Monday, November 11, 2013

Crazy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. theory of the day

Maybe she already found mom and pop?So my wife has a theory about Skye.  The whole reason Skye joined up with our intrepid group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is because she wants to find out what happen to her parents and she runs into documents redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. whenever she gets close.

So what if Skye’s real parents are Agent Phil Coulson and Agent Melinda May?  The people who she thinks were her parents were just the people who adopted her and they were killed by someone who knew of Skye’s real parentage?

The evidence is admittedly pretty circumstantial: 

May and Coulson obviously have a history together, possibly a sexual history based off of May’s seemingly flirtatious comments in The Girl In The Flower Dress

Coulson was awfully quick to recruit Skye in the Pilot.  Similarly, he was pretty insistent that May join the team.

Chloe Bennet, the actress who plays Skye, is half-Chinese and half-Jewish.

Personally, I am still not convinced of this theory.  I just wanted to get it on the record though.  If it turns out to be true I am declaring my wife a genius!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: FZZT

SZZMZZNS

In Wrigley, Pennsylvania a group of off-brand Boy Scouts sit around a campfire telling ghost stories.  The scout leader claims to hear a buzzing sound and goes off to investigate.  The scouts assume he is just trying to scare them, until lighting starts arcing around and they hear him screaming in the woods.  When the scouts find the nerve to investigate, they find his body sparking and floating in the air.

Cool Graviton is back already!  Or maybe they just liked the effect.

On the Bus, Coulson is having his annual physical administered by Simmons.  Only, he is not due for his annual physical for several months.  When Simmons asks him about it, he blows it off saying his physical therapist asked him to get it.  This is obviously a lie.

Meanwhile Agent Ward tries out the most recent iteration of the ‘Nite-Nite’ gun, but complains to Fitz that it is an ounce too heavy.  When Ward leaves the room, an annoyed Fitz does a ‘macho man’ Agent Ward impression which amuses Skye.  Skye’s brief interest causes Fitz to awkwardly attempt to hit on her, which Skye doesn’t even seem to notice.

This mercifully comes to an end when Simmons enters the room.  When she hears Ward complained of the ‘Nite-Nite’ gun being an ounce off, she does her own ‘macho’ Agent Ward impression.  She is almost caught by Ward when he returns to let the group know they have a mission.  To cover herself, Simmons tells Ward that Fitz had left a dummy round in the ‘Nite-Nite’ gun and it should be the proper weight now. Ward tries it and agrees the weight problem is fixed.  When he leaves the group bursts into laughter.

In Wrigley, Pennsylvania the group investigates the (sort of) boy scout camp.  As the group tries to determine who or what could have done this, Simmons gets too close to the body and it falls to the ground after a brief electrical discharge.

With no more leads at the scout camp, it is up to Skye to research the victim.  Unfortunately, she finds nothing unusual about him.  In fact he is squeaky clean, dividing his time between his job as a physical education teacher, working as a volunteer fireman, and of course his scoutmaster duties.

They catch a break when Fitz detects an electrostatic event occurring no more than twenty miles from their current location.  May, Coulson, and Ward rush to the scene, but all they find is another corpse floating in a farmhouse.  Skye determines that this victim was a member of the same firehouse as the scoutmaster, giving the team their first solid lead.

It looks like a good one though as we cut to a member of the firehouse polishing a Chitauri helmet.

The firefighters were part of the first responders team during the Chitauri invasion of New York.  May, Coulson, and Ward head to the firehouse hoping to get some answers.  Coulson becomes suspicious of one of the firefighters, a man named Tony Diaz. 

However, the agents soon realize that it is not a weapon they are dealing with.  The firemen had picked up a discarded alien helmet as a souvenir during the Chitauri Invasion.  Unfortunately, the helmet contained an alien virus that had laid dormant until the three men polished it a few nights ago.  Tony isn’t a killer: he is the next victim.

When Simmons picks up readings of another electro-static event, Coulson realizes Tony doesn’t have much time.  He has the building evacuated but stays a bit longer himself.  He confides with Tony that he died briefly during the battle of New York.  He tells Tony there is something on the other side: something beautiful.  This seems to comfort Tony, who tells Coulson to ‘get going’ right before the end.

The firefighters are quarantined and the helmet is packed up to be delivered to the ‘Sandbox’, a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in Africa for hazardous materials.  Coulson tells Simmons that the remaining firefighters may still need a cure, and tells her he needs her to keep looking for it.

So everything is wrapped up really nicely—and much sooner than usual.

But wait, there is more!  Back in the Bus, Simmons determines that this virus spreads not by the air or by fluid transfer, but via electrostatic shock.  She is ecstatic at this new scientific discovery, but when a metal instrument begins floating behind her Coulson realizes she was infected by the scoutmaster in the beginning.  With a profoundly sad look on his face, Coulson quarantines her the lab.

Based on when she was infected, Simmons only has an hour or two before she succumbs to the symptoms like the firemen did.  This is bad news as the bus is currently in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and at least three hours from someplace they can safely land.  If Simmons dies, the whole plane goes with her.  Coulson realizes the only person with a real chance of finding the cure in time is Simmons herself—and he is willing to bet his life that she will.

Of course S.H.I.E.L.D. is not willing to take this bet.  Communicating with headquarters, Agent Blake reminds Coulson that his priority is getting the helmet to the Sandbox.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has never seen anything like this virus and they have a potential pandemic on their hands.  Agent Blake coldly tells Coulson that if they have ‘infected cargo’ his orders are to jettison it.  Coulson claims that communications are breaking up and turns off the connection.

Fitz-Simmons work together on the cure, albeit separated by glass.  The stress of the situation begins to take its toll though and the two begin to argue with Fitz again complaining (again) about taking a field assignment while Simmons claims he didn’t have to follow her if he really didn’t want to go.  By the end of the argument they realize how much time they have spent together over the years and Fitz quietly demands that Simmons ‘fix this’.

Simmons has her eureka moment when she realizes the Chitauri who had the virus wasn’t killed by it.  This means the Chitauri had antibodies for the virus.  Fitz grabs the case containing the helmet and breaks quarantine by marching straight into the lab with it.

Scraping some cells off the helmet the two develop an antiserum.  Unfortunately, the lab rat they test it on soon emits an electrostatic pulse, just like the previous attempts, albeit smaller and with a slight delay.  Fitz is determined to try again, but Simmons realizes they are out of time.  Simmons asks Coulson to tell her father about her death first, then asks for some time alone with Fitz.  She uses this time to knock Fitz unconscious with a blow to the head.

When Fitz regains consciousness, he realizes the rat survived—it was merely knocked unconscious by the shock.  Unfortunately Simmons has already decided to sacrifice herself for the greater good.  Fitz can do nothing but scream her name as she opens the bay cargo doors and jumps.

Desperately, Fitz grabs the antiserum and a parachute.  Before Fitz can jump though, Ward shows up to take his place and save the day with a daring midair rescue in his typical James Bondian fashion.

After a dressing down by Coulson, Simmons confesses to Ward that she lied about the weight of the ‘nite-nite’ gun.  He already knew, and even heard her imitation of him.  Skye, just grateful Simmons is alive, gives her a big hug. 

Coulson and May talk about Simmons nearly dying, and the topic drifts to Coulson’s death.  He admits he ordered the physical himself—the tests may say he is normal but he no longer feels like himself.  May tells Coulson that he IS different after his near death experience.  May asks Coulson to see his scar and tells him that scars exist as reminders that there is no going back, only going forward.

