Friday, 27 September 2013

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

“It means someone really wanted our initials to spell ‘Shield’!”

Oh dear. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve got no real excuse either. Just living and that. Home life, work, Doctor Who conventions, pod casting, and two gorgeous cats. And throughout all this time I’ve carried on making my usual blog notes for many things I’ve watched, both film and telly. There is a bit of a backlog for Dollhouse(notes completed up ‘til the end), Grimm, Buffy, Angel, and, well- how should I say this?- two entire television series right up until the end! One of them is four seasons long!

So I’d better get on with it. After all, I’m a massive Marvel geek, albeit one who stopped getting the comics with any regularity back in the 90’s, and rapidly becoming just as much of a Whedon geek. Plus, this is the first time ever that I’ve seen a Joss Whedon show on its original transmission. Well, I say original transmission, but we Limeys are seeing this a full three days after you Yanks!

SO, what to make of this first episode? Joss himself both co-writes and directs, and his fingerprints are all over both the dialogue and the general look of the thing. Of course, being a first episode, it’s a bit of a blur and it will take a bit of a while to get to know all the characters. But the supposedly late Agent Coulson is back from the dead with his dialogue made suitably snappy for him to be able to star in a Joss Whedon show. There is also a white coated scientist who is, at this point, notable only for being played by Ron Glass. More prominently, we have Agents Hill and Ward, technical British people Fitz and Simmons, and some other people. Most importantly, we have Skye, a hacker turned agent and Mike, a superhero played by none other than J. August Richards, who suddenly looks older than he did in Angel.

The opening dialogue recalls Torchwood in that it is set after the events of The Avengers and the “battle of New York” and the full outing of superheroes, and an alien invasion into the bargain. Everything has changed and we’ve got to be ready. In addition, the scenes with Mike at the beginning remind me of the first season of Heroes, but, mercifully, nowhere near as long winded.  As ever, Whedon has fun with the tropes. Mike’s story echoes that of Spider-Man’s origin and also that of many Marvel heroes. Wonderfully, Mike is quite aware of this, responding to the doctor who gave him his powers, when she tells him that it’s a disaster that “No, it’s an origin story”. Even more gloriously, Skye is set up early on as an agent of a mysterious organisation and antagonist, only to be revealed as a lone wolf hacker and captured within the first few minutes.

Skye compares Shield, while in conversation with Mike, to men in black and makes them sound sinister, but it seems that Whedon is anxious to avoid this cliché and takes pains to emphasise that they are in fact quite nice. This immediately gives the show a very different feel to Dollhouse, in spite of some superficial similarities.

Marvel Universe geekery is kept quite subtle, although there is an obligatory reference to Professor Erksine and the Super Soldier Serum. There are numerous mysteries, not the least of which is who gave Mike his powers, but for me the most pressing point is whether Mike is going to stay on and join the team. I get the impression that he isn’t dead, and Richards is far too good an actor to waste as a one off guest star.

One more thing: I had a red car called Lola way before Agent Coulson did! Just sayin’. That aside, this were well good.


  1. Not surprising that J August Richards looks older... it's been nine years since 'Angel' and he's now 40. Look at any long running show ('NCIS' is a case in point) and actors will noticeably age over time.

  2. I think it's that nine year gap that's so shocking. 2004 doesn't feel like very long ago!