Gamma radiation! Mid-air hijackings! Surprise Nick Fury! In a strong second episode, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to course-correct from some of the missteps of the pilot with a team-building episode that gives us more of an insight into the personalities, quirks and idiosyncrasies of Coulson’s crack team. Chief among my complaints last week were the fact that I felt the characters felt a bit like cardboard cutouts and the whole thing felt a bit safe. This week, my fears were assuaged, as writers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and Angel alum Jeffery Bell managed to shine even as Joss Whedon departed to direct Marvel’s big screen adaptations. With a solid mix of action, character development. and humor, “0-8-4” isn’t a perfect episode of television, but it renews my hope for the show and gets me more excited for the forthcoming episodes than the pilot did.
After getting caught up in a metahuman mix-up last week and getting black-bagged, then recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye is officially being brought onboard as a consultant to the delight of Fitz and Simmons and the horror of Ward and May. Still, Coulson believes in her and assures them that he’s accounted for every scenario. Plus, the fact that she was able to hack into their system with little to no difficulty on more than one occasion is either a pretty big feather in her cap or an indication that S.H.I.E.L.D. IT needs to update its Ultron Disk Doctor database.
Soon enough, the crew finds themselves headed to Peru to recover a gamma-powered Hydra weapon, referred to as “0-8-4” in S.H.I.E.L.D. shorthand, and gets caught in the middle of an intense civil war between a squad of elite Peruvian commandos led by Coulson’s old flame, Camilla. The mission is an unmitigated disaster. Constant bickering, an utter lack of tactical cohesion, and overall greenness nearly costs the team the mission and the asset. Ward thinks he can get the job done better himself. Fitz and Simmons see Ward as a neanderthal. Agent May is busy smoldering and brooding. They all see Skye as… well, they see her as a tag-along. If this were a video game, she’d be the escort mission, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s more like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite than Ashley from Resident Evil 4. Taking heavy fire, the team, now with bonus Peruvians, barely makes it back to the plane before taking off with the asset.
One thing leads to another, Camilla tries to seduce Coulson, and her commandos take the team hostage, which proves to be just the catalyst they need to learn to work together in order to kick ass, take names, and recover their plane from their Peruvian paramilitary captors. Seeing the team at loggerheads for the majority of the episode makes for some witty banter and interesting character pairings, but seeing them work together to take down the Peruvians really brings the show to life. That being said, Coulson continues to anchor the show through his perfectly dry delivery and proud papa demeanor. Always one step ahead of the game, Coulson plays it cool, telling the air traffic controller that, “It’s gonna be blue skies from here on out” right before Fitz’s drone activates the gamma weapon and blows a hole through the side of the plane. Oh, Agent Coulson, you master of understatement, you. Only you could keep such a calm, matter-of-fact demeanor in the face of getting sucked out of a moving aircraft at 30,000 feet.
The show may still be finding its legs character-wise, but it definitely has its action beats down to a science. This week featured elaborate gunplay, ferocious fisticuffs, and some next-level gadgetry that had me pumping my fist in my living room. My dog may not have shared my enthusiasm, but it was kind of difficult to contain myself after Ward deployed that railroad spike-style stun grenade. The physics once the airplane got a new emergency exit may be a little off, but it makes for an exciting visual tableau. ABC has clearly put a lot of money into this show to make it look as close to the visual tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as possible, and it shows. S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t meant to be Homeland. It’s a far less serious show, prioritizing fun and adventure over tension and life-or-death intrigue, and it makes for some genuinely enjoyable television.
Plenty of Whedonverse TV shows struggled with the “villain of the week” structure when they started, but once they broke free of its narrative constraints, they were able to truly shine, so don’t let Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s lack of an overarching big bad turn you off just yet. And remember all of you in the comment section who told me I was wrong about Rising Tide? Well, check Skye’s text messages, then start looking up a recipe for humble pie. It could turn out to be innocent, but my Spider-Sense is telling me that they’re up to no good. Cliffhangers like these, and continued character work, are exactly what the show needs to introduce going forward. Now, it’s to the writers to come together just like the Agents did this week.
Odds and Ends
– “Yeah, but the shape and the craftsmanship? It’s almost German.” It may not be Joss, but this is definitely the writing of a Whedon. I’d compare them to the Bronte sisters, but nothing made me happier than when Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis. Fuck everything about Wuthering Heights.
– Is it just me or do the rebels all look like train conductors at a nightclub?
– I love that Coulson is a stickler for coasters on his hardwood sky tables. No one wants unseemly rings, especially on your black ops aircraft.
– “I would love to see a capuchin in the wild.” Fitz and Simmons are pretty delightfully out of place as field agents. Note that at one point Simmons takes a selfie in front of the ziggurat.
– Agent May’s nickname is “The Cavalry”. Pretty badass. Also, the holy shit look on everyone’s faces when she dislocates her wrist then takes out a guard.
– “You know, I have the authority to downgrade your ass to a Winnebago.”
What did you think of episode two? What would you like to see happen? What is Rising Tide’s real goal? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.