Later, Simmons and Fitz have a heart to heart where she assures him that while he might not have been the one to jump out of the plane, he did save her life.

At the Sandbox, Agent Blake takes possession of the helmet and warns Agent Coulson that HQ won’t let him get away with disobeying direct orders forever.  If Coulson keeps pulling stunts like that, no matter what happen to him in New York, eventually they are going to take his little dream team away from him.  Coulson tells him that he would like to see them try.

Stray Thoughts

Since the final half-hour was so squarely focused on Agent Jemma Simmons, I found the fact that the episode was named FZZT a bit odd.  Do even the writers have trouble telling Fitz-Simmons apart?

This episode felt a bit like two separate episodes smushed together.  The first half was a pretty standard Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘investigate the anomaly’ episode, while the second half was more of a character driven drama.  Since I enjoyed the second half more, I wish they had gotten past the setup and to the character drama a bit quicker.

Maybe it is just Joss Whedon’s reputation, but I actually wondered if Jemma Simmons was going to survive the episode.  It made for great drama, especially when the final attempt at an antiserum seemed to have failed.

There was also some good character work with Agent Coulson this week, which is impressive considering that he wasn’t the focus of the episode.  I also like how they are developing his relationship with Agent May.

Is it just me or did the dramatic skydiving rescue scene look a bit cheesy?

In Conclusion

A strong character episode.  It was nice to focus on a character other than Skye for awhile as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: Girl In The Flower Dress

Actual episode or porn parody?

On the streets of Hong Kong, a magician is plying his trade.  Unfortunately, his tricks are not that impressive as his nearly empty tip jar attests.  After a young couple heckles him, he generates a handful of flame which he tosses in their direction stating “This is not a trick!”  There is some applause, but the young couple is unnerved and they quickly leave.

After the act is finished, a woman in a flower dress who was watching him introduces herself as Rania and he introduces himself as Chan Ho Yin.  She tells him that she would really like to see “that fire trick again.”  The two of them go back to his apartment where they chit chat about magic until she convinces him to show her the fire trick.  He tells her that it is no trick, that it is real magic.  He doesn’t know how he does it, but he first became capable of producing fire from his hands a few years ago.

Rania asks him why he doesn’t share this with the world, but is concerned about ‘people’ (possibly S.H.I.E.L.D.?).  She flirts with him a bit, and tells him to close his eyes as she leans in to kiss him.  He does, but it is yet another ‘honey trap’—when he opens them two men standing there in fireproof suits. They quickly overpower him and knock him unconscious.

Back on the bus, Agent Ward and Skye are playing Battleship.  Skye wonders what this has to do with her training.  Ward says it is important for every S.O. to evaluate their student’s thought process, but he also admits that he just likes board games.  The two of them seem to be actually bonding, even though Skye wins the match.

Coulson and May look in on the scene and both seem pleased with how the team is coalescing.  May notes that Coulson was up early—she heard him puttering around when she got up for her Tai Chi routine.  When he replies that he just has a little extra energy to burn, she says that if he wants she could lay out the mats downstairs and they could go a few rounds “just like the old days”.  The way May says this definitely seems to have a flirtatious edge to it.  Before the conversation can go any further, an urgent S.H.I.E.L.D. message comes in.

Coulson brings up a S.H.I.E.L.D file on Chan Ho Yin.  Coulson tells the team that Chan began to exhibit minor pyrokinetic abilities a few years ago.  Fitz asks how Chan gained powers and Coulson tells him that it is unknown, although he did live near a nuclear plant that caught fire shortly before his powers manifested.  Apparently, S.H.I.E.L.D. contacted Chan and asked him to keep his powers under wraps.  They placed him on ‘The Index’, a list S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains of known objects of power and superhumans, and have been watching him ever since.

Skye is shocked to find out that such a list exists and is concerned about what S.H.I.E.L.D. does with this kind of information.  Agent Ward notes that the list is maintained for their protection, but in some cases they have had to “take action”.

Talking with Agent Quan, the Hong Kong agent assigned to Chan Ho Yin’s case, he states that they found a remnant of a fireproof suit at the scene of the abduction.  This means that whoever abducted Chan Ho Yin was aware of his powers.  He also has a suspect—a few days ago the Hong Kong S.H.I.E.L.D. office was hacked by the Rising Tide.  Everyone in the room looks at Skye.

In Coulson’s office, Skye protests her innocence in this hack.  After all, the Rising Tide consists of hacktivists around the world and she has been living on the bus for weeks.  Skye offers to help them track down the leak.

Chan Ho Yin wakes up in a luxurious room with Raina watching over him.  He initially assumes he was abducted by S.H.I.E.L.D. for using his powers in public, but Raina informs him that she doesn’t work for them.  She tells him that she is working for a group that wants to help him increase his powers. 

Raina plays on Chan’s desire for fame.  When Chan Ho Yin scoffs at her wanting to make him famous she says they plan on giving him the simpler name of ‘Scorch’.  After all, no one knows who Steve Rogers is but Captain America is on lunchboxes.  His desire for fame wins out and he agrees to work with her.

Skye tracks the hacker who broke into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database to Austin, Texas.  His name is Miles Lyndon, and it is obvious that Skye knows him personally.  This fact seems lost on most of the group though, since even Fitz-Simmons know about some of Miles past hacking exploits.

S.H.I.E.L.D. tracks Miles to a cafĂ© in Austin, but he manages to elude them by hopping in his Jetta and activating a ‘gridlock’ program from his phone which messes with the traffic signals.  He then meets up with Skye, and it is revealed that she sent him a text message warning him that they were coming.  She chides him for hacking S.H.I.E.L.D. while she was on the inside, calling him a “dumbass”.  He laughs, saying that since he taught her everything she knows, what does that make her?  The tension breaks and Miles tells Skye that he has been “missing her like crazy”.  The two then get reacquainted in a manner that necessitates the removal of clothing.

The morning after, or at least 5 minutes later, Skye is shown putting her bra back on and stashing an SD card in it.  Seeing the card, Miles asks if she is “making any progress on that.”  She tells Miles that she is, but it is slow going and even harder now that he hacked S.H.I.E.L.D.  After all, this is why she declared S.H.I.E.L.D. off limits when she left for L.A.  Skye tells Miles she has to get back before she is missed, but when she opens the door and sees Agent May standing there it is obvious that it is too late for that.

Coulson questions Skye about how long her and Mr. Lyndon have been in contact.  She insists that she only contacted him twice: Once when she first joined to let him know she was OK and once to let him know they were coming.  Skye insists that she was trying to get the information they needed to save Chan Ho Yin, but she didn’t feel she could tell them about Miles.  Skye says it doesn’t matter anyway since Miles doesn’t know anything.  Coulson is obviously disappointed in Skye’s inability to trust them, but does note that he had Agent May tail her just for this reason.

May’s interrogation of Miles is not going well as he just tells her that information “has a life of its own”.  Coulson tells the team to secure the prisoners, both Skye and Miles, for the trip to Hong Kong.

Back in Hong Kong, Rania shows ‘Scorch’ the lab.  Some of the scientists on hand inject him with a drug that significantly increases his pyrokinetic abilities, at least for a limited time.  Rania asks ‘Scorch’ to demonstrate his enhanced abilities while the scientists monitor him with their equipment.

