Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: F.Z.Z.T

Agents of SHIELD logoThe first part of this episode is boring.  The second part comes out of nowhere and is harrowing and surprising and touching.  If this show could just learn to be like that for a full episode instead of half an episode, it would be phenomenal.

The first half of this episode is about the team trying to figure out how a camp counselor died.  He was a firefighter, and the team discovers that there are other victims of this mysterious cause of death who are also firefighters.  This part is dull.

Do we care about the fate of this camping trip?  No.  not at all.

Do we care about the fate of this camping trip? No. not at all.

But then, Coulson determines that a firefighter who was a first responder in New York is infected with a Chitauri virus and is about to die.  And then we do care – because Coulson does, and he stays with the man as long as he can, offering to call his family and telling him that he (Coulson) was dead, and that what he saw when he died was beautiful.

Yeah, I care about this guy, and now I have something in my eye, damn it.

Yeah, I care about this guy, and now I have something in my eye, damn it.

Mystery solved!  Episode over!  No wait – it’s not, because the body of the first victim had been brought onto the plane, and Simmons was infected while examining the body.  She has an estimated two hours to live, they can’t land because they are over the ocean, and her death will cause an electronic surge that will destroy the plane, which is why Jacob from Lost orders Coulson to “jettison the cargo”.

Smug little bastard...

Smug little bastard…

So Simmons is on one side of a quarantine door trying to make a cure for herself.  Fitz is on the other side, trying to help her without being in the lab, until he basically says, “screw quarantine” and just comes in.  Ward and Skye are regulated to the background (finally!) where they are frantic from feeling helpless, and Coulson, supported by May, is trying to stall his superiors and figure out what to do, and I have all the feels.

Like I said, all the feels.

Like I said, all the feels.

So without spoiling everything completely, here’s some of the best lines – I say some, because there were a ton of great lines this week.  Coulson has several conversations with May that are vulnerable and scary and sad that I didn’t even try to sum up.  Beautiful writing, beautiful acting.

Agent May, interrogating a camp leader:  “Have a cookie.”

Simmons:  “It’s science, Fitz!  I have to dissect something!”

Coulson, eyeing a locked barn door:  “We could ram it with the truck.”  May kicks the door open.  “Or…”

Coulson:  “Do you have any idea what it’s like dealing with the Moroccan office?”

This episode was strong (once it got going) for several reasons:

  • We finally got to see an episode that revolved around characters other than Skye.  I may be the only person on the Internet who actually likes Skye, but I’ve been dying to see some other people, and Fitz and Simmons, and to a lesser extent May and Coulson, were fun and touching.  Untrained, terrified Fitz grabbing a parachute may be the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen.
  • Sometimes Coulson can be a little bit too, dare I say, robotic (maybe literally!  who knows!) but in this episode we got all the Coulsons:  the cocky, confident Coulson, the scared, vulnerable Coulson, the compassionate Coulson, and the Dad.
  • There was real suspense in this episode, some of which stems from the fact that the Whedonverse is famous for killing off regulars, often quite early.  I give you the episode “Hero”, from Angel, Season One.
  • The show has promised to ask what the world would be like for people after the discovery of superheroes and demo-gods and aliens.  Up until know, the show has mostly dealt with that by throwing around new exciting technology for our team to capture.  This episode showed how helpless and outmatched humans can be in this new world that they are profoundly ignorant about and unprepared to battle.  It wasn’t nihilistic, but it was real.
  • Above all, I finally feel like I care about the characters.  I care about Ward, who wishes the danger to Simmons was a person so he could punch it.  I care about Skye, who cuts through a lot of crap by hugging.  I care about Coulson and May, whose scars remind them to move forward.  And boy howdy do I care about Fitz and Simmons, who up until now were background noise.

See you next week, team.  Try not to die on me in the meantime, OK?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Eye-Spy

Agents of SHIELD logoThis is more like it!  This week’s episode was fun, but also suspenseful, gross, creepy, and emotionally engaging.  I worried during this episode, and I laughed, and I went, “Ewwww!”  So, a good week.

