Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Whedon Week: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Pilot Review

Well folks, the wait is finally over.  Whedon Week has come to a close, because the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot aired last night.  And with the conclusion of the waiting is the end of all the hopes and fears that came with it.  That period of anticipation was when the show could turn out to be anything.  At its worst, it could be a gigantic failure, detrimentally affected by its status as a TV show, and filled with corny instances of people saying "Oh hey, you just missed Tony Stark a few minutes ago..."  At its best, it could tap into the magic of Joss Whedon, perfectly melding comedy, drama, and action-adventure to tell the kind of small-scale stories that happen on the periphery of the Marvel world.  With just a pilot to go on, it's hard to tell which of the two options this show is, but I'd lean more towards the latter.

The first half of the episode is a slick introduction to the world and its characters, taking steps toward developing the kind of group that makes every other Joss Whedon show so strong.  Of course, the question on everybody's mind is "What's the deal with Agent Coulson"?  The pilot does a good job of providing an explanation for why he's alive after being stabbed to death by Loki in The Avengers, while also making it clear that there's a deeper mystery going on under the surface.  Whedon chooses to have two different characters be the entry-point into this world, which is an interesting, albeit slightly unnecessary choice.  Out of the two, Skye, the computer hacker, is definitely the more fun one.  Chloe Bennet fills what I call "The Dushku Role," offering up a heap of sass, but replacing edginess with and enjoyable effervescence.  On the other hand, there's Agent Ward, the stoic lone wolf of the group.  For now, both he and Agent Melinda May are mostly there for the action, and their characters are the least defined so far.  Meanwhile, Agent Simmons and Agent Fitz are the most Whedon-y of the bunch, and are the best as a result.  Over the course of the pilot, you get a complete sense of their dynamic, and the way they frenetically bounce off of each other is a real delight to watch.  The cast may not be as fully formed as those on other Whedon shows, but I can see them gelling together as the season progresses.

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was first announced, many people brought up Gotham Central, the DC comic about that focuses on the police officers in Gotham City, as a reference point.  It's an apt comparison to make since it focuses on S.H.I.E.L.D., the everyday heroes whose work gets overlooked in the midst of all the capes and cowls.  But it's also reminiscent of the Kurt Busiek comic, Astro City, in the way that it deals with the denizens of a city coming to grips with the existence of superheroes walking (and flying) among them.  It's an interesting expansion of the world we've only seen highlights of in the Marvel films.  And while there may be something hokey like a character saying "He's got the best spy score since Agent Romanov," there are also very cool nods to the movies, most notably the Extremis arc from Iron Man 3 coming into play.  Joss Whedon shows have always been instilled with a deep mistrust of authority, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes his pet theme and turns it on its head, asking "what happens when you are the mistrusted authority"?

I've seen some complaints about the pilot, stating that it's too straightforward, and I'm willing to admit that the show feels a bit safe so far.  It's never more evident than in one of the final scenes, which teases a moment that feels like the kind of shocking and dark turn that Whedon is know for, only to reveal a rosier conclusion.  Still, I balk at the claim of the pilot lacking surprises when it features that terrific scene where Coulson injects Agent Ward with truth serum.  Aside from that, there are little moments of spark that come in the form of quippy lines and snappy direction throughout the episode.  The real concern is whether the show can ever truly develop a unique personality with so many cooks in the kitchen.  ABC has alot invested in this show's success, which leads to the kind of stifling network interference that ruins shows.  The behind the scenes rumors about script difficulties don't do much to dispel the fear that ABC isn't letting Whedon and his crew just be great.  For now though, let's put the worrying aside and enjoy this pilot, which is solid enough to hope that the show can blossom into something special.

Grade: B


  1. I liked it, but so far its just okay.

    Skye is definitely the best character so far (sans-Coulson), and you're right in saying that the interrogation quip was great.

    But that really was kind of dumb when he got shot and then slowly everyone in silence because of the music is just like "WHAT?...aww...oh wait...Oh wait!...HE'S OKAY, YEAH LETS ALL SMILE YEAH!"

    What was the explanation given behind why Coulson's okay? And the "deeper mystery" hinted at?

    I missed that.

  2. Also, really glad to see Booker in this, is that a recurring role or a cameo?

    1. I think Ron Glass was only signed on for the pilot but knowing how Joss Whedon operates, he'll probably become recurring.

      But yeah, I was specifically talking about the whole "he got shot but he's actually alive!" when I talked about the pilot being safe. Any other Joss Whedon show would've had the conviction to actually kill him, but because it's a show on ABC at 8:00, I don't think they can go that dark.

      About Coulson: There's a scene where he talks about how great the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors are and how they were able to fix him up because they acted quickly (and The Avengers don't know because they don't have the proper clearance). But with all the oblique references to Tahiti and that scene where Maria Hill is like "he can never know...", it's pretty clear that there's something else going on. I'm guessing he's a Life Model Decoy (from the Marvel comics, but also briefly gets referenced in The Avengers or one of the Iron Man films, I think).