Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opened big last week, but the real test of its staying power came tonight with Episode 2. How many people returned for "0-8-4"? Was the episode a success? Did you care about the story and the characters? Did it make you laugh? Did you enjoy the action-y moments?
Based on a lot of the reviews and feedback I read about the premiere, I think there were a lot of misconceptions about what Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was supposed to be. A lot of people, myself included, loved it. But some people thought the show was going to be similar to The Avengers movie and feature superheroes, and so they were disappointed when they found out they're weren't any superheroes. Others were confused when the series wasn't as "adult" as they'd have liked it to be—which is not an unreasonable complaint—but being based in a world that originated in a comic book and airing at 8pm kind of hinted that would be the case. And still others watched last week's premiere and came away upset that the series was about a group of people with special powers, similar to the premise of Heroes. I've had a week to think about what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is and what I want it to be, and I came up with three criteria. "0-8-4" met all three, so I was happy with the second outing. (However, I don't know what that third group of people was thinking, because this series is nothing like Heroes.)
So, what are those three criteria? Well, to be successful, this series needs to be accessible, it needs to flesh out its characters and develop its world, and it needs to find the right balance of heart, humor, and action. I think "0-8-4" did just fine in accomplishing those goals.
Being accessible means that until it establishes itself as its own series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot be heavily serialized. Fans (and potential fans) must be able to enter this world without needing an encyclopedia of Marvel facts, or a flowchart to keep things straight. And I truthfully feel that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s writers have done the best they can in that regard. Is it easier to understand the lingo if you've seen any of the movies or read the comics? Of course. But just as Skye was starting to learn S.H.I.E.L.D.'s lingo this week, you will too, eventually.
If you've seen the Marvel films of if you've read the comics, then you picked up on Agent Coulson's reference to Thor's hammer, and you understand what Hydra is, and why Tesseract-fueled anythings are no good. But you don't need to have understood those references to know that Hydra=bad and that the 0-8-4 (an object of unknown origin) the team found tonight would have been disastrous in the wrong hands. Those things were explained via exposition from the characters like they would be on any other series with heavy mythology. Plus, guys, with the amount of crap on the internet these days, and especially with the amount of Marvel knowledge you can find out there, if you don't understand something and it's really bothering you, just Google it. It'll take you more time to complain about not understanding it than it would to find the answer.
So the series needs to be accessible. It needs to follow a formula in which Coulson's specialized S.H.I.E.L.D. team travels somewhere (like Peru, as was the case in this week's episode) and assesses and contains any and all threats (like the Tesseract-fueled technology they found, and then Camilla Reyes and her team when they decided they wanted to use the 0-8-4 for their own personal gain), and then maybe everyone shares a beer afterward like any other team of co-workers toasting the end of a long work day. And also, you know, not dying.
Many of the comments I read about the premiere discussed being worried that the show was going to be boring if it followed the same procedure week after week—and that's not a completely ridiculous fear—but I think many viewers are forgetting that a great number of successful shows currently on TV are procedurals. Hell, NCIS is in its, what, eleventh season? It's the most watched show on television and it's a procedural. It's gotta be doing something right. In the post-Breaking Bad world, we tend to think that in order to be good, a series has to be heavily serialized, but that's not the case at all. Yes, of course there needs to be some sort of serialization happening; the characters need to grow and evolve and larger story arcs must take place in order to move the story forward, but being a procedural is not a death sentence. And I think many Joss Whedon fans are forgetting that each of his former series began as procedurals themselves, and they had a hell of a lot of overarching stories and character development over the course of their runs. Lots of those fans are probably also forgetting that exactly zero of his shows were born as fully formed success stories.
The second thing this series needs to accomplish to be successful is to make its characters more human. We need to get to know who Skye is, and why Agent Handsome is so methodical and machine-like. We need to get to know Fitz and Simmons as people beyond their super brains that make the rest of us look bad. And we definitely need to get the dirt that is Melinda May's classified file. "0-8-4" made some big strides on that front. We started to see Skye—who's basically the audience stand-in—attempt to find her place as a consultant/member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. In fact, we got to see everyone begin to settle into their roles as members of this team tonight—this was only their second mission together—and although I get the feeling Fitz and Simmons have been working together—or have at least known each other—for quite awhile now, everyone worked together to defeat Reyes and her men and no one died, so that's got to be a good start, right?
While first impressions are important, they're not everything, and tonight I felt like I got to know more about who Skye was and her philosophy on life and why she makes the choices she makes. She likes social media and how technology is bringing people all over the world who've never met together, and to hear her talk about 100 people each having or being 1 percent of the solution, made a lot of sense. And Agent Handsome even used that logic to help rally the troops when they needed to find a way to take back the plane, so already we see what an asset she can be. Skye also helped Agent Handsome bring down some of his own walls during their conversation on the plane, so we got to know a tiny sliver about what makes him tick, though I'm concerned about his character's development more than I am anyone else's. He's got the difficult job of being the straight man on a team of quirky weirdos, which may or may not lend itself to easy character development. While we still don't actually know much about these people—or whether or not we can even trust them—we're starting to learn more about them, and that's what's important.
Lastly, and just as important to the success of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the previous two requirements, this series needs to find the right balance of the heart, the humor, and the action. Some people thought the premiere was too quippy, while I myself found it perfectly adequate on the quippy scale. We all have differing opinions, but I think tonight's episode scaled back on the humor and still managed to do just fine.
As for the heart, there was no big meaning of life speech this week, but there was a moment when the team quit their bickering and worked together to solve the Reyes problem. Papa Coulson appreciated their efforts and didn't once lose his cool about the fact his team blew a hole in the side of his newly renovated airplane (though surprise guest star Samuel L. Jackson was pisssssssed!). And the action? Yeah, I think they managed to get enough in to satisfy the fanboys and girls. The shootout in Peru, the fight sequences on the plane, and then everything that went down after the massive hole-in-the-plane thing was plenty of action for one episode. And just for the record? The green screen on this series is about a million-bajillion times better than Once Upon a Time, so thanks for all that cash Marvel, the world is grateful.
Whether you liked or loved or hated the premiere, I do think this was a strong second outing for a series that's got every single eye in the world trained on it, just waiting for it to slip up or make a mistake. Tonight's episode was more focused than the premiere, too. It didn't have to be showy so much as it had to really set the pace and tone for the rest of the series, and I think it did a good job in that regard.
– "No joy rides; it's my house."
– "Do you need anything else before I go check on the device fueled by evil that's sitting in our cargo hold?"
– "I'm good at stuff, too!"
– "This is my fault. I should have learned kung-fu."
– NICK FURY ALERT. NICK FURY ALERT. (How much do you think it cost to get him to come do that scene?!)
– LOL @ the raft covering up the giant hole in the wall of the plane.
– Is it just me, or is there a lot of Winifred Burkle in Simmons?
– Coulson once again mentioned his R&R following being stabbed in the heart by Loki right before the Battle of New York. As if we all somehow forgot the central mystery of the show. Give us more details, writers. Was his "resurrection" magical? Not likely. This is a science-based world. But I'm going to have fun speculating over how Coulson lives to fight another day.
– Who looks better with the double gun look? Melinda May or Teen Wolf's Papa Argent? Show your work in the comments!