TV Recap: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode #11: “The Magical Place”

AgentsofSHIELDNobody was more excited for the return of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than me. I mean that literally. I think no one, anywhere on earth… was more excited for the return of this boring, silly show. There’s no way the cast members were more excited. I’ll maybe be willing to give Jed Whedon and Maurissa Truncheon the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were equally as excited. I mean, the show’s success kind of determines their viability, right? How do you screw up a big budget TV show that’s within Marvel’s universe, when the Marvel universe is gangbusters?

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t share my excitement for the return of this TV show. Maybe you just want to read recaps about it? Who can say? But I won’t bore you with my personal commentary any longer. Let’s recap the show!

The triumphant return of Previously On…

We get to see one line of dialogue from Ron Glass! I am much too excited about this! Remember, guys, how Loki stabbed Coulson in the chest? Oh, and remember the half-season cliffhanger episode where Mike Peterson fought some super powered dudes and May remained completely stoic and in control as she dodged a series of kicks and punches? Remember how Mike Peterson probably exploded? (Poor Mike Peterson). Well if you didn’t remember before, you definitely do now. I am beginning to suspect that this episode will have something to do with the mystery of Coulson’s death! Perhaps we will learn a tiny bit of information that will raise further questions! Let’s find out together!

Cold open: A pretty young woman and an Australian man (Aiden Turner) are discussing business. The business of Chitauri metal (this would be, if you’ve forgotten, remnants from the Chitauri invasion during “The Avengers”). Why? We don’t know! Then a disc which is (hilariously? obnoxiously? insanely?) branded with the logo of S.H.I.E.L.D. skitters across the floor. “Is that a roomba?” wonders the pretty young woman. Foolish young lady, it is not any variety of iRobot! It is a flashbang device, which cues May and Ward to surge into the room with wooden, workmanlike precision. They then proceed to very professionally work over the muscle in the room. Is it a precise but emotionally distant dance, much like when they make love? You speculate, dear reader, for I will not. The Chitauri metal dealer flees. Ward isn’t fast and dodgy like May, so he is on the ground as she pursues the dealer. Do her movements remind me of the scene in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” when the T1000 pursues John Connor, overtaking even a moving car? Am I trying too hard to make machine parallels?

Metal dealer escapes Agent May, only to be confronted by UAVs piloted by Fitz-Simmons, which are equipped with tactical lights and being scary, for the metal dealer fires some panicked shots then flees into an elevator! How will we stop him now? Do not fear! Skye has control of the elevator! She sends it upward, at full speed! On the roof is an entire team of S.H.I.E.L.D. mooks, a pretty young red-haired woman, and a helicopter. I’m almost positive that this is Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), returning for a second appearance. Presumably, she is here to lead the effort to rescue Agent Coulson from the sinister clutches of Centipede.

In Act I, the credits and some dialogue quickly confirms my suspicions. This is, indeed, the return of Agent Victoria Hand. She’s an actual comic book character, look her up! Comedian Rob Huebel appears prominently in the guest stars, which gives me hope for the future. There are a bunch of mooks on the plane now, reinforced by Agent Hand’s briefing, which includes seriously like a million people. Most of them mooks. I finally am able to make out clearly that the Australian Chitauri Metal Dealer’s name is Vanchat. Hand seems quite certain that Vanchat will talk. Of course, I have no idea what he might know that would help, but I might have missed something.

Agent Hand decides that we need to return to the well of Skye not always having been a straight-laced suit-wearing mantra-citing AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D., by summarily dismissing Skye from the team, and kicking her off the plane. Ward leaps to Skye’s defense, but May disagrees (stoically). Skye’s pretty sure she can find Coulson using her elite hacking skills, and Ward continues to agree. Wait, they’re agreeing? We need Skye off the plane bad. How will this show survive if we can’t have a secondary source of conflict involving poor, beleaguered, beautiful, Chloe Bennett?

Whoops, scene change! It’s been far too long already. Coulson is in his Tahiti fantasy. Then he’s awake… facing down Poe (Cullen Douglas), our old nemesis from Project Centipede. He’s trying to forcibly extract information from Coulson. Coulson points out that he’ll let himself die before he gives up anything. Then they argue about the death of Mike Peterson. Which was still very Hollywood-y. I hope Mike Peterson’s not dead. More mentions of “The Clairvoyant”, the supposedly telepathic third member of the Centipede triumvirate (the other being Raina, the ‘recruiter’, [Ruth Negga]) whom we have yet to meet on-screen. The Clairvoyant apparently saw Coulson’s death, but could not see the aftermath, when he was brought back to life by S.H.I.E.L.D. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser! Coulson’s not in a questions answering mood. Guess it’s time for more torture.

