Marvel's Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Episode 4
Let’s talk about the things in “Eye Spy” that worked. I’ve been, if not harsh, then at least a bit negative towards Agents of SHIELD so far, mostly for reasons I stand by and for things that are still present tonight. Yet “Eye Spy” is a step in the right direction by virtually every metric, so this week, let’s speak in praise of modest improvements in various quarters.
To begin with, the villain of the week this time out is easily the best gimmick the show has come up with yet. Akela Amador (Pascale Armand), a SHIELD agent presumed dead for years, resurfaces when she pulls numerous seemingly impossible heists. She is a former protégé of Coulson’s, so he is on the case. We quickly discover, though, that all is not as it seems, as Amador is revealed to be under the control of an unseen antagonist with an unknown longer game. All of this is intriguing stuff, a cool mix of sci-fi and standard espionage, with a suitably terrifying prospect at its center. Sure, a lot of this doesn’t particularly work (how does Coulson randomly guess its Amador when she wouldn’t have been able to pull the heists without the implant, for example?), and it relies for the second time in four episodes on a piece of Coulson’s past that is supposed to provide stakes but mostly falls flat. But there is a lot of promise here that the show will at least become more conceptually adventurous over time.
We also have some nice character moments here between the two pairings that work best for me at this point: Coulson and May and Coulson and Skye. This is the half of the show’s ensemble that feels like its populated by real characters waiting to be shaded in, and while most of the shading tonight is repeating things we already know (May is a stoic who respects Coulson, Skye is a rebel learning there may be a better cause, Coulson cares about his people), it at least hits those points in new enough ways to keep things interesting. The Coulson/May fight is good enough, and though I wish the show had milked a bit more tension from what May was going to do when she went after Amador alone, it at least feigned in the direction of a potentially interesting position for May.
Feigning in the direction of progress is seemingly Agents of SHIELD’s stock in trade this week. All of the improvements come with slight detriments, but there are improvements and they are enough to keep my faith in the show alive for the moment. Fitz and Simmons are still pretty lifeless, and Ward is still basically a Ken doll with a speech bubble, but the writing that backs these problematic performances is inching towards the mad-cap quipping that defines a Joss Whedon show, and that those running this one in his stead are clearly angling for. The jury is still out on whether Fitz, Simmons, and Ward can become worthwhile, but I’ve been bored before on shows of this type, only to be very surprised when a show managed to make me care about a character incredibly quickly. There hasn’t been a great episode of Agents of SHIELD yet, but there have been several sort of interesting, mostly entertaining ones that sort of mutter “potential” under their breath while checking off boxes on a list handed to them by a network executive.
“Eye Spy” is hardly a sterling episode of television, but it has a lot to recommend it for anyone who either hasn’t checked in on the show yet or checked out after a few weeks and would consider coming back for a look-see. None of the show’s problems are gone, and in fact, in many cases they aren’t really even diminished. But there’s something to almost everything this episode tries to do, something that makes me think, “Huh. Maybe someday.” For now, that’s enough.
-“Bus to Short Bus.” “Go for Short Bus.” “Next time, I decide what we’re calling ourselves.”
-“Fitz wants to know if you packed any snacks.” “Yeah, I’m feelin’ a bit peckish.”