The agents adjust to changing conditions and differing personalities in their first official mission

By Maricela Gonzalez
Updated October 02, 2013 at 06:32 PM EDT
Richard Foreman/ABC

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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This is the episode I’ve been most impatiently waiting for, not the pilot. The first episode, directed by Joss Whedon, is a big-budget (Actual Paris! Actual jumbo jet!) introduction to the series. This episode is the real test to how the show will hold up on its own. Is it really going to be “blue skies from here on out?” Let’s dig deep and find out.

Nineteen hours before a sure-to-be-exciting hull breach abroad the Bus, Skye officially accepts Coulson’s offer to work with his team as a consultant. Agent Generic Grant Ward is not happy about Skye joining the team. He sees her as a risk that could leave S.H.I.E.L.D. vulnerable to The Rising Tide — or worse. It’s clarified that Skye is not the sole contributor to The Rising Tide as it seemed in the pilot, but a talented member of the shadowy organization. (Who wants to bet The Rising Tide is a HYDRA front? Although, to me, it resembles T.I.D.O. Wave, which no one cares about except for Cloverfield obsessives.) With Ward’s frown noted, Coulson moves onto the mission at hand, the investigation and containment of an 0-8-4, or “an object of unknown origin,” found in Peru.

After an awkward welcome abroad from FitzSimmons, Skye gets up to speed on the 0-8-4. Coulson also tells her that he was able to set up this mobile command unit as a favor after taking a hit from a certain Asgardian. (Do people not know about Loki? He did attempt to take over the world a few times.) At Skye’s mention of his rest in Tahiti, he once again states, “It’s a magical place.” Is that his conditioned response whenever anyone mentions Tahiti? Was Coulson healed by medicine or magic? Or is he something more…mechanical? The mystery continues.

In a cute, fanservice-y — and timely — Thor reference, Coulson quips that the last 0-8-4 he encountered turned out to be a hammer. Once in Peru, the team encounters the 0-8-4, a vaguely German/alien (a.k.a. HYDRA) device stuck among newly discovered ancient artifacts.

As FitzSimmons analyzes the device and Skye (and the audience) wonder exactly what her usefulness is in this situation, Ward and May stand guard in front of the ancient temple . We learn she used to be known as “The Cavalry” or you will suffer her fierce wrath — or dirty look. Plus, something “went down” in Bahrain that caused her to leave the field in favor of administrative work. Before we get anymore answers, vaguely military heavys attack!

The heavys turn out to be part of Coulson’s old friend National Police Comandante Camilla Reyes’ troupe. Coulson and Reyes warmly greet each other, as they used to work — and not work — together years ago. Reyes is a strong, confident leader, who just so happens to be a woman. But does she really have to be styled like one of the Real Housewives on a jungle adventure?

The greetings and 0-8-4 analyses are cut short when rebels attack. I get that the series is a fun, action show set in a comic book world, but the cartoonish depiction of Peruvian officers and rebels is a bit offensive. Ward neutralizes the rebels with a really cool spear energy bomb thing (more of those, please!) long enough to rally Skye and FitzSimmons out of the temple. With impeccable timing, May picks up the team and heads for the Bus. Coulson and Reyes are close behind in one of her team’s vehicles; the rebels follow in hot pursuit. The agents along with Reyes and the remaining members of her team make it safely onto the Bus as May takes off, eluding the rebels in the nick of time.

That’s when Fitz drops the biggest bomb — the device is “fueled by Tesseract Technology, HYDRA, World War II, Captain America,” which is confusing way to say “this is dangerous and related to the dangerous stuff from the movie Captain American: The First Avenger,” although that description would definitely have broken the Fourth Wall. (Plus, I’m pretty sure the film rights to Deadpool are still owned by Fox.)

NEXT: Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah!

Off the heels of their first major trip as a team (second if you count the mission to recruit Skye), none of the agents are happy. May broods in the cockpit, angry that she was placed in a combat situation when Coulson explicitly promised that wouldn’t happen. Fitz and Ward bicker over what words constitute actual English since both are members of different divisions of the Grammar Police. Simmons feigns a cheery mood as she reminds everyone that the device could detonate at any moment. Skye freaks out, realizing the crack team she was recruited to be a part of is just as green and inexperienced in group dynamics as she is.

In the requisite pseudo-science-let’s-explain-stuff scene, FitzSimmons determine the device is a powerful laser weapon. (Shocker.) I like the abstract idea of FitzSimmons, but everything they say sounds like some sort of secret code language that only they understand. This is in part intentional but even when they discuss monkeys and snakes, I have a sneaking suspicion that I caught about 70% of what they actually say.