In a holding cell on the bus, Miles complains about the lack of due process while Skye simply states that “they don’t have time for that.”  Miles is horrified by her defending them, saying that people like Manning, Snowden, and Aaron Schwartz are modern revolutionaries who fought against people like S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agent Ward, who was watching the surveillance camera, turns away in disgust noting that this guy is “spouting platitudes” and is “dirty”.  Fitz-Simmons disagree—except for the hacking he doesn’t seem to be involved in any illegal activities.  Ward tells them to keep digging.

Meanwhile, Coulson tells May that she was right when she told him Skye was a risk.  She tells him it is just common sense, “when someone breaks into your house you don’t invite them to stay”.  Coulson tells her he was just trusting his gut.  When May asks him what his gut is telling him now, he says “she is still hiding something.”

Ward confronts Miles and Skye with some new information that Fitz-Simmons found, namely that Miles received a million dollar payday for cracking the Hong Kong S.H.I.E.L.D. feed.  Skye is horrified that he cracked the feed for money instead of just so that ‘information could be free’.  She tells him that no one willing to pay that much for something has pure motives.  Miles retorts that the woman he sold the information to worked for a harmless ecological research company that studied centipedes.  Skye and Ward realize that this is obviously the same group from the pilot episode.

In Hong Kong, Rania is talking with the same doctor responsible for Mike Peterson’s super powers.  Apparently, the platelets in Scorch’s blood keep the Extremis in the serum they developed from igniting.  The doctor is very pleased with Rania’s work, but ominously tells her to “drain him”.  Rania hits a few buttons and Scorch is gassed.

Coulson and the team discuss what they know about Centipede, mainly that it is international, well-financed, and interested in creating super-soldiers.  Fitz-Simmons realize that they probably are hoping Chan Ho Yin holds the key to stabilizing the Extremis portion of their serum.  Coulson insists that they get to him first.  Conveniently, S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters thinks they have located the secret lab.

Speaking of the lab, the evil doctor and her team have succeeded in removing the platelets from Scorch’s blood.  He tries to activate his powers, but without his platelets he only succeeds in burning his hand.  As everyone leaves, Scorch yells after Rania that she said he has a gift.  She tells him that he does—and that he is giving it.

Miles and Skye argue about his selling the information for money.  In Skye’s mind that is completely at odds with the ‘information wants to be free’ ethos.   He doesn’t see the problem since that that kind of money could fund their organization for years.  Skye counters that his actions may kill an innocent man.  In the course of this argument they acknowledge that their relationship is pretty much finished.

Agent Coulson and Agent Quan plan the S.H.I.E.L.D. assault on the Centipede facility.  Quan’s people will enter through the lower levels while Agent Coulson, his team, and Quan himself will enter through the roof.

Boy, I wonder which team will see the majority of the action?

When they find the door to the lab, Agent May hands Coulson one of those tiny explosives he used to blow the door in Iron Man.   Coulson says “love these things” and the team enters the lab.  May quickly takes down the security guards and Quan locates Chan Ho Yin.  Coulson tells Quan that the strike team needs a security override to escape, but when he turns around he sees that Chan has injected himself with the Centipede serum and used his increased power to burn a hole right through his former S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison.  He then shoots a fireball directly at Coulson.

Ward realizes Coulson is in trouble and removes Skye’s handcuffs.  Back at the Centipede facility, Coulson successfully dodges the fireball, but sees that Chan Ho Yin’s pyrokinetic abilities now burn him.  Regardless, Chan seems determined to make S.H.I.E.L.D. pay for forcing him to keep his abilities locked up in side.  May makes a valiant effort to talk Chan down, but he is too far gone—only Scorch remains.

Back on the bus, Fitz-Simmons show Skye and Miles that the entire facility has been locked down.  All external connections have been shut down, but Skye thinks she can fix it from the inside.  Miles scoffs at this, telling Skye she is “a hacker, not SEAL Team Six.  Skye simply replies that she isn’t, but that Agent Ward is.

Coulson makes an effort to take Scorch down with a ‘night-night’ gun, but scorch protects himself with a plume of flame that melts the bullets.  With the computers back online, Coulson tells Fitz-Simmons to unlock Miles handcuffs so he can assist them.

Scorch locates Rania and the evil doctor just as they reach the elevator.  Rania tells the doctor, “I wish you all the best” as she shuts the elevator door on her.  The doctor pleads for her life, but Scorch uses his enhanced powers to burn her to a cinder.

Coulson comes up behind Scorch telling him that “We don’t want to hurt you—but we have to”.  It turns out that his was just a diversion as May comes up behind Scorch and injects him with more of the Centepide serum.  This proves to be too much and Scorch begins to overload.  On the bus, Miles reroutes various doors and air ducts to vent the majority of the explosion out the roof.

Back on the bus, Coulson gives Miles a choice of prison of wearing a special S.H.I.E.L.D. bracelet.  When Miles asks what it does, Coulson cryptically states “whatever we want”.  He does warn him to avoid any illegal activity and that he will find it hard to use any electronic devices for awhile.  He then strands Miles in Hong Kong.

Coulson calls Skye to the principal’s office.  She swings by Ward, who is having a drink with Agent May, and asks if he wants to come with as he is her S.O.  He coldly replies that he is off the clock.

Skye attempts to explain herself to Coulson, but he tells her to “stop lying”.  He demands to know the real reason she is here or she is done.  Reluctantly, Skye produces the SD card that she has been hiding in her bra.  She explains that it contains all the information she was able to find out about her parents.  It is not much, and it all ends with one redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. document she was able to find.  After a few moments Coulson decides to allow Skye to stay.  She isn’t off the hook though, as he makes her wear the same kind of bracelet he gave Miles.

In the ending tag, Rania is shown meeting with a man in prison.  He is obviously high up in the Centipede hierarchy, and she briefs him that the doctor is dead but that she found the secret to keeping stage two subjects from combusting.  Raina then asks him  to put her in touch with ‘the clairvoyant’.  She feels this will put her over the top in creating ‘Stage Three’.

Stray Thoughts

This episode finally provides some forward movement on what Skye’s agenda is.  I like the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. was apparently involved in her parents disappearance.  At times I have joked about how S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be more than willing to trample over what is legal in order to do what is ‘right’.  Between this and the Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer, I am starting to think this is a plot point rather than poor writing.

I am a bit disappointed that all it took for Skye to sneak an SD card onboard the bus was her hiding it in her bra.  I know Coulson was playing the trust card to get her to work with them, but I don’t expect it to be easier to sneak something past S.H.I.E.L.D. then the TSA.

I am not sure how I feel about this episodes casual invocation of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, Edward Snowden, and Aaron Schwartz.  These figures are extremely controversial, and depending on who you speak to the first two are either traitors or heroes.  Aaron Schwartz tends to be viewed with a bit more sympathy, but considering his story ends with his tragic suicide it might be a little crass to bring it up on an action sci-fi show.

I am not sure if it is intentional, but Coulson’s warning that Miles will ‘find electronic devices difficult to use for awhile’ reminds me of convicted hackers whose sentence includes prohibitions on using computers or the Internet.

I was glad to see the Centipede subplot move forward as well.  There was some nice continuity in having the doctor from the pilot episode pop up again, even if she was just there for Scorch to burn to a cinder.

Given his almost total lack of origin story, I assume Scorch would have been a mutant if Fox didn’t own the live-action rights to Marvel’s mutants.

