Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s not much more I need to say about it. I have been excited for this show ever since it was first announced. As a huge fan of Marvel Comics as well as the recent The Avengers, a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is exactly what a fan like me needed. I’ll admit, I had my reservations, most of which revolved around whether they could nail a good tone for the series. But I relied on the fact that Joss Whedon was running the show, not to mention that a comic book shares a lot with television in how they both present material in an episodic way, and I trusted there would be good things in store.
Whedon sets the tone right at the outset. One of the very first scenes we’re treated to shows off a wide range of gizmos and gadgets, the kind of things that James Bond would kill to get his hands on. So at the very beginning we know that this will be more than a standard procedural show. On top of the gadgets, the first scene sets the stage for the action of the show, which was also cleverly done. Instead of the smooth martial arts most television secret agents seem to be able to wield, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. utilize a clunky street-fighting technique. It’s not pretty but it’s effective. It’s also fun to watch.
One thing that’s sure to please is the return of Agent Coulson. While this was no secret, with all of the show’s advertising promoting the hashtag #CoulsonLives, it was still great to see him back in action. Whedon does a nice job of explaining what happened to Coulson, how he stopped breathing for 8 seconds during the events of The Avengers and was hidden away by Nick Fury in Tahiti. He also goes the extra mile and implies that “Tahiti” is not entirely what it sounds like.
What I like about Coulson is that he has a heart. When faced with a situation with a logical outcome of the death of the enemy, he refuses to accept it and searches for the way to save the target. That’s not standard secret agent fare right there. That makes Coulson likeable and relatable. It might also make him a terrible agent, risking the lives of hundreds or thousands of people, but it makes him probably the most super hero in the show.
I loved seeing Cobie Smulders reprise her role as Maria Hill. She was one of my favorite parts of The Avengers and I was disappointed at how underused she was in the movie. To see her get more of a role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is such a treat, even if it is for a few minutes in couple of episodes per season.
I also liked seeing J. August Richards playing the down-on-his-luck, super-powered single dad in Michael Peterson. (Beware: Some spoilers in that link.) Peterson is introduced at the start, being thrown into action right away. Then the majority of the episode focuses on his transformation and struggle to deal with his powers. He does a great job fighting with his morality while managing to remain likable to the audience. We understand his plight and want him to come out on top. I was sorry to see him get a “guest starring” credit, though, as he seemed like he would be a good addition to the team.
Speaking of the team, I can’t say that I enjoyed all of the characters so far. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) was tolerable, if not completely 3-Dimensional. I loved the enigmatic hacker, Skye (Chloe Bennet). Her beginnings as a lowly computer “pirate”, spreading information about the events S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to cover up, make her the loose cannon. It would be hard to predict what she would do in a situation since she doesn’t have the same training as the rest of the team, but despite that she still manages to hold her own. So far, the only character I’m really not crazy for is Melinda May, played by Ming-Na Wen. She doesn’t do anything in the episode that makes me dislike her, but she also doesn’t really do anything. She has one little kick-ass moment at the end, but this wasn’t enough for me to care about her. Hopefully, she will evolve going forward and reveal a bit of her past but right now she’s just way too flat.
I loved the way Whedon and the other writers connected the show to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the shot of a young boy staring at a collection of Avengers action figures in a storefront window to the power source of the episode’s antagonist, viewers never forget that the show is an extension of the movies. But it doesn’t feel forced, either. A few well placed one-liners and everything flows naturally. It makes me wonder if they plan on using the show to place a few Easter Eggs about the upcoming movies. Given how well the two media mesh, there’s no saying Whedon can’t use the show to open up a storyline that can’t be explored in a full length film.
One particular line that caught my attention was when they described the “hooded hero” as an “unregistered gifted”, an idea that brings to mind the Civil War storyline from the comics. When you tie this together with the “The Avengers aren’t Level 7” line Coulson drops early on, then you have to wonder how the Avengers would react if they found out that S.H.I.E.L.D. was registering super powers. Could the pilot episode be hinting at a possible Civil War story, either in a movie or the show? It may be a stretch but at this early in the game, anything’s possible.
But probably the most enjoyable part about the pilot was Coulson and Peterson’s final exchange. The scene cleverly illustrates the showrunner’s decision to not include super powered heroes on the team. In the beginning I was hoping to see a rotating line-up for super heroes, now that they have the platform to make it work. However, after hearing the dialogue in the last scene, choosing to include human characters, those getting by on their natural talents instead of relying on gamma-enhanced talents, was a gamble but one that will probably pay off big time. But if they have the chance to drop Cloak and Dagger into the show, then goddamn it they better do it.
Tie all of this together with the winning formula from the movies, such as the sly nods to the comic books (“With great power comes...a ton of weird crap you're not prepared to deal with”, “Excited to be coming on our Journey Into Mystery?”) and some of the best CGI I’ve ever seen in a prime-time show (which I understand isn’t saying much but the CGI is really damn good) and so far, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking to be a hit. I'm just wondering why they chose not to give Stan Lee a cameo in the episode.