After the mixed bag that was the pilot episode, it is good to see the show up its game considerably in its first “proper” episode. Designed in part as a showcase for each of the main character’s skills and as a way to get them working together as a team “0-8-4” gives a strong indication as to what the week to week flow of the show will be. It is also good to see yet even more references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe thrown into the mix too while the show continues to build its own mythology. The plot for the episode is simple enough, the team heads to Peru to recover a piece of unknown tech and then hijinks ensue as they encounter a previous partner/lover of Coulson’s the very tough Peruvian Army Commander, Camilla Reyes. Who quickly hijacks The Bus (the fancy S.H.I.E.L.D plane the team live in) in an attempt to recover the unknown tech. There’s guns, explosions, jokes and quips in this decent enough episode that ends with a cameo that works to legitimise the show in the eyes of the Marvel faithful.
So why is this only a decent episode rather than a stellar episode?
WARNING THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Well it is something that looks like it is going to be a recurring problem for the show for the foreseeable future unless they can figure out a work around. For all the action and explosions, there is very little bloodshed. This is solely down to this show coming to our screens both in the States and the UK in a family friendly tea time viewing slot. So at times the action can feel a tad…A-Team with people firing into smoke and bushes rather than at actual people and there are multiple references to many people dying without the camera actually showing any bodies or fallout. It is a minor niggle but in a show set in the action packed Marvel Universe it stands out and not in a good way. Like I said, I hope they can work around such restrictions and allow the action to be what it wants to be; bombastic, cool and entertaining to watch. If Doctor Who, the ultimate in family entertainment, can get away with killing countless people on screen almost every episode I am sure MAOS can show a few gruesome and not so gruesome deaths.
Along with the action issues the show still feels like it is finding its feet. Coulson is still the glue that holds the whole thing together and it is great to see pretty much every character fleshed out a little bit more and in a couple of cases even given a little bit of development (Oh my! Character development on network television!). But it still feels like it could have been something more. Maybe I am placing to much expectation on the show, all the ingredients for great television are there but not all of it is clicking yet. The episode also relies on the viewer making a couple of leaps of faith beyond the normal simple suspension of disbelief. Mainly to do with how the plane behaves with a huge hole in the side of it and how said hole is plugged (albeit in a nice throwback to the start of the episode). It also feels like Joss Whedon is not so subtly trying to sneak the Firefly/Serenity setup back onto our screens. The team all live on an aircraft that takes them from location to location, with a huge cargo door on the back that opens on to a green screen set that can fill in for anywhere. Their leader is a loveable scamp with a history of conflict and each character has a specialised role that keeps the plane and quips flying while also helping out in solving the problems of a given episode.
Yes it is a good formula for a TV show but many have seen it before. Maybe this is Whedon and Co’s way of sticking a giant middle finger to Fox who cancelled Firefly before its time or maybe it is just how things have come together. Still, the similarities can be jarring.
Despite its issues “0-8-4” lets each of the main cast have their moment to shine. Skye gives the team the push they need to work together and come up with a plan to get out of their situation. There is also a tease that Skye is still involved with the Rising Tide towards the end of the episode too. So it does indeed look like that will be our first recurring arc. Fitz and Simmons are shown to be green when it comes to operating in the field. There is a nice moment of them taking a selfie together in front of the Peruvian temple with the 0-8-4 inside that shows their relationship to each other and their job quite nicely. Then we have Agent Ward contemplating taking Skye under his wing while punching and kicking his way through a small militia of angry Peruvians. Through him we also see what the mentor/junior agent relationship is like within S.H.I.E.L.D as he is slowly making his way through a pile of books his Senior Officer has given him. I am also guessing we will eventually meet this Senior Officer in a future episode and he/she will spill the beans on Ward and why he is the way he is.
While on the more *cough* mature end of the team, both Agents May and Coulson have some more details of their past revealed. With Coulson we see that through his relationship with Camilla he was a bit of a James Bond type in his younger days. (We also get to see more of his affection for old school gadgets and gizmos. YAY!) As for Melinda May, well we find out that she used to be known internally as The Cavalry and that she is a hardcore badass who will kick the crap out of you without even trying!
References wise, this is what the episode gives us (that I picked up on):
- We learn that the previous 0-8-4 object was Thor’s hammer arriving on Earth (see the post credits scene of Iron Man 2 and the majority of the first Thor movie for the details)
- The 0-8-4 tech shown in this episode is derived from all that Hydra/Tesseract business in Captain America: The First Avenger. It also gives off some gamma rays for added “Oh shit! That’s the crap that made the Hulk!” effect.
- A good quick, blink and you’ll miss it reference is that the call sign for the plane/The Bus is S.H.I.E.L.D 616. Which any Marvel fan will tell you is the designated multiverse number for the mainline Marvel Universe of the comic books, Earth-616. (BONUS TRIVIA: The multiverse number for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Earth-199999. Tell that to all your friends when you want to show you are super nerdy!)
- When talking about Skye’s status as an official consultant Couslon brings up that Tony Stark is a S.H.I.E.L.D consultant which is a nice throwback to the Consultant short on the Iron Man 2 Blu-Ray, multiple bits in Iron Man 2, The Avengers and I guess the post credits scene in The Incredible Hulk which has Tony Stark doing work in his consultant role.
- In-show references wise we get yet another utterance of Tahiti being a magical place. Which is….ominous.
Then there is of course that bit at the end of the episode featuring the man himself, Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury! Being his badass self and busting Coulson’s chops for wrecking The Bus within a week of getting it. It also turns out that he is the previous owner of everyone’s favourite classic flying red car, Lola. Which is a nice wink to the ye olde Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D comics.
Nick Fury’s appearance does not bring any addition to the story or over arching plot beat with it but does go a long way to placing the show in the centre of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is great to see such a cameo happen so early on in the show’s life too and with it brings the hope that there will be many more cameos in the future from both Nick Fury and other Marvel characters. Anyone want to take bets on the show giving us a lead in to Thor: The Dark World next month?