<<Spoiler Alert – This review discusses plot points of the S01E01 “Pilot” episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.>>
Before beginning my review of this episode, let me begin by stating that, although I love the Marvel movies that have been coming out over the last six years or so, I’ve only ever been an occasional reader of the comic books, so my knowledge of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so far off-canon as to be irrelevant. I’m watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a fan of science fiction and of hero movies/television series. If you’re looking for comparisons between the presentation of characters, technologies, and events in the series with the comic books, there are many, many far more qualified reviewers than myself. If you’re wondering if you, as a lay reader, will enjoy this new ABC entry, read on.
ABC and Marvel’s new television series, <i>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</i>, begins with the big reveal that anyone who has seen any of the teasers already knew was coming: Agent Coulson, killed in last year’s theatrical release The Avengers, is actually still alive. Welcome to Level 7.
Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his role from the various Marvel films) is the heart of a team of agents dedicated to protecting the world from gods and monsters, beings that were revealed to the world in the oft-mentioned “New York Incident.” His resurrection is the first of several feel-good moments in the episode which should appeal to fans of the movies, and the brief apparently throwaway comments between Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass – a real fan service seeing Shepherd from Firefly here!) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders doing her best Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity impression) indicate that there is much more to his return than meets the eye, and that he himself is not completely aware of all the details yet. It’s little teases like this that get the viewer interested in continuing to invest in a series, and it shows a deft touch from the writers (Joss and Jed Whedon, with Maurissa Tancharoen). Joss Whedon also directs this episode, and his decision to do so sets the series up very well indeed.
Back stories establish the main characters for the series: Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) as a super-efficient, lone-wolf secret agent; Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) as a burnt-out but highly skilled jack-of-all-trades who both flies their mobile base, and can kick some serious ass; and Skye (Chloe Bennet), who is a hacker in the Anonymous mold who may or may not decide to come to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. (I’m guessing more “may” than “not”). Rounding out the team is the technologist/biologist pairing Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, respectively), who are given a little less time, but do much with it as the obligatory comic relief. It looks as though the intention is to use a combination of their accents (De Caestecker is Scottish, Henstridge English), mumbling, and finishing each others’ sentences to provide the “Gee, aren’t scientists kinda awkward yet funny?” laughs that has worked so well for shows like Big Bang Theory.
With all of the character introductions, this episode has less time to work on the main plot arch than might otherwise be the case in future episodes. The basic premise is that a man (Mike Peterson, played by J. August Richards), facing unemployment and an uncertain future after an on-the-job injury, makes a choice to allow a doctor to use experimental technology in order to fix him. This technology, which Fitz determines is not of Earthly origin, is dramatically unstable; in fact, it caused the previous test-subject to explode, a likely outcome for Mike as well as he becomes more and more unstable. S.H.I.E.L.D. races to take him down before he can harm or kill innocent civilians, with Coulson insisting that this be done with less than lethal means (this leads to one of the best lines of the show: Simmons, upon examining the result of a test, says, “I wish it were more paralysis and less rigor mortis.”)
The episode ends with Coulson and Skye checking in on Mike’s son, and Coulson trying to convince Skye to join the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. She’s clearly on the fence and leaning away, when an urgent call comes in from Agent Ward: they have an 0-8-4. Skye asks what this is, and Coulson tells her she has ten minutes to decide whether or not she wants to find out. The final flash piece sees Lola, Coulson’s vintage Corvette, showing that she isn’t entirely stock.
The opener is very strong; a complementary group of four primary agents, two support crew (Fitz-Simmons), and a very efficient home base with capable agents that are there when Coulson needs them, and that may have more information to be revealed over the course of the series, makes for an intriguing and, in this reviewers opinion, successful beginning. The acting was strong across the board, and there is no question in my mind that Clark Gregg can carry a series. The thing is, with a cast this capable (Ming-Na Wen comes to mind in particular), and writing this strong, he won’t need to do it alone – and isn’t that the definition of team?
Steve’s Grade: A
A strong start to series that could be seen as something of a risk, coming on the heels of so much theatrical success for Marvel over the last several years. No one wants to see another Star Wars Holiday Special destroying their fond theatrical memories, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks to be a fine example of exactly how to translate bigger-than-life to the small screen.