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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.

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