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For The Love Of God, Show, I'm Trying To Like You: What We Learned From Last Night's 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'

By Joanna Robinson | TV Reviews | October 23, 2013 | Comments ()


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Oh, show, I am trying so hard. So very hard to like you. I am rooting for you with every beat of my Whedonite heart. But you make it hard sometimes. This week was particularly hard. Laughably hard. You get the Coulson Finger Of Shame, show. Here’s what we learned.

Oh My God The Dialogue: This episode was written by one Brent Fletcher who is an old Angel alum and though he has some fairly decent writing credits to his name (Friday Night Lights), he’s done most of his work on Spartacus. Not a show known for its crackling dialogue, eh? I really though last week was the show’s finest episode and I had hoped we were on an upward trajectory but after all the clunky dialogue from last night, I don’t know what to expect. More roller coaster quality, I guess. Leaving aside how much I despised both Hunky Hacker and Burn Flame Torch Sizzle Flicker Scorch as characters, can we discuss the clunkers they were forced to deliver? Like this one below from HH? Is that first statement one that needed clarifying? AT ALL?! Oh jesus.
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We’ve Talked About This CGI Thing: I’ll keep after the show until it realizes its limitations. (This comes from love. This comes from me wanting this show to be great.) You are a network show, you are not a movie. You are not even HBO. You are a network show. Game Of Thrones has a $6 million per episode budget. S.H.I.E.L.D. has roughly half that. And even Game Of Thrones deploys the massive special effects in moderation (“Blackwater,” “Walk Of Punishment”). But this show keeps trying to be bigger than its britches and I would like it so much more if they could focus the story inward. It’s not the big space battles or yawning hell mouths that made us love Whedon’s storytelling, it was the people. Let’s bring it back down, shall we?
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See, Show, People Can Be Pretty AND Be Good Actors: I was not a fan of Hunky Hacker and Burn Flame Torch Sizzle Flicker Scorch, but I was a fan of Ruth Negga who played Raina aka the titular Girl In The Flower Dress. First of all, let’s address the obvious, Negga is indescribably beautiful. If you’ve ever heard her native Irish accent, you’ve likely still not recovered. She was also fantastic in her role as a Biggish Bad. A Big Minion. She’s working on Extremis which is now in Phase 2 aka The Phase That No Longer Burns People Alive thanks to Burn Flame Torch Sizzle Flicker Scorch. As far as I’m concerned, Negga can come back every week, swan about in a dress that would make Zooey Deschanel drool and tease us by summoning Clairvoyants. She’s my new favorite thing. Gorgeous and talented, show, it can be done.
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They Out-Nerded Me: Usually I can stay hip to the nerd jargon. I know a lot of insider Marvel info is going to fly by me, but usually I can cotton on to what young Fitz and Simmons are jawing about. But I don’t play Minecraft. Apparently this was a really good nerd joke. Given the writing level on the rest of the episode, I’m dubious.
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We Can’t Know She’s Valuable If She Doesn’t Get To Be, Well, Valuable: Last week they did an excellent job convincing me that both Agents Ward and Skye were valuable members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. This week? Not so much. I think it was supposed to be impressive and funny that Skye did her hacker job in ten seconds or less, but given that she spent about ten minutes with her shirt off, I’m not really digging the “useful”/”boobs” ratio.
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If All Else Fails, Ditch Everyone Else, Keep These Two: But no matter what else happens with this show I’ll keep watching if only for these two. I understand everyone else fleeing but everything I love about a Whedon endeavor comes shining through with Agents Coulson and May and I won’t leave them.
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Between that disapproving finger wag, the insouciant “so we’re good?” in the face of a flaming mad man and the casual hunch of his shoulders when ducking from a blast, Coulson (and Gregg) remains the anchor of the show.
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And he’s matched in every way by the Battlestar Galactica tank top wearing, tai-chi performing, double Scotch having Melinda May. Oh, join her on a mat for a round or two, Coulson, you won’t regret it. And, listen, if it turns out Melinda May is secretly Skye’s mother, I’m going to burn this whole place to the ground. Actress Chloe Bennett is half-Chinese though, so I’m worried.
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Are you following Pajiba on Facebook or Twitter? Every time you do, Bill Murray crashes a wedding.


Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Dominic

    yeah JR they were itching to get Chloe in lingerie Ming prob won't and Henstridge can't as the nerdy scientist , unless it's for laughs .
    yk , MY problem with this show is that they are stuck on this ' Let's get the Mad Mutant " storyline , for EVERY show . Centipede and The TF are supposed to muddy the picture ; but if it's Catch a Mutant every week I'm not watching it . I only watched this episode cause Chloe getting kicked off was teased . . NOW if they have some big showdown event , and bring a hero or two in for a two-parter , last-episode tease , i may watch( IM is a possibility because of Mandarin-like body explosions ) It is written too corny (shrugs) it's broadcast TV whaddya expect ....

