Tuesday, 15 October 2013

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

You forget, I saw plenty of action with the Avengers!”

And you died…”

At last! After the introductory episode, and an episode which serves to introduce us properly to all the characters, we get a regular sort of episode. Finally, I get a chance to pass a value judgement. And this episode, while not exceptionally good, is not only the best so far, but is quietly promising for the standard we can expect.

The plot is a classic bait and switch, with our supposedly kidnapped S.H.I.E.L.D scientist having manipulated his own apparent abduction from our less-than-stellar millionaire baddie for his own ethical purposes. It also plays on the fact that we don’t quite know Skye yet and therefore have doubts as to her loyalty. I’m sure that her continued links to the Rising Tide will have real significance later, but for now her apparent conflict of loyalties is just a bit of misdirection. Another thing which will have significance later is the mysterious fact of Coulson’s resurrection, of which we are again reminded.

The episode looks good, beginning as it does with an amazing CGI sequence. But the episode is essentially about the characters. Agent Ward may be abrasive, and he may have doubts about Skye in particular, but he seems more and more to be doing this for fatherly reasons. He seems to bond a little with Skye, however, which is both surprising and a possible hint of a possible future romance between the two of them. Skye, still new to combat, shows her bravery and resourcefulness both by volunteering for her underground mission and being bloody good at it.
Just to round up with a word about the other characters… Fitz and Simmons continue to be comic relief with no hint of any further depths, while Agent May, interestingly, finally decides that she actually wants to become involved in combat again. Surely her backstory can’t be too far away. The baddie, tycoon Ian Quinn, is something of a Bond villain cipher, and the script mocks him for his free market, right wing views in a pleasing little example of a dig at this show’s big corporate parent. Let’s see what happens next week, though. I want more superheroes and supervillains!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Angel: Epiphany

“So what? You just wake up and bang?”

“It was sort of the other way around.”

So, Angel did the deed with Darla, and we’re all expecting it to turn out as it did when he shagged Buffy! After all, there was a cliffhanger and everything. But no: the famous Whedon misdirection strikes again. No Angelus. It wasn’t a moment of true happiness, but just a bit of meaningless sex. Darla is deflated, but Angel has a new lease of life. His cynicism has gone and been replaced with a pragmatic heroism. It doesn’t matter that doing good is pointless; the act of doing good has value in itself. So that’s all right then.

Thing is, though, Angel can’t just slot back in when he feels like it. Too many bridges have been burned. But at least he makes a start. He begins by saving Kate’s life, so presumably she can bugger off and be annoying in some other TV show. I always found the character annoying. Still, she illustrates that nice Angel is back, and the fact that Angel is able to save her without even being invited in may suggest the existence of a god in this, a universe created by arch-atheist Joss Whedon.

But the episode is basically about Angel kissing the arses of Wesley and co., agreeing to work for them as coffee maker and general dogsbody, and make rather comical attempts at complimenting them. There is, a demon type threat to give us a bit of plot, but this episode is about Angel getting to know his old friends again. He has to adjust to this new world where Gunn and Wesley have bonded to form a great comedy double act and, as eloquently described in a speech by Wesley which is the height of the episode, has to face the fact that Cordelia has changed from a shallow, status-obsessed, spoiled air head, to a shallow, status obsessed, spoiled saint who has become a deeply tragic and deeply caring figure, caring as much about the pain suffered by her fellow human beings as she does about shoes.

The episode ends predictably, with Angel being hired. But it will take a while for the wounds to heal, and trust to be regained.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: 0-8-4

“It’s the best chocolate in the world.”

“Could use some sugar.”


So far this is looking like a typical Joss Whedon show in the way the early episodes develop. As with Firefly, we have a first episode to establish the premise and a second episode to fully introduce us to the characters and get a full handle on who they are and what they are like. This was something that was lacking last episode.

We begin with some bloody good CGI of a plane and that, and Agent Coulson in grave peril. We then cut to a caption saying “19 hours earlier”, just as once happened with Mal Reynolds. Again, very Firefly. We are then introduced to this week’s McGuffin, sorry, 084. This gives us an excuse for the team to go to Peru and engage in a team building exercise, except in this case with peril instead of paintball. Along the way, we get to meet and old flame of Agent Coulson who will no doubt never be referred to again, especially as she’s now dead and that. Oh, and we end up with a cameo of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (ooooooh!). That’ll be the plot then.

But the point of this is to flesh out the characters for the benefit of us, the viewer. So let’s have a look at them. Agent Coulson is all cheery and mysterious and that, and yes, he gets a line to remind us of his recent unexplained death. Agent May is a real badass who, for some mysterious reason that will no doubt be explained in, oh, about four episodes from now, hates combat and much prefers to just fly everybody around. She is taciturn, mysterious, and so far comes across as a bit of a female Wolverine.

We have our British scientist types, Fitz and Simmons, for comic relief and to do the science bits of the plot. Presumably some background will be sketched in later. Skye, we know from the first episode. And finally there’s Ward. He’s gruff, militaristic and generally a bit like Riley from Buffy. Again, no doubt he will soon acquire a hinterland.

So that’s it. We know them all a bit better now and will know who they are next time. That was this episode’s job and it did it well.  This being a Whedon show, I confidently expect the initial set up episodes to be followed by quality. And it seems the season arc may have begun. Skye, our audience identification character, turns out to still be working for these Rising Tide people. OOOh errrr.