Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot”

When Marvel and Disney decided to combine the Marvel Cinematic Universe with cult favorite writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), the result was The Avengers, the 3rd-highest grossing movie of all time.  When you combine that film with the rest of the MCU, including the Iron Man series, Thor and Captain America and their upcoming sequels, it’s an obvious choice for Disney/Marvel to want to expand the empire that has brought them such commercial and critical success.  And who better to give the reins to their new TV series to than Joss and his team, which in this case includes his brother and sister-in-law, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (also known as J-Mo)?  The result is the awkwardly titled Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I will from here on refer to as something that’s easier to type.  SHIELD is not the story of the superheroes that get their own films but of the government agents who are forced to deal with them “to protect the ordinary from the extraordinary”, people who have no superpowers of their own yet who are constantly in contact with those who do.  And who better to anchor that story than Agent Phil Coulson, who was stabbed through the chest by villain Loki during the events of The Avengers and presumed dead?  But instead of getting ahead of myself, why don’t we just jump into tonight’s episode, boringly titled: “Pilot”.

After the well-known Marvel logo, which beyond being corporate promotion is actually a good way to tie SHIELD to the Cinematic Universe, we open with a cryptic narration telling the powers that be that “the secret is out”.  It’s clear that the voice is referencing the events in New York from the climax of The Avengers, and we find ourselves in East LA with J. August Richards (Charles Gunn from Angel) and his son, who is looking at the toys in the window, which are based on the now-famous Avengers.  Richards is talking to someone about job possibilities before turning to his son and reassuring them that they’re a team.  Suddenly there’s an explosion at the top of a nearby building, and after Richards checks that his son is ok he heads off to see if he can help.  He gives the impression of another concerned citizen, but he’s much more.

After checking to see if anyone is watching, he slams his hand right through a brick wall, making a handhold and beginning to climb the side of the building.  He reaches the top to find the room covered in flames and a woman calling for help.  He grabs her and jumps out of the window with her, landing on his feet on the ground 10 stories below, holding her in his arms and shattering the street below.  He sets her down and looks up to see a young woman filming him on her phone, before covering his face with his hood and running off.  The voiceover resumes, assuring those in charge that “our eyes are open” and that all of the things they were trying to hide will not stay hidden for long.

We then find ourselves in Paris, with the beautiful location providing a stark contrast to the backlot feel of the previous scene.  We’re with Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), looking smooth on a motorcycle, who we are told is on the trail of a group called the Rising Tide.  The mission seems to have a certain danger level, but that doesn’t bother Ward, who tells the agents on the other end of the earpiece, “If the job was easy it wouldn’t be any fun.”  Ward is confident and has a certain swagger, as he uses some cool technology to scan and duplicate some fingerprints in order to break into a secret vault inside an apartment.  Inside he finds a small, mysterious bundle, before he’s attacked by two men.  It’s a quick but fairly brutal fight sequence, particularly when Ward smashes one of the attackers in the face with a glass blender jar.

It turns out that the small package was a piece of alien technology, presumably from the Chitauri attack on New York.  Ward is being debriefed/interrogated by Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders reprising her role from The Avengers).  It’s really important to have Hill come back for the series, even if it’s only for the pilot, because she really represents SHIELD, almost as much as Nick Fury.  She’s Fury’s right-hand woman, and was a commanding presence in The Avengers.  Ward is clearly supposed to be the audience’s ticket into this world, as he gets to both remind the viewers what SHIELD is while also getting to be ignorant of the more bizarre cases that SHIELD will face.

Hill asks him what SHIELD stands for, which as we know from the MCU is Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, which Ward says means that “someone really wanted our initials to spell out ‘shield'”.  He says that SHIELD is the line between the world and the “much weirder world”.  Hill tries to explain to Ward the magnitude of what they’re facing, referencing the fact that Thor is almost a god.  Ward says that’s he’s not technically a god, to which Hill replies, “You haven’t been near his arms.”

Hill asks Ward what he knows about Phil Coulson, and Ward explains that he was killed before the battle of New York, only for Coulson to emerge from a dark hallway to tell him, “Welcome to Level 7.”  It’s a pretty badass entrance, especially for a man last seen getting stabbed through the chest by Loki before blasting him with an enormous sci-fi weapon and then collapsing.  He immediately follows his surprising entrance with, “Sorry, that corner was really dark and I couldn’t help myself.  I think there’s a bulb out.”  It’s the most Joss line so far, and does a lot to set the tone.  It was so good we had to rewind it and watch it again.  It’s clear that SHIELD will have a lot of humor and the dorky side that Joss is famous for, but it’s also a seriously cool show about powerful and talented people.  If it can maintain that balance, this show can be a huge hit.

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13 thoughts on “Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot”

  1. Your recap got all of my favorite lines: “Sorry, that corner was really dark and I couldn’t help myself. I think there’s a bulb out.” “With great power comes… a ton of weird crap.” “Nobody’s nobody, Ward.” 🙂 The best moment to me was Mike’s monologue about the American Dream. And I am really curious to see how Joss handles being on the side of the establishment this time. So exciting! Can’t wait for more!

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  5. “with great power comes… a ton of weird crap”

    I hope they continue with the various Marvel/fannish references. This is like the best fanfic of all time.

    Truly liking Coulson now, the “everyman” character we all can relate to, just approachable enough/dashingly handsome enough for us female types, calm, considerate, empathic… and still kicks butt.

    Tahiti. Hmmmmm. I think it’s on Asgard.

    “you’ve never been near his arms”

    bwaa haaaa haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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    • I think Coulson is a great “everyman”. It’s an important character trope, and a good conduit for the audience to be able to enter a new world. Without something to ground the show, the more far out episodes will just be silly. Plus Coulson’s dry sense of humor works so perfectly for his role.

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  6. And PS… thansk for the recaps… it clarifies a lot of stuff I miss in the actual show…. like the night night gun…. I was like, “:He’s dead! Why is everybody smiling?????”

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    • No problem! I’m glad people seem to be enjoying them. They’re fun to write, especially since I’m getting a bit better at taking notes. Thanks for the comments! I love getting to interact with people, and you always have great things to add! (Plus, you’re nice, which is rare on the internet.)

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