Meanwhile, Skye tries to mend fences with Ward in the best way possible — booze. Skye jokingly asks Ward if he’s reading The Hunger Games — if she was a real hacker, she would be a Battle Royale fan. But he isn’t just a generically pretty face, Ward is reading the Vietnam War account Matterhorn. (I haven’t read it, but I’m partial to The Things They Carried. Thanks AP Lit!) Ward and Skye want to get along, but as Ward states, they “just can’t seem to understand each other.” (Groan. I doubt this is the first time Ward is going to make me roll my eyes. I should start a count!)

Coulson and Reyes talk-flirt in his office. But something isn’t quite right with Reyes and her men. Reyes is laying it on thick, too thick. It’s a trap! Reyes and her team take over the Bus, knocking out May and apprehending the rest of the team. Why? Because Reyes doesn’t like Coulson’s team.

For a show that makes things plainly evident (This device is dangerous! This device is unstable! Did we mention this device is dangerous?), Reyes’ distrust and lack of faith in Coulson’s team, and therefore Coulson himself, was not made as obvious as it could have been. The main motivation to betray her old friend is how disorganized and fractured his team is. It’s the crux of the episode, the lynchpin that puts everything in place including how Coulson’s team come together as a direct objection to Reyes’ judgement. Somewhere in the talk of sentimentality and Grammar Police quibbles, this significant aspect of the plot was lost. (And no, half second reaction shots of a mildly disappointed Reyes does not count.)

Character analysis aside: the most consistent characteristic Coulson has displayed throughout the MCU is his penchant for collecting and nostalgia for the past. From his Captain America trading cards to his collection of old-school gadgets, he is a collector. Although present throughout most of the MCU projects, we don’t really have a significant insight on who Coulson is as a person, but the notion of Coulson the collector helps inform who he is and where his values lie.

NEXT: The TV version of the movie version of the comic version of The Avengers

Reyes now in control, she attempts to strong-arm Coulson in order to give him the codes to ensure that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t realize the Bus has been hijacked. She then performs a classic villain monologue, explaining that the device was created by ex-HYDRA expats living in South America on commission from the Peruvian government. It was lost decades ago in a clash with rebels, but Coulson and the agents happened to get to it before her team could when it was rediscovered. Reyes wants to use it to end the rebellion and “stabilize” the nation.

Locked in the cargo hold, the team bemoan their fortune. But with a little pep talk from Ward (Is he officially team captain), they put their collective heads together to come up with a plan. May, ever the bad ass, achieves the firs objective, freeing herself from the restraints and taking out their guard. This is their Avengers moment — united by a common enemy and goal. Coulson’s death played this role in uniting the team to stop Loki and save the world.

Fitz executes his part of the plan, managing to activate the 0-8-4 with Sneezy, one of his robot babies. It shoots directly at the plane, thus causing the hull breach from the beginning of the episode. The drop in cabin pressure unseals the doors, and the team is free! The subsequent re-taking of the vessel and related action is about as exciting as action can get when the stakes are low. (It’s only the second episode; no one important is going to die.) Skye grabs an emergency raft and inflates it, filling the hole in the Bus and stabilizing the plane. I’m not sure about the physics of such a move, but whatever, it’s a comic book TV show. The day is saved! The device is contained, Reyes is apprehended, and the team is relatively unscathed with only a trashed mobile command vehicle and a few henchmen sucked out into the sky as collateral damage.

The agents rendezvous at The Slingshot, a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base to receive repairs and contain the 0-8-4. The device has been deemed too powerful for any party to use, and it is placed on a rocket heading for the Sun. (This is a lie, right? If Nick Fury was willing to hold onto the Tesseract itself, he’s not going to let go of a weapon based on Tesseract technology especially since he relinquished the Tesseract back into Asgardian custody. Let’s wait for this to be a mid-season or season finale shocking reveal.)

The team unwinds and watches the rocket (supposedly) holding the 0-8-4 blast-off. For the first time, they actually start to feel like they’re part of a team. But Skye receives a cryptic message from The Rising Tide. Is she a double agent for The Rising Tide? Will she become a triple agent? Is this storyline ridiculously predictable? The answer is most likely yes to all of the above, but I don’t mind that it’s predictable — it would be strange for such a committed OWS-type hacker to immediately switch allegiances without batting an eye.

Speaking of Director Fury, Samuel L. Jackson makes a much-appreciated cameo at the end of the episode. This look alone made the entire episode:

Being a part of the MCU is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest asset and challenge. The possibility of encountering movie characters on the small screen is exciting for fans, but it also handicaps the show from developing its own engaging characters. So far, the appeal of the agents has had some hits (Melinda May) and misses (Grant Ward). What I’m most excited to see is how this dynamic may work in the opposite direction. These TV-based agents (plus Coulson) could show up in any future Marvel films. Would FitzSimmons prostrate themselves in front of Stark and Banner? Would May and Ward swap trade secrets with fellow agents Black Widow and Hawkeye? Would Skype dig out her old Iron Man cosplay outfit? The possibilities are boundless!

How did you think this second round of S.H.I.E.L.D. fared?

Episode Recaps

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.

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