Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Pilot Episode Recap: With Great Power Comes Great Expectations; With Great Expectations Comes Mild Disappointment

I want to believe… two of you.

Episode One: “Pilot”

The show starts with glimpses of the Avengers battling their alien adversaries, the Chitauri, in New York. It’s only been a year, but details of that film are becoming more fuzzy with time. I guess I’m getting numb to the mass destruction in Summer blockbusters. There’s a voice over from the mysterious female leader of the Rising Tide, who calls out S.H.I.E.L.D. and tells them that they can’t hide anymore.

We flash to LA, where a recently-unemployed father (J. August Richards) and his son are looking at Avengers action figures in a storefront window. Times are tough for the two as the man has lost his factory job. Suddenly, an explosion rocks a nearby building, and the dad slinks off to help in secret. He looks to see that no one’s watching, then punches holes into the side of the building and climbs up to rescue a trapped woman. Where did his powers come from?

As he leaps from the building, we see several people filming the scene on camera phones. One young woman gets a clear view of his face.

Meanwhile in Paris, there’s a top-secret S.H.I.E.L.D. mission going on. (France looks nice in HD). Agent Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), who looks like he just got out of high school, gets a distinguished gentleman’s fingerprints through nefarious means and opens a fireplace safe to retrieve a “package”.

Ward is ambushed by “Rising Tide” agents (more about them later) who were expecting him. There’s a fight and a pretty girl in lingerie, and Agent Ward grabs a tow cable from a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter to escape.

Ward is debriefed by Agent Maria Hill (a welcome Cobie Smulders), who comes off as more of a bad-ass in “Agents” than she was in “Avengers”. It’s a good thing too, since we don’t get Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. We learn that the “package” that Ward recovered in Paris was a Chitauri neural link. Expository dialogue about just what S.H.I.E.L.D. does follows, and Hill tells Ward he’s been recruited to join Agent Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) team to combat the Rising Tide (which is really just a Wikileaks/Anonymous group of “justice hackers” as well as to investigate new reports of “Gifted” individuals.

Wait…didn’t Coulson die in “The Avengers”?

Apparently Nick Fury faked/exaggerated Agent Coulson’s death to inspire the formation of the “Avengers” by giving them something to literally avenge. Coulson said he was dead for 40 seconds, then was revived and recuperated in Tahiti. However, Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. Senior Physician Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass a.k.a. Shepherd Book of Firefly) quietly discuss how Coulson will never know how he really came back. Hmmmm…..

I never had to wear stupid lab coats like this on “Barney Miller”.

The “Hooded Hero” who saved the woman from the building is collecting himself at a diner when he’s ambushed by the young woman who taped his rescue effort. Skye (Chloe Bennet) corners him and warns him that S.H.I.E.L.D. are coming for him and will recruit him against his will. He says “no thanks” to any help from Skye, but she deftly pickpockets his driver’s license before he goes. We learn his name is Michael Peterson (an original character for the show, not a previously existing Marvel character).

Back at headquarters, Coulson persuades Agent Melinda May (portrayed by Ming-Na Wen), who’s removed herself from the field for unknown reasons, to join his team as a pilot. She’s made out to be a legendary bad-ass by Ward, and it’s a safe bet she be just a driver for long.

The team of Coulson (in his beautiful vintage Chevy Corvette named “Lola”), Ward and May join up at their mobile headquarters, a giant jet. Here we meet the non-stop techo-babble-spouting “Fitz/Simmons”, a two person tech team made up of Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Fitz talks about his “Night Night” knockout gun and Simmons is excited about investigating the Chitauri and their biotech. The plane carrying our assembled S.H.I.E.L.D. team lifts off on its way to investigate the Rising Tide and the site of Michael Peterson’s superhero debut.

Well, as it turns out, The Rising Tide is just Skye in her van. Coulson and Ward “bag” her, and she’s taken on the plane and interrogated.


Skye reveals that she knows more about S.H.I.E.L.D. operations than S.H.I.E.L.D. previously thought, and even hints at meta-human operations around the world that they’ve never even heard of.  She is incredulous that Ward and Coulson don’t know about “Centipede”, which obviously foreshadows future plot developments.

Mike and his adorable son are in their apartment. Mike holds an eviction notice and has a telephone conversation with a doctor. Increasingly desperate, Mike threatens to go public with something. The doctor refuses and Mike grumbles about going back to the factory from which he was recently laid off from. He becomes paranoid and we see a centipede-like cybernetic enhancement on Mike’s forearm.

May and Fitz/Simmons explore the interior of the building that housed the explosion. Fitz releases robotic drones patterned after the seven dwarves to investigate the room.

Coulson preps a potent truth serum for Skye, but instead he doses Ward with it. It seems Coulson’s been watching Skye for a while, and this is her audition for S.H.I.E.L.D. She flirts with the sedated Ward and finds out everything she needs to know about him easily.

