Ladies and gentlemen: We have a show!
A legitimately entertaining piece of entertainment!
40+ minutes that mostly worked more than it didn't!
Even the Science Twits, Dipshitsimmons, weren't entirely grating and horrible!
Reminder: If you're reading this, you either a) watched the episode already or b) don't care about spoilers. Because there's gonna be spoilers. So, if you're ready, close your eyes, and follow the backscatter over the jump.
This week, SHIELD (hopefully) got in the habit of showing, not telling. One of the biggest strikes against the show is that writers Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen seem a little hesitant to give the audience any credit for being able to reliably fire synapses. Maybe it's not their call; maybe there's people in suits looking over their shoulder, telling them things they know to be false, things like:
"Even though people watching have likely swallowed down about five movies worth of intertwined, almost decade-long cinematic continuity that's grossed billions worldwide—"
"—You should imagine that your audience is stacked with total morons at all times."
"Yeah, so make your characters say what they are, then say what they're going to do—"
"—then have them do it, and then have them repeat what it is you just watched them say and do—"
"And then make sure to remind them the older man was in The Avengers."
"Every five minutes."
"If you could."
Luckily, if that was the advice being drummed into the writers' heads, Eye Spy's credited writer, Jeffrey Bell, was ignoring it from the cold open, which was easily the most interesting/intriguing set-piece seen on the show so far: What's up with this weird Anonymous ripoff? Are they our bad guys? Is this woman our good guy? Bear McCreary's playing the sinister music, so maybe she's the bad guy. Does she have superpowers? She keeps closing her - holy shit Michonne just fucked up 4 Chan all by herself and disappeared with some diamonds BAM, TITLE CARD. No hand-holding. In fact, hands got chopped right off.
And what's this? The characters are allowed to just be their characters? Nice. We get to learn who they are and how they think by watching how they react to situations, not standing flatfooted, delivering too-clever-by-half monologues like pretty golems vomiting the rolled up script pages previously tucked into their chiseled faces.
I mean, it's not like Eye Spy was some crackerjack mystery pulled off with exacting precision. But there's something to be said for basic formula, executed competently. This episode felt a little riskier than the others, too. Coulson created a supervillain last week, Now he thinks he's cleaning up a different one's mess. And when that ex-agent, Akela Amadour(Pascale Armand) keeps getting over on the team, the stakes for our characters are raised in a way that exploding Angel alumni and angry ex-girlfriends never managed.
Eye Spy still has missteps - the scene where Coulson reunites with Amadour felt like five loooong minutes of spoon-fed, calorie-free bullshit. And while Fitz/Simmons almost managed to be legitimate characters instead of tinfoil-on-fillings personified, they waste a couple minutes in a van coughing up mindless syllables like October phlegm. To be fair, their surgery scene was fun (icky-squicky eyeball-filled fun), but they absolutely didn't need to cut into Amadour's skull to remove that bomb. They could have started arguing over eastern Europe again and Amadour's eye would have just rolled out of her poor head like mine almost did.
The joke of their name isn't a strong enough reason to keep both of them around. One of them is completely superfluous, and while lots of people make lazy predictions about the show based on Joss Whedon's filmography - I hope enough of his storytelling DNA is embedded in the show to ensure either Fitz or Simmons (don't care which) catches a fuckin tree trunk with their heart.
That aside, SHIELD really clicked this week. Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) has stopped simply throwing shade Coulson's way, and is actively defying his smug ass. Tension! Conflict! Yes! Agent Ward as Clark Kent on his infiltration mission with Skye backseat driving evoked equal parts Mission: Impossible and GoldenEye. Specifically, I'm referring to their video game adaptations, but even so: Solid fun. They copped out a little with the "Seduce Him" solution, but where other shows would have devolved into screaming gay panic at the notion of Clark Kent hitting on Zangief, Bell's script came up with a solution that not only sidestepped it neatly, but built tension throughout.
I think SHIELD is finally onto something. It's stopped trying to be clever and is just being clever more often than not, and that's refreshing as hell. Now lets hope the thudding mediocrity of the first two episodes didn't scare off a couple million people permanently, because if last night is indicative of the remaining shows, we might be in for another 18 episodes of decent superspy action every week. And maybe even a recurring bad guy or two.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!