Thursday, March 19, 2015

Still Talking Agents of SHIELD (Episode 2.2.3)

This week’s episode was the best we’ve seen in a good, long while.  Speaking personally, it was probably my favorite of all time.  That’s at least in part because one of my friends—and West Point classmates—had a cameo.  He played the security guard who got his throat slashed when the bad guys broke into the asylum, and the whole scene was epic.  Not only did it catch me off guard with its utter brutality, I also thought my buddy sold it beautifully.  Jack’s done some other work for Marvel, but he hasn’t hit it big, though I’m eagerly awaiting his inevitable star turn.
*Spoilers after the jump*

As an aside, you wouldn’t think a West Point class would someday have a bunch of people working in Hollywood, but we have several.  I’m always amazed by the things my classmates have done with their lives, and I know that others feel the same.  It’s one of the things about being a grad.  It’s hard to appreciate while you’re actually at the Academy, but reality is that amongst your little group of friends are future war heroes, Fortune 500 executives, authors, and even Hollywood-types.  Granted, not everyone blazes a trail of glory, but some do, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done at least a few noteworthy things.
“Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.”
 -- from the Cadet Prayer
Academy rah rah aside, this really was a terrific episode of Agents of SHIELD.  The show’s producers titled it, “One of Us,” but I’d have called it “SHIELD vs. the Redneck Supervillains of Wisconsin”.  Seeing Skye’s father driving around in that busted old Winnebago through the middle of rural America was absolutely classic.  Truthfully, it convinced me that this is a show that’s taken itself a little too seriously, that they need to get out there and embrace their inner trailer park a lot more often.  Up to now, the Agents of SHIELD have mostly fought villains who’ve had their shit together.  Hydra, aliens, other SHIELD agents, and even Agent Garret and his “Clairvoyant” scheme have all represented structured villainous groups with both a plan and the means to carry it out.  This episode finally broke that mold, showing us Skye’s father—Mr. Hyde—as a guy who is batshit insane.
This does not make him less scary.
From what we’ve seen of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it’s easy to imagine a bunch of unstable, marginally powered people running around out there without a clue.  They would represent a danger to themselves and others, and they would often be more than the regular police could handle.  In fact, I can imagine an entire X-File-type show where our heroes travel around the country, visiting neighborhoods, trailer parks, and every other typical American family-type location, looking for folks who might not even know they’re causing problems.  That said, it’s not hard to imagine that the scarier villains would frequently come from rougher, humbler beginnings.
For what it’s worth, I love Mr. Hyde.  He’s the antagonist in one of my favorite issues of the Bendis/Maleev run of Daredevil.  Matt Murdock gets outed over the course of that run, and bottom line, everyone he’s ever pissed off immediately goes after him.  This includes Mr. Hyde.  Right after it happens, Hyde comes down to Murdock’s place, a nice brownstone in Hell’s Kitchen, and starts yelling, throwing things, and basically making a mess.  So Spider-Man swings in, takes a few pokes, and backs off, at which point Hyde yells, “I’ve gone toe-to-toe with the Mighty Thor himself!  I’m not afraid of you, Spider-Man!”  Or something like that.  Then Daredevil hits him over the head with a big blue mailbox, dropping him like a rock.  
“Mighty Thor, my ass.”  Cue scene, and we’re out.
I’m vamping here because what is there to say about an episode that was terrific?  We got great character development from Melinda May, a much better portrayal of what Skye’s got to be scared about, Jemma Simmons—concerned friend—ready to hit Skye with a tranquilizer at the very slightest signs of a tremor, and a couple of great fight scenes involving May and Bobbi Morse.  Even the music was better.  For once, it was creepy and villainous rather than soaring and heroic.  That makes a huge difference.  
I have no idea if the micro fractures in Skye’s bones come out of the original comic books or not, but they are a terrific plot device.  Skye’s powers are killing her, and the more she tries to use her training, the faster her self-destruction occurs.  Uh oh.  Now no one knows what to do, Skye’s stuck in limbo, and May’s got to live with the reality that everything she’s been teaching her prize pupil is only making it worse.  The horror!  The guilt!
I love it.
After last week, I thought we were a mediocre hour of TV away from having Skye dressed in tights and cape.  This week, I think she screwed.  That’s perfect.  It’s exactly what we needed.  The fact that Jemma Simmons wants to drug Skye senseless—for her own good, of course—only adds to the paranoia, and from there we’re set up for the rest of the season.  I’m fired up for it.
The last book is as good as the first one.
I’ll admit that I don’t yet care about the rival faction of SHIELD, headed by Admiral Adam Edward James Olmos. It’s good in the sense that I thought Bobbi and Mac were going to be revealed to be working for Stark Industries, so I didn’t see the swerve coming.  Then again, I haven’t seen a lot of the swerves this season, and that’s okay.  Surprise is good.  However, I can’t shake the feeling that they could work it out if they just got in a room and had an adult conversation.  If that’s the case, but they refuse…  Ugh.  That’s the Rand al’Thor plotline, and it gets old quickly.  In many ways, I loved The Wheel of Time, but for fuck’s sake, Tarmon Gai’don should have happened in Book Four.  Book Five at the very latest.  Anyway, all other fiction writers now have to pay the price for Robert Jordan’s singular overuse of that one plot device.  Agents of SHIELD, please do not go that route.  Or if you do, at least have the good sense to have Agents Simmons and Skye self-consciously smoothing their skirts throughout the entire story-arc as homage to a guy who not only wrote some terrific fantasy fiction but who also flew attack helicopters in Vietnam.
Y’know what?  The Wheel of Time starts and ends very well.  If you’ve not read it, I strongly recommend the first three books and the last three, the ones by Brandon Sanderson.  Sadly, the rest of the series is needlessly overwrought.  You can get the recap from Wikipedia without missing much.
Next Week: A civil war begins inside SHIELD!  I can’t wait.

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