Joss Whedon’s best asset is his ability to write great team stories. All of his best work (Firefly, Buffy, The Avengers, Angel) has focused on a team of characters overcoming their differences, fighting off a big bad, and saving the day. He understands team dynamics and knows how to give each of his characters their own time to shine while giving the viewer the impression that these people really excel together, where they would probably fail alone. It’s definitely a delicate balancing act that could easily sway into an unwieldy mess but Joss manages to keep it all a float...usually. It feels like there’s a fun and compelling show buried somewhere in Agents of SHIELD, but it still hasn’t found its way to the surface just yet.
The second episode, titled "0-8-4," follows the team as they investigate a mysterious object of unknown origin. They travel to Peru to retrieve the glowing object but find themselves stuck in the middle of a skirmish between the Peruvian army and a group of rebels that ends with the SHIELD jet getting hijacked, and the team being forced to work together and save the day without the guidance of agent Coulson. While it’s somewhat entertaining to see the agents work the kinks out of their mixed group of scientist and super-spies, and come together in the end, the characters are still largely one-note and dull. These people just don’t have that certain spark that makes them interesting or even terribly likable to begin with, and Agent Ward is the show's biggest offender. It also doesn't help that the plots so far have been pretty pedestrian.
The largely action-packed hour breezes by in an inoffensive way, but it doesn’t feel like the show has any ambition to be anything other than an efficient and passable action procedural. The thing is that all Joss Whedon shows feel that way in the beginning. When Buffy The Vampire Slayer started, it seemed like all the show aspired to be was nothing more than a silly monster of the week series, but it blossomed into something weird, and unique and, frankly, revelatory. SHIELD can still make that same jump (though it being a Disney/Marvel/ABC production, there might be too many cooks in the kitchen), but for now, it seems content at being a mildly fun but thoughtless romp through the Marvel universe.
Best quips and other observations
- Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson, makes a guest appearance during the credits that gives the show some of the verve it desperately needed. Please come back Mr. Jackson. Don't leave us with all the boring people.
- "Your frown will be on record."
- "We're gonna have to kill the fish tank."
- "Do you need anything else before I go check on the device fueled by evil sitting in our cargo hold?"
- “You know, I have the authority to downgrade your ass to a Winnebago.”
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