Parted hair, part unknown

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 Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot”

What does it mean to be a regular human in a super-powered world? Once you know that mutants, superhumans, magic, and gods exist, what does the “average human” do? What does it mean to be “average” in this new world? And how do you approach this massive shift in our worldwide paradigm? There are really only two viable options: embrace the change, or fear it. What path you take from this choice impacts your world forever: Fear can lead to willful ignorance, but it can also lead to hate. Embrace can mean a passive trust, but it can also mean an active support. And, sometimes, at the intersection of fear and embrace, comes villainy.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aims to tell the stories that answer these questions, and follow the paths that diverge from those answers. When everyman Michael Peterson (J. August Richards) rescues a woman from an building engulfed in flames from an explosion–by climbing the walls and jumping from the top floor to the ground below–he finds himself immersed in this new world, and floundering. Driven by desperation (being fired due to a work-related injury and having no way to support his son), Peterson seeks reprieve from super-science, being outfitted with tech that pumps a modified version of Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum into the body called Centipede. After saving the woman, he’s filmed by Skye (Chloe Bennet), a member of the Rising Tide (a conspiracy site intent on exposing the truths of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and is presented to the world as a new superhero, an unwitting piece in a much larger game.

At S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, reprising her Avengers role) has recruited Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) to join a new team headed by none other than the dearly departed Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who emerges from the shadows to prove that, just like the worlds of print comics, death is never quite permanent in a super-powered universe. Coulson has assembled this new team himself, let’s meet them, shall we?

  •  Agent Grant Ward: a man of strong morals, Agent Ward’s anti-social demeanor is a red flag, but his cool head in tight situations makes him a valuable asset. Plus, he’s a pretty good shot.
  • Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen): a highly-trained solider and veteran pilot, she had left the field for good after a traumatic event, but is brought back by Coulson to head transpo.
  • Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker): a weapons and tech expert, he works in tandem with…
  • Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge): the team’s science expert.

After the team is assembled, they set out on their first mission, tracking the Rising Tide, which leads them to Skye and her video of Peterson’s rescue, which interests S.H.I.E.L.D. greatly. Skye is an expert hacker, and Coulson convinces her to join his team. (Coulson wins her trust by inject Agent Ward with a new truth serum and letting her ask him any questions she wants, a scene that’s trademark Whedon through-and-through.) Agents May, Fitz, and Simmons investigate the scene of the explosion to piece together what happened, finding the exploded floor to be a lab filled with super-tech. After recreating the moments before the explosion (using lots of cool special effects), they discover that it was a patient, outfitted with the same technology as Peterson, that caused the explosion when he lost his mind due to the substance Extremis.

After killing his former boss and realizing the potential of his power, Peterson takes Skye hostage, demanding that she remove any trace of him so that he and his son can disappear in peace. She does this, but also tips of S.H.I.E.L.D. to her location, leading to a standoff. Coulson’s team attempts to take Peterson with minimal stress, to keep him from exploding, but an assassin sent by the doctor who installed the Centipede tech incenses Peterson, and as Coulson talks him down from his rage, Agent Ward takes him out with a shot to the head, a shot that proves to be non-lethal due to his new superhuman abilities.

In the final scene, Coulson asks Skye to join the team long-term, but is interrupted by a report of an “084.” Skye agrees to join, and she and Coulson zoom away in his 1962 Corvette, Lola, which also just happens to be a hovercraft.

All in all, that was pretty fun. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the trappings of a Whedon show–his stable of actors, witty banter, seeds of mythology planted early on–and with that comes built-in potential. At its core, S.H.I.E.L.D. is super-powered NCIS, but with higher production values and a knack for great genre fare. The early mysteries presented–how is Phil Coulson alive, what happened to Agent May, why is nothing known about Agent Ward’s past–offer promising futures for the serialized portions of the show to take, and if the weekly cases can pull in actors like J. August Richards on a regular basis, and continue to tackle the underlying philosophical questions inherent to the show’s premise, S.H.I.E.L.D. could grow into a real winner.

But there are issues here at the beginning. Other than Coulson, none of the agents are very interesting yet, mostly reduced to those one-sentence descriptions I gave above. There’s also the sense here that many hands are at work, pushing and pulling the show behind the scenes. I look forward to future episodes, where we can see how Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen handle the show when Joss’ presence is greatly reduced. Also not to be discounted is ABC. Some might say S.H.I.E.L.D. is “too big to fail,” coming from Camp Marvel, but ABC is still looking for a big hit, and if any show this fall has that potential, this is it. Hopefully, the network’s desire to draw as many numbers as possible won’t put any pressure on Wedon and Tancharoen to mess with the things that work about the show–or even worse, to leave the things that need improvement alone.

But that’s all conjecture. For now, we get a fun, very good pilot with lots of promise, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where it goes from here.

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