Certainly an improvement in terms of plot. In a show such as this, following a quasi military/special forces team, there was going to have to be an episode that focused on team work and team building, and I think that “0-8-4” did as effective a job as could be expected. In fact, this is such a drastic improvement on the terrible pilot, that I’m surprised that its best elements weren’t simply subsumed into that first episode to form some sort of feature length opener.
I mean, yes, there were the predictable moments – the second a former lover of Coulson turned up you knew that she was going to turn on him – but this was a solid plot that had the right mix of character drama and action, and also managed to build up the backstories of the characters and enhance the universe in general.
So, the main points:
– Coulson really is a dick sometimes, and not in a good way. His opening conversation with Ward seemed far too snarky and hostile when the subordinate was actually making good points – Coulson just doesn’t seem like that nice a guy when his authority is question in even the slightest way.
-The way that the “It’s a magical place” line keeps being used whenever Coulson’s recovery period is brought up seems to me to be an obvious lamphanger thing. I imagine that magic, or some kind of Asgardian thing, will turn out to be involved.
– Before five minutes of the episode was up, my main line of thinking was “ Why is Skye even there?”. Her political beliefs and total lack of an actual role – outside of Hollywood style hacker of course – seemed to make her just an awkward cog in the machine. Her closing moment addressed this well, and added a bit of spice to affairs in future episodes, although it does make you think that Coulson really is an idiot for not seeing it – or maybe he has. I’m asking these questions, so I guess I should call this sub-plot a success, even if its final outcome probably isn’t that hard to guess at.
-Coulson’s Peruvian lover was fine as a plot, I’ve just seen it 50 million times before in various guises.
-I actually liked the MacGuffin that was used well here, it was worked into the universe pretty well – linking Nazi escapees to South America with the Tesseract research.
-The Melinda character seemed fairly bland in the pilot, but if they keep adding to her backstory as time goes on, just a little bit here and there as they did in this episode, then it will be just fine.
-It was actually gratifying to see the “team” in each other’s faces and getting upset after the firefight. That dispute was set up and executed really well and served the overall plot really admirably.
-I really liked the Ward/Skye confab scene. That allowed Skye to actually justify her own beliefs and provide a somewhat believable rationale for her presence on “the bus” and tied back into the overall episode theme of teamwork. It was nice that they were just straight with each other, rather than sitting back on dumb quips and suggested sexual chemistry.
-Coulson’s obsession with the past was established in the Avengers, so I suppose it’s nice that they continued that sort of thing with that scene of his quarters. Anyone else getting a Normandy vibe off that plane though?
-Oh, at some point in this show, they’re going to travel back in time to World War Two.
-The “coup” scene was very well executed. I liked that Ward saw it coming and that the team seemed initially capable of handling it before male scientist had a knife to his throat.
-Sort of a clumsy Avengers callback with the implication that a teammate in peril, or dead, serves as a good motivator.
-The climax was a well put together sequence. All of the required bases were reached, with at least one moment where everyone got to do something important (even if Skye’s was sort of dumb) and show off that they could, in fact, work as a team.
-The whole thing was nearly ruined for me by the inclusion of Nick Fury in that epilogue scene though, something that offered absolutely nothing to the plot of the episode or the series at large, and in fact simply re-ran a previous conversation between Ward and Coulson. That was a scene built around showing off Samuel L. Jackson and nothing more. It was moronic.
-That was the worst of a recurring flaw, which is the amount of references that get thrown in, whether it’s mentioning Tony Stark, Captain America, “a hammer” or the Battle of New York over and over and over again with no actual purpose. We get it. It’s the same universe as the Marvel movies. Move on.
-Acting wise, everyone put in better turns than the pilot, with the shouting match in the lab and the aforementioned Skye/Ward scene being the best examples.
-The exception is, once again, Clark Gregg, whose monotone and straight facedness is getting irritating. Reviews where his performance is praised utterly baffle me. That interrogation scene, where he got punched in the head repeatedly and never altered his tone or demeanour was shockingly bad.
-Visually, some good and bad things to note. I still like the plane design, and the opening shot was very pretty. But there was reams of awful stuff too, like the decompression sequence involving Coulson, the clearly faked mountain background when they arrive in Peru, or the fact that Coulson was walking around the Peruvian jungle in a three piece suit.
-Still, the action sequence in the jungle was well put together. The Coulson/Peruvian Woman back to back moment was corny as hell, but at least re-emphasised their past work together, and the hand to hand looked cool.
-Whedon ripped off his own work with the stun weapon Ward uses, which is identical to a similar device used by Simon Tam in the opening scene of Serenity.
-Pretty holograms in the bus. I like that sort of thing in a show like this.
-Certainly a lot less quipping in the script, which is very much welcomed. In this episode, the characters actually seemed to take what was happening seriously, which did wonders for my interest and suspension of disbelief.
-Still full of action clichés though, all the way throughout. I think the worst for me was another use in Hollywood of “In English” when presented with something vaguely scientific.
-Here’s an example of a good “funny” line in the best style of Whedon. Coulson apologises to Melinda for getting her into a combat situation. She’s stony faced and Coulson, feeling awkward, retreats with a terse and almost nervous “This was fun”. I like that, because I can imagine it being the sort of stupid thing someone would say in that exact situation to try and relieve some of the embarrassment and unspoken tension, and its relatively reserved. It’s definitely not “What up?”
-Here’s another: Male scientists jokes that the “alien” device is so well designed that it could be of German origin the sort of throw-away quip you don’t really notice beyond the simple description that means the thing is well built in terms of functionality and efficiency. Then later it turns out the thing actually is German. Set-up, meet pay-off. A quip that lampshades something has a purpose.
-Oh God, the technobabble from the scientists. Voyager-esque. Put a lid on it.
-I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when the Peruvian Commandante started monologuing, which came with a special panned out shot and all. Take Syndrome’s advice, and don’t get caught monologuing.
– A good working in of themes related to teamwork and relevancy. Skye wants to figure out what her role in this team is, beyond being an awkward spectator when things get rough and the entire group has to pull together when the soldiers take over the Bus. It was simple, but very effective in my eyes.
-Standing questions: How did Coulson really survive Loki’s attack? What happened to Melinda in the past that made her so combat-adverse? Is Skye really an inside agent for the Rising Tide, or is she already having second thoughts? Just how does S.H.I.E.L.D work as an entity with a US focus but an apparent international mandate? Do they really just blast dangerous objects into space? Nick Fury is still in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D, even after he disobeyed its ruling body in Avengers?
So, overall, a solid second offering that gives me much greater hope that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D can turn into something good.
To read my thoughts on other episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, click here to go to the index.