[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 16, "End of the Beginning"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions
A new episode of SHIELD, you say? And a good one to boot? What trickery is this? Where is the irregularly scheduled, poorly written show we've come to expect these long, intermittent months? You must be cautious, writers and producers of this mostly disappointing show, you'll be giving us hope once again. Of course, with six episodes left (and all scheduled to air in concurrent weeks!), there is ample opportunity for them to snatch that hope back from the precipice of our lips. But for one evening anyway, they gave us 40 minutes of television that was engaging, and actually made you want to watch more. In fact, I very much want to see what happens next week, completely separate from the fact that The Winter Soldier opens this weekend. 

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that assume they are at least Level 2 material.

Actually, before we begin, can I mention how pointless and arbitrary those damned security levels seem to be. So Skye is a Level 1, Coulson a level 7. Can someone explain to me what the difference is between them? Besides apparently being allowed in the big screen room at HQ? Which Simmons, a Level 5, apparently was allowed into for the sake of a dramatic moment? Seriously, what do the security levels allow access to? Because Coulson and the SHIELD brass seem fairly content on sharing any and all information with everyone on the team, no matter their clearance level. It seems like one of those concepts that allows the writers to throw around something that sounds like an accomplishment, but only actually use as a plot contrivance when it will pad out an episode for an extra five minutes. In fact, that's exactly what they are.

So, this was a good episode. The little things that are wrong with the show were still wrong here, but the bigger, episode specific things were very well constructed. And it all started with a pow-wow of the top SHIELD brass (read: established characters not played by Samuel L. Jackson). Sitwell, Hand, Blake, Garrett and their various lackeys all show up. Each of these actors is able to make better use of the stilted dialogue than the main cast, and each of these characters is more interesting and engaging than the main cast. Makes you wonder if the show shouldn't be more about the day-to-day operations of SHIELD rather than a small team of misfits. The writers really can't do themselves any favours at this point. By writing these sorts of episodes, they are showing us what the show could be, and should have been, all the while reminding us of what it actually is. It's not to say it was smooth sailing. Bill Paxton (who continues to be fantastic) gets some absolutely terrible lines during his one-on-one with Skye, and is still more engaging than... oh, lets say Ward.

The hunt for the Clairvoyant came to a head, as SHIELD actually got their act together and investigated it like an intelligence agency. Garrett, as it turns out, put boots on the ground, and whittled the lists of suspects down to 13. Skye put together a decent plan of divide and conquer, to try and ferret the mastermind out. All the while, Deathlok hunts them down. A word on Deathlok's costume: it looks like something you'd buy at a discount store on October 30th. It was most effective in the dark, at a distance, when the lights could hint at things. But as soon as details were filled in, it looked like someone spray painted some Tupperware and super-glued it to a turtleneck as a last minute cosplay option. Much better was the scatterback shot of his cybernetic implants, which resulted in him looking exactly like the comics Deathlok. I'm not demanding a visually perfect adaption. I'm saying one look was a vastly better than the other.

The big reveal this episode was the identity of the Clairvoyant, played by Brad Dourif. Now, when you hire someone like Brad Dourif, who can play a villain better than anyone, who has a style and a voice that exudes malevolence, maybe don't hire him to sit perfectly still in a chair, corrupt his voice with a synthetic special effect, and kill him after five minutes of screen time. I get they wanted the shock value, and it worked. I was not expecting Ward to plug him in the chest. As soon as he did, it was obvious that he was a decoy, but it was an effective moment, for a moment. And I understand the desire to hire a name, to allow the audience to heap assumptions upon the role, thus increasing the shock value. But I question the logic in wasting Brad Dourif.

The ultimate reveal is the suggestion that Hand is the Clairvoyant, coupled with the revelation that the call is coming from inside the house. I had assumed that the explanation would be something along these lines, that they would eliminate the supernatural option in favour of some kind of betrayal. Hand's betrayal will no doubt tie into the rogue elements within SHIELD, as will be the focus of the Winter Solider. And that will cause problems for Coulson and team next week, no doubt. More than that, it's in keeping with Hand's comic origins, as someone who was 100% loyal to the mission of SHIELD, but 100% against Fury. We've seen the former in Hand's prior appearances on the show. The problem is, we haven't seen even a hint of the latter. Unless the reveal was misdirection, and next week it's revealed that Hand is being manipulated just as much as Coulson and his team, there has been no build up from her towards treachery. She has presented as the strictest of the hardliners.

In fact, the only one on the show who has shown any sign of descent in the SHIELD ranks has been Coulson (in the form of blustering, not actually subversive action). And from the audience's perspective, the most emotionally effective choice for the Big Bad would probably be Sitwell, just because we've known him the longest (and he always seems slightly annoyed at Coulson). So, I'm putting my chips in the pot: Sitwell is the Clairvoyant. Let's see how wrong I am.

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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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