“Pilot” – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 4.09.42 PMYeah, okay, full disclosure – we’re Whedon devotees. Dyed in the wool Whedonites. We’re browncoats and Scoobies and residents of the Dollhouse. We’re Cabin in the Woods fanatics, and we know that if anyone else had tackled The Avengers it would have sucked (comparatively). So what we say next shouldn’t surprise you, but you also shouldn’t take it with a pinch of salt. Yeah, we love Joss, but we don’t have those rose-tinted glasses on. Our vision is clear. And Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well that rocked.

We won’t get too far into the nitty gritty of things here – this was the origin story episode, thoroughly packed from end to end with plot points and important information. So much info in a single episode is fantastic. It was a sparse plot (relatively speaking), but was still packed to the rafters. It was simple, yet complex. And that’s something Joss has always done well – offered the complexities of life (and of the supernatural) without overwhelming viewers.

Suffice it to say that, in a post-Avengers world, when there is no longer any hope of keeping secret the existence of mutants and superheroes, S.H.I.E.L.D. has become ever more important. Enter Agent Coulson (Spoilers! he didn’t die during The Avengers. Or did he?) and his new team. Its members? Grant Ward (relative unknown Brett Dalton), Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen, ER, Eureka, SGU Stargate Universe), Leo Fitz (Iain de Caestecker, Coronation Street) and Jemma Simmons (other unknown Elizabeth Henstridge). Though not (yet) an official team member, it’s likely that Skye (Chloe Bennet, Nashville) will be added to their number in short order. In guest starring roles we have Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, The AvengersHow I Met Your Mother), and Joss Whedon alums J August Richards (Angel) and Ron Glass (Firefly), though it’s unclear how much screen time any of them will get, or if Samuel L Jackson will be putting in any appearances in the role of Nick Fury.

The scope of the show is massive, already. Able to draw from a significant background of S.H.I.E.L.D. material, Joss et al. will surely never lack for stories. But, in the vein of the Star Trek reboots, there’s also immense possibility for keeping die-hard fans on their toes. The series, in taking place after New York, will be breaking new ground. While the S.H.I.E.L.D. background is still intact and there for the writers to draw key information from, the format will be something never seen in the Marvel universe. Down the line, though, there could still be problems. There are certain Marvel events that can’t be avoided – most notably, its Civil War series, hints to which are already being seen here (Agent Hill’s comment about “an unregistered gifted”) – but, with any luck, those are far enough off in the timeline not to cause issues just yet.

While early scenes hinted at a series-long arc involving the group Rising Tide, that was almost entirely nixed by the revelation that the driving force behind the group, and most likely its only member, is Skye. Yet her past, and her true identity, remain shrouded in mystery, so it is possible that, despite Skye almost certainly joining S.H.I.E.L.D., Rising Tide will not go away, or at least that there’s more to it than meets the eye. As the episode progresses, it becomes clear that the Centipede plot will be the series’ running arc. Centipede will follow on from Iron Man 3’s introduction of Extremis, though we feel as though that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The only member of the shadowy organization we’ve met so far is Debbie (Shannon Lucio, The OC, Prison Break), the ‘doctor’ who fitted J August Richard’s Mike Peterson with his Extremis modifications. We’re certain there’s more to this story than what we’ve seen already. We’re also anticipating a lack of tunnel vision, which we can extrapolate from having seen all of Joss’ other shows – there will be a ‘big bad’, of course, but there will also be a ‘superhero of the week’, and neither aspect will detract from the other nor ever be allowed to become tiresome.

The pilot also showcased a number of mysteries that will likely resurface throughout the season. We’ve already mentioned Skye’s – she has erased herself from the world and hides her real name and past. So who she really is is mystery number one. Next we have Melinda May’s. Much is made of her reluctance to join the team and Coulson’s assertion that she will only be the driver, as well as of her fabled past (as highlighted by Ward). Her history will likely be dealt with in later episodes. Ward’s, too, should be touched on. An early scene makes reference to his family history, something which we were instantly curious about. Of course, the mystery we’re most interested in is Coulson’s. He believes that he only died for 8 seconds, then spent the intervening time in a hut in Taihiti until S.H.I.E.L.D. needed him for something more than motivating the Avengers. And we were happy to believe that until we witnessed this exchange between Agent Hill and Ron Glass’ Dr Streiten:

“Taihiti. He really doesn’t know, does he…”
“He can never know.”

So was he dead-dead that whole time? Was he in some shadowy world? Is he a robot, or a ghost? We’re sure at least some of these mysteries (though, of course, not Coulson’s) could be solved by doing a quick Wikipedia search, or delving into Marvel back issues, but we kind of want to be surprised.

Of course there is already some will-they-won’t-they. (We feel as though that’s a prerequisite, now, of shopping any show to the networks. We can quite easily imagine the big studio exec sitting behind his or her desk and pouting, “But where’s the romance?”) Not knowing how far J August Richard’s run will take him, we can’t be sure if this romance will be between Skye and Ward or Skye and Peterson, but it’s clear that something between one or both of these pairings is being dangled in front of us. The simmering, bantering tension between Fitz and Simmons is also likely to boil over at some point. At least we can rest assured that Joss knows how to handle romance. We will never have to worry that giving the characters what they want will be detrimental to the rest of the series.

So with all of Joss’s trademark humor and knowingly winky ‘yeah, we can’t believe we just did that either’, and offering something new and exciting, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is exactly what fans of Joss and the Marvel universe are looking for. This was perhaps the strongest premiere episode of this new season (so far, at least). We can only hope that it continues in this vein. With Joss (and frequent collaborators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen) at the helm, how could it not? – K

Quoteworthy:

“You said if we worked hard, if we did right, we’d have a place. You said it was enough to be a man. But there’s better than man. There’s gods. And the rest of us… what are we? They’re giants. We’re what they step on.”
“I know. I’ve seen giants, up close. And that privilege cost me nearly everything. But the good ones, the real deal, they’re not heroes because of what they have that we don’t, it’s what they do with it. You’re right, Mike, it matters who you are.”
“I could, y’know. Be a hero.”
“I’m counting on it.”

– Mike Peterson, Agent Coulson

Special, once-off, additional Quoteworthy:

“What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?”
“Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division.”
“And what does that mean to you?”
“Means someone really wanted our initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D.”

– Agents Hill and Ward

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