Writers: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
Director: Joss Whedon
THE ONE WHERE Agent Phil Coulson is back at the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, apparently, after being declared dead during the events of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. He sets about recruiting a new team of SHIELD agents to protect the public from super-humans, aliens, gods and monsters, which are now public knowledge in the wake of the battle of New York. His fresh followers include rebellious computer hacker Skye and earnest black-ops specialist Ward. Their first mission together is to contain Mike Peterson, a down-on-his-luck factory worker granted super strength by a shadowy organisation.
VERDICTAgents Of SHIELD is going to be a phenomenon, no doubt about it. It’s going to join Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Doctor Who as one of the most-talked about geek shows. In the hands of Joss Whedon and his Mutant Enemy gang, this pilot has wit and character blended with action scenes and some high-tech gadgetry for the sci-fans among us.
It’s the Marvel universe on the small screen. There’s no mistaking it. From Hulk’s roar in the opening montage to the mention of Extremis, it feels like it’s connected, and that’s wonderful. Check out some of the more detailed observations below for more of the joyous connections in this pilot. And you know what else? It’s funny and it’s meta. It’s aware of its heritage. “It’s an origin story!” cries Mike Peterson as he leaps from the hospital window. Of course a person in the real world would know the tropes and clichés of the superhero story. Of course they’d buy Iron Man toys for their kids’ birthdays.
Bringing a “civilian” newcomer like Skye into a gang is an overused TV screenwriting method of introducing the scenario to the audience. But that’s okay. It’s common because it works. Skye is our avatar in this secret world and we’re being invited to join SHIELD just as she is. Cheesy but effective. The pilot deftly introduces us to the team but also establishes a number of plot arcs that we can expect to unfold over the weeks: how did Coulson really come back from the dead? Who are the mysterious organisation and why are their scientists manufacturing super-humans with their Chitauri-derived Centipede tech? “The people who gave me this technology are very serious and they do not want to be revealed,” says the injured doctor.
I was charmed by this opening episode, particularly J August Richards who gives a fantastic, earnest performance as Peterson (I hope we see him again in future episodes). But I haven’t given it the full five full stars, so what didn’t I enjoy? I don’t like the annoying technobabble spouted by Fitz and Simmons as they scrub the CCTV footage, or the way they run around their lab going “no no no no!” or “think of it as an exam.” And I don’t like the pantomime performance of Ward under the influence of the truth serum (welling up at the mention of his grandmother) – come to that, I don’t buy Coulson’s lack of professionalism in injecting him to prove a point to Skye. I’m not sure about Lola – the flying car is a chucklesome end to the episode but in retrospect feels like a gimmick too far – and I worry that the whole SHIELD team occasionally felt like Torchwood (a hapless gang of unlikely specialists being all dysfunctional while supposedly protecting Earth from alien powers). But these are minor niggles, and thanks to its humour and heart the story rises above them.
DID YOU SPOT? Agent Hill refers to Peterson being an “unregistered gifted” – the implication being that there is some kind of registration programme for superheroes perhaps. So does the world of Agents Of SHIELD plug into the events of the Civil War comics storyline perhaps?
MEN IN BLACK How powerful are SHIELD meant to be? Wow. There are a number of references to the amazing influence they have in this world. Skye says that they cleaned up the battle of New York overnight – no small job, considering how much alien destruction was done. They also covered up Project PEGASUS apparently (that’s the fictional base where the Tesseract was being studied in the movies).
REFERENCES The show is full of pop culture references beyond the Marvel universe. My favourites were Skye calling Ward the T1000 (Terminator) and the Seven Dwarf names for the flying probes (number 04 is Bashful). The car Lola’s lift-off which is surely a nod to Back To The Future. [Note: cleverer people than me have pointed out that the flying car is a nod to the Nick Fury comics and to Captain America and the work of Stark Senior. Well done all.]
THE PRIME MOVERS Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created SHIELD (in 1965′s Strange Tales issue 135); SFX‘s chums Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar created the alien Chitauri (in 2002 as part of The Ultimates universe) although they were based on the Skrulls created by Lee and Kirby. Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch created Agent Maria Hill (in 2005′s New Avengers issue 4) and Extremis is based on the 2005 work of Warren Ellis and Adi Granov.
SPECULATION Anybody care to guess what the real situation is regarding Coulson’s return from the dead? His own belief that he was technically dead for a few seconds then spent a while recovering on Tahiti is clearly not what Agent Hill and Dr Streiten believe. So what do we think? Clone? Android? Alien replica? Godly intervention?
SPYING GAME Another Marvel reference creeps in during Ward’s briefing. When it’s said that his espionage ability gets “the highest mark since Romanoff”, that’s a shout out to Natasha Romanoff AKA The Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson’s character from the cinematic universe.
MISQUOTE OF THE MONTH Skye says, “With great power comes… a ton of weird crap you are not prepared to deal with.” Cool to have a little Spidey reference in an Avengers-universe story.
IT’S WOSSISNAME AND WOSSERNAME Yep, there are many familiar faces in this episode, a number of actors being Whedon alumni too. Clark Gregg (Coulson) and Cobie Smulders (Hill) you’ll know from the movie universe and How I Met Your Mother in the case of the latter – Smulders is also voicing Wonder Woman in The LEGO Movie next year. Mike Peterson is J August Richards who was of course Gunn in Angel. SHIELD’s resident Dr Streiten is Ron Glass from Firefly and Serenity. Agent Melinda May is Ming-Na Wen from Street Fighter, Stargate Universe and Eureka.
CHEKHOV’S GUN There was literally a gun mentioned in the first act (the experimental “night night” stun gun) which is fired in the final act. Dramatist Anton Chekhov stated the famous plot principle: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Nice to know Whedon’s team are sticking to the rules.