Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Eye-Spy”
One of the biggest differences between DC and Marvel comics in recent years–say, since the launch of the New 52 and Marvel NOW!, respectively–has been tone. DC has tended toward darker, emotionally charged stories with big moments, with writers like Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns leading the pack. Marvel, on the other hand, has trafficked in smaller stories more rooted in character, without the pressures of always being dark and edgy, led by Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis. These differences are felt in the cinematic universes as well. Man of Steel was technically the first installment in the DC cinematic universe, but its bleak, destructive view of heroism is in line with the Dark Knight Saga, while Marvel’s film adaptations feature more levity, and embrace the heightened nature of the comic book world. And for the first time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really feels like an appendage of the Marvel cinematic universe.
It seems silly to say, but “Eye-Spy” truly felt like a comic book story. Its main plot deals with a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has apparently gone rogue, performing diamond heists around the world. In comics, introducing a new character with ties to a hero’s past is commonplace, a way to create drama and suspense as details about the past are parsed out during the present adventure. What Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) also brings to the table are new challenges for each of the individual team members. Even if its not a specific task (like FitzSimmons performing bio-mechanical surgery on Amador’s eye), every member of the team faces something they’re not prepared for, even Ward.
This is a good dramatic direction for S.H.I.E.L.D. to take, with the caveat that it feels almost too early to introduce a story like this. These types of plots work well when you need a fresh idea but are stuck with the current toys in your sandbox. The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. still have plenty of toys to play with, so while they may not be stuck, they might have played the former ally card a bit too soon.
However, the twists of the plot help keep “Eye-Spy” fun, even when they’re predictable (as most of them are). When it’s revealed that Amador hasn’t gone rogue, she’s being coerced, it’s not a huge shock, but it makes narrative sense to pit these characters–especially Coulson–against a hostage instead of an outright villain. The second big twist at the episode’s end, when we learn that Amador’s handler was being coerced himself, is a well-worn trope, but it’s standard comic book fare. Comics are notoriously anti-closed endings, just look at any character who’s come back from the dead at least once. This way, the big bad behind Amador’s crimes still remains out in the world, ready to come back whenever the writers feel like it.
Also of note is the continued confidence of the actors. It’s easy to say that the cast is weak, with Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen being the strongest, but it seems unfair to those who have made progress already. Chloe Bennet continues to grow into Skye, and while there are plenty of detractors, they’re probably never going to enjoy her performance. To her credit, she’s learning to downplay some of Skye’s less-pleasant qualities, giving the character a breezy disposition that betrays her own terror at being flung into the unknown. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge continue to tone down the quirk, one of the best decisions the show has made. Since we get to spend so much time with FitzSimmons, as opposed to only popping up once or twice an episode, their quirk ratio must be adjusted accordingly. Brett Dalton even shows some vulnerability here, though it’s only flashes. His performance as Ward is still one of the show’s weakest, but maybe a focus episode (which I still believe is coming in due time) would be able to give the character some bend
S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to learn and grow, and by buying more and more into its comic book origins, the show begins to better reflect the universe from whence it was born. The show is still dancing around superhumans, the further inclusion of which I feel could only help the series, though it makes sense financially. The serial story is still in formation, and consists mostly of just mysteries and the sexual tension between Skye and Ward. Clark Gregg is also still carrying the ensemble to a considerable degree. But these are normal kinks, and finding a voice similar to its mothership is a big step forward for S.H.I.E.L.D.
One of the biggest indicators of a comic book-style plot: I wasn’t always entirely sure what was going or what people were talking about at a few points, but the visuals and pace pushed past the confusing stuff to things that made more sense.
Amador seems like a decent enough character to have in the S.H.I.E.L.D. reserves, hopefully this isn’t the last we see of her.
No direct Avengers references this week, though Skye does point out Coulson’s proclivity for collecting “old stuff.”
The least-predictable twist of the episode: “Seduce him.”
Seriously, let’s get some damn superhumans back into the story!
I’m also hoping for a clearly defined Big Bad for the season to come around soon. If it’s the Rising Tide, we’re gonna need more than some vaguely distressing emails and concerns about Skye’s loyalty.