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Update: Episode 1.07 - The Hub
Okay, that's more like it.
I've hung in there a lot longer than most other people with Agents of SHIELD, but even I was starting to give up on it. Last week had a premise that did nothing for me and, though I did get all kinds of worked up about (spoilers) Simmons going out the back of the plane (/spoilers), it felt kind of cheap. Also, there's something wrong when the most vocal response on the internet is wishing that she would have died just so SOMETHING interesting would happen.
However, the show has gotten progressively better with every episode, and this week we finally get the answer to something that's sort of been bugging me for awhile: Exactly how does SHIELD work? And why does everyone seem so annoyed with Coulson's team and his plane. And now we know: it's because Coulson's bunch are, to SHIELD higher ups, a bunch of loose cannons in a very expensive plane hopping about and injecting unknown variables into unstable situations.
I honestly had more fun watching this episode than I did watching Thor: The Dark World. And speaking of which...
Possible Spoiliers ahead
I've been meaning to chime in on my thoughts about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while now, but I've been waiting for them to coalesce into something coherent. Hasn't really happened yet, but here we go anyway. Personally, I LURRRVVEE the show, and I'm so especially looking forward to seeing Ming Na on TV every week playing a character that would ordinarily be played by Jason Statham.
There's been a lot of flap over the sudden ratings drop that AoS took last week (God only knows why, going from the highest rated drama pilot since '07 to the top rated show in on the network in its' time slot. Which is also going up against NC-We're-going-to-run-until-Mark-Harmon-drops-dead-of-old-age-IS and an episode where one of the main characters left the show.) The ratings flap makes very little sense to me, as most shows take a few episodes to really get going.
What I have noticed, and the thing that does worry me, is that AoS is very much a Disney show. The danger is minimal, the characters never seem like they're truly at risk, and I sort of half-expect that at any moment one of them might start singing. Come to think of it, the singing stuff might come from Joss Whedon rather than Disney, but I digress. For all of the sturm and drang about the danger that SHIELD is supposed to be protecting the world from, there has yet to be a palpable sense of threat from any of the antagonists. Again, early days, especially with what is supposed to be in tomorrow's episode.
I do love how meta the show's writing has been up to this point. Superheroes, especially post 9-11, have been largely about wish fulfillment and escapism. In comics, or in movies, I think that works better than on TV, if only because there has to be something to give the show it's resonance and meaning. But, right in the Pilot, they set the tone when Peterson, jacked up on a superhuman drug and burning with frustration as well as alien chemicals, draws a very real parallel between a world with super powered beings who might step on you out of amusement or indifference, and a corrupt and faceless base of powerful people in the real world who would do the exact same thing.
(The writing has also been very self-aware. Lenore Varela's character calling out Coulson on his midlife/afterlife crisis was really funny.)
The cast has gotten a lot of negative chatter as well, mostly for being unreasonably pretty people to be in such harsh jobs. Even Iain De Caestecker as the science nerd looks like he might have walked out of a window display in Abercrombie and Fitch. Thing about it, though, is that the cast works really well together. Brett Dalton, rather than being a wooden underwear model cast for his jaw line, is engaging and human and surprisingly warm. I think Chloe Bennett could stand to dial her performance back a notch or two, but she is actually believable as a computer tech and has displayed a lot of range as both the comedic foil and the voice of maturity. The reverse interrogation sequence in the pilot still cracks me up, and it's mainly due to Bennett peeling herself out of her jacket at just the right moment. It was a bit that could have been overplayed badly, but both actors found just the right notes to work off of each other.
I wonder if there was a moment where the casting directors and the execs looked at the cast and went "These are the actors we want, but wow there are a lot of pretty faces!" But as an ensemble each of the actors work well off of one another, and the chemistry between them is totally legitimate. The AoS team is a solid group of actors.
The show that they're on might be another story, though.
The second episode, "0-8-4", has been derided for being formulaic. And, to be honest, it was. Which might not ordinarily be that big a deal, but for a show that is supposed to be the lynchpin of a cross-media presentation, the audience has certain expectations of there being new ground broken, and every episode that seems to phone it in, as this one did, is a nail in the coffin. Marvel Studios is in a similar place that Pixar was in the early '00's, weaving straw into gold. And I think there are some people looking to find something to gripe about with Marvel.
To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, it's a pre-NCIS show in a post-Breaking Bad world. And AoS might need to go somewhere very daring very fast if it's going to survive. And it should, because it frankly kicks the begeezus out at least half the shows on TV right now.
Personally, I can't wait to seem them start road testing out minor characters that will show up later in the Marvel cinematic universe. But first, AoS has to find its feet. And I'm not enthusiastic about the patience of network execs in that regard.