I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon shows since he first burst onto the scene with Buffy, The Vampire Slayer over on what used to be the WB Network. I’ve followed his work from one show to the next and if there’s one thing all his shows seems to have in common it’s that they take time to find their stride. In the past, shows were given time to get their bearings. See what works and what doesn’t in a narrative sense. These first few episodes also give the writers a chance to flesh out characters for the long run. Yet, in this day and age of instant gratification Whedon and company may not have the luxury to take their time to get their footing, so to speak.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been good to so-so the first three episodes. While all the episodes have been fun there’s also a feeling that ABC and Disney were really going on the cheap side of production with these episodes. It’s almost as if the powers-that-be producing the show were hedging their bets as to whether the show will be a sure-fire hit or a dud soon to be cancelled. This is Whedon we’re talking about whose last two series haven’t really panned out despite a rabid fanbase.
I think with tonight’s episode, “Eye-Spy”, the series may finally be finding its rhythm. It’s still not a perfect show. The fun factor is still present as is the witty banter that comes with a Whedon show, but where the first three episode looked somewhat cheap this fourth entry had a much more polished look to it. Maybe Disney and ABC finally loosened the purse strings. Even the look of the episode had a subtle change to it. Gone was the overlit scenes that added to the cheapness of the production. We actually were given scenes with shadows and darkness. There wasn’t an overlit sequence to be seen.
Let’s return to the episode at hand.
Tonight’s episode sees Agent Coulson taking the team to Stockholm, Sweden to investigate an apparent diamond heist. The heist itself was a nice cold opening. With over a dozen men dressed in matching black suits and all wearing those creepy red “Stranger” masks. First reaction to this was that they must be part of some sort of secret organization that was probably actively going against S.H.I.E.L.D. Yet, the writers do a 180 and we find out they’re just an elaborate, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to keep a briefcase carrying 30million dollars in diamonds from being stolen. We’re soon introduced to the target of Coulson and his team. One Akela Amador, a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and one-time Coulson protege, who may appear to be more than meets the eye.
This whole episode has been about getting a bit more character development for Agent Coulson and his latest protege, Rising Tide hacktivist Skye. The chemistry between the Coulson and Skye looks to be more well-developed than the love interest angle the writers have been trying to create between Skye and field agent Ward. While the latter looks like it’s still a hit-or-miss proposition the former looks to be developing quite nicely. If there’s one thing Whedon and his writers have been very adept at creating in their past shows it’s setting up the mentor/protege relationship. The best example would be Buffy and her Giles who also didn’t start off on the right footing in the early episodes of Buffy’s first season, but as time passed that relationship grew and there’s signs of something similar happening between Coulson and Skye.
The writing for tonight’s episode was crisper than the previous episode. We got less forced humorous moments. The dialogue actually flowed much more smoothly and allowed for the funny bits to come across naturally. Once again it’s Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson that provides the rock upon which the rest of the cast steady themselves. There’s an almost old-fashion earnestness to Gregg’s portrayal of Coulson which have endeared the character to legions of fans.
So, it’s only natural that the episode provide some more hints and bits of dialogue that Coulson may not be who he appears to be as well. Theories continue to abound that Coulson may be a Life-Model Decoy or being set-up to be future Avenger recruit Vision. There’s also some talk that he was revived by sorcery which means it’s a step to introducing magic and Dr. Strange to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). In the end, the mystery of how Coulson survived the mortal wound he received from Loki might just be the main mystery of the show’s first season.
“Eye-Spy” was was written by Whedon-veteran Jeffrey Bell and directed by Star Trek alumni Roxann Dawson (better known as B’Elanna Torres from Star Trek: Voyager). The two worked well together and I’ll be interested to seeing the two become more involved in moving the show through it’s first season. So far, they seem to have found the necessary balance of spy intrigue, superhero action and witty byplay that the first three seemed to lack.
time will tell if the show will be a huge success or just good enough to survive it’s first season. But seeing how much Marvel and Disney have invested in adding this show as an integral cog in their Marvel Cinematic Universe I see Whedon and his writers getting a bit more leeway than they’ve had in the past (looking at you Fox Network executives).