  • kinoumenthe

    I like May, but this week's Award for Bad Ass Two-pronged Syringe Shot by a Lady goes to Shaw on Person of Interest. No. Contest.

  • summer on mars

    Ming-na was on Battlestar?

  • foolsage

    No, but her top is reminiscent thereof.

  • summer on mars

    Thanks, I wondered how I could forget that.

  • shaylynnvacca321

    My Uncle Harrison got a nearly
    new blue Buick Regal GS by work using a laptop. recommended you read
    J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • TheAggroCraig

    Oh oh oh, my turn to be a turbonerd! Coulson also turns away and crosses his arms like that when they blow up the door to Stane's lab in the first Iron Man movie. It's a legitimate character trait, people!

  • foolsage

    Good catch.

  • Who is flying the plane while May is knocking back the scotch?

  • puppetDoug

    When told to change the flight plan, she said "just did." I feel like I missed a part where she took out some tech and showed us she was flying from the computer room. Or maybe she's a robot and she's connected to the bus. Maybe everyone's an LMD.

  • chascook

    Chloe Bennet is enough reason to watch this show. This is a cartoon with people. Don't overthink it.

  • This episode was a step backward without question. And the linchpin of the bad is Skye. What they did with her background was awful because they expect me to believe that hacking wasn't a natural talent for her, she learned from HH. And then joined a shadowy quasi-criminal organization JUST SO SHE COULD FIND MOMMY AND DADDY? Really? They could have made her mentor a bit of a dump truck so show that Skye was at least willing to do whatever or whoever it took to accomplish her goals.

    I'll hang with it for many of the reasons already listed, but I will continue to beat the same drum I have since the pilot: they need a couple more players to round out the team and a B-plot, for all that is holy, cannIgetta B-plot?

  • puppetDoug

    Yeah, why are they refusing to give Ward & Skye negative traits? This is just like Riley. The reason they're boring is because the writers are refusing to write the character they've created. If Skye was just a little more Dragon Tattoo (or hell, even Abby from NCIS), a little more rebellious criminal full of attitude, and Ward was a cold stone killer with zero sense of humor, borderline Spock, their characters would not only be infinitely more interesting, they'd have better banter and be, strangely, more believable. Trying really hard to sell me on someone being a good person with a sympathetic background and no character flaws because of it? Immediate hate fuel. Meanwhile, Melinda is a super badass who probably was ordered to do something fucked but is maternal with Coulson of all people. That's a character.

  • I do think Skye would be better if she was more grifter than hacker. That would cause more tension among the team because she would be manipulating everyone, all the time. The paring with Ward would be better since he could be the only one who outwardly calls her out on her schemes and trains her in a "keep your friends close, enemies closer" kind of way.

  • Salieri2

    DID PAJIBA JUST AUTO-PLAY A HOT POCKETS COMMERCIAL? OH HELL NO!

  • puppetDoug

    Brent Fletcher wrote one season 5 Angel episode, it's not like he's bloody David Greenwalt. I think there's a problem of everyone that should be running this show -- Joss, Tim Minear, Greenwalt, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Ben Edlund, Drew Goddard, David Fury -- all having graduated to running their own show/doing the movie dance. Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen aren't good enough to be doing this solo already, and Jeffery Bell can't write everything himself. Also, the show is being awfully directed & cast. Though this ep wasn't written all that well, the lines in the mouths of the vets came off well enough. I think Joss has a tendency to cast potential knowing he can direct it out of them, but if left to their own devices actors like the ones who play Blue Steel and Hactivist fall flat on their faces.

  • Sean

    Given the ratings, you might not get time to burn it to the ground. This show needs focus, and fast. Keep Ruth Negga as the face of the bad guys. At least til we see the Red Skull again. Which we all know the bad guys will turn out to be Hydra. Throw in some low level superheroes. FAST. Power Man and Iron Fist as a start. Misty Knight too. Maybe even Cloak and Dagger. Also get Samuel Jackson to make regular appearances.

  • Salieri2

    I feel you but I don't want Power Man and Iron Fist anywhere near this Disney mess. My Coulson crush and Melinda May appreciation will keep me going for awhile, but they mess with Luke Cage before we have a chance to see a big-screen treatment? I'm out.

  • Sean

    I fear the only way we will see Luke Cage on the big screen is "Medea's Heroes for Hire".

  • puppetDoug

    I originally wanted to down vote you just to down vote the Medea thing, but I didn't want to send the message that I didn't laugh at that comment. I say give Heroes for Hire to fucking RZA, since he clearly wants to do it so badly.

  • Sean

    What is sad is that I didn't mean it as a joke. I meant it as a comment about the total lack of any non-Tyler Perry movies with black leads. Or movies exactly like a shitty Tyler Perry movie.

