Thursday, September 26, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.01: "Pilot"

“With great power comes…a ton of weird crap that you are not prepared to deal with!”

I think it’s safe to say that “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (as we’re going to call it, because the whole title is too damn long) was the most anticipated pilot of the fall for us here at MTVP. Sarah and I are both pretty massive Joss Whedon fangirls, and having his unique sensibility back on television brings us much happiness. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is different from previous Whedon television series in two important respects. First, the universe of the show isn’t Whedon’s original creation, it’s the Marvel universe. Second, the showrunners are Whedon’s brother and sister-in-law, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Joss will still have a role in the production of the show, but the day-to-day is Jed and Maurissa’s baby. While I wouldn’t say this is the best pilot I’ve ever seen, I saw potential and good building blocks, and I’m excited to see where Team Whedon takes this week-in-week-out.

Since this is a pilot episode, it was kind of light on plot and heavy on exposition and character introductions. If you’re a good Marvel or Whedon fan, you know that this show isn’t all about the big-name heroes that we’ve seen in the Marvel movies. It’s mostly about S.H.I.E.L.D., a quasi-governmental/military/spy group that kind of organizes Earth defense and recruits the superheroes. It looks like week-in-week-out, the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew are going to be trying to recruit people with special abilities or avert smaller time disasters (or both). The show is set not long after the Battle of New York (the big battle at the end of “The Avengers…spoiler alert), and the early acts of the show go to some length to tell us about how much Earth has changed since that battle. People were starting to grapple with the existence of superheroes before that point, but the Battle of New York made it something nobody could ignore anymore.

First thing in the episode, we’re introduced to the concept of the sort of random, B-team people with superpowers who will presumably feature in the series. The first such person we encounter is Mike Peterson, played by J. August Richards. Any good Whedonite will know him as Gunn from “Angel.” He gives one of the more charismatic performances of the episode, which I think bodes well for the series overall. A semi-procedural about S.H.I.E.L.D. could be boring if the guest characters aren’t well-drawn and interesting to watch. Anyway, Mike and his son are walking in New York City when there’s an explosion in a nearby building. Mike rushes to help, and we see that he has super abilities. He kind of jumps up the wall into the burning building, and he rescues a woman before jumping way farther than he should be able to survive. This explosion is potentially the work of a group called the Rising Tide. They’re kind of an anti-government, anti-surveillance state group.

We’re also introduced to the S.H.I.E.L.D team that we’ll be getting to know better throughout the series’ (hopefully) long life. The first agents we meet are folks you’ve seen before if you’ve seen “The Avengers.” Agents Marla Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) figure heavily in the episode. These scenes take place at a S.H.I.E.L.D. field station, so we get to see Hill and Coulson in positions of authority in a way that we haven’t seen before. In “The Avengers,” Hill was kind of an afterthought who occasionally had to say military-like things. Coulson was the superhero fanboy comic relief who gave the film a bit of pathos when he “died.” Here they’re pretty much the most important people in the room. Instead of being window dressing, they command the screen, and it’s pretty fun. I think I’m going to enjoy seeing Coulson in his element, and hopefully next year after HIMYM has wrapped, Marla Hill as well.

The rest of the team are complete newbies, unfamiliar even to those of us who have seen some of the Marvel films. The key entry point character for viewers is new agent Grant Ward. He’s pretty by-the-book, and he’s kind of an ass. I don’t think he’ll be a favorite character as the show progresses, but every ensemble needs a straight man to counterbalance the quirkiness of everyone else. Another character we meet early on is Melinda May. She appears to be a former field agent who found herself in a bad scrape and got gun shy. She’s been on desk duty for a while, but now Coulson wants her back out in the field, just on transpo duty for now. Next there’s Skye, a fairly new recruit who is a computer hacker. For much of the episode, we are led to believe that she is part of Rising Tide, but that set-up was actually a test for Agent Ward. Finally, there’s the gadget producing duo of Fitz and Simmons. They are going to be the loveable comedy duo that Whedonites quote for years to come. They are definitely the most Jossian of all the characters, for sure.

So anyway, it turns out that Mike worked in this evil factory, and apparently he got injured on the job and was screwed out of workers comp. He went to this shady doctor for help, and her treatments not only healed him, they gave him his superpowers. The only problem is that there are side effects. Spontaneous combustion side effects. First, the patient gets more and more mentally unstable. Specifically, he or she gets really angry. Mike goes back to the factory and just completely tears the place up. It turns out that beyond the emotional instability, the treatments cause physical instability too. If Mike isn’t treated, he’s going to blow up, just like the person who caused the explosion at the beginning of the episode. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to put together a trap to catch him. By the time they do catch up with Mike, he’s so far gone that he doesn’t really even care about his son anymore. Agent Ward shoots him with some sort of tranquilizer, though, and we learn later that he is finally stabilizing under S.H.I.E.L.D. care.

No comments:

Post a Comment