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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.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 3. The Asset

October 10, 2013 4 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 3. The Asset sees me watching with patience already paper thin as our heavy truck lumbers down a suspiciously empty country road only to be highjacked in a novel way. It seems someone has developed one of these superforce weapons that can brush escort vehicles off the road, and pick up and drop a truck like it’s a Tonka toy. At just the right spot, armed men now stream out of the conveniently adjacent woods and dismantle the truck. On first impressions, it seems more interesting in plot and visual terms. OK so what’s actually happening? We learn the truck was carrying Dr Franklin Hall (Ian Hart). Well interest just evaporated. This is a top-level S.H.I.E.L.D. boffin (the titular “Asset”) and these security-minded agents are trying to sneak him around the countryside inside a giant truck? What’s wrong with an anonymous car or a helicopter? Ah wait. He’s thought to be safer inside a giants truck being escorted by two black SUVs because bad guys won’t notice this convoy on empty country roads. Anyway, all this is irrelevant because the truck driver opines the route must have been leaked by a mole — the bad guys were waiting for them. To try maintaining interest, our team scientists, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), find a gizmo buried in the road. It does something to gravity. No-one knows how it’s controlled nor how dangerous it may be but they take it on board the Bus anyway (I can’t think why the kidnappers left it behind if it wasn’t to blow up the Bus).

Skip to Malta where we meet Ian Quinn (David Conrad), the week’s random rich megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, discussing terms of co-operation with the kidnapped “Asset”. They knew each other at university and now Quinn has found the theoretical rare earth appropriately called Gravitonium just in case we might forget what it does. With it powering a giant generator, they can takeover the world. I’m sure it will be news to international law agencies that Malta has been declared closed to all outside interference. Instead of requiring a suspension of disbelief over the radical change in Malta, the scriptwriters could have invented a small country where our megalomaniac could have his secret underground base. Anyway, under this version of Maltese law, any foreign agents captured on Maltese soil can be executed by firing squad. So Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) sends Skye (Chloe Bennet) to infiltrate — she’s the expendable one. At this point, the show rapidly devolves into a routine and boring plot where Skye has to active a widget inside the firewalled estate so the scientist types can hack the security perimeter and our two male agents can break in to rescue the kidnapped Asset. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is left on the bench and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) gets to fight for at least ten seconds. As a final thought on the plot, Malta is an island so where did they land the Bus for people to disembark? More to the point, how did they remove the 12 foot gizmo if Malta has a shoot-to-kill policy?

Franklin Hall (Ian Hart) aka Graviton

Franklin Hall (Ian Hart) aka Graviton

This is all being done with cardboard sets and token outdoor shoots. In other words, the show is being run on a shoestring. I know it’s unfair to expect the same level of SFX and CGI that we’ve seen in the Marvel films. That would be unrealistic. But even allowing for the scenes at the end of the episode, what we’re now being offered is no better than the shows made in the 1980s. I’m completely baffled at the strategy here. If Marvel wants to build up the strength of its franchise, why penny-pinch and produce a show that’s worse than average when a few more dollars and a little more care in the scripts could have produced something genuinely interesting? I can only assume the show’s producers were not that confident and therefore chose not to risk more dollars than necessary to test whether there was a market. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you don’t spend on producing decent scrips with WOW-factor effects, your shows die.

What makes the show’s demise all the more likely has been the lack of any real development within the Marvel universe. There’s a massive array of plot lines and characters available for exploitation in the television version of the universe. Yet, making allowances for this only being the third episode, we’ve had two dire efforts and then this. The only redeeming feature in this episode is our introduction to Franklin Hall. Comic fans know him better as Graviton, a supervillain able to control gravity just by thinking about it. This is the first and only sign we may be going to move beyond the increasingly mawkish sentimentality of the team-building and develop a more real Marvel comic storyline. The only problem is that Graviton’s powers are superior to anything the prospective team can bring to the table. When he first starts to wield his powers in the Avenger comic series, it takes Thor to stop him. The idea our British science geeks could switch him off and dump him in an alternate dimension is laughable.

So Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Asset continues to scrape along the bottom of the barrel. I think I’ve just enough patience to watch one more. If it’s no better, I’ll quit.

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 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.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 2. 0-8-4

October 3, 2013 2 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 Episode 2. 0-8-4 comes with a health warning attached to it. Having begun with a ho-hum episode which had some style but little substance, the series must either raise its game or begin shedding viewers. The first and most obvious question marks arise over two features. The first is the running time of just over 40 minutes screen time. This is even less than usual for what’s billed as a one-hour show. All it does is show optimism over the ability to sell advertising before the quality of the show has been established. The second issue is the use of the extended flashback format, i.e. the crisis is shown up-front and then we switch back to nineteen hours earlier. This is one of my least favourite plotting devices. I see no benefit from revealing the fact of a midair explosion at the outset. It seems to me far more powerful if we’re being carried along by exciting events on the ground and then, when everything seems resolved and the team take-off, the explosion will come as a shock and a challenge to be overcome. There’s no benefit to removing the shock and defusing suspense. All we viewers do is wait for the bomb to go off again.

Well, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has added Skye (Chloe Bennet) to the team as a consultant, “. . .because she doesn’t think like S.H.I.E.L.D agents”. What better way to have an outsider’s view of events than to recruit an outsider who can act as a buffer between the shoot-and-fight types, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), and the science geeks, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge)? Now we’re off to investigate an “object of unknown origin” (Code-named 0-8-4) in Peru. The last one was a hammer as in Thor (2011) (big hint there that we might just be about to see something awesome or merely something cheap CGI can generate on a television episode budget — the suspense is killing). I’m beginning to find the British science geeks annoying. I suppose they are intended to be endearing with their endless enthusiasm for all things scientific, but I do wish they would shut down every now and then to think about basic issues like food and access to toilet facilities in a remote jungle location. This is particularly important when the national police troops come. The fighters are in their element, of course. The others may have a brown emission issue. But it turns out Coulson knows the babe in charge. It makes a change from having a stereotypical South American male authority figure.

No expense spared on the Bus

No expense spared on the Bus

Anyway, when rebels with guns also turn up, the gung-ho fighter picks up the object and makes a run for it. None of the scientific niceties for him when there are bullets flying and explosions outside the temple complex (so far no CGI — just flashing lights on the thingy). As if we needed the stakes raising, we’re still in Captain America territory with a piece of German technology which pumps out gamma radiation if provoked. Being thrown around during a chase has obviously not improved thingy’s mood. At this point, we get into plotting 101 with the most obvious possible sequence of events plodding across the screen. The simplest way to discuss this without spoilers is to say the outcome at the end of 40 minutes has to be a better team so, whatever happens, has to break down their mutual animosity and create a more co-operative spirit. This involves problem solving. Assume the individuals start out at a disadvantage and then have to work together to avoid the explosion bringing down the plane.

Samuel L Jackson puts in a cameo at the end to prove this is a real S.H.I.E.L.D show and then that’s the end of this week’s completely unexciting and uninvolving episode. I think I have one more episode in the tank. If it’s no better, I’ll go back to reading. PS I forgot to mention the aeroplane carrying this band of so far useless bodies is a CGI construct. The show’s producers have spared no expense to bring real excitement to the screen as the modified cargo plane lumbers across the sky.

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 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.

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

September 26, 2013 3 comments

Marvels Agents of Shield

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).marvels_agents_of_shield_640_large_verge_medium_landscape

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.

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