Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Debriefing S01E01: “Pilot”

Getting the band together

I have decided to start doing write ups of various comic book related shows, games, etc. (movies will be coming further down the line. I have plans!) and I figured the best place to start would be with the hottest new show to come from the land of freedom and hamburgers, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D!

A few notes before we kick things off:

  • This is one of those rare US TV shows that actually has a reasonable UK air date, mere days after its Tuesday air date in America it hits Channel 4  here in England at 8pm on Fridays. So being a lover of watching things in HD rather than grainy torrented/stream-o-vision I will be watching it with my fellow Brits as much as I can. So these posts are never going to be day after inital showing write ups. (Also this first post coming nearly a week after the original US air date should give you further indication!)
  • I am a huge Whedonite so yes that means these write-ups will be fairly one-sided and full of praise for all things Whedon and Co. You have been warned.
  • I will try and highlight as many references, winks and nods to Marvel’s comics, other movies and TV shows, etc. as and when they come up in the show. But I’m not perfect, I will miss things! Try not to judge me too harshly 😉

I’m sure there is more I can add to the above but we will discover it together as I stumble my way through this whole write-up lark.

Anyway onto episode one!

Look at the toys!S01E01 “Pilot”
Written by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tacharoen
Directed by Joss Whedon

For the pilot episode for a sci-fi/action adventure show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s first outing was surprisingly good. Pilot episodes for any show have the hard task of introducing you to all the characters and concepts of a show in a very limited time frame when all of the above has not been set in stone. They serve the purpose of selling the show to the network financing it and providing a taste of what is to come on a limited budget with no guarantee of a season order. So they can be very slapdash and often come across as poor man’s versions of what a given show will eventually become. So while this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D does fall into many of the pitfalls of pilot episodes it somehow manages to ride them out to give us a solid 45mins of entertainment and an introduction to the cast that we will all fall in love with over the coming weeks.

The main advantage that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has out of the gate is that it is set in the already well established Marvel Cinematic Universe. You know those comic book movies (the good ones) with all the superheroes that recently all teamed up and kicked box office butt the world over, and continue to do so? Yeah this is the “street level” side of all those shenanigans. So little to no world building is needed because the majority of viewers of the show already know the rules of the universe and who S.H.I.E.L.D are.  But if by some chance a viewer does not know who/what Marvel and S.H.I.E.L.D are they are most likely:

  1. A snob who hates comic books and comic book movies (it is sad but these poor individuals still exist, feel for them and their unique pain!)
  2. A weird hermit who has been living in a cave/hut in a secluded forest/under a rock/etc. for the past few years.

Because MAOS is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe we are saved from a lengthily introduction explaining that this is a world on the dawn of the Age of Heroes and that New York has recently survived an alien invasion held off by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Instead we just get a quick voiceover reminder put to flashes of the events of The Avengers movie and a few references littered throughout the rest of the episode. The only thing that really needs to be done in this pilot epsiode is introduce us to the cast. Which thankfully has also already had some introduction in the Marvel movies. Yes I am talking about Clark Gregg and How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders reprising their roles as the best S.H.I.E.L.D agent that ever was/is/it’s complicated, Phil Coulson and the so badass it is untrue Maria Hill. (Yes I am one of those people who loves Maria Hill in the comics and I will defend her to the death!)

How I Met Your Coulson

The show itself has Couslon rightfully as the central figure being his delightful self and getting his team together ready to take on and protect the world from threats greater than it has ever seen before. Maria Hill is fittingly, there in the facilitator role and being a guest star on the show she is only going to pop up when shit is going down or if it serves the overall story of the show. It is almost like she is taking over the Nick Fury role of tying the Marvel movies together! How strange! I wonder why they would possibly do that?!

So while no major “big bad” is revealed in this first episode. We do get a few hints and the ground work laid out for the show’s first major plot thread, “Why is Phil Couslon alive after dying in The Avengers?” which has Maria Hill as one of the few characters (along with returning Whedon actor, Ron Glass as Dr. Streiten) who knows what actually happened to Coulson. So expect her role to grow over the first season and to maybe become more permanent if the show gets a second season due to How I Met Your Mother finishing this year (this year as in the year of television beginning in September. TV, you be crazy!) freeing up a lot of Smulder’s schedule for other TV work along with her Marvel movie work as the same character.

The rest of the cast however are all new, all exciting and full of potentional and built around Coulson, what the show and his mission needs. So let’s break these guys’n’girls down!

Grant Ward:

Agent Ward

Agent Ward is the archetypal tough guy who does not play well with others but who actually has a heart and learns how to work in a team. He is the show’s go to all round action guy with all the punching, shooting, kicking and cold steely stares anybody could want. Many will see Agent Ward as the most boring character but he has potential. Potential that we actually see during the comical flipped interrogation scene at the mid point of the episode. All the throw away lines about killing bad people who hurt nice people and his love for his “Gramsy” show that he not only has a softer side but some sort of moral code.

Predictions for the rest of the season:

  • Agent Ward will have a crisis of faith regarding his work as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Something will happen to make him see the organisation in a different light and thus drama will ensue.
  • Expect him to start going off-book and against orders given to him as the show goes on as he learns to trust his gut and his team over his dedication to the job.

