Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.04: "Eye-Spy"

“Be friendly, Agent Ward. Can you be friendly? Please don’t die.”

I think the commentariat pretty much seems to agree that last night’s episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a turning point for the show. This episode was written by veteran “Angel” writer Jeffrey Bell, and his talent and experience was definitely on full display. We can see the team starting to really work together, and there was some genuine, well-played tension between Coulson and May. There was always a sort of overblown aspect to the Skye/Ward drama in the earlier episode, but Coulson and May’s disagreement in this episode seemed genuinely dangerous. The plot also had real personal stakes for Coulson. The person the team was after was a former protégé of Coulson’s, and Coulson’s whole motivation was to keep her from getting into even more trouble. The personal connection really gave the episode extra resonance, and allowed for Clark Gregg to give a really powerhouse performance. Beyond all the emotional gravitas, this episode also had some great moments as well. Ward squeaking “Help!” when he realizes he has to seduce a burly security guard will likely be one of the show’s classic moments.

The beginning of this episode was quite creepy, really. A bunch of guys walk out of a bank and through the streets of a Stockholm, all wearing red masks. The masks are what is creepy. It reminds me of those Guy Fawkes masks that the Anonymous folks wear, or the masks that the protesters were wearing in the second episode of “Torchwood: Miracle Day.” It’s the anonymity and lack of emotion inherent in the masks that makes them creepy. Anyway, a bunch of the red-masked guys go into a subway car, where a mysterious woman cuts the power and takes them all out, presumably also taking what they were carrying in their mysterious briefcases. Yeah, it’s all very mysterious. And creepy. As if I haven’t already said that several times in just this paragraph.

Anyway, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team finds themselves assigned to this strange case, and it turns out to have been at Coulson’s request. He knows the woman who took out the red-masked men on the subway. Her name is Akela Amadour, and she used to be S.H.I.E.L.D. herself. In fact, Coulson trained her. Somewhere along the way, she got mixed up in some bad stuff, and she hasn’t been a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for a very long time. Several members of the team try to tell Coulson that what happened to Amadour wasn’t his fault. You can train somebody perfectly, and they can still go off the rails. We’re talking about human beings, after all. The pep talk to Coulson that most sticks in my mind was Skye’s, which took place early in the episode. She doesn’t really even know the whole story yet, and she’s already got Coulson’s back. I don’t know if that means she’s fully accepting of her new role, or if she’s trying to play nice so nobody suspects her continued ties to Rising Tide.

Anyway, the team goes to Belarus to investigate things further, because that’s where they think Amadour went next. Skye and FitzSimmons stay in the van to do electronic surveillance. They realize that Amadour is broadcasting a video signal, and Skye successfully hacks into it. Once they get the video feed, they realize they have a pretty big problem. Amadour is looking at their van, and she can see that they are in it. Some of the things that have to take place for the team to realize this are pretty funny, though. Namely Fitz waving his arms around and checking to see if arms waved on the picture too. Anyway, things get dangerous in a hurry when Amadour repeatedly plows her van into the S.H.I.E.L.D. van (called “Short Bus” by May and Ward, by the way, in one of the funniest bits of dialogue in the episode).

The Short Bus crew is rescued and taken up to the real Bus before they’re too badly hurt. Some more investigation leads the team to realize that the camera Amadour is using to take the video they hacked into is actually implanted in her eye. Through most of the episode, Agent May has been very skeptical of Amadour and her motivations. She also doesn’t approve of Coulson trying to lessen the consequences for Amadour. They have some pretty heated conversations about this, which as I said in the intro, I appreciated. There was some real danger to how vehemently they disagreed. Anyway, the game changes when some words flash up on Amadour’s video feed. It turns out that she isn’t doing all of these terrible things out of her own volition. Somebody is controlling her.

Of all people, it ends up being May who goes and rescues Amadour. She goes into Amadour’s hotel room, and Amadour says that now her handlers have seen May, only one of them will be able to get out of the hotel room alive. Coulson puts a stop to this with a tranquilizer and a video feed hack. When it all shakes out, Amadour is up on the Bus, and video feed Amadour’s handler is seeing is actually coming from a pair of glasses that Ward is wearing. Ward is going on the mission that Amadour was supposed to go on. Meanwhile, FitzSimmons are going to try to disable the self-destruct device that is part of Amadour’s eye implant. Basically, when the device is functioning, if Amadour does anything the handler doesn’t like, she dies.

FitzSimmons have some trouble with the necessary eye surgery (and said surgery is damn gross), but most of the fun of this part of the episode is Ward trying to work on Amadour’s mission long enough to let FitzSimmons disable the device. He comes upon a room with a rather gross, burly security guard, and the message that flashes on the feed says that he needs to seduce the guard. Skye suggests that Ward try to “bromance” the guard by talking about sports and sexual exploits and such. Ward tries it, but the guard is a rock and doesn’t say anything. Ward loses patience and just knocks the guy out. He gets into the next room and gets what the handler was after, but because the guard is unconscious and can’t enter a code into the computer “Lost”-style, an alarm goes off, and Ward has to hightail it out of there. Ward accidentally looks in a mirror and reveals himself to the handler just as the eye device is disabled.

The last piece of the puzzle is nabbing the handler. Ward is almost able to accomplish this. He finds a guy trying to hurry away from the location where the handler’s signal was coming from, but the guy turns out to be just a pawn, too. His own handler sets off his eye device, and Amadour’s handler dies right there. As for Amadour, she goes back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to stand trial. The episode ends with Skye and Coulson having a bit of a bonding moment. She likes to sit in the back seat of one of Coulson’s cars (I couldn’t tell whether or not it was Lola) when she needs some “me time,” and that’s where Coulson finds her.

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