Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2: 0-8-4

The first thing you might notice is that I'm starting here with episode 2. I didn't review the pilot, and while it started as simply a matter of running out of time, I'm starting to think that it might be a good direction to go in. Pilot episodes are always a little scattered and trying to do so many different things at once, and any attempt to write about that episode would end up being scattered due to that. Long story short, I really liked it, no it's not perfect, but it made me want to watch more and that's what really matters. Enough of that, let's move on forward and talk about the second episode, "0-8-4".

When they first announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I thought that it was going to be more along the lines of Dollhouse: small group working within and occasionally against a larger, omnipotent organization, that seemed like a likely direction to take it in. What ended up happening, instead, is that we can finally stop complaining about Firefly being cancelled over a decade ago, since this is the closest we'll ever get, and I'm okay with that (I'll have more to say about that in another article, I can promise that). It resembles Firefly to an uncanny degree at times - small, occasionally dysfunctional group that lives on a plane, and the characters match up a little closely at times: the Captain who trusts his crew beyond any logic (Coulson, resembling Mal), the gun-happy "Why am I protecting these idiots" guy (Ward, resembling Jayne), the guy/girl medical/mechanical genius team (FitzSimmons, resembling Simon and Kaylee), and the mysterious badass ninja girl (May, resembling a weird combination of River and Zoe). The only one I'm not sure who to make the parallel to is Skye, probably because she reminds me most of Faith from Buffy instead of any Firefly character. But to everyone who thinks that they absolutely need to bring Firefly back (they don't, and I don't want them to)? They did, as much as they can.

One of the reasons that I didn't review the pilot is that it introduces every character, while now that everyone has been introduced, we can actually focus more on the story and character interaction. As if the character parallels weren't enough to set off the alarm that this show is basically "Firefly in the Marvel Universe", a lot of elements of the plot seem to be taken straight out of episodes of Firefly: old friend of the captain who turns against the team (Tracey in "The Message"), taking over the ship (Saffron hijacking Serenity), and while I could go on, I think you get the point.

Now, I don't want people to think that I mean all of this as a slam against the series. I loved Firefly, even though I was seven years late to the party (in my defense, I was 10 when it came out), and these are more observations than any sort of value judgment.

The episode starts off with a very common TV trick - show part of the climax (or something even after that) out of context, then jump back in time to show how things got there. This starts with the side of the plane exploding and someone falling out, then cuts to "19 hours later". Aside from the exploding plane, this episode gets off to a slow start. While they're going after the 0-8-4 on the ground in Peru, I feel like things haven't picked up yet. There are no stakes, no real knowledge of what's going on or why, and that leads to the action scenes having a lot of the life sucked out of them. Once they get the artifact onto the plane, along with the members of the Peruvian military, things start to get interesting.

Every Joss Whedon show has been about the characters. Their interactions are what carry the shows, and we're starting to get the chance to see that. The best scenes in the episode are ones where the team is just interacting with each other, first in the argument in the lab, then when they're coming up with a plan to get out of the cargo hold. This is the secret behind Joss's shows - for everything else happening, including the weirdly big action sequences (seriously, how high is their budget that they keep doing these scenes), we're really there for the characters, and this is delivering on that premise so far.

Of course, there's no way I can talk about this without mentioning the stinger after the credits. Being a Marvel movie fan, I'm now pretty used to the concept, but I hope they don't do this for every episode and just use it for occasions where it particularly fits. In this case, it works kind of perfectly, as we see Nick Fury getting mad at Coulson for, well, destroying the plane after they've had it for less than a week. I certainly didn't expect this cameo this early in the show, though I hope they don't keep escalating it and we've already seen Robert Downey Jr. by the next episode - the show seems to be leaning a bit too much on the movie continuity. Taking it as a Marvel fan and not as some sort of bigger trend in the show, however, I loved this cameo, not just because it's fun to watch Samuel L. Jackson yell at people, but it also makes perfect sense that it'd be happening. A small thing that stuck out was that even he referred to "FitzSimmons" - apparently these two are so inseparable that even the (presumptively) head of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about them as a single unit, not two separate people.

Going into what we know about the future episodes, they're going to be expanding a bit on their own continuity and mythology soon, introducing a new major villain next episode who wasn't in any of the movies, so it looks like they're building up their confidence a bit more.

The final thing that I have to say is related to a previous post that I made: the show is still finding its feet. Though I didn't go into them in too much detail, there are a few things that I don't think quite works (the beginning time on the ground in Peru, any time they're talking about politics), but that always happens in the early episodes of a TV show. I'm having that same trouble with these articles, knowing what to talk about with regards to the show.

Zac Kandell (known mostly on the internet as Mischlings) is the creator of Ravenous Badger Media and is amazed that he didn't spend this whole review gushing about Skye. Follow him on Twitter at @Mischlings for when he decides that he has short thoughts to share with the world.

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