Mike begs for his job at the factory, but when he’s refused he lashes out with his enhanced strength toward his old manager. Heel turn!

The team (except for Ward, who’s in la la land) resolve to get to Mike before anyone else gets hurt. Fitz/Simmons show forensic evidence that shows the building blew up due to a man who had a centipede on his arm made up of a cocktail featuring every metapower-generating substance yet known to the Marvel film universe…Super-Soldier Serum, Gamma radiation and “Extremis” in an effort to make someone “gifted” like the Avengers.

Mike, bearing flowers, goes to see the woman he rescued from the burning building. When they are alone, he confronts her–she’s the doctor he was speaking to on the phone, and not an innocent victim at all. She berates him for potentially exposing the Centipede program to S.H.I.E.L.D. Mike lashes out and goes rogue, which is what happened to the last guy with a centipede and blew up their lab.

Mike looks for Skye’s and find both her and May in Skye’s van, collecting more Rising Tide database info. Mike knocks out May and forces Skye to give him a new identity (but Skye smartly sends Coulson a message instead.)

Mike leads his son and Skye to a train station, determined to make a fresh start, or to go out with a splash. Skye creates a diversion which allows her to break free and the pursuing S.H.I.E.L.D. team to rescue Mike’s son. The mysterious female doctor arrives on the scene with an armed thug dressed as a policeman. The faux cop sets his sights on eliminating Mike, but Agent May returns and beats the crap out of the thug. The doctor flees, and reports to her unnamed superiors that she blew it. The action recedes to show Mike and Coulson having a one-on-one stand-off.

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Marvel's first television series, is from executive producers Joss Whedon ("Marvel's The Avengers," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-wrote the pilot ("Dollhouse," "Dr.Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"). Jeffrey Bell ("Angel," "Alias") and Jeph Loeb ("Smallville," "Lost," "Heroes") also serve as executive producers. "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is produced by ABC Studios and Marvel Television. (ABC/Justin Lubin) CLARK GREGG, J. AUGUST RICHARDS
“I can show you the world…..shining, shimmering, SHIELD-ed”…

Mike expresses his rage and threatens to go nuclear (and Ward has a sniper rifle trained on him), but Coulson talks him down while expressing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s role in situations like these. They’re here to help, and to listen. Apparently, Agent Ward is there to suddenly shoot Mike in the head. Luckily, Fitz/Simmons arrived with the previously discussed “Night Night” gun and Mike will live and S.H.I.E.L.D. can investigate the centipede device. Yay, S.H.I.E.L.D.

Skye and Coulson make sure Mike’s son is cared for, and Coulson officially offers Skye a role on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. She says yes, and we have ourselves a series. “Lola” is revealed to be the flying car from the future that we were promised, and we’re done here.

Unfortunately, nobody goes out for Shawarma after the end of credits.

The verdict:
I ‘m pretty sure I almost-ALMOST liked it.
I think my expectations were for a perhaps more serious show, and for an actual Marvel character to appear. (Whedon couldn’t get Rage? Darkhawk? Shang-Chi?).  I hope that there’s more action and substance in the future, and less clunky, expository dialogue.

Specifically, I completely hated Fitz/Simmons’ banter and the cutesy concept of them in general. I wasn’t convinced that these beautiful people from across the pond could get out of drama school, let alone be world-class scientists.  Big yuck so far.

Agent Ward also seemed very young and very cardboard (I’m reminded that David Boreanaz was equally terrible early on in “Buffy”).

Skye came off as a completely fake geek girl/uber hacker that didn’t work for me at all.

Even less believable than Olivia Munn on "Attack of the Show".
Even less believable than Olivia Munn on “Attack of the Show”.

I just don’t buy that this team can feature four agents who are basically teenagers, and that S.H.I.E.L.D. would deploy this team (maybe they’re so young in case this show goes 5-7 years).

On the other hand, I absolutely liked and totally bought Dr. Streiten, Agent May and of course Coulson, who really shines as the star of the show. If Smulders can be on the show more often, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” would greatly benefit from her Maria Hill character’s gravity. She actually seemed as though her character progressed into a true leader since “Avengers”.

I have to remind myself that it’s just the pilot, and again that expectations were very, very high with Joss Whedon’s name attached. I really hope it gets better, and that actual Marvel characters are used soon.

I watched the show twice, and though the plot became clearer with a second viewing, I can understand some people getting lost…I had a hard time with such dense, rapid-fire dialogue. There were too many self-aware nods to Marvel lore without any payoff (ok, until the car flew–that totally got me.)

Unanswered questions: Who financed Centipede? What really happened to Coulson? Why did Agent May remover herself from the field? If Skye was the entirety of The Rising Tide, who were the dudes that encountered Agent Ward in Paris?

Tune in next time, true believers!