Skye:

Skye

Clearly the audiences’ point of reference for the show. Starting off as a potential antagonist and plot device, over the course of the first episode Skye goes from non-entity to S.H.I.E.L.D’s newest recruit. As a result she will take on the typical outsider looking in role  and be the representative for the audience for the show’s first season. She will also be the character who asks all the obvious exposition friendly questions! Also expect her hacking to be super badass and more hands on than in other shows and movies. The best thing about Skye at the moment though is her fangirl nature that is teased at multiple points in the first episode (the most obvious being the cosplaying outside Stark Tower line). So expect aspects of her hero worship to be explored and lots of references to the events of the various Marvel movies to come from her.

Predictions for the rest of the season:

  • The “Something for the Dads!” character, expect Skye to occasionally be put into precarious situations, sexy outfits and show a bit of flesh. (In an ironic way of course because this is a Joss Whedon show! 😉 )
  • She will constantly butt heads with Agent Ward as the undercurrent of their sexual tension continues to rise through the first season. There will also be a couple of false launches to this ‘ship before it truly starts to sail.
  • We will see aspects of her being trained on how to be a “proper” Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D as the show goes on. A few episodes will revolve around her hitting milestones in her burgeoning super-spy career.

Melinda May:

Agent May

Agent May is a classic example of older badass with a mysterious past. She is also the team’s Swiss Army Knife. She can fly planes, drive cars, shoot dudes, kick dudes and more! All with an extremely high level of skill that will astound and amaze. We will be dying to find out more about her as the show goes on and I am expecting it to be slowly teased out for a while before we see the whole picture.

Predictions for the rest of the season:

  • Despite her reluctance she will constantly be forced back into action time and time again. Something we have already seen in the first episode.
  • The above will eventually lead to a sequence in the latter half of the season that shows how badass she really is. There will be shooting! There will be punching! There will be lots bodies on the floor! IT WILL BE AWESOME!
  • We will also find out part of or all of the story behind her starting the show sat behind a desk in self imposed exile. I am thinking something along the lines of partner/lover died horribly during a mission gone wrong.

Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons:

FitzELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE

These two are lumped together because they are presented as part of the same entity. A dynamic duo of sciencey goodness these are the guys who will facilitate the saving of the day 99.999999% of the time. Expect jokes about them being a couple or seen as a couple. Lot’s of science gibberish will fly out of their mouths and they will produce a steady stream of gadgets and gizmos for the other characters to use. They will also be the one of the main sources of comic relief for the show (second only to Coulson of course!). Also props to Whedon, Whedon and Tacharoen for giving Simmons the brilliant Journey Into Mystery line in the first episode!

Predictions for the rest of the season:

  • We will fall in love with both of these characters. (This is a Joss Whedon show, nerds always rule in his shows!)
  • Because we love them so much one of them will be killed off either in this season or the next. (This is a Joss Whedon show and he kills everyone you love!)
  • Fitz and Simmons will show more individuality as the show goes on, playing to their strengths and in turn highlighting the other’s weaknesses.

Move along nothing to see here

With all of these introductions to all of these characters it is not surprising that the actual plot for the first episode itself is very throwaway. Everything about it is disposable apart from two very important things:

  1. Whoever is the person/group behind the centipede technology will develop into the series’ first big bad. My money is on AIM (last seen in Iron Man 3!) going into full on mad scientist come terrorist group like they are in the comics or Hydra because….Hydra.
  2. The explanation that the centipede technology is basically a cocktail of what makes Captain America and The Hulk who they are along with added alien tech and Extremis (last seen in Iron Man 3!) gives us an idea of what the team will be up against during the show. There is a growing arms race in making powered people and S.H.I.E.L.D is the front line of defence against them.

The rest, including J. August Richards (another Whedon alumni) and the character he plays, are pure first episode fluff. There is some talk of the current economic climate and the everyday person’s growing frustration at the state of the world crowbarred into his story but it feels forced. It is presented to the viewer as the ramblings of a man suffering superpowered tech inducing madness rather than a coherent argument. Still Mike’s story serves the purpose of bringing the team together and getting the ball rolling for the rest of the show.  It is also through his story that we start to see how superhero mad the world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is.

The numerous special effects on show are actually surprisingly good too for a US Network TV Show and it gives me hope that they will hold out and improve as the show goes on. I got involved with the characters and the events of the episode quickly and it has that family adventure vibe that all of the Marvel movies have. It is great to see that aspect transfer so easily over to television. It is a little thing in the films but I love that in the Marvel Universe that super serious and action packed stuff can be going down then suddenly you are laughing your ass off. It is my kind of entertainment and this show carries on that trend perfectly. It is not the best pilot episode ever made (that award goes to Lost) but it gives us a damn good indication as to where the show is going to go and the hope that it will soar to unheard of heights of quality and success.

The best thing about the pilot though was that at the start of the episode I said to my wife, “There had better be a flying car otherwise this isn’ S.H.I.E.L.D.” Then at then end of the episode when all hope was lost lo and behold! Coulson made Lola fly!

Lola

 

It summed the show up for me perfectly. Lola being able to fly is kind of a gimmicky/jokey inclusion, a gag, a gadget and a great reference to the comics this show is drawing from. You don’t throw your arms up in the air and say the reality of the show is broken. You accept it because this is a Marvel TV Show. If Tony Stark can fly around in a metal suit why can’t a car? (Pssst! We have seen a flying car in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. Go re-watch Captain America!) That is what I hoped Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D would be and here’s hoping it continues to deliver on giving us television, The Marvel Way.

I also hope that this will be the first Joss Whedon show for nearly a decade to get more than two seasons!

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