Act II! Skye is in her civvies, in what looks like an internet cafe (are these real anymore?) using a computer. She’s trying to hack stuff, you know? Unfortunately, S.H.I.E.L.D., in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion, shuts down both her access and that of everyone else in the cafe. Big Brother is watching, guys. Skye bails, buys a magazine, identifies some random CEO (Lloyd Rathman, played by the aforementioned Rob Huebel. His role is so minor that all that previously accumulated hope is fading away), then decides she needs to buy a new wardrobe, then steals a car. That’s really how this sequence went. Uh. Moving on!

Scene change! Fitz-Simmons are developing non-lethal countermeasures to the Centipede guys. At least, Simmons wants them to be non-lethal measures. Fitz is less sure. He says any methods necessary is fine, as long as Coulson is brought back safely. Also, the interrogation of Vanchak is going nowhere.

Scene change! Skye is doing stuff. Specifically, she is crashing her stolen Escalade into water barrels, to scam OnStar or whatever into towing her back to the luckless Lloyd Rathman’s house.

Scene change! Ward is taking over the interrogation of our favourite Australian man. Actually, he might be British. I’m not really sure. His accent is kind of mild. Ward, in what is probably a really ethical interrogation method, opens the cell chamber to the air outside the plane.

Scene change! Coulson is attempting an escape. Or is he? Oh, there’s Poe. Not surprised to see Coulson up and about. Apparently they’re in a Nuketown. The super soldiers are there too!

I’m glad we’re back to normal for the show. Skye is here again! She’s “at home” with her stolen Escalade. She calls up Rathman’s offices, and claims that she’s with the LAPD, has recovered a stolen vehicle, and some officers need to take his statement. He rushes home. Yay! More Rob Huebel! When he gets there, Skye confronts him, dressed in aviators and black leather, and says she’s Agent Melinda May. It’s probably the single best tension-breaking moment ever produced in this show. Seriously. I cracked a partial smile, and thought to myself: “I’m really going to enjoy writing about this one brief moment in this episode!”. It may or may not all be downhill from here.

Apparently, Lloyd Rathman is a legitimate businessman! Except for the whole ‘not asking questions about mysterious funds he’s helping shady characters launder’ thing. Skye takes over this scene in a way that we haven’t seen since the infamous Gravitonium Caper. This show is better when they take the manacles off of Chloe Bennett and let her do things beside type on the computer and give reaction shots, or have dumb conversations with Agent Ward that are supposed to contribute emotional depth. It’s obvious Skye has real ability as a face/con type, and Chloe Bennett is much more magnetic when she’s unchained. Free Skye! Free Skye! Anyway, she offers Lloyd immunity from Big Brother’s persecution, or something, if he chooses not to involve his lawyers. Unfortunately, she doesn’t notice when he taps the silent alarm. Oops.

Back aboard the ActionJet, Agent Hand is giving yet another briefing. She’s not happy with Ward, because Skye vanished, and Vanchat was nearly shot out of the plane. Luckily, Vanchat rolled under pressure of going skydiving sans parachute. Agent Hand wants to know why powerful people like Nick Fury give a shit what happens to Coulson. No agent is that important. “Coulson is,” Ward replies. He looks slightly less wooden than usual here. Apparently we need more of Victoria Hand on this show. She seems to inspire other people to demonstrate feelings and act like human beings.

Back with the Coulson torture experience. Raina shows up. The Clairvoyant doesn’t seem concerned about the pursuit of S.H.I.E.L.D. Boy it sure would be nice if we knew more about this Clairvoyant fellow. Now we’re going to argue about the effectiveness of torture. Also, now the Clairvoyant wants to talk to Raina the Recruiter. Tensions are high among Centipede personnel. Then the Clairvoyant kills? Poe. It didn’t look good, at any rate. I’m worried about his long-term health!

Ward isn’t Victoria Hand’s biggest fan. He and May banter a little. Ward wants to know why May acted like a total bitch and let Skye get kicked off the plane. Well, it’s because Skye works better when she can improvise and work outside the system. All of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s rules mostly get in her way. Yes, we’ve known that since the pilot. But I’m glad everyone’s on the same page now. We’ve made real progress with the character of poor Skye: everyone now admits she’s pretty useful. Then we learn that the ActionPlane can apparently flip a bitch. Nice! Back with Rob Huebel and Skye… she’s in total control. How cool is Skye when she gets to do stuff? I know this isn’t a great episode of TV or anything, but, it’s not terrible. This subplot, at the very least, I’m very much enjoying. Private security shows up, but Skye improbably bests them. Take that, Rob Huebel! Now he will do illegal things on Skye’s behalf! I’m sure this will pan out later. Or not. We’ll see.

