Agents of SHIELD
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 4: Eye Spy

Bob Chipman | 16 Oct 2013 11:15
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And so we continue with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the series that proves you don't need to look like a million bucks so long as you can deliver a sense of wonder - as in, "I wonder which sliver of Avengers movie continuity or Marvel Universe arcana will make a teasing verbal cameo this time!"

I kid, I kid. Mostly. The fact is, I don't really know that it's "fair" that Agents' pedigree has now guaranteed it a full season to work through kinks that a similarly promising series with a shaky start but without the benefit of being backed-up by connections to a broader pop-culture phenomenon wouldn't have gotten... but I'm glad that it is. For now, this most recent episode (titled "Eye Spy," which actually turns out to be kind of a spoiler) is refreshingly indicative of all that promise. In fact I'd call it the first legitimately great episode of the series: It moves fast, it keeps throwing out fun sci-fi/spycraft ideas, and it's not leaning on mythology (either from the movies, comics or previous episodes) to get by.

Speaking of mythology, though, I'd be curious to know just how long of a leash these showrunners are working with regarding their sparing but spotlighted use of Marvel Universe fixtures. If someone decided they wanted to build an episode around, say, The Wrecking Crew, do they have to call up the guys working on Captain America 2, Guardians of The Galaxy, and Ant-Man to make sure they weren't planning on using them first? Is there one person whose job it is to keep track of all this? Does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have the same freedom to rearrange the company furniture as ABC's other Disney-brand spinoff series Once Upon a Time, which was (apparently?) allowed to have one of the Mouse House's precious Princesses™ come out of the closet this past weekend?

Ah, well. Spoilers HO!

Eye Spy opens in Stockholm with a mini-parade of those guys with the matching suits, handcuffed-briefcases and red plastic masks whose presence in certain ads had fans speculating about an appearance by Flag-Smasher, but they're revealed to be a distraction. (Literal red herrings!) An elaborate attempt by diamond merchants to protect the one guy among the group carrying a fortune in precious stones. Whatever they are, they're a fun "huh!?" pop-art visual cue that would've felt right at home on The Avengers - the other one - and feels comfortably close to the 60s spy-fiction miasma from which the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the comics sprung.

In any case, the ruse doesn't work: A woman on the street (Pascale Armand) "activates" like a sleeper agent in a Bourne movie, follows the correct red-mask onto the subway, initiates a brawl, snatches the case (by hacking off his hand) and vanishes. Since this matches up with other reports of an abnormally-skilled thief targeting diamonds in recent days, it falls on Team Coulson to investigate. I wonder what the line is between "hard to explain" and "must be supervillainy!" police in the Marvel Universe use to decide when to pass the ball to S.H.I.E.L.D., because it seems like the temptation to abuse that would be pretty extreme ("This unsolved is going nowhere fast." "Ah, send it to S.H.I.E.L.D., tell `em we think TypeFace is back or something!")

This time, at least, there's a more substantive reason for this specific team to be involved: The suspect turns out to be Akelah Amador, a former S.H.I.E.L.D Agent presumed KIA who'd been personally trained by Coulson, who blames himself for whatever happened to her and intimates that he sees bringing Skye into the fold as a chance to get mentoring right this time. Her presence also sets up an interesting division on the team; with the by-the-book hardcases (Ward and May) wanting to take her down like any other traitor while the newbie/non-field operatives (Skye and Fitz/Simmons) want to give her the benefit of the doubt. As ever, Coulson seems to have his own angle.

The actual "what's going on?" is somewhat straightforward: Agent Amador is being manipulated by some sinister offscreen handler via a camera/messaging-system/bomb implanted in her skull that's feeding her data and allowing for the seemingly superhuman reflexes and X-Ray vision she employed in her robberies. The fun is in watching how the agents suss it all out and how much bigger and stranger the conspiracy seems to get. The moment where Fitz/Simmons and Skye hack into what they think is just a villain's security cameras only to realize they've actually hacked their target's eyeballs is what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be building most of its action around.

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