[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 13, "T.R.A.C.K.S."

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions
Often times, especially with shows that have heavy serialised components, the show is better afterwards, when watched all in one go. ABC is doing the exact opposite of that with SHIELD. The flaws of the series would be less noticeable if we didn't have so long between episodes to matriculate on them. I want to feel something other than resigned acceptance towards this series,especially off the end of a stronger episode, which this was. But if the inconsistent quality of the individual episodes aren't doing their own part to drive viewers away, ABC isn't doing the show any favours with this uneven broadcast schedule.

After several weeks off for the holidays, they came back for two episodes, than took another two weeks off before giving us T.R.A.C.K.S. Now, the show departs for another month, before new episodes and some Asgardian action return. It's no wonder viewers are leaving, they're having problems knowing when to watch. Which is a shame, because when the show is good, it really is worth watching. And T.R.A.C.K.S. ended up being one of the show's better outings, even if the orange groves of California looked nothing like the Italian countryside.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that really dig the fact that Stan Lee had a woman on both arms.

I really liked that this episode tried something different. Playing with the narrative structure is an easy way to make an increasingly uninterested audience pay attention, if it works. Happily, this did, and in a way that you can really only pull off on conventional network television, by having the commercial breaks manage the narrative swaps. The episode was a straight forward heist plot, with SHIELD infiltrating a train which has a thing on it. The team splits into groups, and the first half of the episode each play out from the different group perspectives, leading to natural cliffhangers, and fill in the gap style leapfrog story telling. It also gave each character pairing a chance to build on their established history, and strengths.Ward and Coulson, for instance, held up the comedic end of things this episode, and both of those actors have proven themselves capable in those fields in the past (and they managed to pull off the rare "two straight men").

This episode had a lot going for it. The set up was quick and clean, and got everyone into place. The incremental building of the tension of the episode was well developed, let things play through and the explanations held together. The best story element, to my mind, was the disappearing train, which for two segments seemed to become the focus and the episode's weirdness allotment. Until it was revealed that there was a reasonable explanation for that. And by breaking the characters into groups, it let them explore the better parts of their characters without resorting to melodrama. The May scene was probably the best of the bunch, being equal parts genuinely frightening, and demonstrative of just how messed up May really is, while still being able to function as a member of the team.

The back half of the episode, once Mike Peterson was let out of his tube, resorted to a conventional structure, without belaying any of the progress made in storytelling. Mike's new identity as a Centipede goon wasn't over elaborated, in fact barely a word was said on the matter. The show let his actions tell the story of his transformation (which will conclude with him becoming Deathlok, as the final scene revealed and had been spoiled by the producers weeks ago). Skye became the focus of this back half, once again charging in against good sense, and this time it nearly killed her. I say nearly, because I'm going to presume that they'll find a way to bring her back, or her mystery origin will somehow lead to her revival. And it was in this that I was most disappointed in the episode. The writers had a chance (not even their first, mind you) to accomplish multiple tasks with a single event.

First, they could have gotten rid of the only character that remains uninteresting, despite their efforts to lump mystery upon mystery on her. Even Ward has grown into someone who is worth having around from time to time. Skye is just... boring. The writers also could have proven to the audience that they are willing to make big decisions, big changes for the benefit of the series. Skye dying would have emotional repercussions for all of the characters, and play into several of the character arcs that they've already established (Coulson's faltering faith in the system, Ward's issues with his own leadership, FitzSimmons' anxiety over everything). By not killing her, they drag out an inevitable recovery, and limit the chances of those arcs developing significantly. And, because quos must remains status, the fall out from a near death event won't linger nearly as long as an actual death.

Not killing Skye aside, the scene where she was shot, the subsequent dragging herself helplessly to the door, and her discovery were all incredibly well done. I genuinely wasn't expecting her to get shot, let alone twice, so that was a nice up-ending of expectation. I like that they took her to the verge of demise, rather than have her swept off to safety immediately. And Clark Gregg played the scene wonderfully. I still maintain that a Skye-less SHIELD would be a better SHIELD, but at least they took the opportunity to be better than they have been. Which I guess is all we can hope for, week to week.
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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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