  • puppetDoug

    Weaving doesn't want to play it again and I doubt they'll bring him in for SHIELD. It's more likely we'll get a runner up Hydra leader like Baron Zemo, which I would actually prefer.

  • Sean

    That would work too. And do you need Weaving, really? His voice can't be that hard to fake. But the real problem is that they probably won't get the chance. The ratings are in free fall. Actually, I was amazed at how low the ratings were. Not just for this, for all of network TV. It is amazing how few people are watching network TV.

  • puppetDoug

    Right now it's getting just under NCIS, and it's doing just under NCIS work. If Jeff Bell were running the show and doing it more exclusively spy, I think it'd be doing a lot better. The reason I'm optimistic is that NCIS has been doing this for a decade at the exact same level, and SHIELD could still possibly be treading water until episode 6 or so, when network shows (especially Joss shows) start figuring out their arcs, their actors' strengths, and stop having to re-introduce the premise every episode.

  • St

    I gave up after first episode. Then in a few weeks decided to give it another chance... And couldn’t even finish episode 2. This show is hopeless. Awful casting. I don’t care about any character. Agent Coulson is charming but that is not enough.

  • JenVegas

    If it turns out Melinda May is secretly Skye’s mother I am right there with you but I REFUSE to give up on this show!

  • dr_zayaz

    Love that they namedropped Snowden, Manning and Swartz. Some news programs won't even do that.

  • DarthCorleone

    I knew that zombie pigmen joke was over my head, and as such it annoyed me. I guess I'm getting way too old / non-nerd-hip.

  • Last night was my first foray into "Agents of SHIELD" and I gotta say,if there's anything out there that can quench the flames of my Buffy/Angel/Firefly-fanned WhedonLove....it's this tall drink o' WTF. Maybe I needed to look past how despicable Hunky Hacker was as a character, but I just couldn't. Getting old must be making my idealism sag. Every time he started to sulk and mug and yap about "democratization of information" I just jumped up and started screaming at the screen: "Nothing is that simple, you petulant fucking CHILD!!!" And that was BEFORE we found out he was feathering his nest. My couchmate finally had to tase me and I spent the rest of the episode swilling whiskey and mumbling - Milton-like - about how I might just take my Buffy DVDs and set the building on fire.

  • Pentadactyl

    I was really hoping he'd bite the dust by the end of the episode. No such luck, but being humiliated w/ the payment coming out was a step in the right direction.

  • Wigamer

    I am incorporating "tall drink o' WTF" into the rest of my conversations this week.

  • seth

    And stop using callbacks to great science fiction. It's unbecoming!

  • "But I don’t play Minecraft. Apparently this was a really good nerd joke. Given the writing level on the rest of the episode, I’m dubious."

    My son thought it was hilarious. He's six years old. Use that info to re-calibrate your expectations, and the episode's dialogue was actually quite adroit.

  • cruzzercruz

    I'm probably in the minority, but the show is working for me. It's not as good as earlier (and more involved) Whedon programs, but it's got shades of Angel and appears to be getting better. It feels like Whedon-lite, which is about on par with SyFy shows, with a higher production value. The humor strikes me well and the action is well choreographed. I'm not singing its praises off the rooftops, but I'm still tuning in every week and enjoying it.

    That being said, there's room for improvement. I'm just not going to outright quit if the show doesn't surpass MCU supplementary viewing material.

  • John W

    The thing with this show is that Coulson and May are the only two who feel like "secret agents". The rest seem like they belong on a show on the CW.

    The two techies and Chloe are so out of place. Too much cutesy stuff.

    I know it's on a Disney channel and they're trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of people but man, I was hoping something a little closer to 24/Homeland...only with superheroes. I wish they would introduce HYDRA or AIM.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I don't think CW and secret agents are mutually exclusive (I'd prove it, if the CW would just come knocking), it's more an issue of none of these people actually being useful.

    Coulson and May are generally driven from their own motivations, whereas so far everyone else... follows some orders. Ward's a badass, but only in that someone sends him somewhere and he kicks the asses that are there-- and it's the same with everyone else. Fitzsimmons haven't done a damn thing on their own, they just solve problems everyone else asks them to solve. Skye is basically a better version of calling Geek Squad. The problem's not the pretty or the casting, it's that that they just don't do anything of their own, it's that they really aren't characters.

    I'm willing to bear with the show so far on tone, because I don't think it's really sensible for them to be able to go full geek this early on. I think it can get there, but they have to build up the details a bit first. Even something like NCIS, it was way less Naval-y and spy-ish in its early seasons than it has been at some of its heights. You've got to bait the broad audience a certain way early on, is all.

  • Pentadactyl

    Nikita.

