minimum of action (usually avoiding the more modern habit of explicit violence). The new story by Mark Hodder is slightly knowing and so more fun. The reprint is typical of 1920s fiction and good as far as it goes. So let’s cut to the chase. You do not buy books like this as great literature. They are published as a form of service. There are some characters like the Saint, Bulldog Drummond and Nayland Smith who ought to be remembered as they were originally written. Too often, as in the case of the Saint, their image has been dented by Hollywood. Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper should be read by oldies like me who enjoy the buzz of nostalgia, and by newcomers who want the chance to see what was top of the literary pops up to ninety years ago. I enjoyed the experience.

For reviews of the first five Burton and Swinburne books by Mark Hodder, see:
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi
The Return of the Discontinued Man
There’s also a standalone called A Red Sun Also Rises.

And for those who enjoy a little nostalgia, the website run by Mark Hodder celebrating Sexton Blake is worth a visit.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Voodoo Ridge by David Freed

March 21, 2014 9 comments

Voodoo-Ridge-medium1

For reasons not relevant to this review, I’ve been spending time recently thinking about the different ways in which people view the world. One of the most common questions that seems to emerge is the extent to which there is any equity, fairness or justice in society. In societies which claim to be more democratic than not, there are certain expectations about equality of access to basic services and protections for “human rights”. Sadly such expectations rarely play out in the real world where increasingly severe income disparities mean differential access to services can be bought by the wealthy and the legal system can be manipulated for the benefit of those with power. For many have-nots, this can mean life is brutish and short. Except this is not what we see in the average book. Authors sugarcoat the pill. Even though dystopian fiction is popular in the YA market, the vast majority of fiction titles have feel-good intentions. They pander to a section of the market that wants to feel inspired by protagonists who prevail against the odds or find redemption in some way. It’s the “happy ever after” syndrome. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Bringing realism into fiction tends to produce a darker tone and more depressing outcomes. Not everyone wants to be reminded how awful life can be for the less fortunate.

Voodoo Ridge by David Freed (The Permanent Press, 2014) finds our hero, Cordell Logan, in an emotionally equivocal state. In the back story, his wife left him for a colleague. In the last book, that colleague was killed and she asked her ex to find out who did it. In the reunion under difficult circumstances, a spark was briefly kindled. The result was an announcement of pregnancy. Neither side had thought they were still fertile (age can often deceive the unwary) so no precautions were taken. Now they have to confront the new reality. Somewhat improbably, they decide to remarry. Such are the mistakes people make when emotions are running high. This persuades them to fly up to South Lake Tahoe for a snap wedding — all the advantages of Las Vegas but without the temptation to gamble (not that remarriage is anything but a gamble). As they approach the small airport, our hero spots what could be the wreckage of a plane. As a concerned citizen, he reports the sighting when he lands. This news is greeted with some degree of incredulity. No planes have been reported lost or missing in recent times. Nevertheless, he persists in his assertion, pointing adamantly to a spot on a high-definition map.

David Freed

David Freed

Of course he ends up guiding the police to the place he saw as he flew in. He’s frustrated by the general air of scepticism and his natural sense of duty kicks in. That this means postponing the wedding is not a major consideration in his mind. The love between the couple seems to have returned but not the romance. To him, the symbolism of a marriage ceremony to confirm the resumption of love as usual can be fitted in when it’s convenient — a typically male-centric point of view. When they find the plane, it turns out to be “old”. The dead body of one of the people from the airport who had heard the initial report is the first complication. The second complication comes when the FAA declares all information about the plane classified. Why would a plane lost in 1956 still be subject to an official secrets ruling? None of this should immediately set alarm bells ringing. There’s no need for Cordell to increase his level of vigilance. That way lies paranoia and, as a Buddhist, he’s committed to seeing the good in people and the surrounding situation.

Of course all this traipsing around the landscape and Cordell’s involvement in the investigation is not appreciated by his bride-to-be who spends the day moping about in the cold of the town. To make things worse, the sheriff’s deputy calls Cordell out of the boutique hotel at the crack of dawn the next day. Perhaps Cordell should not be surprised his intended is not in evidence when he returns. Except this doesn’t feel right. She hasn’t gone out: both her jogging and the ordinary clothes she would have worn outdoors are still in the room. Later his cellphone rings. It’s not good news.

