“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Recap: 0-8-4

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The second episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t only see a 30% drop in viewership, it saw a 30% drop in quality. That’s not to say that 0-8-4 was a bad episode of television, only that the heights reached by the pilot left me expecting more. But in an episode about a sloppy lesson in team building, one might hope that this was a team building exercise for the writers, one that will allow for better execution down the road.

Episode two takes the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to a Peruvian jungle archeology site where they investigate a 0-8-4 (code for an object of unknown origin). This is the first mission incorporating the newest member of the team, computer hacker Skye, and only the second mission for the rest of this very green crew. Tough guy Agent Ward (who has as much trouble differentiating Agent Fitz from Agent Simmons as I do) is pretty upset that he has to babysit a bunch of untrained field agents and he makes it known time and again that he’d prefer to work alone.

 Judging by the first act, I can understand Agent Ward’s frustration. Chloe Bennet is likeable in her role, but it is still unclear why Skye is even part of the team. Even she doesn’t really know why she’s tagging along. Agent Coulson tells Skye she is there to use social media to throw off the public when they catch wind of a supernatural development, and I can’t tell if he’s trying to appease her or appease me. Perhaps she’s the only S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with a Twitter account?

The show may eventually reveal Coulson’s real reasons for inviting Skye along but for now we can only assume she is there to be a somewhat faulty moral compass, espousing on random socio-political agendas (in this case, the plight of the Peruvian miner) whenever she has the chance. Nothing against Peruvian miners, but unless S.H.I.E.L.D. plans on giving these issues the time they deserve, bringing them up feels forced. On the other hand, it did get me to Google “Peruvian miners” and therefore learn a little bit about the recent illegal miner’s protests.

The object of unknown origin in this episode turns out to be filled with gamma radiation, a potential weapon much more powerful than an atomic bomb. Before Fitz and Simmons can finish analyzing the object, the team is ambushed by Peru’s National Police, led by Commandante Camilla Reyes (Leonor Varela). We quickly realize Camilla is an old flame of Coulson and the two decide to call a truce long enough to be attacked by rebels, kicking off the first of this episode’s action set pieces. As it is with most comic book films, the death of a bunch of faceless rebels and Peruvian police is treated with zero reverence. Meanwhile the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents magically dodge bullet fire and make it back to their jet (dubbed “The Bus”) with the object and only minor injury, rescuing Camilla and a half dozen of her men in the process.

The second half of the pilot takes full advantage of the show’s primary standing set as the National Police pull the old Trojan horse move, commandeering The Bus and tying up the crew. However, the Peruvian Police Academy apparently doesn’t teach the fine art of knot-tying. Coulson unties himself and so does Agent May, the latter by dislocating her wrist. The gang now sets aside their differences, putting their heads together to come up with a plan that involves blowing a hole in the side of their jet, overriding the locking mechanism of the cargo bay they are trapped in. Skye finally proves herself useful by inflating a life raft that plugs the hole in the side of the jet. This crafty maneuver gets the attention of Agent Ward who suddenly sees Skye as an asset and potentially as a love interest.

This final action sequence is a lot of fun and we finally get to see something slightly less catatonic from Agent May. Ming Na-Wen has a lot to offer but when an actor is asked to “play tough” they are often given no room to be dynamic. Toughness doesn’t need to be the dominating character trait. She can be tough and witty, or sensitive, or anything else for that matter, but if she’s just playing tough then she’ll wind up boring. Having two humorless tough guys is redundant Agent May needs to quickly evolve.

0-8-4 is peppered with the humor we’d expect from a Whedon vehicle. At one point Camilla accuses Coulson of having a mid-life crisis and Coulson responds that he’s having an “after-life” crisis, a clever line that also reminds us of the ongoing mystery surrounding Coulson’s reanimation.[1] The best scene of the show is actually the very funny 60-second tag where Samuel L. Jackson shows up to reprimand Coulson for blowing a hole in the side of his jet. However, Agent Coulson (and this TV series) can’t rely on movie stars to show up each week to save the day.

The excitement of the high stakes pilot is over and the show is falling into its procedural routine. The cinematic scope has dwindled and, with the contained set pieces and simple storyline, it is clear that we are now watching a TV show. If the supporting characters rise to the occasion and develop their own distinct voice and purpose, then it is a TV show that I will continue to enjoy watching.

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[1] The joke is appreciated, though I wonder how long the writers plan to draw attention to the fact that this character is supposed to be dead. Comic book fans are accustomed to alternate storylines. We’ve accepted that this guy is alive and we know that it’s not because he went to Tahiti…it is because he was the best actor to play the part.



 

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J.T. Saroufim Joseph Tony Saroufim is a screenwriter and reviewer of film and television. He has worked as a staff writer in Vh1’s creative lab and in 2011 he won the best writing award at the New York Television Festival. Most recently he produced and co-wrote D-TEC, a television pilot that won Samsung’s Second Screen Storytellers competition. His favorite TV shows include Soap, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Veep. His favorite film is Holiday, starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.