In Conclusion

I felt this episode was an improvement over the last one.  The show is definitely improving, although I am still waiting for an episode that blows me away.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: Eye Spy

The episode starts in Stockholm, Sweden.  Several men carrying briefcases handcuffed to their hands and wearing red masks, tweed caps and business suits enter a subway station.  A woman notices them and follows them onto a train.   While the train is in a tunnel, she smashes a panel that disables the lights in the train.  When the train reaches its next stop, people exit the car in a panic.   All of the red masked men are dead.  One man’s hand has been cut off and his briefcase is missing.

The woman is seen opening the briefcase at another subway stop.  It contains a smaller case full of diamonds which the woman places in her bag. 

Worst idea to transport diamonds ever!

Coulson breaks down what happen in the tease.  One of the largest gem brokers in the world hired 55 men, dressed them in identical outfits, gave each a randomly assigned briefcase, and sent them along randomly assigned routes in Stockholm.  The elaborate method of transport was chosen because there have been a number of recent ‘impossible’ diamond heists.  Coulson notes that witnesses described an athletic black woman as the sole attacker.  Witnesses also noted that she closed her eyes during the attack, something that is ‘either very important or very random’.

Coulson wants Skye to break down some theories on how someone could have ‘hacked’ the system.  Skye posits superpowers are involved, (e.g., ESP, Precognition, etc.), but Agent May says science has shown no proof that these powers exist.

Umm… didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) spend nearly the entire Avengers movie mind controlled by an Asgardian god?  I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the concept that someone might have a little ESP.

In any case, Coulson notes that they only have a description of the perpetrator because the CC-TV network was taken offline during the attack.  Skye then points out that they should check social media (specifically Instagram).  Coulson makes some crack about how this part of the job gets easier every year, but becomes serious when he finds his ‘athletic black woman’ in the photos.  Her name is  Akela Amador—and he trained her.

Akela Amador was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who went missing during a mission about ten years ago.  She was presumed dead, but Coulson wasn’t convinced.  May realizes that Coulson suspected she was behind this robbery, which is why he took this case to begin with.  Being the no nonsense agent she is, May suggests inform S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ that Amador is alive so they can track her down.  Coulson wants to keep internal to their group for the moment.  It is obvious this mission is very personal for him.

Amador is in her hotel room waiting for her buyer.  After dramatically closing her eyes, she asks him why he has one guy in the stairwell and one in the room next door.  The buyer is shaken, but she seems to accept it when he says that they are for his protection when he leaves.  Amador gives him the diamonds in exchange for a blank keycard.  He assures her that it will ‘access all the levels as promised’.

In Zloda, Belarus the entire team (minus Melinda May) is driving down the road in a van, or the ‘short bus’ as May calls it.  Skye and Fitz-Simmons setup a command center in the van, where they can use the Internet and Science! to track down Amador, while Coulson and Ward head out to do things the old-fashioned way.  Skye once again posits her ESP theory, which Simmons immediately scoffs at.

Seriously, has no one here heard of the Avengers?  That can’t be it because in the previous three episodes they wouldn’t shut up about them.

Arriving at a hotel, Ward and Coulson show the woman at the front desk a picture of Amador.  She recognizes it and calls Amador ‘my angel’, telling the agents that Amador sees things and warned her about her cancer in time for treatment.  When Coulson says that they need to speak with her, the woman at the desk notes that ‘with her gift’ that Amador probably knows they are coming.

Back at the ‘short bus’ they lock onto some kind of encrypted video feed.  After clearing it up a bit, they realize that it is someone watching them just in time for that someone to ram the van with a truck.  Skye is able to see Amador is driving the truck just before the van rolls over.

Luckily for the team, this was the extent of her evil plan.  Apparently, she just wanted to delay them and give herself plenty of time to escape.  Once back on the bus, they are able to tap into the transmission again.  They soon realize the camera is Amador’s right eye, which apparently has been replaced by a camera ‘ten years’ more advanced then anything S.H.I.E.L.D. has.  When she closes her eyes, the transmission changes to a sort of x-ray mode. 

S.H.I.E.L.D. also finds out that she is being controlled by someone else.  The watch Amador ask if she can sleep by writing on a piece of paper.  The response to ‘stand by’ is visible as writing superimposed on the screen.

Melinda May thinks it is past time to bring the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. in, but Coulson shuts her down again.  Instead, he suggests the team take turns watching the video feed until they see something that reveals her location.

Much later, Coulson comes out to find the video feed unattended even though it was May’s turn to watch.  Playing it back, he sees that Amador received an eye message concerning the Todorov building as well as a receipt for her room services that shows which hotel she is in.  It doesn’t take Coulson long to figure out that May has gone after Amador herself.

May confronts Amador.  Amador asks if Coulson sent her, but May tells her that while Coulson feels sorry for Amador, she does not.  She will take Amador back to S.H.I.E.L.D. where she will get a fair trial.  Amador scoffs at this and tells May that there is a failsafe device in her head that will kill her if she does not comply—only one of them will be making it out of the room alive.

The two women fight, and Agent May has the upper hand until Amador knocks out the light.  May can’t see, but Amador’s super-vision allows her to pick up a discarded gun and point it at Agent May.  Before she can pull the trigger, Coulson kicks down the door and shoots her with an improved version of ‘night-night’ gun from the pilot.

Amador wakes up in the bus.  She is surprised to be alive, but Coulson explains that they have hijacked the feed.  Agent Ward is wearing a pair of glasses that are transmitting to her handler and is performing her mission to defray suspicion that anything has gone wrong.  Coulson grills her for information, but she has very little.  She knows her handler is English because he uses terms like ‘boot’ and ‘lift’.  Because he is a bad typist, Coulson determines he must be heavy set with pudgy fingers.

I don’t know how to break this to Coulson, but in my experience how well you type has very little to do with how much you weigh.

Since they have very little time, Coulson recruits Fitz-Simmons to remove her eye.  I kind of wish one of them had exclaimed, “Dammit Coulson, I’m a scientist not a doctor!”  Instead, after some weak protests the two of them nervously begin surgery.

Coulson and May believe they can track the transmission back to the ‘heavyset Englishman’.  May sensibly suggests she take him down while Coulson supervises the operation but not surprisingly Coulson insists that this one is his.

Meanwhile, Agent Ward is making his way through the Todorov building when he hits his first snag—the handler asks him to seduce the a security guard.  Ward suggests that he just take the guy out, but Skye tells him he can’t because he might be needed for the next stage of the mission.  Since Skye determines by the guard’s slovenly appearance that he is probably not gay, she suggests Ward’s only hope is to bromance him by talking sports and being friendly.

This is not Ward’s strong point and it shows.  Failing to bromance the guard he knocks him unconscious and walks into the next room.  This room has chalkboards full of equations and two men in front of typewriters.  Unsure what to do he walks around until he sees a specific set of equations on the board and his handler sends him a message saying “Mission Complete. Good Luck.” 

Ward realizes what this means when he walks outside and sees that the guard apparently had to periodically enter a password on his computer or else an alarm would go off.  Oops.  Agent Ward ‘James Bonds’ his way out of the building, but not before seeing himself in a mirror.  The handler activates the failsafe in Amador’s eye, but Fitz-Simmons manage to remove it just in time.

Coulson manages to track down the handler in a nearby square by noticing his nervous demeanor.  Coulson stops him and shows him his S.H.I.E.L.D. badge, but it turns out the handler is also under control of someone as his own eye’s failsafe goes off, killing him instantly.