This is the start of an economically told thriller which makes the simplicity of a linear plot a delight to watch. The tension is skillfully maintained as we watch Cordell’s sense of duty collide with his love for his ex-wife. Needless to say, there can only be one outcome. My delight in Voodoo Ridge is not saying I want all my books to be grim, but there does come a point when the endless sunlight of modern fiction becomes tiring and a healthy dose of reality is appreciated. If you enjoy thrillers with a darker edge, this is a superb example of the form and you should snap it up.

For reviews of other books by David Freed, see:
Fangs Out
Flat Spin.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Cold Tuscan Stone by David P Wagner

November 18, 2013 1 comment

Cold-Tuscan-Stone-A-Rick-Montoya-Italian-Mystery-Ri-269025-16ea57b3f6aa3ff97e10

It’s in the nature of storytelling that every action should have a setting. Indeed, the where and when are essential building blocks to offering a credible context for the action and adding essential colour to the atmosphere. A steampunk story would be located in a Victorian version of London in the 1880s or 90s, a space opera would be set on a massive vessel, bristling with weapons of unimaginable power, the farmhouse might be on a blasted heath as lightning crackles around the night sky, and so on. Indeed, many authors trade on the exotic when it comes to locating the action. That way, even if the readers are finding the plot a little heavy going, they can at least be soaking up the detail of the culture (particularly the food) in colonial Tangier of the 1930s as an Islamically pious place infested by infidels, or in remote Tibet where people divide their time between tent and temple, or as in Cold Tuscan Stone by David P Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, 2013) where cosmopolitan northern Italians may be looting their history for illegal antiquities to export while eating robustly elegant food and sipping delicately flavoured wines.

Indeed, there’s a steady trade in mystery, adventure, thriller and romantic fiction that lets us wander round places we’ve heard of but never had the chance of visiting. It’s so much more convenient to open a book than get on an aeroplane or ship to journey off to sun and sand in some distant holiday location. And with an author at our side who’s positively bursting at the seams with interesting factoids about how these people live their lives, what social and political preoccupations they have, what style of clothing they affect, what types of food they eat, and so on, it’s all one long learning opportunity — sometimes with the chance to glean a few phrases of foreign languages should we ever encounter a visitor from Acapulco or Zanzibar (Mexican spanish and kiswahili respectively).

Anyway, this time we’re off to a slightly wintery Volterra in Tuscany with Rick Montoya, an American who makes his living as a translator and interpreter. He has the misfortune to have been to university with an Italian who now works for the Italian Art Squad, and his uncle is a rather famous police officer. It seems this makes him a suitable candidate to be recruited as an unofficial undercover agent. There are original Etruscan urns being spirited out of Italy. This pillaging of Roman history must be stopped. So our hero is sent into the suspected hotbed of export activity to shake the trees and beat the grass to see what emerges into the light. Being old and cantankerous, I don’t find this plot premise even remotely credible. A man with no training or previous background in police work would not be asked to walk into a potentially dangerous situation without detailed briefing or training in the use of “spycraft” or self-defensive techniques. He’s simply given a list of people to interview, the name of the local police chief with whom he’s to liaise, a credit card to cover his expenses, and off he goes. It’s simply extraordinary that he should be told to walk into the local police station as if no-one local would notice, or walk about the town with a mobile clamped to his ear, talking with a national policing agency as if no-one could overhear what was being said. He’s not even advised to conceal the list of people to interview or hide their background files. It’s as if the powers-that-be want him to stand out like an amateur so people will either ignore him or try to kill him, i.e. he could be the tethered goat to attract the tiger.

