Well, after months and months of buildup, here we are; the first live-action Marvel TV show in decades. As a lifelong Marvelite I don’t mind telling you I’m a bit nervous. But, Disney/Marvel has emptied its toybox for this one, putting both Whedons and esteemed comics writer Jeph Loeb in charge, so how bad can it be, right? Right?
Right. A doubter no longer, I loved it! The writing is great, the acting was topnotch, and the pacing was brilliant. The story never got bogged down with exposition, probably rightly assuming that everyone watching has at least seen The Avengers, and the action sequences were well-placed and well done. Also, if you ever doubted that Clark Gregg could carry a show, well, you should feel pretty silly now.
On to the spoilers!
The opening sequence shows us a down on his luck father and son perusing the window of a comics shop. (And I’ll pause here to point out that the dialogue in this show is amazing. Even this little back and forth between father and son was endearing, and it only gets better.) An explosion rocks a nearby building, and papa runs off to see if he can help. He soon reveals that he’s no ordinary papa by leaping from a tall building with a single bound, as it were, saved maiden in hand. With his hood up, he runs off, but not before we notice that a conspicuously pretty bystander has caught the whole thing on video.
Next we get to meet the team, each of them getting their own little segment to play up their individual personalities. We get our badass field agent, Agent Ward (Who reminds me a lot of Booth from Bones, so don’t be surprised if I start calling him that.). He gets to play James Bond with lots fistfights and high-tech spy gadgets (like a serving tray that doubles as an x-ray scanner, because you know, when you’re a spy, you have to pretend to be a waiter a lot, I guess). Then we get Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders from HIMYM fame, who, fair warning, will likely be herein referred to as Agent Sparkles), who seems as if she will be our High Commander, in place of Nick Fury, because Samuel L. Jackson ain’t got no time for that. Firefly fans can rejoice as well, as Whedon has resurrected Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) as an unnamed SHIELD doctor. We are also introduced, a bit later, to Agent Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen), a retired operative who is re-recruited to “drive the bus”, but will inevitably be forced to engage in everything she supposedly retired to get away from. And last, but not least, we have our true nerds, the science team, Fitz and Simmons, who bicker marvelously with one another using words no one else understands. (Their dynamic is a better executed version of the one Pacific Rim was going for with Charlie Day and that other mousy British guy whose name I can’t recall.)
Which finally brings us to our crown jewel, Agent Coulson. Clark Gregg is in marvelous form throughout the entire episode, both in dropping his wry witty observations effortlessly with his trademark smirk, and regulating his team when things get serious. The genius of his character is how he makes both aspects of Coulson’s personality instantly believable. If you liked him in any of his previous bits as Coulson, prepare to love him here. However, do not expect the mystery of his resurrection to be easily handed over. Coulson relates the story of how he died for a few seconds after being stabbed by Loki and was revived, after which he recuperated for a time in Tahiti. Agent Sparkles and Shepherd Book have a small conspiratorial aside in which it is revealed that what Agent Coulson remembers is not actually the case.
Meanwhile, back in the main plotline, our pretty girl with the camera phone from the opening sequence has tracked the Hooded Hero, whose name is Mike, to a diner, where she confronts him and urges him to go public as a superhero before the big scary government agency snatches him up to never be heard from again. He rejects her, but takes her card.
The SHIELD agents tell us about a hacker organization called The Rising Tide, who have been harassing them and hacking into their databases and spreading anti-SHIELD propaganda (and who have also posted a video of the recent “superhero event”. Agent Coulson has hatched a plan to draw them out of hiding and track down our newly revealed hero, and assembles his team to do so. As the team’s “Avengers Assemble” montage is running, we get an overdub of a defiant anti-governmentsurveillance monologue by the mysterious Rising Tide. The agents’ montage switches to a montage of conspiracy nut wall-pinnings, and the camera finally pans back to reveal that our camera phone hottie is also our subversive hacker. As her diatribe reaches its “they cannot stop us” crscendo, the door to her mobile command center van suddenly slides open, revealing the smiling face of Agent Coulson.
Coulson and Ward set about interrogating our pretty hacker, whose name is revealed to be Sky, on the whereabouts of the Hooded Hero. They accuse her of setting the bomb to lure him out. She is having none of it, refusing to cooperate with the evil government agents. Coulson makes a show of resorting to sodium pentothal, but of course he’s Coulson, so he has to be quirky about it. He stabs it into the arm of Agent Ward, and instructs Sky to ask him anything she wants, hoping to gain her cooperation by proving they aren’t the bad guys.
