Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.01: "Shadows"

“You called it. Talbot hasn’t crushed Hydra. Just sent them slithering back to the shadows.”
“I hate being right.”
-May and Coulson

“S.H.I.E.L.D.,” bucking the Mutant Enemy show trend, is back for a second season. And I don’t know if I can take what they’ve done to my beloved FitzSimmons. I know Joss Whedon (and his siblings) like to tug at the hearts strings with their work, but this was too much. There was a lot going on in this episode. It was very action-y and it gave us a good sense of what the paradigm is going to be moving forward (for now at least). But what happened with FitzSimmons kind of casts a depressing patina over the whole thing. This is something that I hope the creative team fixes as soon as possible. It doesn’t seem credible that these characters would have made the choices we’re being told they made. No sense at all. I’m reserving judgment, but I can only take so many shows where characters I like keep making choices that just create more pain.

I kind of feel like this might have been what would have happened character-wise if beloved Whedon “dead too soon” cult show “Firefly” had gotten a second season, with the team whose camaraderie we came to love in the first season broken apart in the second. I think the creative team is trying to earn an emotional response from the audience by changing the team in the way they have. Here’s the low-down on some of the new additions. Agent Coulson is searching for allies for his newly resurrected S.H.I.E.L.D. everywhere he can. The closest allies are a team of mercenaries led by Izzy Hartley (Lucy Lawless). Triplett is also still an integral part of the team. As is the newest Patton Oswalt clone, Billy.

We begin this episode, however, back in the 1940s, with what really amounted to a teaser for this winter’s event series “Agent Carter.” Carter’s team is raiding the last Hyrda base they know of. They come across a shiny metal object known as the Obelisk. We don’t know much about it, but we know it is responsible for great evil. Everything in the Hydra base is boxed up, numbered, and photographed. Interestingly, the box containing the Obelisk is given the number “084.” As we know in modern day S.H.I.E.L.D. parlance, an “084” is an object of alien origin.

The 084 connection is immediately made when we head back to present-day Arlington, Virgnia. A deal is going down where a shady guy who seems like he might be Hyrda is trying to sell Izzy’s team a photograph of the Obelisk in its 084 box. He says the U.S. government has all sorts of dangerous things like this boxed up in a warehouse now that S.H.I.E.L.D. as we knew it has fallen. May, Skye, and a backup team appear behind the mercenaries, and a full on fight goes down. The person we later know as Carl “Crusher” Creel takes part, and because he has the power to take on the characteristics of material he touches (like metal), he does some serious damage. He’s definitely Hyrda.

When the team returns to the Playground (where Coulson’s skeleton crew S.H.I.E.L.D. is based), May briefs him on Crusher and the picture of the 084. Apparently Coulson is a difficult man to find, because he has spent much of the past few months jetting across the globe (in economy class, to his chagrin) looking for allies. May seems kind of irked that he hasn’t been very available, but she begrudgingly admits that it is necessary. May mostly gets upset because she wants to protect Coulson, but she can’t do that if he stays out of contact with her.

We learn that two members of Coulson’s season 1 team are not doing especially well at all. First, May pays a visit to Fitz. He has not completely recovered from drowning last season, but he’s trying to work on developing cloaking technology. He is having serious expressive language difficulties, and his thought process is moving very slowly. Simmons seems to be by his side helping him work through everything, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Ward, meanwhile, is in custody. Skye is given the task of asking him what he knows about Crusher, and it’s incredibly creepy. Somebody described it as a Hannibal and Clarice vibe, and I have to agree. Ward keeps trying to ask personal questions, and Skye threatens to end the conversation every time he does so. She does get one useful bit of information from him. Hydra used white noise between S.H.I.E.L.D. frequencies to communicate. When Billy pings those frequencies, he finds that the Hydra communications network is still very active. General Talbot hasn’t crushed Hydra. He just sent them back into shadow for a little while.

Much of the back half of the episode focuses on an elaborate plot to get S.H.I.E.L.D. access to the Obelisk. First, they need to capture General Talbot. Coulson calls Talbot and suggests he go with S.H.I.E.L.D. as they believe his life is in danger. Talbot refuses, but if he wasn’t so stubborn, I think he’d regret that choice when Crusher appears and starts to attack. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team rescues Talbot, and Talbot finds himself in an interrogation room. Coulson says just the right things to be able to get a voice sample and fingerprints out of Talbot. This will come in handy when the team tries to raid the government warehouse where the Obelisk is being kept. Talbot is tranquilized, and when he comes to, he finds himself in a car in the middle of nowhere. He immediately radios for help, but it’s Billy on the other end of the line. Now S.H.I.E.L.D. has Talbot’s security clearance code, too.

Izzy and her team head for the warehouse. They pretend to be another General and his entourage who are supposed to meet with General Talbot. General Talbot’s voice barking out orders to the poor gate guards however, is actually Coulson using a voice modulator. Before the team can grab the Obelisk and escape, though, Crusher again appears on the scene. Izzy grabs the Obelisk, thinking it will help her fight Crusher. Instead, it starts to turn her arm into stone or metal or something. Whatever it is, it’s very bad. The team tries to escape the warehouse. They make it into the car and start driving away. It’s looking like the only way to free Izzy of the Obelisk is to cut off her arm. Crusher has other ideas, though. He flips the escape vehicle, killing (I think?) Izzy and at least severely injuring the other member of her team in the vehicle. Izzy’s severed arm (with Obelisk) is in the middle of the road, and after touching a tire to turn his hand to rubber, Crusher is easily able to take the Obelisk and run off.

The episode ends on an extremely sad note. You know how I said it seemed like Simmons was trying to help Fitz? Well, we learn that she actually left months ago, thinking that her absence would help Fitz recover, but it actually made him go off the deep end. He’s just talking to himself now and hallucinating Simmons. When he hears about the attack on Izzy’s team, Coulson starts monologueing about all of the sacrifice that fighting Hydra has taken. We see the wrecked car, we see Fitz mumbling to himself, and we see Ward down in the holding cell (apparently he tried to commit suicide more than a few times, or so he tells Skye). We can only hope that all of this mess wasn’t in vain.

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