Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 1 Ep 4 (TV Show Review)
So far the show has had a mixed reception. On one hand people are praising the entire concept, the setting, etc. On the other hand, people are quite frustrated with some of the characterisation and the casting and the story and whatever else. For me, so far the show has just failed to click in the same way that the first seasons of Leverage, Smallville, Arrow, Game of Thrones and many others over the years have clicked. There is something very integral that is missing in the show, and its really holding it back.
Largely, its a matter of tonal consistency since the previous three episodes have been all over the place in that regard. Each episode so far has focused on completely different things and as a result, the tone and attitude has also been different for each. The show’s writers and directors just need to get together and have a single unifying vision for the show that focuses on the strengths of everybody involved rather than do something haphazard like this week’s episode.
The premise of this show is that somewhere in Sweden, a major diamond heist happens, mirroring other such attempts across Europe, to the total tune of some $30 million. Agent Coulson’s team takes up the mission to bring the thief in and it so ends up that the thief is none other than a former protege of Coulson, presumed KIA for a long time. Fearing that she has gone rogue, Coulson goes off to bring her back in before any serious weight is called in and things escalate. That’s what this entire episode focuses on.
Now, to start off with, I loved the whole idea, the whole premise. It helps establish Coulson’s backstory that we never saw in the films and it also in the end serves to show how much his near-death aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier at Loki’s hands changed him. In a way, you could say that Coulson is the protagonist of the show this week. We see him at some rather emotionally vulnerable moments, and these help set the episode apart from the previous ones because they haven’t really explored this side of the character as yet. They’ve focused more on the action and movie references rather than really expanding on his backstory, especially like this.
Another strong element was the character of Akela Amadore, the protege in question. For one, she was a character of colour. In a show devoid of any substantial ethnic diversity in its main cast (Ming-Na Wen is the only who stands out, with Chloe Bennett being half-Chinese apparently – I can’t tell, personally), this was really welcome. We had J. August Richards in the first episode, and we had Chilean actress Leonor Varela in the second episode, but that’s really been it. Coincidentally, any significant COC casting has been for antagonists. I’m not one to condemn shows based on their casting choices or whether COCs are cast as villains or heroes or whatever, but Agents of SHIELD has been making it painfully obvious that COCs either do nothing in the show (Ming-Na Wen’s Agent May until this episode) or they are the bad guys (all the others), even if they are somewhat redeemed by the end.
This is an important point given that, as I’ve said often in my articles on diversity in comics, this is a show based on comic book properties and comic books are not just read by white males (or females) these days, they are read by all sorts of people all over the world. And the Marvel movies, of which this show is a direct spin-off, have an especially strong global appeal. So the casting for villains in the show thus far doesn’t really jive well and is a sore point.
But, back to Akela. She was a wonderfully complex character, and I liked her backstory, and her flaw, that she doesn’t work well in a team and that this used to be a really sore point between her and Coulson when they were still mentor and protege, not enemies. I would have loved to know more about her, but given the restraints of the show, that wasn’t possible this time around. So I’m really hoping that she makes a comeback somewhere down the line. That would be excellent. Pascale Amand delivered a fantastic performance as the emotionally cold Akela and she was a highlight of this episode in several ways.
Another great thing was that we get to see Agent May in action again, the first since her extremely brief action-cameo in the pilot. And she directly challenges Coulson’s authority this time since she’s concerned that he is letting his feelings for Akela get in the way of apprehending her. While this may seem somewhat typical, its important to keep in mind that this time we see Agent May take charge of a situation rather than just sitting around in the cockpit of the Bus and taking part in the briefings. This is the kind of stuff that I want to see more of in this show. Characters with agency who actually take control.
This is where FitzSimmons and Skye and Agent Ward fail. With the two science-geeks, we are still not seeing either of them gel together. We are told that the two pretty much studied together, and that they have worked with each other before (in training) as SHIELD agents, but that’s really it. I want more backstory about these two. I don’t just want to watch the two of them come together every week to give some kind of a tech solution to the others for their various needs. I want them to be doing something more, much like Agent May, although perhaps not quite as action-oriented. This show has a long way to go before either of them becomes Stargate’s McKay.
With Skye, its all a bit about the indecision that has been plaguing her since the beginning. There wasn’t any moment of annoyance this week (not until the final end scene), but I’m still not really seeing what use she is to the team. Last week’s episode touched on her being trained by Agent Ward to operate in the field as a proper SHIELD agent, but this week we see that it is all glossed over. Poof. And all her backstory about being some kind of an informant/unofficial agent for the hacktivist group Rising Tide hasn’t been touched on at all since the pilot. Only two extremely brief bits in the second and third episodes. What is the Rising Tide? How are they working against SHIELD? What is their role in everything that’s going on in the world? I want to see something substantial like that.
The end scene of the episode is something that breaks the rules set out in the episode earlier on. They also break character and offer a really disappointing characterisation of Skye. She was already quite annoying but now I have one more reason to not like her. Tonally, it just doesn’t fit, especially since the scene goes against Skye’s views on personal privacy, given that she is a part of RIsing Tide. Not good at all.
And Ward, well, Ward is Ward. Brett Dalton is a decent enough actor but he is just not getting anything to do here. I’m watching Leverage these days and I can’t help but compare Brett Dalton’s Ward to Christian Kane’s Eliot. If we put Eliot into this show, there’d be much more energy in the show because Eliot really does stand out, in terms of poise and bearing as a trained special agent. And he has a really rough visual quality to him, compared to Ward who is too… perfect. Ward as a character and Dalton as an actor both have been up and down, up and down in the episodes and this one was more of the same.
One final comment is that the show begins with what at first seems pretty nifty but later on is just a really dumb sequence. Akela steals the diamonds from a bunch of identically dressed and identically masked guards who are traveling together on a subway train. Given the way that entire sequence is handled, we are meant to believe that this is all a misdirection since there is some kind of a festival going on in Sweden at the time and these guys all are supposed to look the part. But they couldn’t stand out more if they tried. I went like this when I saw it all: “really, this is the best that they could come up with?”
I’m really trying to like the show, but I’m just not getting any feels-back. The show, for me, is not making enough of an effort to draw me in. I once again have to compare it to Arrow, where the first two episodes of the second season airing right now are far, far better than anything Agents of SHIELD has offered thus far. There is a distinct lack of personal jeopardy in this show and we are skimping along with the character backstories. Each episode focuses on a different part of the Marvel world and there is nothing to unify it all together.
The acting needs to pick up. The story needs to pick up. The pacing needs to pick up. And there need to be more revelations about whatever the big plan there is for this season: who the big villains are, some hints as to what they want, how they operate, that kind of stuff. Across the entire first season, Arrow did a fantastic job in that regard. I want to see the same from Agents of SHIELD. The show has incredible potential that is going unfulfilled.
Posted on October 19, 2013, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged Agent Grant Ward, Agent Jemma Simmons, Agent Leo Fitz, Agent Melinda May, Agent Phil Coulson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Clark Gregg, Joss Whedon, Marvel, Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, Movie Tie-In, Review, Review Central, S.H.I.E.L.D, Skye, The Avengers, TV Show, TV Show Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.