Episode Title: "Eye Spy"
Writer: Jeffrey Bell
Director: Roxann Dawson
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is dependent upon the idea that audiences will tune in because they love the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they like Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). In turn, this assumes that we, the audience know all about Coulson and the burgeoning superhero world that he lives in.
"Eye Spy" challenges those assumptions in two ways. The first is Coulson himself, who may not have always been the friendly presence that we’ve come to expect. Actually, Akela Amadour (Pascale Armand) is so surprised that Coulson isn’t an asshole that she practically freaks out when asking “what have they done to Coulson?!”
Coulson’s personality hasn’t seemed so different from his appearances in Iron Man, Thor and The Avengers, but this is the first time that we’ve met someone who knows him well enough to spot the differences in his persona. Is the change in Coulson really that extreme? Or is Tahiti just “a magical place?”
The other assumption that gets shot down in this episode is the existence of telepathy and other powers normally associated with mutants. We’ve long known that the MCU can’t use mutants or characters directly associated with the X-Men films. But it seems like an odd choice to slam the door shut on that possibility in an episode that’s not even about that.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not impossible for the X-Men film franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to eventually crossover. It would require a closer working relationship between Marvel and Fox which doesn’t appear to be in the cards anytime soon. But studios tend to team up when it suits their purposes. For example, The Hobbit trilogy is being produced by Warner Bros./New Line and MGM. If Marvel and Fox thought that an Avengers vs. X-Men movie was in their best interests, it would happen in a heartbeat.
Getting back to the episode itself, “Eye Spy” showed signs of a series that is starting to come together. And along the way, we may have met the first truly credible threat that “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has produced.
There are full spoilers ahead for “Eye Spy,” so if you missed last night’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” then you should probably skip this review or else Grant is going to get some really uncomfortable orders.
The bulk of the episode revolves around the team trying to catch Akela Amadour (Pascale Armand), a former protégé of Coulson’s who has been presumed dead for years. The opening sequence very effectively introduced Akela as she staged a diamond robbery from men in strange red masks.
No one on Coulson’s team seems to understand why he cares so much about Akela that he refuses to believe that she turned against him or S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. Coulson’s belief is eventually vindicated, but not before Akela runs the van holding Leo Fitz (Ian De Caestecker), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Skye (Chloe Bennet) into a ditch.
Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) takes exception to this and confronts Akela in her hotel room for a terrific fight sequence. But even Melinda seems out of her depth against Akela until Coulson shows up and puts her down.
The rest of the episode becomes a heist story, as Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Skye attempt to fool Akela’s unseen handler into thinking that she is still trying to complete the mission while Simmons and Fitz try to remove Akela’s artificial eye and the fatal failsafe device within it. During Akela’s first conversation with Coulson, she expresses surprise that he isn’t holding her dilemma over her head. His explanation is simply “that’s not who I am any more.”
It requires some huge suspension of disbelief that Akela’s handler could be fooled into thinking that Grant was Akela just by keeping Grant from looking at himself or mirrors. For one thing, Grant is taller and he moves differently than Akela. Anyone who had been monitoring Akela for years should have spotted the differences between them immediately.
Regardless, Grant’s mission provided some really hilarious scenes as Akela’s handler ordered him to “seduce” a male guard; which was the one thing that Grant had no idea how to do. Grant’s attempts to “bromance” the guard were equally inept and humorous. Grant is actually a much better character when he’s the butt of a joke.
The reveal of Akela’s mission was another effective moment, as Grant accidentally completes her assignment just by looking at the strange equation that was written behind locked doors. Whoever set this up got exactly what they wanted... and Coulson’s team gave it to them. When Coulson takes it upon himself to confront Akela’s handler, he finds that the man is simply another victim of an organization that is several steps ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson himself.
That’s how you build up a villain. We don’t have a clear idea of who was pulling Akela’s strings, but they escaped without a trace. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” badly needed an adversary who can challenge the team and I think we may have gotten that here.
And yet Coulson’s team scores a victory by saving Akela’s life and by freeing her from years of forced servitude. Despite her reservations about Coulson’s apparent personality change, Akela sleeps soundly for the first time in a long time. Plus I hear that S.H.I.E.L.D. offers advancement for agents with one remaining eye. Don’t be shocked if we see Akela again.
The tag scene was a funny bit as Fitz tried to use the tech from Akela’s false eye to cheat on a card game with Grant, only to flee when he realized that his accomplice, Skye would see them both naked. And of course, Skye went ahead and used the device anyway just to check out Grant.
This was a fun and dramatic episode that showed the most potential for the series since the pilot episode. It almost always takes a few episodes for a series to find itself. At least “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” appears to be going in the right direction.