Episode Title: "Pilot"
Writers: Joss Whedon & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
Director: Joss Whedon
I caught the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” pilot at Comic-Con, but after sitting through some really tedious new shows it was refreshing to see this again. This is what it looks like when a pilot works.
If you’re coming into “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” expecting this to be just like The Avengers then you’re going to be disappointed. We haven’t gotten to the point where the networks can easily do a superhero live action series on a TV budget. Did you ever notice that the superhero fights on “Smallville” were almost always truncated? That’s why.
The last few times that the major networks have tried to produce a comic book inspired series brought us “Heroes,” “The Cape” and “No Ordinary Family.” All of those series had to make up their mythology on the fly and frankly, they just weren’t very good shows. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has the advantage of its ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe which gave us The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and even Thor on the big screen. Those heroes are only glimpsed briefly in the opening moments, but there are references to them scattered throughout the episode. And I got a good laugh when Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) referred to Thor’s arms as proof of his Godhood.
However, Joss Whedon and company have put the focus on some very human characters with some very specialized skills. Aside from the returning Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the entire core cast of characters are so good in their respective fields that they might as well have superpowers. But against the real deal, they’re still overmatched. And that was probably the point;
There are full spoilers ahead for the first episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” so if you missed the premiere then you should probably skip this review or else Grant will share more true confessions.
The tone of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” seems to nicely match up with the Marvel feature films. It can be funny, but it’s not a farce. On most shows, Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) wouldn’t be highly competent and the butt of the joke as he was during the interrogation scene. If Coulson had drugged Skye (Chloe Bennet) for information, she never would have trusted him. But drugging Grant in her place and allowing Skye to interrogate him was a clever way to win her over. Although Grant should (and he probably is) holding a grudge over that one.
Grant and Skye are largely our POV characters so far, as both get pulled into Coulson’s orbit through different ways. Grant is the first recruit of Coulson’s new team (although not by Grant’s choice) while Skye is a reluctant ally once she realizes that Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. are actually trying to help the mysteriously empowered Mike Peterson (J. August Richards).
Despite his superpowers, Mike also puts a very human face on the series as he rails against living in a world where the giants (aka the superheroes) are so far above the rest of us. Even Mike’s kid idolizes the “Heroes of New York” while Mike can’t even beg for his old factory job back. Mike was getting crushed by the world before he received powers and his life only gets worse as his powers eat away at his sanity. Tying Mike’s abilities into Iron Man 3 was a stroke of genius. Those small touches make the show even more enjoyable.
For those of you who don’t read comics, you may not realize that aside from Coulson and Hill, all of the characters on Coulson’s team were created for this show. It’s probably for the best, as I can’t see anyone being that interested in seeing the further adventures of Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain on TV. Although I do think that the Contessa is overdue for another appearance in live action.
Of the new characters, Skye seems to have the most personality. Grant has his moments as well, particularly during his mission in Paris to retrieve some alien tech. The non-reaction of the French woman to Grant’s break-in was hilarious. Similarly, Coulson’s mockery of Grant’s people skills and Grant’s interrogation also mined him for some good comedy.
Agents Leo Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) were unexpectedly charming. I didn’t have high hopes for them coming into the episode, but they managed to not be annoying and they even had few funny moments on the way. Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) was all business and ass-kicking. She needs more time to develop, but I’m interested in learning about her backstory and why she was so willing to bury herself in desk work rather than return to the field.
The challenge for Gregg is to transition Coulson from a supporting character in the films into a leading character on TV. So far, he’s doing very well. It’s Coulson’s persona that really makes the show click. His funny moments hit their mark and Coulson can be serious when the scene calls for it. Incidentally, Coulson’s flying car is straight out of the old S.H.I.E.L.D. comics; which was another nice touch.
Whether Coulson died or not, his experience in The Avengers seems to have made him more committed to saving people and he refuses to let Grant simply execute Mike just because it would be easier. Coulson even puts himself on the line to get Mike to stand down as his sanity slips away. Time will tell if Coulson is really leading man material, but he is a legitimate hero.
The mystery of Coulson’s resurrection is lightly touched upon, but he doesn’t appear to be an LMD (Life Model Decoy); which was the popular theory going into this episode. From Hill’s reaction, I’m assuming that Coulson’s resurrection had a terrible price that may eventually come due. That could be an intriguing mystery if it isn’t dragged out too long.
On the whole, I’m very happy with this episode. Now comes the hard part, as the creative team has to live up to this standard for the remaining 21 episodes of the season. That’s not going to be easy, but I’m definitely coming along for this ride.