[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 4, "Eye-Spy"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions.
I have nothing against Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, but they have no experience as showrunners. They've written on many different series over the years, and obviously have the trust of their brother. But if they weren't relatives of the House of Joss, they probably wouldn't have gotten the job running the biggest experiment in the highest grossing franchise ever. Even with Joss operating as an omniscient force, they are new at this. 

Jeffrey Bell is not. He cut his teeth on the X-Files before running Angel and V. He knows how to write ensemble casts, and he knows how to seed threats and build tension. So it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that his first lone credit episode of SHIELD has been the series' best thus far. It also shouldn't be a surprise that the show is improving more and more with each episode. It is still very early days, and finding it's footing. This episode can be seen as firmly solid ground.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that never learned the difference between girl parts and boy parts.

My biggest problem with SHIELD to this point has been the absence of any family dynamic, the staple of Whedon-works. Beyond that, this is a team show, and until now it hasn't felt like a team. There never felt like any cohesion between the members, everyone was just off in their own corners, occasionally having a conversation with Coulson. For the first time, the team worked together, but actually worked together. They played off each other, there was a group dynamic at work. Skye referred to Coulson and May as "mom and dad" (I'll assume respectively). Grant, as bland as he still is, at least exhibited a glimpse of personality while undertaking the covert operation during the climax. And everyone else, for the first time, seemed like characters with motivations rather than just a collection of specific personality quirks.

It also felt like a spy show for the first time, and considering that is kind of the whole point, it's a little depressing that it's taken them this long to get here. Each team member's ability was on display, and relevant to the proceedings. There was an investigation and intrigue, and those closing moments where Coulson was searching for the Englishman, only to have victory snatched away at the last moment felt like something out of a Le Carre novel. An underwritten Le Carre novel, but still... tone. And, things were kept nice and simple, which meant the proceedings weren't bogged down in nonsense technobabble or unnecessary exposition. The story was allowed to unfold, and the characters allowed to reveal themselves through it without any trappings or posturing. And Coulson finally took his position as not just the leader of the team, but as the star of the show, which has been to this point more the story of Skye than anyone.

I feel kind of like a fool, because up til now I've been saying that while SHIELD needs to carve out an identity of it's own, the connections to the MCU need to be strengthened. Hill and Fury's cameos represent a physical connection to the universe that make references just seem shallow. But now we've got this episode, which contained almost no references to the larger universe. No veiled call backs to any of the films, no name dropping of any of the Avengers. Coulson, despite the opportunity, failed to mentioned that Tahiti is a magical place. The Battle of New York was mentioned once in passing, but otherwise this was a MCU free hour, and it worked. It really worked. By focusing on an original danger, a serious threat that has far reaching and entirely mysterious influence, it made the show feel like it's own entity for the first time, an actual entry into the MCU rather than just a byproduct of it.

A lot has been thrown against the wall in these four episodes, and I'm sure we'll start to see some of it pay off in the coming weeks. To date, we have the mysterious organisation with the very young doctor with access to Extemis and the super solider serum; we have the Rising Tide, which in the pilot seemed just to be Skye but now seems to be more of Marvel's version of Anonymous, with Skye as one of its contributors; and we now have what I'll call the Puppet Masters, with access to incredibly advanced technology and an interest in alien languages (and why were the Belarusians translating alien glyphs?). Are they all connected? Probably almost certainly. Will it be the remains of AIM, an off shoot of Hydra, or something new and unique? I hope the latter. I also hope that the series continue to escalate in seriousness of intent.

As a final note, I feel compelled to mention again how cheap the show looks. This does not look like it's operating on a large budget, let alone a budget befitting the offspring of the Avengers. Network shows can't all be created equal, and certainly I'm not looking for Game of Thrones levels of production value. But the backlots, rented mansions and cardboard scenery really stands out in certain scenes, which this episode made all the more obvious with the red mask flash mob at the start and Coulson's end of episode search for the Englishman, which were obviously filmed on location, and looked better than most of the rest of the series to this point. This was (until it started hemorrhaging viewers) a top line show, an anticipated event. It's it just Marvel's renowned frugalness keeping the costs down, or is something else at work. It's not like they've got an A-lister in the cast draining their budget.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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