David P Wagner

David P Wagner

As is often the case, the same day he arrives, he talks with a man who works for one of the suspects. Minutes later, this man is killed. You can’t get a bigger contrivance than that. You would think the powers-that-be would be in full panic mode and call their amateur out of the firing line at the earliest opportunity. But, no, he’s allowed to soldier on, touring round, talking to everyone who will listen and pretending to be a buyer for looted antiquities. Yet, miraculously, someone does contact him and, as Sherlock would say, the game’s afoot. I would go so far as to say the plot is absurd. It’s clearly written by someone who has no real understanding of what it takes to be both original and credible. No professional criminal is going to make illegal deals with a man who walks in off the street without some form of authenticated introduction. Just handing over a business card would not impress anyone. Having no knowledge of Etruscan antiquities is going to raise red flags. How can someone so obviously ignorant be in the market for artifacts, fake or original? He’s not in a position to make any kind of informed judgement about what he’s shown. No-one even halfway competent would begin to trust him. Yet we’re asked to watch him talk to people. We also have moments of insight into the activities of the local police. After a while, they converge, shots are fired, there are arrests (sadly, there are no explosions so it’s not a thriller). And everyone who was on the side of the angels walks away wiser from the experience. Queue suitable music for closing credits and prepare yourself for the inevitable sequel as the uncle who’s an established police officer is obviously lining him up for another exciting adventure.

The descriptions of Rome and Volterra ring true, the menus reflect an informed palate, and there’s enough to convince us that this author knows Italy. But as to the rest of the book. . . Cold Tuscan Stone is an almost complete failure no matter whether you try to label it as mystery, thriller or adventure.

For a review of the sequel, see Death in the Dolomites.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 7. The Hub

November 14, 2013 2 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 7. The Hub offers us a Level 8 Mission and you lot are only Level 7, so you’re out of the loop (i.e. the scriptwriters don’t have to tell you what’s going on). So when the team busts a mole out of an underground facility in Siberia (I mean where else would you keep a mole but in an underground tunnel or two), the need-to-know factor is compartmentalised and, if you ended up in a Chinese silo in Sichuan (where the hot pepper dishes, while tasty at first bite, are a torture in their own right), you could not betray any secrets. But, of course, that doesn’t apply to The Hub. It’s an open secret what that is (but not where it is). Naturally Skye (Chloe Bennet) is not allowed to know anything. She’s a Rising Tide spy and only there on sufferance. If you remember, she’s also tagged to ensure she can’t do anything that might be embarrassing. So the mission has Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) aka Woodentop and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) infiltrating Georgia (not something that was ever on their minds). It seems this ex-Soviet group of scientists has invented a superweapon that does unto others what they were planning to do to them (or something). The mission needs someone bright enough to recognise the weapon when he sees it (a challenge to everyone with so many guards all looking in the same direction) and then dismantle it before it can do the doing thing. There’s a touching moment between the British Geeks and then this week’s tag team are off on the Level 8 mission.

Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton)

Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton)

Naturally Skye and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), the remaining Geek, are worried sick so decide to hack The Hub (pleasing alliteration). Interrupted, they paralyse one of the top Level 8 agents. Meanwhile, things are not going so well on the crossing into Georgia. The football match is on, then it’s off, and Woodentop kills a sandwich. Skye chooses not to hack the redacted documents to find out what happened to her parents and uses the time to discover the dynamic duo have been sent in to die. Fortunately, without being run over, they have a magnetic sleeping bag that attaches them to the underside of vehicles which pass over them. As if by magic, the random vehicle passing over them is not going to dig a latrine, but driving straight into the supersecret complex disguised as an abandoned steel mill in Detroit. Then even more remarkably, there are only two guards in with the weapon and they can easily be overpowered. Now our British geek snaps into high gear and not only dismantles it in ten seconds but then reassembles it to be portable. That means it can no longer blow up the nuclear warheads on missiles in silos thousands of miles away (allowing for the curvature of the Earth, of course) but it can cause the guns of newly arriving guards to start exploding. This is remarkably convenient. I’m relieved the British geek could make the modification and defend Woodentop into the bargain. However, if the Georgians could build this thing once, why does destroying this example of the technology solve anything? They must have duplicate copies of the designs. They could just build thousands of the damn things. After all, Fitz has given them proof-of-concept on the portable version for close-quarters fighting.

