Agents of SHIELD: 102 “0-8-4” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After a promising, if not entirely game-changing premiere last week, this is when Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. should be starting to hit its stride and stand on its own rather than relying on the success of the franchise it is attached to. Unfortunately, ‘0-8-4’ doesn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding the show, and while it provides some group development, it leaves something to be desired in terms of character engagement.
Following on almost immediately from last week’s episode, we join the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, including brand new ‘consultant’ Skye as they head to Peru and the site of the titular 0-8-4, code for an ‘object of unknown origin’. Upon arrival, they are greeted by an old flame of Coulson’s named Camilla Reyes, now a commander in the Peruvian military, and discover the 0-8-4 lodged in the wall of a temple. A few twists and turns later, and the crew are being held captive on board the plane by Reyes and her men, who want the object for themselves.
The big theme of the second episode is teamwork: Skye tells Ward, whose only character trait at present seems to be ‘not a team player’ that the reason she works with the Rising Tide is because ‘100 people with one per cent of a solution can still do some good’. Naturally, this message comes back to save the group when Reyes has tied them all up in the cargo bay, and the team finally comes together to pull off something impressive. It’s a message that is somewhat forced down our throats throughout the episode, but as a show at the beginning of its run, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can currently be forgiven a few flimsy story-telling devices as long as the episodes are enjoyable.
Fortunately the interactions between the characters and some interesting asides make ‘0-8-4’ worth watching, regardless of the thin plotline. The discovery by Fitz and Simmons that Melinda May is a legendary figure around the Academy known as ‘The Cavalry’ was fun, and contributes to the mystery surrounding that particular character, and while it obviously served to provide a callback later in the episode the conversation between Skye and Ward served to bring Skye closer into the central group, as well as going some way to humanise the previously icy and detached Agent Ward. Similarly, the discovery that Coulson is something of a geek, with an office full of antiques and collectibles, further cemented his place as a fan favourite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Speaking of geeks, there’s also a healthy dose of ‘Marvelese’ thrown in for the long-time fans: the 0-8-4 being powered by Tesseract energy and used as a weapon in Germany calls back nicely to the villainous HYDRA, as seen in Captain America; similarly, Coulson’s assertion that the last 0-8-4 they encountered was a certain mystical hammer they picked up in New Mexico did much the same for Thor; and there is a fun appearance from a certain one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D. officer at the end that serves no real narrative purpose, but almost makes the episode worth watching on its own. These references are fun to pick up on, but hopefully as the series continues the writers will move away from relying on objects of significance from Marvel Studios’ previous output to create the episodic stories and allow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the opportunity to stand on its own feet: the strength of the characters and premise of the show certainly suggest that it should be able to.
Elsewhere, the episode has a couple of decent action set-pieces, one as the team are attacked by rebels in the Peruvian jungle and Ward has to bust out a flashy gadget (which bears a remarkable similarity to one used in the opening sequence of another Joss Whedon vehicle Serenity – not complaining, though, it’s a fun gadget and there’s nothing wrong with ripping off your own work) to help the team escape; and another as they use the 0-8-4 to blast a hole in the side of the plane and then quickly re-seal said hole (it makes sense on-screen, honestly!). The episode’s somewhat clunky theme of teamwork pays off at this stage, as each member of the team genuinely contributes to the solution to their problem, and none of them feel short-changed or excluded: as we’ve seen from The Avengers, as well as much of his previous work, Joss Whedon has a gift when it comes to dealing with ensemble casts, and judging by this episode it is a gift shared by his creative team (brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen, now responsible for show-running while Joss is off directing a little indie feature called Avengers: Age of Ultron). But now the group knows how to work as a team, I’d like to see them placed in some more interesting scenarios in future episodes, otherwise the show runs the risk of growing stale rather quickly.
Finally, the only real hint we get as to the show’s many already-established mysteries is that Skye is seemingly reluctantly still working for her old chums at the Rising Tide, apparently placed as a mole inside S.H.I.E.L.D., although judging by her facial expressions this is an allegiance which seems unlikely to last long. The lack of focus on overarching plot threads is a sensible choice, however, and small teasers and hints are all we really need at the moment.
As a test of whether or not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can stand as its own product outside the clout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘0-8-4’ is ultimately inconclusive. But as a difficult second episode of a much-hyped show, it is still an enjoyable, if thinly-plotted romp with some nice moments and a sense that the best is yet to come. However, the show needs to step up a gear quickly if it is to be considered and respected as its own entity, as there is still a considerable amount of work to be done.