My opinions of TV episodes don't usually change over time, at least not as quickly as overnight, and my snap judgement immediately after watching "Eye Spy" was that I really liked it. And as I thought more about it while writing my review, I think I talked myself into liking it even more. "Eye Spy" continued the momentum built by "The Asset," and in a way, it was a darker, more adult outing for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The series' previous episodes were fine in that they acted as second and third versions of the pilot, allowing new viewers to step in without much difficult, but "Eye Spy" felt less like we were being re-introduced to the characters and what it is that S.H.I.E.L.D. does, and more like the latest installment of a more developed series.
We also got the chance to dive into the well of Agent Coulson's history, which is at least part of the reason the episode worked so well. It's important to remember that Coulson is still basically a mystery, even to fans of the Marvel films. Clark Gregg once said he only appeared in the first Iron Man film as a favor to Jon Favreau, and now the character is leading an entire TV show. We still don't know much about who Coulson actually is, let alone what really happened after the Battle of New York, and "Eye Spy" gave us a peek in to his past.
The mission this week was one that Coulson picked up on his own, without orders from S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Right away that should've triggered warning bells. And his insistence that the team complete their task without help from HQ was another red flag. They were tracking a master thief, believing that maybe the person was an unregistered gifted—Skye threw out the idea that their target had telekinetic powers or ESP, but Agent May told her there was no evidence of anyone with those powers existing. As it it turned out, the thief was actually a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who had been trained by Coulson himself.
Believing Akela Amador had been killed in action several years ago, Coulson obviously felt responsible for what had happened to her. She'd been held prisoner for years and then implanted with a robotic eyeball that not only allowed her to see through several spectrums but acted as a camera for her handler and whoever else was controlling her. When Coulson learned that she was alive and being held prisoner in her own body (haha what's free will?), his guilt ratcheted straight up. He was adamant about helping her. Is it ridiculous to think that Coulson has formed this new super squad in an attempt to right his past failures as a leader? Akela had been sent on mission after mission, forced to commit crimes and to carry out the work of an unseen master who would activate the kill switch located in her robotic eye if she disobeyed. It was kill or be killed for Akela. And that's a really shitty way to live, to be honest.
Akela's predicament was later "solved" after Skye hijacked her camera feed, allowing Akela to spend some quality time recounting what happened to her all those years to a guilt-ridden Coulson. While they were playing story hour, Agent Handsome completed Akela's latest mission wearing a pair of special eyeglasses that reported back to her handler as if nothing was out of the ordinary. He received all of the orders sent to Akela, including one that directed him to seduce a security guard. Agent Handsome attempted to bromance the guard, and holy crap is he bad at making friends.
Agent Handsome's people skills really are the equivalent of poop + knives—or a porcupine, if you prefer it that way. And it's obvious his inability to play well with others, or even hang out with others in a way that's not strictly "I'm in charge of you, do what I say" will be his season-long arc. It's also obvious that his relationship with Skye is supposed to be the thing that changes him. The two actors work just fine together—especially in this episode, where they were actually partners instead of being thrown together for future romance's sake—but after awhile it's going to start to feel old if it's constantly Handsome and Skye against the world, even if he is her superior officer.
The only way this team will ever feel like a team and act like a team is if these characters interact with every member of the team. So far, the pairings have been Skye and Ward, Fitz and Simmons, May and Coulson, and Skye and Coulson. These aren't bad match-ups, especially not while the show finds its legs, but eventually I'd like to see Skye and Simmons or May and Ward work together and get to know one another.
Skye and Coulson's relationship is probably the strongest of the series so far, and that's great because every series needs a constant. She looks up to him and trusts him because he offered her a family with S.H.I.E.L.D., something she hasn't had in a very long time. Which is why I'm really interested to see how her continued affiliation with the Rising Tide will affect her as the weeks go by. Will she become conflicted? Will she drop the Rising Tide like hot trash? This has the potential to be a great personal arc for Skye, and I don't believe, despite what next week's episode previews suggest, that Coulson will find out about her parallel dealings with the group, otherwise that would be a complete waste of a complicated personal story for the character.
As for the brainiac twins, I don't know that we'll ever really see much of Fitz and Simmons splitting up on missions. But I'd really like the writers to give them something more to do than save the day by performing standard robotic eyeball removal surgery and complaining about being hungry while doing surveillance (though I laughed at that entire scene, because they would think nothing of calling Agent Handsome to ask about using the restroom and grabbing a bite). The closing scene of "Eye Spy," in which Fitz and Handsome were playing cards, was fun once you realized Skye was helping Fitz cheat, but it was also fun because it was a pairing we haven't really had a chance to explore. I just want everyone to be friends, is that too much to ask?
Anyway, like I said at the start, this episode was a welcome change for the series. The characters worked well together, the sampling of Coulson's backstory helped bring us up to speed a bit on who he really is, and the episode at least toyed with the idea of reaching for something deeper. If S.H.I.E.L.D. can continue to build on the momentum it's created with "The Asset" and "Eye Spy," I think the series stands a chance of becoming what we want it to be. It might not be the high-stakes series fans hoped for, but I don't know that that was ever going to be the case. And I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that the team needs to be fighting a global threat every week to be successful. Right now it's very plot-heavy, but given time, S.H.I.E.L.D. will add more character drama, I'm sure of it. And if it can balance those two things, that full-season pickup will turn out to be a very smart idea.
– While I enjoyed the hell out of this episode based on what happened on the surface, I wish it had dealt more with the idea of free will. Akela couldn't even go to sleep without permission from her handler. This is the kind of stuff that could make Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a worthy series and a successor to Joss Whedon's other work. Dollhouse was all about free will and being human, Buffy was one giant metaphor for high school being hell. Firefly was basically just the best thing in the 'verse. If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can tap into stories that tackle larger, more character-driven stories and spark debates about larger issues, it'll definitely raise the bar in terms of quality.
– Akela's handler had been a former MI6 agent, who was also being controlled by someone else. When Coulson approached him, his kill switch was engaged. Who is the mysterious master here? Who is calling the shots? Is this a new Big Bad or the same one we've been dealing with? I like the way the series is playing up potential longterm threats, but sometimes I have no patience and I want answers, stat.
– "What did they do to him?" Akela asked May with regard to Coulson. If she could tell something was off about him after not being in his presence for any number of years, why can't May? Coulson and May clearly have a history of some sort. I suspect this will lead to a lot of May staring at Coulson in the background, watching him and attempting to see what Akela saw in a matter of hours.
– "You're a robot, can you do that?" Ouch, someone get Handsome an ice pack for that burn, plz.
– "Our parts aren't penises!" (No context needed)