So this was an episode about secrets. No-one told Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) it was a suicide mission because he didn’t need to know two members of his team where being sent off to die. Skye was dropped off at the orphanage by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent but she can’t be told the context. Fitz has been keeping it a secret that he’s actually quite competent. And Coulson doesn’t have a high enough security clearance to find out if he died for more than eight seconds. That said, the team-building is going from strength to strength with Skye and Woodentop looking at each other with more appraising eyes and the two geeks doing whatever they do when offscreen. Even Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) gets in on the act as the only one who can talk with Coulson and not give away his secrets. So despite being immensely silly and with no penalties against the team for assaulting a Level 8 agent and using the Bus to rescue the missing two team members (I wish I knew how far the Bus had to fly to arrive just at the right time in Georgia), this was a slightly more entertaining episode.

For a review of other episodes, see:
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 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 6. FZZT

November 7, 2013 3 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 6. FZZT gives us a Halloween episode (only a few days after the due date) in which the obligatory small group of two adults and some cherubic boys sit around a campfire and tell each other lame ghost stories. Except this time, when one of the men hears a noise off in the darkness, he ends up fully charged and repelling Earth’s gravity, while the battery in the scout’s truck seems to attract attention.

As we rejoin the crew on the Bus, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) aka Woodentop demonstrates he has no sense of humour, the British geeks Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) think they can do American accents which should give all Americans a laugh at the expense of Britain, and, on the treadmill, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is spookily healthy for a man of his age. After viewing the levitating man who expectedly stops floating when Jemma Simmons gets a spark from the body, Skye (Chloe Bennet) does a Google search for the man’s background. It seems he and Mother Teresa are vying with each other for sainthood. Then there’s a second electrostatic event only a short distance away and, when they get to the barn (who needs an entire farm house for scenes like this), there’s another gravity-defying body. By this time Skye has a sample of two saints. This was was another volunteer fireman in the same troop as the first victim. That means a stalker serial killer is wiping out men virtuous enough to volunteer to put out fires following the alien invasion that hit New York in the film version of The Avengers (2012). What a dastardly plot. Someone must have picked up an alien device when they were dowsing the flames and has been infected.

The agents out in the field

The agents out in the field

No, wait. This is a different plot altogether. This is an excuse for Phil Coulson to do his, “You should try to stay calm. You’re about to die, but I’ve been there and I can tell you it’s beautiful.” speech just before the third man who cleaned the blood off the alien helmet blows up. Now here’s the thing. They all touched the helmet at the same time, but they are exploding at different times. Now our Brit geek has the bug, she only has two hours to live. How did they calculate this? Since they are in the Bus over a large ocean, that means she will release the equivalent of an EMP charge and bring the plane down with total loss of life among all those who do not have a parachute. Or they could just throw her off the plane. That would solve the problem. So now it’s a race against time as our heroic scientist must experiment on herself to find a cure before the alien virus kills her. The tension arising from this plot takes a vicious hold on the producer and forces him to authorise it to finish. This leaves the worldwide audience feeling helpless. All they can do is watch. Woodentop can’t take out his gun and shoot bad guys. Skye can’t hack the virus. All they can do is sit and wait for it all to end.

So now romance rears its head as the two geeks get the helmet and start working out whether they can extract an anti-venom thing (or if not venom, then virus, or serum or whatever) from the alien’s blood that the firefighters so carefully cleaned off. Wow is this team-building under pressure or what! Now all we need do is wait for the absurd climax. . . when they save one of the weakest and most annoying characters in the show. It would have given the show so much more potential for emotional depth if they had just let her die. So everything should be wonderful now they are all bonding, except Coulson is feeling different. As Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) says, there’s no way he can die, come back and not feel different. She channels a Chinese guru and confirms he’s different because he is different and all he can do now is move forward one day at a time. And if other people don’t like him being a different Coulson, they’d better suck it up because now he’s different, he’s not going to act like he did before.

