[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 8, "The Hub"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions
Last week, as I was reading a review for F.Z.Z.T on another site, the author commented that if every character on SHIELD was killed, and replaced by an entirely new team, they wouldn't see that as a negative. That even Coulson at this point hasn't been presented as a necessary or engaging element in this environment, and that starting from scratch might be the best way to save the show. I don't entirely agree with this, and feel like this is an overreaction to a series that is still very much in it's early days. Should the footing be sounder now than it was four or six episodes ago? Yes, absolutely. And it is. It's just taking a while to get there.

But it did get me thinking, as I was watching The Hub, if the characters were all killed, if the plane was shot out of the skies, which characters would I miss? Have any of them grown on me at all? Coulson, obviously, would be a felt loss. And May, who I still feel has the potential to be the most interesting character on the show. And she works best when she's playing off of Coulson. I have an increasing affection for FitzSimmons, though it might be because they are Scottish and British respectively, and therefore inherently better than everyone else (in my mind). And when I got to Skye and Ward, I felt nothing. Which is funny, considering how much they were the focus of the first pair of episodes. It seemed very much to be more Skye's show than Coulson. But this episode only served to highlight the fact that they remain the most two dimensional characters the show has, the most likely to be annoying simply by being in a scene, and probably the most likely to continue to be the focus of the series.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that also have a very attractive head.

This episode, as befitting an episode set in SHIELD backup HQ, was heavy on the world building. And not everything was a callback. In fact, everything was in balance between setting up and referring back. Agent Sitwell returned, bringing with him Agent Hand. The Bus is revealed to be capable of vertical liftoff, as the individual fighters and the Helicarrier were in Avengers (and adds yet another shared element with the Serenity, as I pointed out in my episode two review). SHIELD operations were seen in their greatest detail yet, but the first official mention of the MCU Triskelion was made, ahead of it's appearance in The Winter Soldier. And many, many hints were dropped concerning Coulson's condition, none of which have swayed me from my new found belief that this is all just a massive misdirection.

For anyone who has found (as I have) Coulson's role on the show to be underdeveloped, I think we're well on our way to greener pastures. After last week introduced his newly developed self doubt, this week took it a step further. He's fully aware that something isn't right. He's aware of the conditioning in place, as he stumbles through his usual "it's a magical place line." And, he's not the company man he used to be. Victoria hand wasn't as antagonistic as I expected her to be, but I realised by episodes end that, despite her comic counterpart, that wasn't intended to be her role here. Yes, she gets in a grip against Fury, and she's clearly a character the show means to revisit. But here and now, she was meant only to represent the agent Coulson used to be. When she says "trust the system," which everyone did by episode's end, she means it. She believes it 100%. And Coulson, already shaken, discovers that he doesn't. His faith isn't what it used to be. He's beginning to doubt, and I think his arc is becoming clear: it's the story of a man of the cloth who becomes an atheist. Currently, he's starting his agnostic phase. The teachings still makes sense, but the methods are showing their faults. And the stinger only cements greater the idea that the only people he can trust are those on the Bus with him.

Skye's story seemed, for much of the episode, to be a Shaggy Dog story - a story that just fills in time, rather than actually accomplishing something. She did ultimately discover a piece of information that was useful, but I still can't help but feel that Coulson probably would have figured out that something was wrong without her comical hacking skills. It did give us a fun scene where Simmons proves to be utterly British at seduction methods, and I've just now noticed that she wears a tie under her sweater vest, which I think is adorable. Again, bias may be overwriting my judgement on those elements. So too did I not find Fitz' journey of self dependency in the field annoying. What I did find trying were Ward's constant "teachable moments" and demands of self sacrifice. He alone is apparently noble for the cause, willing to go down with the ship, and honestly I could care less if he did. The team could use a shot in the arm and a bit of spring cleaning, and Ward is as reasonable (and apparently willing) to be the one to take one for the team. They've already got a father figure in Coulson, even if he is beginning a spiral of self doubt. Ward is just... redundant.

The actual thrust of the story - a former Soviet state has developed a sonic weapon - was pretty lean, and mostly just an excuse to peak inside SHIELD operations. Which, I've said from go, there needs to be a stronger connection with home. The Bus travelling around the world, putting right what might go wrong, being given missions via ping or Skype seems a little too Charlies Angels. There needs to be a stronger association that the Bus is acting under supervision. Having a firm hand back at base (see what I did there?) gives clearer purpose to the group, but it also provides something to resist against. An autonomous team is boring, but a team that has to walk a tightrope has dramatic potential. That was why Fury's cameo in episode two worked, it suggested consequences. It is also why Agent Blake last week was a good move, but didn't work as well. Blake and Coulson are too much on the same level. There wasn't the suggestion of rebellion that there was with Agent Hand (who is never explicitly said to be Coulson's superior, but golly it seemed that way).

Next week, the series does mop up on the latest blockbuster, and Marvel puts their great experiment to the test of the crossover.
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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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