Marvel’s Agents of S.H..I.E.L.D. – Episode 1: Review

SHIELD-cast

Let me say this and get it out of the way now.  I want Lola – now.

There are few shows that my aging self gets excited over and eagerly anticipates all summer long, but this was most certainly one of those shows.  I am a Whedonite – pure and simple.  I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s TV series and movies (Serenity, A Cabin in the Woods), his characters and his writing.  I was introduced to Joss Whedon when he was writing and directing the cult classic Firefly series.  He took the concept of a space western to new heights and created characters and stories that I would forever love and cherish.  From the Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Dollhouse series, Joss has solidified his place as one of Hollywood’s most gifted, creative and fascinating writers.

Coming off the heels of Marvel’s The Avengers and Iron Man 3, the show picks up months later (literally) after both of those events take place.  The world is now aware of super-powered beings.  Gods now walk among men.  Monsters from people’s nightmares are revealed to be real.  Humanity has turned the page in history from being the dominant force on this planet, to being a second class species overnight.  This isn’t something that many people will take to heart and accept easily.  In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D.s whole purpose is to protect people from themselves and ultimately from any dangers that may be lurking about, super powered or otherwise.

This brings me to the team; under the watchful eye of Nick Fury’s second-in-command, Maria Hill, a team of specialists has been brought together to contain specific threats and save as many lives as they can.   Brett Dalton, the muscle; he’s the guy you send in to get the job done.  Defuse bombs, be the sniper or go fisticuffs with a bad guy – he’s the man for the job.  Melinda May, the pilot; she’s much more than that though, but we don’t know how hardcore she really is at this point.  It’s hinted at by Brett that she’s a legend in S.H.I.E.L.D. and that her involvement means that things are about to get really complicated for the team.  Leo Fitz, the tech genius; he’s a genius with the ability to make devices do amazing things.  Jenna Simmons, the bio-engineer; if it oozes, breathes or combusts, she’s your lady to figure out what it is or was.  Also, there’s this interesting little relationship between Fitz and Simmons that seem one part playful and the other part combative.  However, as a team, these two can do just about anything.  Skye, the cyber activist; she’s the oddball in the team as she isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and has spent most of days trying to expose them.  However, after events in the first episode, she’s now fighting the good fight with the team.  Then there is Agent Phil Coulson, the leader.  When we last saw Phil (as affectionately called by Pepper Potts), he died after sustaining a mortal wound by Loki in the Avengers film.

We’ve been teased all summer by the return of Agent Coulson and many theories from fans of the comics and movies have been tossed around.  Was he an LMD (Life Model Decoy) robot that is widely used by high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to divert attention from them?  Was he healed using some type of alien or mystical device?  Was he a clone, or some other type of replicant?  Well, the jury is still out on that as we were told that he was just holding his breath to look like he was dead so that his “death” could be (and was) used to galvanize and solidify the Avengers team.  Afterwards, Nick Fury had him patched up and sent off to Tahiti to recuperate.  A Joss Whedon alumn, Ron Glass (Firefly), made a special appearance as Dr. Streiten, the team physician and hinted that “Tahiti” is actually not the entire truth.  In fact, there’s a secret behind Agent Coulson’s return that neither Maria nor Dr. Streiten want him to discover and this will undoubtedly be a minor subplot in the series as it continues.  The mystery of Agent Phil Coulson will remain unsolved for just a bit longer it seems.  I’m okay with that.  Samuel L. Jackson has also expressed interest in doing some cameos as Nick Fury in future episodes.  Let’s pray that happens.