In my mind, this show is pitching at the wrong audience. The level of character development and this continuing insistence of standalone episodes aim at a young audience. With better plot ideas, this could be great on a children’s channel at this length. But it fails to hit the mark for an adult audience. Although it’s British and therefore doesn’t have quite the same visibility in America, the approach of Torchwood was a better model for a small team tracking down and dealing with alien invaders. Obviously, none of the American producers wanted to risk being infected by a British television virus which is why I think this show is dying on its feet.

For a review of other episodes, see:
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 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 7. The Hub.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 5. Girl in the Flower Dress

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Marvels Agents of Shield

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 5. Girl in the Flower Dress demonstrates the age-old truth that unless you have intelligent dialogue in service to a good plot shown through well-produced visuals, you have a show that’s dead in the water. Let’s start with the question of the dialogue’s quality. At its heart, this series has begun to demonstrate a clear point of view preference. The default setting is Skye (Chloe Bennet). Although the theory says we’re watching the growth of a team, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), the British science geeks, were effectively sidelined, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) has a coupe of scenes with Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) aka Woodentop lurches around looking for his lost brain (assuming he was issued one on birth). This episode is all about Skye’s agenda and the deception she’s been running intended to achieve her ends. In the right hands, this plot could have been interesting as we watched her vacillate between old and new relationships. Sadly, what we heard and saw was facile and not worthy of our attention. Indeed, the dialogue bubbles in some comic stories are better than this. To show they are getting along better, Skye and Woodentop play battleships (that’s about the right intellectual level for him and he still lost). But, if you listen to the script, the male actor is incapable of displaying anything approximating actual emotion. The effort going into writing the script is therefore wasted. May and Coulson do better in their more limited exchanges (May gets to speak Mandarin in two scenes which she does rather more convincingly since that’s her mother tongue). The science geeks remain deeply annoying.

Brett Dalton and Ming-Na Wen

Brett Dalton and Ming Na Wen

As to the plot, it seems S.H.I.E.L.D. runs a list of people with ability who might be dangerous if they fell into the wrong hands. Via stock footage, we travel to Hong Kong where a generic street scene offers us a “magician” who can actually make fire. We’re supposed to recognise him as a human mutant who, like Pyro in the X-Men series, can manipulate fire. Well, in the initial scenes, the power is rather limited but, on the budget we’ve seen from the show so far, it’s a step in the right direction. Anyway, the titular girl in the flower dress gets a personal demonstration and then watches with a smile on her lips as appropriately suited heavies subdue him,. To punish him for having a mutant talent, they propose to call him Scorch. Meanwhile, back on the Bus, an agent from Hong Kong reports the “magician’s” abduction, speculating this is the work of the Rising Tide. Skye is embarrassed because she’s supposed to be a part of that organisation and should warn S.H.I.E.L.D. when any of her colleagues propose to cross the line. It’s a big organisation, OK. To prove she’s now on the side of the good guys, Skye identifies the person who hacked S.H.I.E.L.D. Leaving the local people in Hong Kong to recover the man they were supposed to be protecting, our newly emerging team set off for Austin Texas (because it’s cheaper to film generic American cities and make believe we’re in Texas).

Because he’s standing on the pavement trying not to be conspicuous, Miles, the hacker, immediately identifies Woodentop as an agent and runs off (only joking — Skye has already tipped him off). This precipitates a time-wasting chase. Skye however continues to play both sides and is waiting for Miles back at his run-down apartment. Yes, it’s the hacker and ex-lover. Later in post-coital bliss, they are arrested and taken to Hong Kong. Sorry, I was too quick to keep us in America (an irrelevant comment because none of the exterior scenes are identifiable as to location). Anyway, we’re back to the organisation from the first episode that’s trying to create a supersoldier. I think I forgot to mention it’s calling itself Centipede. With only inferior scientific abilities available, their serum is unstable, but the British science geeks speculate the pyrokenetic ability of the kidnapped mutant could stabilise the serum. Personally, that sounds an absurd idea but, in this show, I’m past caring. So now the enhanced Scorch burns a couple of people to ash (not very impressive CGI) and is then persuaded to explode. Miles the hacker, allowed out of his handcuffs at the last moment, directs the blast of flame out of the laboratory roof through the air-conditioning system (totally absurd CGI) — nothing is too much of a challenge for this guy. The team reassembles on the Bus. Miles is stripped of his money and left in Hong Kong with the ultimate in electronic tagging. Skye is on probation, finally admitting she’s trying to find out what happened to her parents. Everyone else is in limbo apart from the girl in the flower dress who is prison visiting to hint there may be some plot continuity about to develop. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Girl in the Flower Dress is not quite the worst episode so far but close to it.

