Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "The Hub" Review: Knowledge Is Power
For weeks I've been complaining about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s insistence on sticking with the same character pairings week in and week out. Since the premiere, it's essentially been May and Coulson, Skye and Handsome, and Fitz and Simmons. There's nothing inherently wrong with those match-ups, but keeping them so consistent doesn't allow for the character development that often comes with switching things up. Well, this week, all those fruit baskets I sent to Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen with little coded messages like "Pair up different characters or Snuffles gets it! XOXO" finally started to pay off (still no movement on the "What's Joss's garage door code? Pretty please, I promise I won't tell anyone else" front, but there are still plenty of episodes left this season, so I'm feeling pretty optimistic).
In "The Hub," Handsome went into the field with Fitz on a Level 8 (!) mission that involved disabling a device that produced sonic vibrations powerful enough to trigger weapons from a great distance. They didn't have specs on the thing, so they couldn't exactly teach Handsome or May how do to it—they'd need to send someone who could figure it out on-site. And that's the story of how Fitz was sent into the field, much to my delight. He's a by-the-book, follow-the-rules, science-makes-sense kind of guy, the type of character who's most comfortable staying put in his lab, because he can understand things in there. And so it made perfect sense to throw him into an unfamiliar situation. That's, like, Comedy 101 right there, and he far exceeded my expectations this week when he ventured out into the real world with his overpacked bag and Simmons' homemade sandwich. But if I had one complaint about the storyline, it's that it was very cliched—and, therefore, very predictable.
Naturally, Handsome was not happy about being saddled with someone like Fitz, who'd struggled to win a fight against sliding glass doors earlier in the episode. But in the end, Fitz came through and saved the day several times by using his own special knowledge and skills, like being able to repair the generator in the bar. It feels silly to nitpick this sort of thing, because I enjoyed seeing Fitz and Handsome partnered up for a mission—Fitz's silliness played so well off Handsome's straight-man seriousness—but this type of plot has been done a million times on a million other series like this one, and despite there being no extraction team, I never really felt the urgency I should have. I knew Fitz would somehow become an asset in the field, and I knew Handsome would end up appreciating his presence, but I never felt like the two of them were in any real danger, which might be S.H.I.E.L.D.'s biggest problem at the moment.
We know and expect our ragtag team to always win any fight they end up in, because otherwise there'd be no series. But in any case where you know that going in, you expect the show to find other ways to surprise you. That's exactly what S.H.I.E.L.D. did last week in "F.Z.Z.T.," and that's why it was so well done. Did I really think the show would write off Simmons in Episode 6? No, of course not. But the episode did a very good job of selling her helplessness and desperation. The writers created a dire situation, showed us how there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it, let us witness the same situation as it affected one of our beloved main characters, and then asked us to believe that they'd actually kill her. We know Simmons didn't die, but the show made us feel emotions and there were real stakes. With "The Hub," that wasn't the case.
While Handsome and Fitz were Odd Coupling it out in the dangerous wilderness, Skye's constant need to know what's going on had her teaming up with Simmons to break into the Hub's computer system. This was played for laughs quite well, and it mimicked the team in the field as Simmons was Fitz and Skye was the more experienced person like Handsome. Only instead of fists, Skye's talent was her quick thinking. Skye gives off the impression of being able to talk her way out of anything (and we saw her use that skill in "The Asset"), but Simmons is just plain terrible under pressure like that, which resulted in Simmons using the Night-Night Gun on an agent to get them out of a bad situation. But what Skye found once she was inside the system (after digging through the files relating to her parents, of course), was S.H.I.E.L.D.'s attempt at raising the stakes. Discovering that there was no extraction team still didn't feel all that dire, but it did provide the series with a way for Skye to confront Coulson about the importance of information and how much power it holds.
As it turned out, Coulson had been left in the dark regarding the fact there was no extraction planned for Handsome and Fitz. Which was a nice way of pointing out there's a lot of information that even Coulson doesn't know. For weeks, the series has been dropping hints that Coulson is becoming cognizant of the fact that there's something off about him. Between last week's physical and this week's attempt to retrieve his own death-and-recovery file, Coulson knows that something's up, and while I'm surprised that S.H.I.E.L.D. has already brought him this far (I didn't think this would happen until at least the mid-season break), I like that the series isn't just sitting on it.
The main theme of "The Hub" was basically: Information Is Dangerous. And it was pounded into our heads again and again that S.H.I.E.L.D. is an organization built around different levels of knowledge and that not everyone is privy to everything. Fitz, Simmons, May, Handsome and Coulson have all bought into that. But Skye, our resident hacker, thinks it's total bullshit, and by episode's end, Coulson seemed to be be coming around to her way of thinking. Maybe he shouldn't be so trusting of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Again, I am happy the series is moving forward on the Coulson front. And I'm also happy the series is moving forward on Skye's season-long arc, too. Coulson looked into the redacted files regarding Skye's parents and told her that she was dropped off on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s doorstep by an agent. But in another reminder that knowledge sometimes does more harm than good, he didn't tell her everything. Skye's thirst for the truth is probably going to be her undoing this season, and I have a feeling that at some point, she'll come to regret wanting to know it, just as Coulson might once he discovers more information about his own life.
"The Hub" was a good—but not necessarily great— episode that acted mainly as a humorous standalone installment intended to switch up some character pairs. It was predictable, but it also continued to develop a few of the season's longer narrative arcs, like the mystery of Skye's parents, Coulson's trip to Tahiti, and Simmons and Fitz's friendship. But next week I'd like a bit more of the emotional stakes we experienced in "F.Z.Z.T.," mmmk? Oh, and don't forget about Joss's garage code, too.
DECLASSIFIED CASE FILES
– First mention of the Triskelion this week, and Victoria Hand's first appearance. Was this Agent Sitwell's first appearance as well? I can't remember, but he's shown up in the Marvel Universe before, in both Thor and The Avengers. And he's going to be in the upcoming Captain America movie, too.
– Why did the show force Saffron Burrows to speak in an American accent? Wouldn't it have been easier to cast someone else who was actually American? Because ouch, it was baaaad.
– I love Fitz and Simmons so much. I think they're my favorite characters.
– "No need to get started on one of your socialist riffs." This line really only works when you remember Fitz's face as he said it to Skye, but I chuckled so hard.
– "There are dogs tracking us, and you brought a prosciutto sandwich?"
– "Which non-expression is this?" OH BURNNNNN.
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