Raina is not so sad that Poe is dead. He was a murderer, or whatever. The Clairvoyant gives guidance to Centipede. Except, they don’t know how to make people come back to life. Which is apparently what happened to Coulson (we already knew this, right? We can all agree this isn’t news, right?). Raina really wants to know what happened to Coulson after he died. She’s betting that… so does he. This method seems a lot more likely to work than torture, but it does sort of make the whole last episode seem pointless. I mean, we’re already done with Poe? All that work to break him out of prison, bring him in as a strategist, etc…. and he’s gone? Did Cullen Douglas have a big movie deal or something? This show does a really bad job of giving me reasons to care about secondary characters. They overdid it with Mike Peterson, and underdid it with everyone else.

Skye discovers that Rob Huebel is bad with computers. She enlists one of the security mooks she’s imprisoned to do the work while she spits out instructions. Not only does she have a good plan for backtracking Raina’s movements, but she’s still in total control of this episode. Free Chloe Bennett! Skye has what she needs, but she’s also going to borrow the luckless Rob Huebel’s Lamborghini. Is that the Gallardo convertible? We’re all envious of Skye as she zooms off. Back with Raina and Coulson, Raina finally convinces Coulson that ‘The Clairvoyant’ might actually have some telepathic ability by identifying his previous relationship. You know, the cellist. The cellist was heartbroken to learn that Coulson died… except, you know… he’s still alive. So what did happen in Tahiti? Oh, please, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tell us! You have tantalized us with this storyline all half-season! Surely there must be some payoff!

Back on the ActionJet, Fitz-Simmons have developed a non-lethal countermeasure for the super-soldiers! All you have to do is attach a wrist-watch to them, and it will uh… shut off their superpowers. I mean, it totally sounds reasonable. Right? Anybody? Simmons gets a call from Skye. Simmons awkwardly bandies about code words and tries to act casual. Then May, who always knows what’s up, orders the random mooks out of the room and seizes the phone. Of course it’s Skye! Agent Hand is not at all amused that Ward and May want to take their team and investigate Skye’s lead. Presumably, Hand is supposed to be in charge. Blah blah blah. Unfortunately, rather than being coyly amused with her brilliance, May is a brick wall. You know, just like every other time. An unusually expressive Ward declares that they’re going after Coulson, with or without Hand’s backing. Sounds good, Ward! We all know that problems can only be solved by the main cast!

Meanwhile… Raina is being nice to Coulson. She’s got him in the memory machine, but she’s not zapping him or being a dick. This seems roughly 7,000,000,000,000x more likely to actually get memories out of Coulson’s brain. Sure enough, almost right away he’s remembering Ron Glass, and references to Nick Fury. Since we’re about to go to commercial, I can already tell this is going to be some dumb cliffhanger about Coulson’s fate. Seriously, if this is the only mystery you guys have for us, you shouldn’t have started teasing it in S1E1. Anyway, cliffhanger. No question now. But, dear readers, don’t fear! I will return next week with a more timely recap that will follow the same pattern of tough love that I have adhered to thus far.

Act IV! Skye and her Gallardo arrive at Nuketown! She seems disquieted by the mannequins. I think I would be too. The whole idea of a nuketown seems… weird to me. A Super Soldier rushes to apprehend Skye, but he’s run over by the ActionMobile. Coulson is looking inward, toward Ron Glass. Raina is now frantic, trying to divine Coulson’s secret. Meanwhile, the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. actionteam is assembled. And now even Fitz-Simmons are wearing cool black leather uniforms (actually, they have been all episode, but this is the payoff). Ward and the wristwatch are going to take on Random Super Soldier #1. Everyone else is going to fan out and look for Coulson. May deals with some regular mooks with a little crane style, Ward battles Generic Super Soldier. It’s actually a very nice action sequence. Many film directors have no idea what to do when directing action so they either pull us in way too tight or make the camera super shaky so we can’t really see what’s going on. Here, the direction is smooth and confident. Ward and May are allowed to look like badasses. I really appreciate this touch. Ward jams his supersoldier countermeasure into his guy’s mouth. It works perfectly. Score yet another one for Fitz-Simmons.

Coulson is still trying to remember. Then, abruptly, he does. We’re back in time. Ron Glass is morally outraged. Coulson is begging the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors to let him die, as some robots work on his brain or something. It would be disturbing, but it’s all so static-free and clean. This scene could have used some more visceral reality. Modern-day Agent Coulson is freaking out. Skye shows up and punches Raina right in her freaking face. Seriously, is anyone as cool as Skye? Maybe not anyone ever. She shows real emotions on her real face at the state she finds Coulson in. Meanwhile, May makes a wooden comment about Skye’s new leather jacket.

Back at the ActionJet, Raina is now a prisoner. She and Coulson have an eye-contact-moment. Hand reports that Centipede has gone down in flames. Nick Fury is pleased with their progress. Hand and her goons are escorting Raina back to headquarters for interrogation. Hand admits that the ActionJet and its ActionTeam and (presumably) its ActionSkye aren’t really her style. Then she’s out. Coulson thanks the team. It was pretty much all Skye, but hey, don’t forget the others. Now after like the 2908308423084th time Skye has been useful, Coulson decides to remove her house arrest bracelet. It’s kind of a fun moment, but tempered by the whole ‘let’s revisit Coulson chanting over and over again “please let me die”‘ thing.

