Once again this week, I’m going to talk about pacing. Tuesday’s episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us quite a few tidbits to salivate over and introduced a brand new villain, but it also again suffered from uneven pacing.
While Skye is moaning about her early morning heavy bag sessions with Ward, we discover that a mild-mannered scientist – and S.H.I.E.L.D. asset – has been kidnapped by an unknown entity that also happens to be invisible. Fitz and Simmons have a personal connection to the hapless scientist, Dr. Franklin Hall, but Coulson is concerned with the not only rescuing the good doctor, but securing the tech that made his kidnapping possible. It’s obviously big and dangerous and therefore of great interest to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Skye proves herself to be more useful with a smartphone than a punching bag and wrangles an invite to an exclusive party at the home of the supposed kidnapper, an anti-government type played perfectly by David Conrad. He’s equal parts smarmy, charming and despicable, just the kind of bad guy you want. Despite massive reservations from both Ward and May, Coulson sends Skye in alone in an effort to avoid an international incident – since Skye isn’t an agent, she technically won’t be breaking any laws.
It’s a gamble of course, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d see them trust her so readily so early in the season. But she not only manages to get some information out of the host, Ian Quinn, but also snags a job offer from him too. He’s preparing to build his own stand-alone nation with no oversight and a hacker with Skye’s abilities would be quite useful.
We’re led to believe, for maybe half an act, that Skye might actually be considering his offer. To be fair, she plays the duplicity well, dropping her ear bud into a glass of champagne and admitting to Quinn that S.H.I.E.L.D. is in fact listening. However, Quinn easily sees through the ruse and soon, she’s got a gun pointed at her head.
Meanwhile Coulson and Ward are attempting to free Hall from his underground bunker, while May, Fitz and Simmons monitor from The Bus. May is determined not to go back into the field, but her agitation at being away from the action is palpable. It’s pretty easy to read that by the end of the episode she’ll be ready to gear up for the next action the team sees.
Upon finding Hall, Coulson is presented with a rather inconvenient setback – Hall doesn’t want to leave. He wants to detonate the device Quinn has created, one that messes with the law of gravity, to prevent it from being discovered. Of course, following through with this noble gesture would also level Quinn’s compound, taking out Skye, Ward, Coulson and probably half of the island it’s on.
Coulson’s solution is first to reason with Hall, which it’s fairly obvious isn’t going to work, and then it’s to fight him. The fact that Hall can hold his own is fairly telling, considering that by the end of the episode, in order to shut down the device and save them all, Coulson makes the choice to send Hall flailing into the swirling vortex. More on that in a minute.
Skye manages to disarm Quinn, but doesn’t want to pull the trigger, so she runs, before being cornered by Quinn’s goons and then saved by Agent Ward. It will be interesting to see how self-sufficient Skye becomes, especially considering her affirmation at the end of the show.
Once back on board The Bus, Coulson orders that the gravity-defying device be stored so deep inside S.H.I.E.L.D. no one will ever find it. Which would be all well and good if the last shot of the show wasn’t an image of a very human hand attempting to free itself from the machine’s gravitationally challenged core. Methinks Dr. Hall will be back to fight another day.
The best thing about this week’s episode was its character work. Ward and Skye both revealed small glimpses into their pasts and showed us a bit why they are the way they are. Ward was beaten to a pulp on a regular basis by a vindictive older brother so he turned to training and self-defense. Skye was raised in an orphanage, bounced in and out of foster homes and has no family. However, by the end of the episode she decides that she “wants this,” being an agent, being part of a team, the whole shebang. Now, I doubt that means she’s going to disavow her allegiance to The Rising Tide, but for now she seems fairly committed to S.H.I.E.L.D.
The other through line of the episode revolved around Coulson and what I guess is going to lead to an explanation of how he miraculously came back to life after being run through by Loki’s staff. In an early fight scene with Ward, he attempts to empty the chamber of a gun and can’t manage it. He makes an offhanded remark that it used to be easy to do. Later in the episode, he attempts the same maneuver and makes a comment about muscle memory. My guess is the Coulson we know now is in some way fundamentally different from the Coulson of The Avengers – I’m not sure if that means clone or regeneration or what. Whatever it means, the current Coulson no longer possesses the muscle memory of the former, and I can only think of a few ways that would be possible.
But back to pacing. Once again the episode had moments of story interspersed with action, but I felt they all came at the wrong time. Just when they settled into a character-driven scene they would jump out of it in favor of action. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be action, but I get the feeling that the writers (or the network) is too nervous to really dig into the character stuff. It’s almost as if they’re waiting with a stopwatch and after a minute or two they yell, “Well, that’s enough of that. Don’t want the audience to get bored!”
That’s just the thing, we won’t be. Character development is not boring, at least not if you do it right. I am hoping that soon we might get some origin story episodes for each of the members of the team, especially Fitz and Simmons who are not cut out for fieldwork and yet chose to go into the field. A friend of mine mentioned how great an “Out of Gas” type episode would be – something that could illustrate how each of these people ended up where they are. While Firefly could wait until it was nine or ten episodes in, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could probably use one sooner rather than later.
I still believe the show has potential and I’m willing to stick around and see what happens. But I really hope the writers, producers and the all-mighty network take a moment to consider how important speed is to the life of the show. A series is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s certainly not a weekly wind sprint we have to get through. It should be a nice jog, with occasional detours, obstacles and a bathroom break or two. I mean sure, every once a while we might need to pick up the pace to outrun a cheetah, but in the end, we should be moving along at a speed that allows us to enjoy the scenery. And really appreciate the world we’re inhabiting.