Amador is taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, where Coulson assures her she will get a fair trial.  Agent May speaks with her briefly and Amador asks “what happen to him?”  May explains that he has lightened up a bit after his injury in the battle of New York, but that is not what Amador means.  Instead, she more insistently asks, “what did they DO to him?”

Obviously, when Amador still had her bionic eye she saw something odd about Coulson.

Stray Thoughts

The bionic eye in this episode seemed to be ‘inspired’ by the Eye-5 contact lenses from Torchwood.  They both transmit visual information but not sound and they both allow another person to communicate with the ‘wearer’ by typing information into his or her field of vision.

When I first saw the red masks in the trailer last week I assumed that we were finally going to get our Rising Tide story and that the red masks were stand-ins for the Guy Fawkes masks worn by some members of Anonymous.  The real reason, they were disguises for men transporting diamonds, makes much less sense.

Transporting diamonds via men wearing red masks seems like a really bad idea.  Wouldn’t they attract way too much attention?  Rather than trying to disguise the men, wouldn’t a double-blind situation work here?  If neither the men or the people giving them the briefcases knew which one had the diamonds in it, it wouldn’t really matter if you could tell the men apart.

Everyone dismissing Skye’s ESP suggestion just seemed odd.  Throughout the series it has been noted that the world has gotten ‘weirder’ and it is the mandate of this team to investigate the ‘weird’.  I understand exhausting normal explanations first, but discounting the possibility of superpowers just seems idiotic.

The show really seems to be struggling with the massive resources S.H.I.E.L.D. brings to the table.  This is the second episode in a row where Agent May suggests they take advantage of the resources S.H.I.E.L.D. can bring to bear only to be shot down by Coulson.  I hope this doesn’t become her ‘thing’.

Agent Ward killed some people on his way out of the Todorov building, right?  As far as I know it was never established that these were bad guys.  In any case, the security guards seemed like average Joes doing their jobs, not nefarious killers.

I really, really hope that when the big bad is revealed that it is not a group made up specifically for the TV show.  A resurgent Hydra or AIM would be great, but I would settle for Agence Byzantine, Black Spectre or the Secret Empire.

In Conclusion

The drama was a bit improved this outing and everyone got something to do.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: The Asset

The episode begins with a ordinary looking semi-truck travelling down the highway.  There are two standard S.H.I.E.L.D. black SUVs behind it.  One of them passes and the driver waves to the agent as she passes.  Suddenly, the SUV in front of the semi is tossed into the air like a toy.  This causes the trucker to contact S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters on his CB (apparently he is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as well). Shortly afterwards the other SUV is tossed into the air followed by the semi-truck itself.

After it crashes, several men in camouflage carrying guns approach the back of the truck.  Using a excavator on the side of the road, the men tear through the trailer revealing a secret compartment with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it.  The men cut through the compartment to reveal a somewhat bored man sitting in a chair.  Upon seeing the men breaking in, he adjusts his glasses and asks "Are we there yet?" in a somewhat annoyed tone.

Will this man be the big bad of the season?

Back at the Mobile Command (a.k.a. the bus) Agent Ward is supervising Skye in some basic strength training.  Skye is pretty annoyed at all this physical activity, but Ward insists that if she wants to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she will have a defining moment where she will either commit fully to this training or run.  Skye asks Ward what his "defining moment" was, snidely commenting that if he doesn't tell her she will simply have Coulson pump him up with some truth serum again.  Ward shuts her down by telling her that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have any truth serum-- apparently the scene from the pilot that convinced her to join was just an act.

The training is interrupted by Agent Coulson announcing that a convoy carrying a priority red asset was just attacked.  Coulson reveals that the priority red asset was a man named Dr.Franklin Hall.  Fitz-Simmons express concern as they know Dr. Hall personally.  Coulson then reveals the most unusual aspect of the attack-- the attackers were invisible!

At the scene of the attack, Simmons detects some unusual electro-static activity.  Her scanner accidently activates something which causes the gravel on the side of the road to rise into the air and begin swirling around in a dangerous fashion.  Fitz manages to stop deactivate the effect and the gravel drops down to the ground, leaving just a small glowing sphere that Coulson grabs.

Back on the bus, Coulson expresses concern that in order for the attackers to have known the route the convoy was taking that they either have a mole inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. or they have some way to monitor their communications.  Skye suggests she can analyze the treads they found at the scene, but Ward has already done that.  She then attempts to question Coulson about Ward's earlier comment that S.H.I.E.L.D. does not have a truth serum, but is cut off by Agent May handing her a list of all S.H.I.E.L.D. communications that have been made since the decision to transfer Dr. Hall was made.

Coulson and Ward chase down the man who sold the excavator.  Apparently the man was paid in gold.  Fitz-Simmons track the gold back to Dacey mine in Tanzania, which is owned by Quinn Worldwide. 

In Malta, Ian Quinn pays a visit to Franklin Hall.  The two have a history and Franklin Hall claims that Quinn has made a lot of money stealing his ideas.  He also notes that S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be able to come after him in Malta as they hate outside interference in their affairs.  Quinn shows Hall a sphere identical to the one that Coulson found earlier.  Hall is stunned as he recognizes it as using Gravitonium, a theoretical element which warps local gravity fields when excited by an electrical charge.  A one inch sphere was able to easily toss a semi-truck in the air.  Quinn then shows Hall a massive version of the same device.

Back on the bus, the team tries to figure out a way to liberate Dr. Hall without violating international law.  The compound is too secure for a frontal assault by anything less than a full S.H.I.E.L.D. strike force.  They could get in if they had a man on the inside (or perhaps a brave monkey), but they don't have time to organize that kind of covert operation.  Skye offers to go in.  Ward objects, but Coulson decides it makes sense.  After all, Skye is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and her hacking skills allow her to finagle an invite to the shareholder meeting that is going on.

Fitz-Simmons provide Skye with a compact that will connect wirelessly to the compounds network when placed close enough to a computer.  This will allow Fitz-Simmons to deactivate the force field surrounding the place so a two man extraction team can enter to retrieve Skye and Hall.  Agent May assumes she will be on the team and protests that she has already seen more action than she bargained for, but Coulson surprises her by stating that the two man team will consist of Ward and him.  May tells Coulson that specialist work is different from field work, but Coulson cuts her off saying that he saw plenty of action with the Avengers.  Of course this prompts May to point out that he died in action with the Avengers.

Skye does pretty well at infiltrating the party.  Quinn, who is invited her because she is a member of the Rising Tide, even makes her a job offer.  He then gives a speech to his shareholders that seems almost custom tailored to make Skye question her loyalties.  Regardless, Skye goes looking in the house for a vulnerable computer-- until she gets caught by Quinn.  He is about to call security when she writes him a note warning him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening.

Skye disposes of her earpiece in a champagne flute and explains to Quinn that she was picked up in LA and has been gathering Intel on S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since.  It soon becomes obvious that Skye is just playing for time until she can get the magic computer hacking compact to work though.

Which it does just in the nick of time as Coulson and Ward have found themselves trapped between a force field and a gunfight.  Back at base Fitz-Simmons deactivate the force field just long enough for the two agents to get into the compound.  Ward goes to rescue Skye while Coulson goes to find Dr. Hall.

Skye uses the skills Ward taught her to avoid capture just long enough for Ward to save the day.  Coulson has a harder time of it though as he finds out that Dr. Hall doesn't intend escape.  Instead it is revealed that he orchestrated his own capture so he would have a chance to destroy the Gravitonium.  Unfortunately, doing this will destroy the entire island nation of Malta. 

