Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Episode 2 – “0-8-4”
Now that the pilot is out of the way, S.H.I.E.L.D. got down to the very important business of saving the world in its second episode. Called in to investigate an “0-8-4,” which is apparently the code name for anything that cannot be identified, Agent Coulson and his merry band find themselves in Peru looking at an ancient (read: 1500 years old) device wedged in the rock face of a temple. After fighting off a rebel incursion and allying with members of the Peruvian military led by a beautiful commandant that Coulson has a history with, Fitz, Simmons et al. bring the Tesseract-powered device back to The Bus and reveal that it’s highly unstable because it runs on gamma radiation. (Yes, the same stuff that turns Bruce Banner green.)
While successfully fighting off a mid-flight coup attempt by the soldiers they are harboring on board, our group of newly minted field agents, including Skye who has been invited along for the ride, discover the power of teamwork. Oh, and Coulson gets beat up a bit. And Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) kicks some major ass.
That overview may sound trite, but in reality the episode was well-structured and gave our five agents a common enemy to fight and defeat while still keeping the stakes exceedingly high. It also shed a little light on why Coulson so strongly believes that this hand-picked team of seeming outcasts is actually a winning combination.
My issue with this episode had to do with pacing. While I think it’s great that we jumped into a mission and that we effectively saw the entire episode through Skye’s eyes and her first day on the job, there was something off about the revelations in this episode. Ward’s reveal that May’s nickname is The Calvary (a nickname she despises), wasn’t well-timed, kind of thrown in to get the exposition out, but the better example of May’s abilities was the beat down she subsequently handed to a couple of the Peruvian military’s finest. Also, probably the best line of the night happened in an exchange between her and Ward:
Ward: Where’s your sidearm?
May: If I need one, I’ll take one.
Now, if we could all just ruminate on how bad-ass that sounds for a minute … but the line got stomped by the need for Ward to explain why May would believe she could just take a weapon. And then they showed her doing just that not two minutes later.
At these moments, I am often reminded of an adage I learned from a screenwriting teacher that is near and dear to my heart: come in late, leave early; meaning enter the scene as the latest possible moment and leave it as soon as you can. In the case of the May/Ward expo, we could easily have come in on the line above, had the scuffle in which May kicked their butts and took not one, but two guns, had Ward deliver an off-handed comment about her being nicknamed the “Calvary” and then left the scene. It would have been tighter and far more satisfying.
My only other issue is the way Agent Coulson is written. Similar to his lines in the movies, his dialogue appears to be better suited for the brief, comic relief moments he provided in this other action-packed films than an ongoing, fully realized character in charge of a highly specialized team of agents. Remember, The Avengers was Fury’s team, not Coulson’s; he was just the guy bringing everyone together.
In order for Agent Coulson to remain near and dear to our hearts, and act as a viable addition to S.H.I.E.L.D., he needs to be a bit more accessible. While it’s awesome that he totally fan-boys on Captain America in The Avengers, that type of stilted dialogue doesn’t work for a character we need to care about. If Coulson were more of a recurring character, coming in at different moments throughout the show to offer support or information, he could maintain this standoffish demeanor, but since he is a fully realized member of the team, I believe he needs more heart and more interaction with his team. And his dialogue needs to reflect that as well.
The easter egg moment at the end of the episode with Fury reprimanding Coulson for ruining The Bus was great as it’s nice to see Samuel L. Jackson slumming it on TV. However, I personally feel that if they’re going to get these larger names to do guest stints, even for a page or two of dialogue, they should really mine that time for important information. Fury simply reiterated information about Skye (that she’s dangerous) that basically everyone else in the episode had already said. I don’t need Fury to reaffirm that, I actually believe that Coulson is more than aware of the stakes of bringing an anti-establishment hacker into the fold. What I need Fury to do is offer some other proof or even a cryptic remark that further elucidates why Skye should be there – or offer the very real threat of what will happen to Coulson and the team if his plan backfires.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a great action-packed show with high production values. What remains to be seen is if it will be the type of character-driven, mythology-laden story we’re used to from Joss Whedon. Hopefully, as the show continues to build its world, we’ll see more glimpses of beautifully intricate Marvel mythos that many comic book fans love. And we’ll see more of Agent Coulson than just one-liners.