The Good Stuff

This episode set a different tone than the previous episodes. with a creepy opening sequence in which a young black woman encounters a group of strange men with suits, briefcases, and red masks at a street fair.  They end up on the same train, the lights go out, and when they come back on train is full of dead red-faced guys while she is at the station unloading a box of diamonds into her hand.  It’s part horror, part heist.

See?  They're creepy!

See? They’re creepy!

We can thank three things for this week’s success – decent writing that was unafraid to show a story that doesn’t revolve around Our Heroes emotional tics, excellent direction (the opening montage was visually fantastic), and a sublime performance from guest star Pascale Armand, as Akela Amadour.  Here she is, folks:

PASCALE ARMAND

It’s a tribute to the power of tropes that I saw the opening scene as a woman being stalked by creepy guys, when in fact the plot suggests that she stalked them.  And there are lots of other nifty reversal and twists in this episode.  Above all, Armand is such a subtle actress that she single-handedly brings a high level of gravitas to the show, which the actors around her do a great job of keeping it from becoming oppressive.  Akela projects vulnerability, so I felt empathy and worry for her.  She’s tough (physically and mentally – holy shit, that eyeball thing was badass!)  and smart, so I respected her.  And her presence allows for more conflict among the team  – May is genuinely put out with Coulson, the ever-infallible Coulson seems to have made a huge mistake in the past with Akela, and everyone has to do things they aren’t comfortable doing.  So, I laughed plenty during this episode, and had fun, and got to take a much-needed weekly break from Thinking Deep Thoughts, but I also got very invested in what was going on.  Congrats, show!

I’m fond of the fact that this show keeps addressing, and subverting, the idea that the role of an agent is to seduce people.  In the pilot, Skye only uses her womanly wiles to gain an advantage over Ward after he specifically tells her that that will work.  In the next episode, Coulson’s ex tries to seduce him but that just makes him realize that she’s up to something.  In the following episode, Skye attempts wiles again but is informed by the bad guy that he is only interested in her brains.  And in this one, Ward has to seduce a man.  Now, I’m annoyed that Ward would balk at the idea of seducing a man.  He’s been an agent for ages and I find it hard to believe that he hasn’t had to do it before.  But, I find it hilarious that the problem isn’t really that he has to seduce a man, it’s that he has to seduce a man who is probably straight, and that the answer to this conundrum is to try to make friends.  Yes, Ward, friends.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look it up.

Agent May is extra scary in the morning.

Agent May is not amused.

The Not As Good Stuff

I still don’t understand why Fitz and Simmons are doing eye surgery.  They don’t understand it either.  Is it actually possible that no one on the planet but me, Fitz, and Simmons understands the difference between being able to build a bomb and being able to cut someone’s eye out without doing unintentional damage?  I mean, anyone can cut out an eyeball, but putting it back, or even leaving it out and not having your patient bleed to death through their eye socket – that’s tricky.  I’m sorry to have to dwell on such a disgusting subject, but oh, my God, the eye horror was through the roof this week, with the needle, and the – OK, see, now I have to go lie down.

Best Lines of the Week

The best line this week comes from the unexpected difficulties of stakeouts, when Fitz, Simmons, and Skye ask Ward where they are supposed to pee (“It was really a long drive! and some of us are nervous”) and he suggests an empty water bottle, prompting Skye to say, “Did you ever learn the part where boy parts and girl parts are different, and our parts aren’t PENISES?”

For other standouts, I give you the following:

Fitz/Simmons giving Ward experimental weaponry:  “In case you miss!  Or…have…multiple..assilants”.

Coulson:  “Next time I get to decide what we call ourselves, OK?”

When Skye mentions being attacked during the stakeout, Coulson says, “That should never have happened”.  and when she brushes it off saying it wasn’t as scary as listening to her parents fight, he says, “That should never have happened either”.  Now I have, like, ALL the emotions.  Excuse me while I just stick my heart back into my chest.

Couple bits of trivia – this episode was directed by…wait for it…Roxann Dawson!  Who played B’Elanna Torres on Star Trek: Voyager!  Personally, I’m not a fan of Voyager, but I was a fan of that character, so – Hi!  And on a purely personal note, whenever I’m looking for images for these posts I keep finding images of Loki instead.  Oh, Loki.  Ours is a forbidden love.