Dr. Hall begins to overload the device, which causes local gravity to go haywire.  When it becomes obvious to Coulson that he cannot reason with Hall, he shoots the window, which is now the floor that they are standing on, and Dr. Hall falls into the Gravitonium sphere.  Somehow this stabilizes the reaction.

Cutting ahead a couple of days, Coulson has S.H.I.E.L.D. place the Gravitonium sphere in "Deep Freeze" and specifically asks that it not be shot into space.  On a personal level, Skye begins to take her field training more seriously, May decides that she would rather be in the field than sit on the sidelines while others take risks, and Coulson expresses concern over how his muscle memory seems a bit on the rusty side.

In the ending tag, the viewers get to see a shape in the form of a human hand attempt to escape the sphere but get sucked back in.

Stray Thoughts

Gravitonium is Atomic Number 123 and Atomic Mass 308.  Atomic Number 123 is currently an empty spot on the Periodic Table in between Unbibium (122) and Unbiquadium (124).

Extra points if they put him in a costume next time!Comic book fans will recognize Dr. Franklin Hall as the supervillain Graviton.  While he is immensely powerful, Graviton has never really been an A-List villain like Magneto or Doctor Doom.  Nevertheless, he has always had a special place in my heart as my first exposure too him was as the surprise big bad at the end of the West Coast Avengers limited series.  I am happy to see him get some live action exposure.

This episode seems to retcon the truth serum scene from the pilot.  Since I was not a big fan of that scene I can’t really complain.

Apparently Coulson only owns suits.

Man does Malta get a bad rap in this episode.  What the heck has S.H.I.E.L.D. been up to that it is legal to shoot them on sight there?  Of course, after the way they treated the Peruvian government last episode, maybe this is typical of S.H.I.E.L.D. relations.

Didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. just cause a major international incident?  They specifically talked about how attacking during the shareholder meeting would cause international outrage, but that is exactly what they did!  Skye had mentioned that Ian Quinn had a reputation as a huge philanthropist.  He had gathered his shareholders and just announced a major scientific breakthrough.  Then S.H.I.E.L.D. attacks, destroys his lab and steals his research.  I wonder if other countries will adopt the “shoot S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on sight” policy after this.

It made me laugh that three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on a hostile island absconded with the Gravitonium during a convenient cut scene.  It reminds me of how in King Kong they never made any attempt to explain how they managed to transport a thirty foot tall ape from Skull Island to New York on a boat that was not much larger than he was.

I wish that a better reason was given for not using the Slingshot to shoot the Gravitonium into the sun than “Coulson said so”.  After all, this stuff seems ten times more dangerous than the super laser from last episode.  A single line of dialogue saying “With the gravity fluctuations this produces it would never make it to the sun” or “We don’t know how the sun’s intense gravitational field would interact with this substance” would work.  As it stands, the real reason seems to be “We need to be able to bring back Graviton later”.

I get that Agent May was frustrated sitting on the sidelines, but it seemed like she decided to become a field agent again way too easily.  I have to assume something major caused her to quit, so I would expect it would take something equally major to bring her back.  All and all this episode seemed way too pedestrian to spark that kind of change.

In Conclusion

This episode moved at a faster pace than the previous episodes and the threat of the Gravitonium seemed much more worthy of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s time than the super laser from last episode.  On the downside the ending seemed rushed and I never quite bought the “will Skye betray them” plot line despite the fact that Skye will obviously betray them at some point (probably during sweeps).

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (I feel like a broken record).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: 0-8-4

The episode literally begins with a bang—as the side of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Aerial Mobile Command Center (a.k.a. the bus) explodes.  A man is sucked out of the plane and inside Agent Coulson is shown holding on for for dear life.

Not quite as impressive as Thor's Hammer

The episode then flashes back to nineteen hours earlier.  Coulson has dropped the (figurative) bomb that he is bringing on Skye as a consultant.  Ward and May are very unhappy with this decision.  Ward is mostly concerned that as a member of the Rising Tide she is a security risk while May is unhappy that they are adding another non-combatant into the mix.  Fitz-Simmons try their best to make her feel welcome, but Skye is obviously a bit overwhelmed.  She makes an attempt to mend fences with Ward but he cuts her off by insisting she read the safety instructions for the plane.

The 0-8-4, an object of unknown origin, was reported in Peru so that is where the team is going.  Coulson mentions that the last 0-8-4 he was asked to investigate, Thor’s Hammer, was pretty interesting.

Once in Peru, the team travels to an Incan archeological dig site.  The 0-8-4 is partially buried in the wall and Fitz-Simmons note that it seems to be a combination of alien technology and German engineering.  Skye feels a bit useless because there is nothing on the Internet about it and she can’t keep up with Fitz-Simmons technobabble.

Ward and May secure the perimeter.  Ward calls May by her nickname, “The Cavalry”, which she asks him never to call her.  They are then attacked by men in army uniforms.  May and Ward handle the first wave without much effort, but as reinforcements show up they find themselves in a standoff.

When Coulson comes out to see what is going on, he is surprised that the leader of the opposing group is someone he recognizes.  Her name is Comandante Camilla Reyes and the two of them have a history together.  Both sides agree to stand down.

Comandante Reyes wants to have a conversation about how to proceed concerning the unknown object found on Peruvian soil, but Coulson shuts her down by saying S.H.I.E.L.D. has authority in this matter.  Reyes seems a bit perturbed by this but lets the matter drop for the moment.

Ward is obviously concerned that the Peruvian National Police are now involved and attempts to get Fitz-Simmons to speed things up.  His concerns turn out to be justified when a group of anti-mining rebels show up and attack.  Over Fitz-Simmons protests Ward yanks the 0-8-4 out of the wall and places it in Fitz’s backpack. 

Ward buys them some time to escape by using some sort of S.H.I.E.L.D super weapon that emits a concussive blast that knocks down most of the rebels.  The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and the Peruvian National Police both head towards the bus while having a running firefight with the rebels.  During the firefight Fitz-Simmons and Skye’s inexperience with combat becomes obvious, something Comandante Reyes notices with some interest.

Both the Peruvian National Police and S.H.I.E.L.D. manage to get onboard the bus.  May gets them in the safely in the air, but Fitz-Simmons express concern at how dangerous the 0-8-4 is. Fitz tells them that it is Tesseract powered Hydra technology and worse that it is not entirely stable.

With the immediate threat over, the tension that has been building between the various S.H.I.E.L.D. members finally boils over.  Fitz is pissed that Ward didn’t heed his warnings that 0-8-4 was too dangerous to move while Ward complains that Fitz doesn’t speak in plain English.  Simmons seems much more freaked out that she was in a firefight than she wants to let on, while Skye is freaked out to find out that this is only the second mission that this supposedly elite team has been on together.  Coulson reminds them they are professionals and tells them in no uncertain terms to “work it out”.

The various team members go their separate ways.  Fitz-Simmons continue to work on the 0-8-4 and determine it is an incredibly powerful laser.  Fitz notes that they were lucky they didn’t set it off when they were examining it with their drones.  Skye attempts some fence-mending with Ward by bringing him a bottle of liquor and trying to explain that her  worldview to him.  To sum it up, what Skye loves about the Internet (and the Rising Tide) is that it brings people together to solve problems.  No one has 100% of the solution, but if 100 people have 1% then you have something.  Ward is far from a convert as he was trained to be “the whole solution”, but actually seems to be listening rather than just showing her his “hate-face”.

