Kill the fish tank

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “084”

Every procedural lives and dies by its team, from your average NYC police detectives to those with handy acronyms to the FBI’s “Fringe Division.” And once you put your team together, there’s going to be some tensions. Because of this, every procedural eventually has to have a “this is why we’re a team!” episode. This isn’t a bad thing, as it gives the audience more to hold on to than the weekly cases, but it’s so rote at this point that “084” can’t help but feel like a step down from S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s pilot.

I will give S.H.I.E.L.D. some brownie points for also throwing the “science geeks must prove themselves in the field!” episode into the mix. Instead of forcing us to watch as, say Dr. Reed and Garcia solve a mission while the rest of Criminal Minds‘ BAU is out of commission, they integrate it into the episode’s central plot. It’s a logical choice, since S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s premise requires that Fitz, Simmons, and Skye are in the field with the battle-trained agents, and it’s one of the elements that gives “084” a boost.

At the end of last week’s episode, Agent Coulson received a call about an “084,” which is an object of unknown origin, and convinced Skye to come along and join his team. As we open this week, we learn that the 084 is in Peru, located in an Incan temple that is over 500 years old. (Okay, we actually open with a relatively pointless in medias res, but I’ve gotten really tired of those this season, so I’m choosing to gloss over it.) As Fitz and Simmons go about studying the mysterious object, Coulson explains to Skye that part of her job is to help S.H.I.E.L.D. cover up any missions that might get messy, the exact opposite of what she was trying to do with the Rising Tide. Agent Ward’s antisocial behavior is already causing problems, and when he offhandedly refers to Agent May “The Cavalry,” her stare could freeze the Sun.

Fitz and Simmons discover that the 084 is powered by a Tesseract fuel cell, and contains massive amounts of gamma radiation. Agents Ward and May, standing watch outside, confront a group of Peruvian national police, lead by Comandante Camilla Reyes, an old flame of Coulson’s. She’s got lots of questions about the object, and it’s clear that the Peruvian government does too. Those questions are quickly put on the back burner as Peruvian rebels attack, but thanks to an EMP blast from Agent Ward, the teams and their leaders escape to the Bus (as Fitz lovingly calls the team’s jet-plane HQ).

Aboard the Bus, tensions rise to a boil. Ward feels like he’s being held back by his non-battle-trained teammates, May is upset that she had to see combat again, Fitz and Simmons are scared and beginning to regret joining the team, and Skye’s just wondering where exactly she fits into all of this. After Coulson breaks up their shouting match, everyone partners off: Coulson gives Reyes a tour of the Bus; Skye and Ward go have a drink; and Fitz and Simmons work to learn more about the 084. (May just goes to fly the Bus, sadly.) As Fitz and Simmons are realizing just how deadly this weapon is (and that it was made by Germans), Coulson and Ward both begin to suspect something fishy is going on with the Peruvians, and surprise! They attack our team with the intention of taking the weapon back for the Peruvian government, in order to quell the rebellions once and for all.

And from here, the episode shifts into high gear and doesn’t let up until the end. Ward and May help the team escape and reach the weapon, while Fitz, Simmons, and Skye devise a plan to blow a hole in the hull of the ship to get rid of the Peruvians. Coulson has to battle Reyes himself, and as everyone’s slowly losing to the hole sucking everything out of the Bus’ hull, Skye remembers the safety pamphlet Ward condescendingly gave her at the beginning of the episode, and finds a liferaft, which she inflates and uses to stop up the hole. The team regains control of the Bus, takes Reyes into custody, and hands over the weapon to the Slingshot, where it’s rocketed away for destruction.

Oh, and Nick Fury shows up to sternly tell Coulson that he’s not allowed to have a fish tank in the Bus.

While I said at the beginning that “084” was a lesser episode than the pilot, it was still better than your average procedural, especially once the action really got going. For an episode like this, it was a smart choice to not have the team facing a super-powered foe or a moral gray area, but it meant that the show had to fall back on characters and dialogue to keep it afloat. While the dialogue was there, outside of Coulson, the characters still feel like types, which works when they’re figuring out how to be a team, but not so much when we need the interpersonal character drama. Most egregiously, the show seems to already be establishing sexual tension between Skye and Ward, a move that I’ll remain cautiously optimistic about, even though my instincts are screaming to keep away from this plot line for at least half a season.

But, again, once that essentially-half-episode action sequence sets in, the entire episode is lifted to a higher level. If/when S.H.I.E.L.D. makes its characters as interesting as its action, it’ll be able to truly enter the pantheon of Whedon greats, but until then, let’s bring back the super powers. And maybe some more Avengers cameos, like a certain mild-mannered scientist we wouldn’t like when he’s angry? I mean, a boy can dream, can’t he?

Stray Observations:

  • Look, as soon as anyone involved with this show told us to stay tuned through the very end, it was crazy obvious Nick Fury was going to show up, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying to see Samuel L. Jackson on my TV.

  • I didn’t mention Skye’s texts from the end of the episode, but I was wondering when they’d have her consider working for both teams. Guess they’re getting it out of the way quick, and I’m not complaining.

  • The last 084? A hammer.

  • In a typically-Whedon touch, Fitz and Simmons’ drones are named after the Seven Dwarfs.

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