Scene change! Coulson does the creepy Hollywood thing where he’s in the back seat of Ron Glass’ car. You know what I’m talking about. Ron Glass is not proud in the least of the whole ‘bringing Coulson back from the dead’ operation. In case anyone hadn’t picked up on it, the “Tahiti trip” was a hallucination implanted in Coulson’s brain. Ron Glass and the other doctors tried to restore Coulson’s will to live after they put him through unendurable agony. I’m stunned that we’re getting this much detail. My respect for the show has hit an all-time high. It’s still not that high. But it’s higher.

Coda! Few shows do the coda as relentlessly as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. This one is actually really good. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) awakes. He’s alive, albeit missing the lower half of his right leg. Oh… and he’s got the eye thing. Well, shit.

This was a clearly above-average episode of Agents. For whatever that’s worth. I hope you either enjoyed the episode, or turned to this recap for solace and enjoyed it instead. Our odyssey will continue next week. Until then, do not fear the super/mutant power revolution. Because Big Brother is watching.

Why Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Nearly Made Me Sick


The latest Paranormal Activity film nearly made me sick.

Now, I know what you’re saying.  “Oh my God, Lisa — we all know the Paranormal Activity films aren’t great but was it really that bad!?”

No, actually it wasn’t that bad.  In fact, by the standards of the found footage film genre, I would say it was about average.  It had everything that you’d expect from a Paranormal Activity film.  There were bumps in the darkness.  There were amazingly stupid characters who continually said things like, “Are you filming?” and “Did you hear that?”  Most importantly, there were the shout-outs to the previous films in the series.  Old VHS tapes labeled “Katie and Kristi” are found in a closet.  One character talked about having a dream where he was on a farm surrounded by old women.  Katie and Micah showed up yet again. 

(You have to wonder how Micah Sloat feels about having a film career that is pretty much based on being murdered by Katie Featherstone in film after film after film…)

Listen, it’s easy to criticize the Paranormal Activity films.  God knows that I’ve certainly criticized them a lot.  But the fact of the matter is that they give the audience exactly what the audience is expecting.  After five of these films, we all know exactly what we’re going to get when we go see a movie with the words Paranormal Activity in the title.  You know that you’re going to jump a few times, you’re going to wonder how the characters can always be so stupid, and, if  you’re so inclined, you can have fun spotting the references to previous films.  If you’re going into a Parnormal Activity film expecting to see something brilliantly original or good, you’re doing it wrong.  These films are the equivalent of the silly, but still scary, ghost stories that are best told in the middle of a dark, stormy night by someone with a flashlight pointed at her face.

In other words, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is exactly what you would expect it to be.

So, why did it make me sick?

Like the other films in the series, The Marked Ones is told using “found footage.”  However, whereas those previous films at least found an excuse to make use of a stationary camera, The Marked Ones is almost entirely hand-held.  In other words, it’s shaky cam time and, for me at least, it was also nearly motion sickness time.  Unfortunately, the hand-held work doesn’t really add any sort of immediacy to the film.  Instead, it just makes you wonder why the character of Hector (Jorge Diaz) is still filming even while he’s running for his life.  Sometimes, you just have to drop the damn camera.  (Then again, it is a Paranormal Activity film…)

The Marked One is being sold as not a sequel but spin-off from the original Paranormal Activity films.  As opposed to the other films, which all took place in the haunted homes of upper middle class white people, The Marked Ones takes place in a California housing complex where the majority of the residents are working class Latinos.  The filmmakers are to be commended for both trying to open up the material with a new setting and for trying to give the film an authentic Latin flavor but ultimately, this is a Parnormal Activity film and it really doesn’t matter where you live or what your ethnicity is, the same old shit is going to keep happening to you. 

Recent high school graduates Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector taunt an old witch who lives in the apartment downstairs.  Shortly after Jesse awakes one morning to discover a strange bite on his arm, the witch is murdered and Jesse starts to act possessed.  It’s up to Hector to try to figure out why his friend is acting so strange and to hopefully save him from the same witches who have popped up in every other Paran0rmal Activity film.  Will Hector succeed or will he just keep filming?

Listen, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t really a very good film.  It’s predictable, the characters act in ways that no normal person would act, and even the expected scares — while occasionally jump-worthy — are no where close to being as effective as they were in the previous films.  But you already knew that because it’s a Parnormal Activity film.  If you enjoyed the previous films in the series, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about The Marked Ones.  And if you didn’t enjoy the previous films, you wouldn’t be watching The Marked Ones to begin with.