Coulson takes Reyes to his quarters to look at his collectables.  She makes a play to seduce him, but since showing a woman your collectables never works as a prelude to a seduction Coulson realizes something is up.  Back at the bar, Ward realizes the same thing when he notices that none of the Peruvian National Police are touching their drinks.

Despite some slick moves from Ward, the Peruvian National Police manage to gas Agent May and get the drop on both Fitz-Simmons and Skye.  Coulson is forced to surrender to Reyes, who admits that she decided to betray them as soon as she saw how green Coulson’s team is.

Reyes has the majority of the team tied up down in the hanger bay while keeping Coulson close so that he can confirm the route change with S.H.I.E.L.D. ground control and keep them from being shot out of the sky.  If he refuses to comply, she will simply open the hanger bay and his team will be blown out if the plane.

In the hanger bay, the group tries to formulate an escape attempt.  When Fitz-Simmons find out that May is “The Cavalry” they figure she will be able to get them out.  She counters that they are the geniuses, but they are having difficulty dealing with the pressure.  Ward however tells them that they don’t need to come up with the entire solution, that they all can just come up with part of it.  This hearkens back to his earlier discussion with Skye.

The plan they come up with involves Agent May disabling their guard, then the group breaking into Fitz-Simmons lab.  Fitz than pilots one of his drones (Sneezy) through the plane until he gets it near the 0-8-4.  It sends out an electromagnetic probe that activates the laser and blows a hole in the side of the plane (and bringing us to the scene from the teaser).  The sudden depressurization causes the safety protocols to unlock the doors and allows the agents access to the rest of the plane.

Agent May takes back control of the cockpit while Agent Ward tries to neutralize the remaining members of the Peruvian National Police.  Everyone else works on retrieving the 0-8-4.  Seeing one of the safety instructions from earlier blow past her, Skye realizes she can plug the hole in the side of the aircraft with one of the inflatable rafts stowed onboard.

The bus safely arrives at “the Slingshot”, where dangerous objects like the 0-8-4 can be shot into the sun.  The group, which has finally gelled, gathers together to drink some beers and watch the rocket launch.  No one notices as Skye gets a message on her phone from the Rising Tide asking for an update on her status.  She simply types, “I’M IN.” and puts the phone away.

Normally, this would be where the episode ends, but there is a special scene with Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury berating Coulson for blowing a hole in the bus after only six days.  He demands that Coulson rebuild it just the way he found it, which causes Coulson to place a call to “cancel the fish tank”.

Stray Thoughts

This episode really had me wondering about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s jurisdiction.  The name “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division” implies a U.S. organization.  Also, Reyes makes the comment “You stay inside of your borders and I will stay inside of mine” to Coulson.  I know in the comics S.H.I.E.L.D. has tended to bounce between being an international UN run organization and a U.S. organization, but this episode did little to clear things up.

For that matter, the 0-8-4 itself was a bit of a disappointment.  I didn’t see how it was such a huge threat that it needed to be shot into the sun.  In the end it was just a big laser powered by Tesseract technology. 

This episode also made S.H.I.E.L.D. seem really hypocritical. One of the subplots of The Avengers was that S.H.I.E.L.D. had a stockpile of this kind of weaponry.  Agent Ward even uses a S.H.I.E.L.D. super-weapon to take out the rebels in this very episode.  I guess it is only wrong for other people to use the alien technology they find.

Another question is why did the ministry call S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place if they were just going to send their own people in to secure it?  Especially since Reyes states that it wasn’t an unknown object after all, but a super-weapon that had been commissioned by the government of Peru after the fall of Hydra and had simply been lost.  I guess this was just a case of the right-hand of the Peruvian government not knowing what the left-hand was doing?

On an entirely different subject, I was really bugged by the raft being able to plug a hole in the side of the plane.  I know it is silly to nitpick something like this in a TV show with alien super-weapons and flying cars, but it really took me out of the show.

In Conclusion

This episode wasn’t bad, but failed to improve on the pilot in any substantial way.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: Pilot

The last time I tried my hand at recapping a TV Show on this blog it was another Joss Whedon show: Dollhouse.  Shortly after deciding to recap the show it was cancelled.  Here is hoping that history does not repeat itself.

Please note that the recap below is pretty in depth.  It contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further.

Not your father's S.H.I.E.L.D. agents

The episode starts with a woman stating that the “Secret is out” and that the world is now aware that “Heroes and Monsters” are among us.  Quick flashes of Iron Man’s arc reactor, Thor’s Hammer, Captain America’s Shield, Chitauri drones and the Incredible Hulk are shown.

The scene then settles on a street in East Los Angeles where a young boy looks through a shop window at Marvel Comics action figures while his father pays for a hot dog.  His father is played by J. August Richards, the first Whedon alumni to appear in this series.

At this point the top level of the building down the street explodes!

The father springs into action noting that people could be hurt.  After making his way around the corner he begins climbing up the wall by punching his own hand-holds into the brick wall.  At street level, various people are taking pictures of the fire with their camera phones and are stunned when a mysterious hooded superhuman leaps from the top floor carrying a prone woman.  Only one of the gawkers gets a clear shot of his face, a young woman who is apparently the same young woman doing the voice over in the beginning.

The scene then cuts to Paris, where we are introduced to Agent Ward.  As he speeds through the city streets he is is told to abort his mission because “The Rising Tide” has become aware of the target and has posted its location online.  Agent Ward decides to go after the target anyway and “James Bonds” his way through a building using disguises, gadgets and fisticuffs to successfully escape with a small velvet pouch containing a Chitauri Neural Link.

We then cut to Ward back at base being asked by Maria Hill what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for.  He answers “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division”, conveniently reminding the casual viewer of the meaning of the acronym.  Ward is a bit annoyed at being pulled out of Paris, but it is soon revealed that he is being recruited for a special team by Agent Coulson who dramatically reveals himself to be alive.

Coulson gives a rather mundane explanation for his resurrection, stating that he was he was merely badly injured and that Director Fury used his supposed death to motivate the Avengers.  Since then he has been recuperating in Tahiti until recent events, namely the appearance of this new hooded superhuman, necessitated his return.

Of course, as this is a Joss Whedon show things can’t be that simple.  After Coulson leaves with Ward, Agent Hill has an ominous conversation Dr. Streiten, played by Whedon alumni Ron Glass, about how Coulson can never know what really happen.

Back in LA, our favorite hooded superhuman is sitting in a diner looking at the through the classifieds for a job.  He is joined by the woman from the crowd who recognized him.  She introduces herself as Skye and reveals that she knows he has super powers.  She warns him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is coming for him and that he should get out ahead of this by becoming a “real superhero”.   He seems disinterested, but she tells him how to locate her “mobile office” (i.e., van) before he leaves.  She also manages to steal his driver’s license and finds out his real name is Mike Peterson.

Coulson then recruits his next team member, Agent Melinda May.  She was a field agent back in the day, but has retired to a desk job and seems to like it that way.  Coulson ultimately manages to sway her by promising her that there will be no red tape and that she will only be “driving the bus”.

The bus is revealed to be a massive jet/mobile headquarters.  Already onboard are “Fitz-Simmons”.  Agent Fitz (the man) is revealed to be an engineer while Agent Simmons (the woman) is biochemistry expert.  The two agents have obviously worked together for a long time as they talk rapidly to each other and finish each others sentences, hence everyone referring to them as Fitz-Simmons.