“The Pilot” centers around the effect on the populace after the events of the attack on New York City by the Chitauri, an alien race hell bent on death and destruction at the whim of their master, Thanos (as seen behind the credits in the Avengers movie).  Specifically, the story introduces us to Michael Peterson played by another Whedon alumn, J. August Richards (Angel), as a struggling father who lost his job at a factory due to an injury and is trying to raise his young son and find a new job.  An explosion in a nearby building calls him to action where we discover that he has incredible strength-based powers, climbs several stories up the side of a building and enters through a broken window to rescue a young woman from being consumed in the fire and destruction.  We also see that he’s fairly unused to his powers, thus we get the impression that they’re newly formed.  He expectedly saves the young woman, but is discovered by Skye who’s in the same area.  Skye, is the young, brilliant, computer wizard and leader of an activist group called The Rising Tide; a WikiLeaks-ish type organization whose mission it is to expose the truth about S.H.I.E.L.D. and the super powered beings that now roam the Earth.  So far though, it seems to be an organization of one.  Skye tries to convince Michael of his potential and how he can get ahead of the forces that will soon find and try to contain him.

What we learn from this series is that after the Chitauri were defeated, they left behind a lot of alien technology that is being sold to the highest bidder on the black market and applied in some interesting ways.  We also get the hint of another rival organization that’s equally interested in super powers and super powered beings, technology and creating their own line of super soldiers.  For comic book fans, this leads us down to two candidates; Advanced Ideas Mechanics (A.I.M.) as seen in Iron Man 3 (plus there’s a component of that storyline that makes it in to this episode) or more likely – HYDRA.  HYDRA is an extremely dangerous and multi-layered terrorist organization that S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Universe has had to contend with, even during Captain America’s tenure in the 40’s.  Personally, I hope this to be the case as this series could go in directions that will far outlast anything they can or will do in the movies.  This series literally could be the golden goose that spawns many, many, many more Marvel TV and movie series in the future (Doctor Strange, Moon Knight, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, just to name a few).  Back up the BRINKS truck Marvel/Disney because Joss Whedon just set you up with probably the most far reaching and potent medium to enhance BOTH brands to the stratosphere and beyond.

With that said, there were a few moments were I had to not think too hard about what was happening and just go with it.  For instance, for an organization that prides itself on secrecy and subterfuge, they were really visible in this episode to the public.  Now, I get that a giant helicarrier pretty much tipped their hand when they were defending Earth, but going to a crime scene in a vehicle with a gigantic S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem didn’t seem very wise when trying to be stealthy in a tense situation.  There was also the matter of how easy it was for S.H.I.E.L.D. to ultimately find the headquarters of The Rising Tide when they seemed so inept to discover its location for months prior.   There’s also the matter of the S.H.I.E.L.D. bomber jet that they use as a mobile command unit; for one – where are you landing that huge sucker at a given moment?  Don’t get me wrong, it looked cool as all heck, but – it’s still needs a landing strip the size of JFK airport to even take off.  So, it was a cool effect but not really realistic.  I think they’d have done better by doing it Knight Rider style and souping up an 18-wheeler as their mobile command unit.  However, with all of this said – I was not distracted from the coolness of seeing this series come to life so soon after a major blockbuster hit movie.

What we come to in this episode is a feeling that people believe they are helpless in the face of Norse Gods, hulking behemoths, super soldiers and men flying around in metal suits of mass destruction.  People want to believe in heroes and be protected, but people woke up one day and found themselves to be cattle to be tended to when the day before they were masters of their own universe and shepherds of their world.  There’s a hint of the frustrations people are feeling in the real world today with the collapse of the housing market, the job market in the toilet and the rich just getting richer on the backs of everyone else.  There’s a canvas laid out before us that people may have resigned to the fact that Gods now walk among men, but that doesn’t mean that people are going to lay down and let those Gods walk over them – and some not without a fight.  Even good people feel helpless and want to lash out at what they perceive to be their oppressors.  Even good people can lose their way in the face of tremendous adversity.

As usual, Joss Whedon is telling you a story – he’s bringing you into a tale where you’re as invested as the characters you’re watching.  With humor and guile, he presents you with complex characters with complex issues.  You’re invested because they are mirror images of the audience, with all of the human frailties we suffer and desires we all aspire to attain.  The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be less about the super hero and more about the heroes that inspire them.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on ABC, Tuesday nights at 8pm EST.

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