Last week was a high point for the series so far for me. While this is not your typical Whedon, it looks as though the series is beginning to find its form as the actors seem to be filling their skins a bit more comfortably. “Eye-Spy” ended with a teaser suggesting that Coulson discovers Skye’s subterfuge – that she is still working with Rising Tide to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D., which hearkens back to week two when she texted, “I’m in” at the end of the episode. So, is she still in?
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E05, “Girl in the Flower Dress,” will discuss major plot points and events in the episode – read at your own risk!>>
The episode begins in Hong Kong, where we see a street magician – Chan Ho Yin (Louis Ozawa Changchieng) – getting frustrated at the cynical comments of a young couple watching his performance. He responds by conjuring up a miniature flame tornado on the palm of his hand, and throwing the resulting fireball at them where it dissipates harmlessly in a shower of sparks a few feet from their faces. “That is no trick,” he shouts at them, and the crowd disperses – except for one person: a woman in a flower print dress (Ruth Negga). Chan takes her home, and she strokes his ego with praise about his gift. He demonstrates for her again, showing he can draw on the fire at will, and then she asks him to close his eyes – at which point two people in fireproof suits grab and quickly subdue him. An exotic location, a person with a legitimate power, a mysterious woman; a good start to the episode.
We move to the bus, where the team is decompressing after the last mission. Ward and Skye are playing Battleship, and May is talking to Coulson about how well Skye seems to be fitting in. A call comes in from a field agent in Hong Kong reporting the disappearance and apparent abduction of Chan, and they respond quickly. We find out that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a “list” of specials, people who have true superpowers, and that Chan was on this list, hence the fact they know he’s been taken. They are able to determine that this list was recently hacked, and the signature has Rising Tide written all over it. They all look suspiciously at Skye, and she offers to trace the hack; she does so, and it’s off to Austin they go.
The team is quickly able to find the hacker, but he makes Ward and a chase ensues. Coulson is right on his tail, until the hacker – Miles Lydon (Austin Nichols) – enables an emergency hack that turns all the local traffic lights green. We follow Miles home…only to find that Skye is already there. Is she apprehending him? Her first words are, “You’re sure they’re not following you?” I would wager no. These two have a history, and within moments they are tearing each others’ clothes off and hopping into bed. What might this do to the burgeoning Ward/Skye romance? What might this do to Skye’s position with S.H.I.E.L.D.? Granted, Skye is quite angry with Miles – but only because she’s afraid his meddling will blow her cover. She even went so far as to text him before the team arrived, warning him that he was in the cross-hairs.
The biggest issue I have with this whole subplot is that it paints Skye more and more as a Mary Sue character – someone who is super cool, that everyone loves, and that acts as a poorly disguised surrogate for the writer. Certainly, most protagonists can be categorized roughly in this category, with some (Bella from Twilight) more egregious than others; it is, however, getting a bit ridiculous that Skye is not only loved by everyone – except for Agent May – but also that in most of the episodes so far, she manages to somehow save the day. I wonder what Coulson did before he had a hacker (or “hacktivist” as they are terming the Rising Tide hackers) on his team? Because several teammates would be dead if it hadn’t been for Skye’s timely interventions (Ward twice – on the decompressing plane and at Malta – and Coulson (also at Malta) at least once, off the top of my head).
Meanwhile, we see more of the lady in the flower dress. Chan wakes in a silk covered bed, and she (her name is Raina, we soon learn) enters, offering to give Chan powers beyond his dreams. She is seductive, but her acting is, frankly, a little over the top. It’s almost as if Negga watched a bunch of films noir to figure out how to be a proper femme fatale, and she’s very consciously following her notes here. Chan hesitates, but her attention, combined with her offers of power and a pretty nifty superhero-esque nickname (she calls him Scorch), entice him enough to follow. Once in a laboratory, he is injected with a serum and almost immediately begins to exhibit greatly enhance powers. Raina retires to a control room, where we see a familiar face: the red-haired doctor from Episode One, who had implanted the alien centipede on Mike Peterson’s arm, giving him super strength (and ultimately leading to a nearly explosive finale). She and Raina discuss the fact that the serum is now stabilized, and we find out the real reason they’ve kidnapped Chen: his platelets are fire resistant, and they want them.
Back on the ranch – or in Austin, as it were – Skye and Miles are enjoying a post-coital talk. Skye has a SIM card which she places inside her bra. “So that’s where you keep it,” Miles says. What’s on the SIM? Curiouser and curiouser. Skye can’t find her shirt, but fortunately for her, Agent May has, and she hands it to Skye as she opens the door from the bedroom. Much chagrin is shown on Skye’s face, and the two lovers are taken back to the bus for interrogation. Coulson goes through some serious self-remonstrances, but the team doesn’t blame him for failing to detect Skye’s betrayal. Simmons even says, “But I was really starting to like her,” which I assume is supposed to echo the hoped-for sentiment from the audience, but is a little off the mark – especially after her rather unsympathetic turn in this episode. A lot of people on the Interwebs are already annoyed by her Mary-Sueisms, and those that do like her tend to do so partly based on the chemistry between her and Agent Ward; however, her betrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D. is echoed even more strongly by her betrayal of Ward – if Miles isn’t a previously unmentioned boyfriend, her reaction to him must surely place any interactions she’s had with Ward to this point under scrutiny. Was it all a game? Was she getting in good with Ward to get in good with S.H.I.E.L.D.? You know Ward will be thinking this, regardless of Skye’s true intentions in that area.