When Agent Ward first arrives onsite, Agent Fitz and Agent Simmons arguing about the viability of a non-lethal “night night” gun that shoots paralyzing pellets-- I wonder if that will come up later?

Speaking of things that will come up later, Coulson arrives onsite in “Lola”, his custom red 1962 Chevy Corvette.  With the gang all here, the new S.H.I.E.L.D. team travels to Los Angeles where it takes a comically short amount of time for them to locate Rising Tide member Skye and black bag her.

Coulson and Ward interrogate Skye back at the mobile command.  She refuses to cooperate, telling them that she won’t let them cover up Centipede the way they have covered up things like New Mexico (the Hulk) and Project Pegasus.  Skye is surprised when she realizes Ward and Coulson have no idea what Centipede is.

Meanwhile, Mike Peterson argues with a mysterious doctor over the phone that maybe he should go public.  While he is talking, it is revealed that there is a metal object that looks like a centipede fused to his arm.  He is obviously hoping  to parlay his superpowers to a profit as he is looking at an eviction notice while talking, but the doctor on the other end of the line shuts him down by reminding him of the papers he signed.  Mike smashes the phone in frustration.

Melinda May and Fitz-Simmons investigate the building that exploded.  They quickly realize that it was actually some kind of secret lab.  Fitz-Simmons release some automated drones named after the Seven Dwarves (synergy!) to speed up their investigation.  Fitz finds a fried security camera that he believes he can recover some footage from while Simmons locates some alien tech.

Back at the interrogation, Coulson shows Skye a vial of QNB-T16.  He explains that it is a brand new and extremely potent truth drug.  Unexpectedly, Coulson injects Agent Ward with the drug and tells Skye that if she doesn’t trust them that she can clear her mind by asking Agent Ward anything she wants to.  He then leaves the room.

Look, I know this is supposed to show that Coulson does things his own way, but this seems like an incredibly bad idea.  No matter how much he is trying to get Skye to trust them, he has just left a woman who has vowed to take down S.H.I.E.L.D. with access to all the secrets she can pry out of Ward’s head.  Not to mention it is a real dick move to pull on Ward, no matter how prickly he can be.

I am going to blame it on “Tahiti”.

Back at the factory he used to work at, Mike Peterson tries to talk his former boss into giving him his job back.  When his boss refuses, Mike becomes unstable and attacks him with his superhuman strength.  Mike’s boss pleads with him that it is the company’s fault and he is “not the bad guy”.  This merely prompts Mike to declare that his boss is the “bad guy” and that he is the “hero” before attacking him with a heavy metal cylinder.

After interrogating Agent Ward, Skye seems to be warming up to Coulson.  Just in time too, since they see a TV report about Mike Peterson attacking his foreman.  She gives them Mike’s driver’s license and agrees to help them find Mike.  However, because the encryption on her hard drive is tied to the GPS in her van, she needs to move her van back to the alley in order to decrypt.

This all seems like a very clunky way to get her back to the alley where she told Mike he could find her.

Before Mike makes his way there though, he goes to visit the woman he saved in the hospital.  In a nice twist, it is revealed that this woman is the “doctor” that he was arguing with on the phone earlier.  She is angry with him for exposing her and the program.  She realizes that Mike is losing it like the first test subject who “walked into the lab with a bomb”.  Mike sees it differently though.  He is a super hero and this is his “origin story”.

Skye sends Fitz the audio file she recorded and all the information she has on Centipede.  Before she can return to the base though, Mike arrives and takes out Agent May.  He explains that he is saving her from the “black suits” so that she can save him and his son.  Shutting the van door behind him he tells her to drive.

Back at the ranch, Fitz-Simmons finally figure out what happened to the secret lab.  The Centipede device contains “every known source of super powers thrown in a blender”.  Unfortunately this includes Extremis, which anyone who watched Iron Man 3 knows can cause people explode.  So Mike is literally a ticking time bomb. 

Making matters worse is that while calming Mike down might buy them some time, he will explode in a few hours no matter what.  When asked for options, the only two Fitz-Simmons can come up with are taking him somewhere remote to explode or putting a bullet in his brain.  Coulson demands a third option.

Back in the van, Skye is deleting all records of Mike Peterson from the Internet, something she has done before (presumably her own identity).  While she is doing this she secretly sends a message with to S.H.I.E.L.D. which includes their location.  Mike then tells his son that they are going to take a train to their new lives and that they will take “the nice lady” with them to help.

Everything comes to a head at the train station, where S.H.I.E.L.D and an unknown party are both trying to get to Mike Peterson first.  Coulson has Agent Ward setup to take out Mike with a head shot if necessary, but tells him not to take it unless he has to.

Skye manages to get Mike’s son out of the line of fire, but someone dressed as a cop starts shooting up the place until Agent May takes him out.  Coulson finally gets in the same room as Mike and tries to talk him down.  Then, just as it looks as if Coulson is getting through to him, Agent Ward shoots him in the head!

Luckily it turns out that it is the non-lethal “night night” gun, which had the payload modified by Fitz-Simmons to deliver some kind of cure for the Extremis/Super Soldier/Gamma Ray cocktail in Mike’s system. Talk about your magic bullet!

The show ends with Coulson and Skye dropping Mike’s son off with some relatives who live on a farm.  Coulson recruits Skye to the team, offering her a front row seat to “the strangest show on earth”.  Skye is still considering his offer when he gets a call from Agent Ward saying that there is an “0-8-4”.  Coulson tells Skye she has ten minutes to make up her mind.  When she protests that there is no way they could get to the airfield in ten minutes, Coulson flips a switch in Lola and the red Corvette takes to the air.

Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. flying cars have made it to the small screen.

Stray Thoughts

So, Mike is definitely going to jail, right?  I don’t mean to be a downer about the ending,  but he beat his foreman badly enough to put him in the I.C.U.

It seems like Agent Coulson has come back from the dead with a slight personality adjustment.  He seems more idealistic and less stuffy then he was in the movies.  Well, Tahiti is a magical place.

So, Coulson is a LMD, right?  Or is that too obvious?  I mean, as a comic book fan it seems obvious, but to a casual viewer having Coulson turn out to be an android would a shock, right?

Speaking of mysteries from the past, Ward has “an unusual childhood” and Skye has obviously erased all traces of her original identity.  I imagine we will get a glimpse into both of their pasts before the season is over.

I did like that at several points the episode put twists on common comic book tropes.  The fact that the a building exploding while Mike was nearby was not entirely random and the fact that the “damsel in distress” that Mike saves was actually part of the same sinister organization that gave him his powers were nice touches.

One of the shows strengths is its ties to the popular Marvel Universe, but I wonder if they will be able to take full advantage of that.  None of the characters in the pilot except Maria Hill are originally from the comics.  While some of this is the producers wanting to have free reign with their characters, I wonder if Marvel is also loathe to use established characters in the TV show for fear that they might limit their use in future movies.  For example, a TV show appearance by Power Man & Iron Fist could be a problem if Marvel later decided to make a Power Man & Iron Fist movie.

Personally I prefer the original comics “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division”, even though it is even more obviously a backronym then the modern meaning.

In Conclusion

I thought the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was good but not great.  I think the show has potential though.  I only hope that it can reach that potential before its viewers abandon it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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