Agents of SHIELDMarvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 6: F.Z.Z.T.Agents of SHIELD - RSS 2.0
Well, that was unexpected.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back after a one-week break with an episode that's not quite up to the standards of the "Whoa! This suddenly got A LOT better!" previous two, but it marks another area of important growth as the series tests the limits of its own abilities. This week's test: Can a show as light and jokey as this pull off a (mostly) dead-serious character piece?
The by now standard prelude here involves a group of Boy Scouts - I'm sorry, Ranger Scouts - telling ghost stories around a campfire. Their Scout Leader hears a sound (inaudible to everyone else) and goes to investigate, shortly after which the kids observe a metal coffee mug levitate in mid-air followed by a strange localized electrical storm that leaves the Scout Leader dead from an apparent lightning-bolt to the head with his body similarly hovering as though in zero-gravity. And, since The Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to introduce Damage Control, this is a job for Team Coulson.
Up on The Bus, Coulson is undergoing a basic physical exam supposedly at the behest of his doctors, who requested a battery of tests because he mentioned (callback!) that he was feeling "rusty." Otherwise, life seems to have gotten back to normal after the revelations about Skye's duplicity last time - in fact, only Agent Ward seems to still be mad at her. Presently, she's being more chummy with Fitz (of Fitz/Simmons), whose awkward nervous crush on her is now readily apparent as they take turns making fun of Ward's taciturn gruffness as he requests Fitz make a new gun-design one ounce lighter; an impasse that's diffused when Simmons arrives to point out that the weight issue is due to a round still being in the chamber.
Down at the campsite, S.H.I.E.L.D collects the floating corpse and absconds back to the jet for some banter about whether this phenomena is the result of something strange we already know from the Marvel movies or something strange that'll be new to the show... which I can only assume would be more suspenseful if the promos hadn't already spoiled that this week's Marvel Copyrighted Phlebetonium is related to a discarded Chitauri, helmet from The Avengers' Battle of New York. We also get a video-screen cameo from Titus Welliver as Agent Blake, who appeared in the first Marvel One-Shot feature Item 47, which involved the ongoing problem of unaccounted Chitauri weaponry falling into the wrong hands.
Some antics in the lab, meanwhile, serve to handily remind us that Fitz is "the fussy one" of the Fitz/Simmons team and that the victim was an almost cartoonishly-noble local do-gooder who was also a firefighter. Oh, and that electrical burn on his head is an exit wound - he wasn't struck by lightning, lightning exploded out of his head! Soon enough, there's a Victim #2 found floating in a local barn with an identical who turns out to be part of the same firefighting team as #1 - a team that had volunteered their services to the post-Avengers cleanup effort in NYC. A quit cutaway shows off another, unidentified man to be in possession of... A Chitauri Helmet.
The Agents arrive at the firehouse, where the mystery-man turns out to be another of the team. Coulson corners him in the kitchen, where a telltale metal object has already begun to levitate, but the fireman swears he didn't do anything. As far as he knows, all he and the two dead men did was decide to clean "rust" off the Chitauri helmet, which the unit had taken home from New York as a souvenir. Soon enough, the case is cracked and Coulson orders everyone else out of the building. Short version: The "rust" was some kind of alien virus that the helmet's owner was immune to that humans are not. This poor guy is the last of the three who'd become infected by it, and he's about to die, too.
So Coulson sits down to talk with him.
Inevitably, this scene will be fixated on by fans because it represents our obligatory tease at the ongoing "What's Wrong With Phil?" meta-plot (the reveal this time? Coulson does know, or at least suspects, that the "dead for eight minutes and revived" story fed to him isn't totally true). But it's also a pretty startling bit of restrained-emotion dramatic acting from Clark Gregg, as Coulson tries (and apparently succeeds) at giving the hapless firefighter a small measure of comfort: Namely, that he saw The Other Side when he was killed by Loki, and that the doomed man has nothing to fear.
This also, by the way, feels unmistakably like a broader reference to the too often memory-holed stories of serious health-issues plaguing many First Responders to the 9/11 Attacks. A bit edgy, but valid in my estimation - if the Marvel Universe is going to continue appropriating 9/11 as a reference-point for their post-Avengers universe, they can at least broaden the scope of it.