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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Chitty-Chat Club!

Posted by Bobby Roberts on Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Fitz.jpg

Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mardukas. Axel Foley and Judge Reinhold. Dare we add to that list SHIELD Agents Ward and Fitz? Skye and Simmons?

No. Of course we don't. But the attempt wasn't altogether unsuccessful, either. Reminder: if you're reading this, you either a) have already watched the episode, or b) don't care about spoilers. Because there's going to be spoilers.

After the jump, we learn just how much we can "Trust the system."

The team dynamic from the previous episode is strengthened even further in The Hub, and the characters are actually edging towards a second dimension, with two of them pretty close to acquiring a third. One of them, Coulson, isn't too surprising (he's ostensibly the lead, he should be somewhat faceted), but the fact Fitz, the male half of the Science Twins, is the other? Kinda blowing my mind.

SHIELD, loudly and often, fronts at subverting expectation, but works best when executing basic formula. The Hub is all about basic formula. Coulson's superior, Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), selects Ward and Fitz for a secret mission to disarm "The Overkill," a ray gun that disables weapons. SHIELD can't just storm the compound, because the bad guys will turn it on and then SHIELD plays a game called "Hold your dick and catch these bullets." So Coulson allows her to "Hand"-pick (eh? EH?) 2/5ths of his team to sneak across the border, deactivate the doohickey, and trust the system to get them out of there.

Much less successful is the b-plot with Skye (this is a thing I could say about any of the preceding episodes) wherein Coulson asks her to trust the system. Being she's an information thief who wears a magnetic dog collar on her wrist because she's the single most untrustworthy person on a show that's featured Nick Fury, she declines to do so, and maddeningly, her shitty behavior is somewhat rewarded by the end of the show.

Skye corrupts both Simmons and to a lesser extent, Coulson himself. Simmons' corruption leads to what's supposed to be an awkward/funny moment where she has to seduce a SHIELD superior in a situation that plays like the stupidest game of Metal Gear Solid you ever saw.

As most of the first half of the episode casts Skye in a bad light for sticking to her old habits, the back half of the episode absolutely says she's right to distrust SHIELD. SHIELD won't tell Coulson what he needs to know about his resurrection, as he and May won't tell Skye what she needs to know about her birth, and nobody told Ward and Fitz shit, stranding them in a foreign country with no way out.

When the episode sticks with those two, highlighting a Fitz who is not just competent, but surprisingly adept at this field-work thing, that's when the formula is applied just right, and the result is quality television. Ward is a phenomenal prick, but it's almost satisfying to watch him murder a sandwich in cold blood. He's more Coulson than Coulson, really. It's just too bad that Brett Dalton has none of Clark Gregg's charm or charisma. But when asked to beat the fuck out of a room of henchmen, he handles himself pretty well.

Thankfully, it looks like the show isn't all that interested in dragging out these mysteries too long without providing more morsels of information to go along with them. It still is doing this maddening thing where it assumes its audience won't be able to hang with a strong arc (or two) and a more serialized form of storytelling, but spends about 2-3 combined minutes per show referencing movies you might not have watched or comics you definitely didn't read. But at least a nascent overall theme is emerging.

That the theme seems to be "SHIELD is a bunch of assholes" (also appears to be the theme of the Captain America sequel) is pretty interesting. Hopefully they follow this through to its logical conclusion, because a rogue team operating without approval or any real authority in a world full of superheroes could provide way more potential entertainment than this weird half-assed fence-straddling that's been going on up til now.

I just realized I basically described the setup to NEXTWAVE, a 12-issue miniseries by Warren Ellis that is one of the best superhero comics of the last 20 years. This show could never manage that level of sheer entertainment. But it'd be nice if it aimed in that general direction.

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