For a review of other episodes, see:
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 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 6. FZZT
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 7. The Hub.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 4. Eye-Spy

October 17, 2013 3 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 4. Eye-Spy sees me keeping up with the news. Hot from the presses is confirmation the series has been picked up for the full diet of twenty-two episodes in this first season. In theory, this means the scripts can now build the narrative over the season which should improve the quality of the plots. Except, so far, there’s absolutely no sign of continuity from one episode to the next. We’ve had to deal with a “good” man given supersoldier ability, we’ve recovered a threatening object from the Peruvian jungle, and we’ve been sent to rescue a kidnapped “asset”. This time, we’re off to sunny Stockholm, Sweden where fifty-five identically dressed men, all wearing the same red masks, were despatched to carry diamonds across the city. Only one had the right case containing the diamonds and yet, as if by magic, a robber singles him out on the underground and, having disabled the lights, kills all the masked men on that train and steals just the one case. With all the surveillance cameras in the area disabled, Skye (Chloe Bennet) suggests they try the online sites and, with people surveilling themselves, they soon have more pictures than they need from Facebook, etc. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) quickly identifies the attacker. She’s Akela Amador (Pascale Armand), an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. She was fearless but not a team player.

It’s one of these tiresome Lazarus plots. She and two others went on a mission years ago. When they didn’t come back, a second team found body parts but nothing to directly confirm she had been killed. Nevertheless, she was listed as dead. Obviously she’s back and now in Belarus, fencing the $30 million in diamonds she’s accumulated from Sweden and other heists for a small gizmo that opens doors. The game we’re playing in the episode is whether she has a superpower such as ESP, or the resurrected agent has tapped into some new technology. Adding to the supposed level of interest is Coulson’s unwillingness to notify HQ that he’s found her alive. Perhaps she never went over to the dark side. Perhaps she can be brought back from the dark side if that’s where she’s gone. The first and most obvious problem is the news of extended life for the season did not affect this episode. It was already written and recorded. We therefore have to sit through ghastly dialogue which pretends to be character development but fails miserably to reveal anything of interest about any of the characters. Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), the Brit science geeks, remain deeply annoying. Even when pushed into the ditch, they still can’t say anything interesting. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is monosyllabic. This may be a language problem and the script is “shielding” her from having to say too much in English or, until she has the chance to fight, she sees no point in saying anything. Our supposed top male agent is wooden. Only Skye and Coulson have anything approximating intelligent dialogue. So what of this episode’s plot?

Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg)

Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg)

The episode is literally about this ex-agent’s eye. She’s been implanted with this high-tech, micro-miniaturised camera with fringe benefits. Whoever is controlling her, writes instructions and can see whatever she sees. But there’s no audio (high-tech ears come next year when the rest of the $6 million dollars development budget gets spent). So our geek scientists hijack the data-stream from the fake eye and enable a pair of spectacles to take its place. Woodentop gets to wear this substitute and penetrate the secret base, while the geeks operate to remove the original eye before it blows up and kills the ex-agent. There’s one moment of humour as the point of the penetration becomes clearer — sex was not originally on Woodentop’s mind — it’s all in the alien formula. Great x-ray spectacles! They were advertised in the comics back in the 1950s. It seems S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally cracked the technology and made them work.

The whole episode is still playing the “team” game. Akela Amador failed all those years ago because she was not a team player. May is also having problems fitting into this team. The geeks are just having serious social problems. While Skye is doing the double-agent thing, supposedly to keep us guessing where her real loyalties lie. It’s all plotting 101 and boringly simplistic. Perhaps I’ll watch just one more. . .

For a review of other episodes, see:
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 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 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.

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