En route to Hong Kong, the team interrogates the two hackers. Ward confronts Miles, asking him if he wants to come clean with Skye. Miles feigns ignorance, and Ward tell him it’s too late, laying out a series of checks on the table. It appears that Miles is not the altruistic the-truth-must-get-out man that Skye thought he was. His price was one million dollars, and it shows that his hack of the “list” was a targeted attack. He tries to justify his actions, but it just comes across as whiny and self-serving. So now we know that Skye is not only untrustworthy, but she’s a poor judge of character herself. Back to the money – a woman in a flower dress approached Miles with the offer, and we immediately know that he’s referring to our femme fatale, Raina. S.H.I.E.L.D. traces the payments, and determines that the perpetrators are Centipede, thus catching them up with the information the audience was already privy to.
Back in Hong Kong, things have turned sinister for Chan. He’s now strapped to a table, and he’s looking obviously weakened. Raina explains that he has served his purpose, and that they are taking his platelets. He attempts to burn his way free, and ends up with horrible burns all over his hands – he still has his power, but no more protection from it. “But you said I had a gift,” he shouts at Raina as she walks away, and she smirks over her shoulder, thanking him for it.
By the time they arrive in Hong Kong, they’ve been able to locate the Centipede building, and infiltrate it with several teams taking different approaches; Coulson, May, and their Hong Kong agents take the roof. After some fighting, they make their way to the main laboratory. They arrive just after Raina has left Chan to die, and they try to free him. However, Chan has other ideas, and once free immediately kills Agent Kwan, burning a hole right through his chest. He yells that no one can control Scorch, and Coulson grimaces at May. “Great,” he says, “they’ve given him a name.” Chan’s ego prevents him from seeing that he has potential allies – or at least people that can help him – right in front of his face.
Coulson attempts to use his night-night gun on Chan, but Chan is able to knock down each of the six shots with his fire. At this point, rather than coming up with another non-lethal way of dealing with the subject, Coulson decides they need to take him out. This read as false to me, as it isn’t how this kinder, gentler, post-resurrection Coulson has been portrayed to us in the first four episodes; it really goes against character, and smacked of a new writer getting involved with the series (in this case Brent Fletcher, although he has produced a couple of other episodes). I do realize that Coulson has just watched Kwan die, so that might really be all the catalyst he needs – but he still tried to use the tranquilizer after Kwan was dead, so there is that.
To complicate things further (and to provide Skye with a chance for some heavy-handed redemption), the building goes into lockdown – and the only way to unlock it is from the inside. Ward brings Skye into the building, where she promptly frees Coulson and May to chase after Chan.
Chan leaves the lab after nearly killing Coulson and May, and finds Raina and the Centipede doctor in a hallway. Raina gets on an elevator, but lets the door shut in the doctor’s face. Chan takes out his fury on her, unleashing a wall of flame that disintegrates her as she screams, falling in a pile of ash within moments. Chan is almost completely covered in third degree burns at this point, but his mania is still peaking, keeping him going through what would appear to be debilitating wounds. Coulson arrives behind him, and tells him that he only wanted to help – Chan refuses again, and May appears on his other side, injecting two vials full of the serum into Chan’s shoulders. He falls to his knees, and the team quickly evacuates. Back on the bus, Miles is released from his handcuffs long enough to use Skye’s earlier hack of the building’s systems in order to vent Chan’s impending explosion to the roof. Coulsen et al get outside in the nick of time, turning to see a ball of flame explode into the night sky.
Once all is said and done, the only question left is what to do with the two hackers. Miles is given a bracelet and asked to wear it, and Coulson tells him that he’ll have a hard time using electronics for a while. He’s dropped off in Hong Kong, fundless – Coulson thanks him for his “donation” to Agent Kwan’s family, which I imagine must be somewhere right around one million dollars. He then tells Skye to meet him in his office. He tells her he knows she’s hiding something, and she has one chance to come clean. She pulls out the SIM card, and hands it to Coulson. Her whole life, what she knows of it, comes up on the wall display. Most prominent is a document about her origins – heavily redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson seems to accept this as enough reason to keep her onboard. For now. He gives her a bracelet exactly like Miles’, and he leaves her to her thoughts.
The episode ends with Raina going to visit a man, Po (Cullen Douglas). She tells him that the doctor is dead (“About time” he replies), and tells him about the newfound stability for the serum, and their acquisition of fire resistant platelets. They’re “ready for Phase Two,” but she tells him he needs to contact the Clairvoyant for instructions for Phase Three. Although he appears to be someone of no small influence (she is mildly deferential to him), he is openly hesitant. Who is this Clairvoyant? What is Phase Three? It appears that Centipede is getting close to creating a Super Soldier serum of their own, albeit more of a catchall than that given to Steve Rodgers. What could Centipede want with an army of super-strong, fireproof soldiers that don’t randomly explode? I imagine that these and many more questions are the sorts of things that Whedon et al intend to reveal to us over the coming season.
I found this episode rather hit and miss, but overall more miss than hit. I did not enjoy Skye’s arc; even the fact that Coulson keeps her on the bus after her betrayal smacks more of Mary Sue-ism than it does of Coulson’s forgiving nature. The actors portraying Raina and Miles were over-the-top and stilted, in that order. Ward was, for me, pretty much a non-entity in the episode, only showing much emotion when he exposes Miles’ less than altruistic nature. And Fitz and Simmons were underutilized. I was pretty excited that we got to see a person with a legitimate super power, albeit a lesser one; and I am intrigued with what Centipede could become, but find them largely inept and too easy for S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down to be considered a serious threat. Here’s hoping the two week break until the next show gives the writers some time to work out some of the nagging issues that are still holding the series back.
Steve’s Grade: C+
An episode that establishes the intention to make Centipede into a recurring Big Baddie, without really making them look all that dangerous. Too much focus on Skye’s storyline; and again she saves the day, despite betraying and lying to the team.