by Carl R. Jansson
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has ruled the box office over the last few years, with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers becoming the third highest grossing film world wide in 2012. Now, making the jump to the small screen, the highly anticipated pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired this week, also helmed by Mr. Whedon, and it did not disappoint. Spoilers ahead, obviously.
Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and the resurrected fan favorite Agent Phil Coulson are searching for unregistered gifted, when one just falls out of the sky. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) is in East L.A. with his son when there is an explosion in an adjacent building. He has a hot dog vendor watch his son, and in traditional hero fashion races off to help. He scales the side of the building, and minutes later, with a survivor in his arms, jumps through an open window into the crowded street below, while many of the shocked onlookers, including one of our soon to be main characters, film him with their cell phones.
We then cut to Paris, France, where agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is in the middle of a mission when he is told to “abort” as a mysterious organization, called The Rising Tide, has found the whereabouts of the package he is supposed to retrieve. He goes ahead with the operation, and is just opening the hidden safe when he encounters hostile agents. We get down to the action as an intense fight ensues, leaving two men down, and Agent Ward airlifted with the package in hand.
Back at a S.H.I.E.L.D. field office Agent Ward debriefs Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) on his mission. When asked what the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, he replies Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, to which he says, “someone really wanted our initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D.” This was a nice scene further establishing its ties to the movie universe, as well as showing off Whedon’s tendency to add humor in with the action, and it was quite funny.
Hill explains that S.H.I.E.L.D. is more important than ever, now that the world is fully aware of superhumans, gods, and aliens. Agent Ward is recruited onto Agent Coulson’s team, to defend the world against superhuman threats, as well as the hacker group, Anonymous stand-in, and presumed series ongoing mystery number one, The Rising Tide. When Agent Ward mentions that Coulson is, you know, dead, the resurrected man steps out of the shadows and explains that he was only dead for eight minutes, and has been recovering in Tahiti, “a magical place”. Hill and Dr. Streighton (Ron Glass) hint that Coulson’s recovery might not be as it seems, giving us series ongoing mystery number two. Hill and Coulson explain to Ward that they need to get to Mike Peterson before someone with more nefarious intentions does.
Meanwhile, we meet lovable hacker Skye, one of the onlookers filming Peterson’s heroics. She approaches him at a diner and explains that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be looking for him, as will others, and that he should “get in front of this” and go public. As Peterson gets up to leave, Skye offers her services, should he want them.
Next, we’re introduced to Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), and her self imposed desk job exile, bringing us series ongoing mystery number three. Coulson explains that he needs her, just to “drive the bus”, and promises no combat. Then, we get to see “the bus”, which is actually an over sized cargo plane, and inside we meet agents Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), the easily excitable engineering and biochem experts. FitzSimmons are the comic relief, and not as annoying as I expected, but in fact quite charming. Fitz is boastfully showing off his “Night-Night” gun, which makes it an obvious bit of foreshadowing. And then, with the team finally assembled, it’s off on our first mission, to bring in Mike Peterson.
But first, the agents have tracked Skye to her mobile command station, er, van, and it turns out that she is The Rising Tide. Taken back to S.H.I.E.L.D. for interrogation, Skye is amazed to find that S.H.I.E.L.D. is unaware of “Centipede”, something she discovered without such vast resources.
In Peterson’s apartment, the down on his luck would be hero is served an eviction notice, and is pleading with someone over the phone to reveal himself to the world while scratching at a centipede-like device attached to his forearm.
Agent FitzSimmons, along with some miniature data collecting robots of Fitz’s design, investigate the site of the explosion, which turns out to have been a secret lab. On the “Bus” Agents Ward and Coulson are still interrogating Skye, and in an effort to bring her over, Coulson tricks Ward into taking a truth serum so Skye can ask him anything, and learn the truth about S.H.I.E.L.D.
Mike ineffectively tries to get his factory job back, and deciding that he is a hero, than his old manager must be the villain, so he lashes out causing much destruction of property and one presumed death.
The team must collaborate, using their shared data, to find out what really happened in that labratory, so Agent May goes along with Skye to her van, to retrieve the audio she recorded while staking out the building before the explosion. Meanwhile Mike Peterson visits with the woman he saved in her hospital room, and it turns out that she’s the woman he was on the phone with earlier, his “doctor”, and she is angry that in saving her he has exposed her program. We learn that the explosion was not caused by a bomb, but by a man with a “centipede” on his arm, and that Peterson is most likely going to end up the same way. The centipede is a device designed to create super soldier type results, with a mix of serums, including Extremis. My one major point of contention with this episode is that those viewers that haven’t seen Iron Man 3 won’t understand why that is a bad thing.
Mike desperately wants to begin a new life for himself and his son, so he knocks Agent May unconscious and forces her to hack away, deleting his identity from every database. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team realizes what is happening to Peterson, and know they must stop him before he explodes, but need a way to do that that doesn’t kill him. Skye alerts the team that she is outside Union Station with Peterson and his son, and her van is surrounded by law enforcement. Mike is increasingly becoming unhinged, and fearing capture he goes on the attack, kicking the van’s door right off of it’s hinges. The doctor sends a hitman, dressed as a police officer to the scene, and Agent May goes after him, bringing us series ongoing mystery four: Who is the doctor, and who does she work for?
There is a final stand-off between Peterson and Coulson in the station, where Peterson pleads for his life, and Coulson calms the situation. Then suddenly, Peterson takes a head shot! But, it’s okay, it was the aforementioned “Night Night” gun, and he awakens unharmed with his powers safely turned off.
Agent Coulson, with Skye in tow, drops Peterson’s son off at his aunts, with assurances that his dad will see him soon. He then fairly obviously offers her a spot on his team, which she fairly obviously accepts. Agent Coulson and Skye fly off into the sunset in Lola, his red convertible, and the end credits roll.
This episode did exactly what a pilot is supposed to do, it introduced the characters, but left a little mystery for future episodes, and it introduced the core concepts and mysteries we’ll be seeing along the way. Over all, it was a great effort, a pleasing sci-fi/spy drama with a lot of heart. There was plenty of action, lots of humor, and quite a few trademark Whedonisms, making for a really fun romp. Yep, I said romp. While the budget was nowhere near that of the movies this series sprang from, the cast and crew did a fantastic job of making us forget that. The action scenes were tight, well choreographed, and exciting. The characters are all well rounded, and have their own style about them. These are characters I’m looking forward to getting to know better. The story had a few slight “meh” moments, mostly in the dialog, but overall it kept me interested to know what happens next. Put simply, this was good telly.
Whether you’re a comic fan, a Marvel movie fan, Joss Whedon fan, or none of the above, I’m sure you will enjoy this series. I know I am. And I’ll be back next week for episode two. Won’t you join me?