    ETA: Also agree with the rest of your points w.r.t. the characters not really having a reason yet. I think Skye's back story from last episode made big strides in that regard. I know it was kind of cliched, but it played well with me (possibly largely b/c I was bracing for it to be rape like EVERY FEMALE CHARACTER EVER and was glad the show didn't go there). I think giving everyone a tragic back story would be overkill. But I think they could use one or two more and give the rest of them motivation to be part of the team along the way, as the story progresses.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I definitely don't think the requirement is anything like a tragic backstory, though it works for someone in Skye's situation, because she's obviously crazy gifted but definitely slumming it with the van and so on, so it sort of begs explanation. Ish. Whatever, I'm cool with it.

    I actually like the part where Simmons is a nerd who apparently totally wants to get the excitement of the field, and then that turns out not to be as awesome. And then she has to adjust to it. And then... Well, Fitz is just weird so far, honestly, maybe just give him a monkey and leave him alone?

    Ward's actually super fixable, assuming the actor can make more than the one face. Humanize him a bit, give him a little more of his own motivation with things, problem sort of solved. There are still some serious ensemble things that need to be sorted out, as far as how this all fits together and what the relationships are and so on, but right now it's slightly more imperative to get individual characters sorted out. They ought to just reference Firefly, since that's clearly where this is lifted from.

  • Pentadactyl

    Ward's one and only (non)expression reminds me of this:

    http://www.cracked.com/video_1...

    (Or rather, I guess I should say the video made me think of him, b/c he came first)

  • JustOP

    The fact about the show is that I honestly don't care about the characters. No, not even agent Coulson. To me he's that guy who appeared in the movies a few times and had some minorly humourous dialogue. That doesn't consist of a great character in my eyes.

    And this is the guy whos 'spearheading' the show. I've watched all of the episodes and I can barely remember the characters - I just recall them by remembering which trope they fit best. 'Akward Tech Nerd Male'. 'Attractive Male'. 'Wise Leader'.

  • dizzylucy

    Me too - I have zero connection to the characters, and I too couldn't tell you any of the characters names except Coulson. That's pretty bad, because I've watched them all too, except this week's. I started it, after 5 minutes drifted off to do something else, and finally stopped it when I realized half the episode had played.

    The first episode was kind of fun, but I never became invested in it, and I don't see that changing.

  • jennp421

    I feel similarly about Coulson though he is growing on me. But yeah, I can't say he was a draw for me. The only reason he made an impression in The Avengers is because he died. I like May, though.

  • Parsnip

    I couldn't have put it better myself. And because it's not 24/Homeland with superheroes I really don't know how much longer I can hang in there.

  • Guessing HYDRA is being saved for Cap 2: Return of Cap Azz. But AIM should be available and, as it was introduced in Iron Man 3 and being linked with Extremis, that should be easy to fit into this show.

  • AngelenoEwok

    Lordy, Return of Cap Azz can't come soon enough for me.

  • Mrcreosote

    Centipede is a terrible name for a criminal organization. I would have accepted Galaga, Defender, Shinobi or my favorite, Tempest.

  • Three_nineteen

    Centipede is not the name of the criminal organization. It's the name of the project that created the serum. We don't know the actual name of the bad guys yet.

  • Salieri2

    Joust.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    Galaga has already infiltrated the SHIELD helicarrier!

  • jon29

    You thought we didn't notice. But we did.

  • Guest

    Ruth Negga's a great actress (check out "Breakfast on Pluto") and very pretty, but her real-life accent is like nails on a chalkboard.

    Her D4 (South, posh Dublin) accent is probably the absolute worst in the country and the last one I'd want anyone from other countries associating with us.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I’m not really digging the “useful”/”boobs” ratio.

    Mr. Julien's feelings are quite the opposite.

  • troublesometots

    I'm honestly so relieved to see un-augmented boobs taking front and center on TV that I cheered happily the whole time!

  • Joe Grunenwald

    The great thing is that they could conceivably have the entire team, minus May and Coulson, die on a mission and it would be totally believable.

  • DarthCorleone

    As my wife said regarding that dialogue and the textured expression of relationship angst that pervaded this episode: "It's like these children just left Degrassi."

  • BWeaves

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Whedon should film 8 episodes and then just throw them away and start with episode 9. It usually takes him that long to get the ball rolling on a series.

  • SamuraiShampoo

    I think people are really overestimating how involved Whedon actually is in the show.

  • Michelle

    Well there is A Whedon involved.. just not THE Whedon.

  • AngelenoEwok

    Also, I found myself longing to see Hunky Hacker and Agent Blandsome get hit by the same bus.

  • AngelenoEwok

    The dialogue made me feel like I was watching Degrassi.

  • Amanda

    Maybe Whedon should have been at the writing table instead of behind the camera.

  • DarthCorleone

    Yes, this is my wife.

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