There were a few very promising things about this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, better pacing being one of them. Additionally, the look and tone of the show took a slightly darker turn that also bodes well for what many viewers hope this show will be (namely, a “Joss Whedon” show). The fact that it was written by producer, Jeffrey Bell, the man who ushered Angel through five seasons on the now-defunct WB and wrote that show’s finale, seems to have been a shot in the arm for this big show still trying to find its path.
The episode began eerily, with a troupe of red-masked men marching through a crowded Swedish square. This opening scene immediately set the stage for something different. Soon, we realize these men all with identical briefcases attached to their wrists, are being followed by a single woman who has a propensity for closing her eyes. She follows them into the subway, takes out the lights in the car and when the train stops next all that’s left is a bunch of dead red-faced men, and one missing his hand and his briefcase. Next, we see the woman perched on scaffolding in the subway tunnel, opening the briefcase and removing a clear box with a good handful of diamonds. Then she disappears.
Cut to a little banter between May and Coulson in The Bus’ cockpit. This relationship could turn out to be one of the show’s most interesting and I hope the writers will allow it to grow. Even though May reports to Coulson, in many ways, namely maturity, May is the closest thing he has to a peer. Coulson takes May and Skye to investigate the subway crime scene and through Skye’s use of social media, they find Instagram evidence of the entire happening. This leads them to the woman we met before, Akela Amador, and the realization that she is one of Coulson’s former trainees and therefore, he is taking this mission very personally.
Showing this side of Coulson humanizes him and that’s huge for where the show is heading. We need to see more of Coulson, especially the man and agent he was before we first met him in Iron Man. Even though all signs indicate the man he is now (post-death) is very different from the man he was then, it’s still important for us, the audience, to have context. It also gives him depth, making him seem less like a caricature of an uptight federal agent and more like someone we could root for.
Hunting down Akela and bringing her back to The Bus reveals her big secret: because she didn’t trust her team back when she was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she was captured and held prisoner for a few years, after which a shadowy, faceless organization replaced one of her eyes with an implant that they now control her through. It was their orders she was acting on in the subway, and they can see everything she does. Luckily, Skye’s hacking abilities have bought the team a little time and through rigged glasses that Agent Ward is wearing, Akela is momentarily free from the constant surveillance.
It’s up to Fitz and Simmons to make her forever free of their control. Through a great scene, that further cements my love for Fitz-Simmons and all things nerdy, the eye is removed and destroyed. With Ward acting as Akela, he infiltrates a research facility and views a wall full of odd equations, which is apparently all Akela’s handlers were after. Coulson tracks down her handler, but before he can even answer any questions, the kill chip in his own ocular implant is activated and the man drops dead at Coulson’s feet.
Akela is to be taken back to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to stand trial and as she makes her way to the convoy she asks May what happened to Coulson. When May explains that he almost died, Akela presses the point: “But what did they do to him?” At May’s puzzled expression, Akela backs off, but its obvious that Melinda’s curiosity has been piqued.
It appears that what exactly happened to Coulson in Tahiti (it’s a magical place) will play a significant role in the arc of this first season, and rightfully so. Additionally, it appears the writers are setting up an even bigger “bad,” perhaps the people controlling Akela, to introduce as well. Lastly, Coulson’s reliance on Skye’s hacking abilities and her association with The Rising Tide, which has been set up since episode one, appear to be in the hot seat next week. Something tells me that it won’t be the last we hear of it – my guess is that Skye’s loyalties will be questioned all season.
Not only did Eye-Spy give us a broader idea of the story and the world our agents operate in, it also moved better. If you’ve read my previous reviews, you know my main pet peeve has been pacing. I felt that this week’s episode flowed more smoothly, keeping the action well balanced with character moments and reveals. As previously stated, we also got to see a well-rounded image of Coulson that is tantamount to the show’s success.
One thing I feel S.H.I.E.L.D. has missed consistently this season is casting of its guest stars. While I hate to disparage any actors, Pascale Armand’s Akela was wooden and unsympathetic. Her dialogue was a lot of exposition, it’s true, but her delivery could have been so much better. I was thoroughly unimpressed with her and that’s a shame because the episode could have been enhanced with a nuanced performance.
Now that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been picked up for a full season order of 22 episodes, it will be interesting to see how stories and arcs build from this point forward. The freedom and security of knowing you have the time to really develop your characters has got to be terrific for the whole team. With this week’s episode, I have faith that they’ll make something awesome out of this season. I really think they’re already on their way.