Cut to our superhero having an animated discussion with a “doctor”, mentioning the success of the “product”, and in the process revealing some sort of metallic doohickey on his forearm. Mike wants to go public, as he is broke, and the ideas introduced in his earlier conversation with Sky are starting to take root. The conversation does not go well, as he is seemingly ordered to stand down. He decides to visit his old boss and attempt to get his factory job back. Old Boss refuses, and after delusionally declaring himself the hero, and Old Boss the villain, Mike breaks bad in spectacular fashion, crushing Old Boss’s face with a gas canister.
Mike finally visits the woman he saved from the bomb blast, and SURPRISE! They know each other! He is apparently the second test subject for some unnamed technology that makes people super, but also warps their brain a bit. The bomb blast was caused by the first subject, who snapped and blew up the office. She petitions Mike to get it together and disappear, but he’s now completely caught up in his “hero origin story”, and leaves via another multi-story window.
So apparently, a round of sodium pentothal truth or dare with Agent Ward brought Sky around to SHIELD’s point of view, so now she’s our resident hacker. It is revealed that she was in the process of spying on the lab when it exploded. She agrees to help try to get to the bottom of the mystery in order to help Mike, who she still thinks is misunderstood, even after seeing new video of him beating a man’s face in. In the interest of this, she and Agent May leave to retrieve some audio files from her van.
Agents Fitz and Simmons, in the meantime, have used an army of tiny flying, “Seven Dwarves”-themed robots to lift some clues from the scene of the explosion. In an ridiculously impossible astounding use of science, they somehow cobble together, from Sky’s audio recording and some shitty security cam footage, a holographic recreation of the events inside the building. This, coupled with some weird debris also recovered from the scene, allows them to discern that the arm device we saw on the Hooded Hero earlier is an implementation of Extremis technology (shout out to Iron Man 3!). This means, of course, that Mike is now a walking timebomb.
Agent May and Sky are getting ready to head back to HQ, when Hooded Mike drops out of nowhere, knocking out May, and “saving” Sky. He jumps in the van, and we see he has his son with him, and they all take off.
Back at HQ, Fitz and Simmons lay out the two options: get Mike away from people and let him blow, or put a bullet through his brain and stop the reaction. Coulson tells them to find a third option that doesn’t involve him dying. The nerds waffle at the time constraints, and Coulson’s calm, affable demeanor vanishes, replaced with his equally lovable “I’m the boss, do not fuck with me” demeanor.
May is conscious now, so the game is afoot! The nerds frantically try to cook up a cure and Sky hacks her way into the SHIELD system, under the guise of erasing Mike from the system, but really just to give the agents a locating beacon. Coulson and the rest of the team use this to locate the van at a train station, and there they confront Mike, who promptly launches the van door at them and runs off into the station with Sky and his son in tow.
Sky instigates a fight between Mike and some random hoodlums with a welltimed groin kick, but does not escape. The SHIELD agents manage to corral Mike’s son during the hoopla, but suddenly the Extremis doctor and her fake cop lackey show up, trying to kill Mike as well.
Coulson sends Ward to the roof as a last resort sniper option, while fake cop corners Mike and Sky on the balcony of the station. Mike throws Sky to the side to save her, and a shotgun blast to the chest sends him over the railing, crashing into a news booth. Agent May shows up in time to royally kick the ass of fake cop. Mike gets up from the crushed booth, face aglow with impending boom. Coulson shows up, puts his gun down and tries to play negotiator.
Rather than being your typical “I know you’re better than this,” hostage negotiation, the Whedons give us a well-written monologue on the feelings of insignificance and hopelessness a man feels when confronted with a reality of gods and giants (i.e. The Avengers), followed by a typical “I know you’re better than this” hostage negotiation.
…and then Ward shoots Mike in the head.
Oh settle down you softies! It was obviously with a vial of the cure the nerds cooked up while Coulson was distracting you all with his sympathy for the common man.
Sky’s curiosity brings her on the team permanently when the teaser for the next episode comes in over the radio. Oh, and Lola flies!
It’s not Breaking Bad level drama, and it’s not Game of Thrones level intrigue, but it’s damned fun! Crank up the comic geek references a bit, and I’ll be fully on board, Whedon.
Plot points to remember for future episodes:
- Rising Tide seems to have consisted only of Sky, and thusly is now defunct.
- Coulson’s resurrection is still shrouded in mystery, but certainly did not involve recovery time in Tahiti.
- Lady Extremis doctor is still at large, as are her still unknown employers.
- What were May’s reasons for not wanting to come back?