Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 1 Episode 4
It’s about time Coulson messed something up. Of course, in this episode he is still charismatic, a strong leader and a quick shooter, but in this instalment we’re given a dose of his backstory that hints there can be severe consequences when he gets things wrong. For the first time the Shield team embark on a mission designated not by HQ but by Coulson himself.
The case of the week involves the pursuit of a brilliant and elusive jewel thief. When it emerges that the thief is a former student of Coulson’s, he finds himself torn between his loyalties to Shield and his sense of obligation to his former pupil – but time is running out, and as he quickly learns there are other, more powerful forces at work.
Just as the mission-of-the-week format was beginning to feel somewhat tiresome, the introduction of Akela manages to add a greater degree of emotional depth to the series and makes the stakes much more personal. She’s a smart, efficient adversary for Coulson, not because she’s a walking, breathing weapon with an X-Ray eye (granted some would say that gives her a slight advantage) but more because Coulson is emotionally invested in her fate. Setting protégé against mentor is a great dramatic technique that elevates what could have been a fairly lacklustre storyline into a genuinely inventive one.
The Coulson/Skye relationship is another highlight this week. Their interactions are fast becoming the emotional core of the show, and their budding father/daughter bond offers a great contrast to his somewhat fragile, wounded connection with Akela.
Unlike last time there may be less special effects on show, but the martial arts sequences are impressive throughout. Following her subdued presence in episode three, my prayers were answered when Agent May took up the gauntlet again this week, returning to combat in a brief but intense showdown with Akela.
The episode also showcases the fact that being a Shield agent offers great travel opportunities (the price is that you have to get beaten up by villains in every city you visit, but nothing in life is free). This week’s jet set locations are Sweden and Belarus; while both get the requisite tourist depictions, the locations add to the spectacle of the episode, demonstrating the global importance of the team’s work and providing a fresh, intriguing backdrop for our characters’ struggles.
The opening Stockholm sequence is particularly effective; it playfully subverts our expectations, introducing a series of masked men handcuffed to briefcases (either they’re villains or it’s destined to turn into a bizarre form of performance art) before revealing the real threat from a different direction altogether.
There were noticeable missteps; the moments that failed to convince emerged mostly in the latter half of the episode. Ward’s potential ‘seduction’ scene feels like a bit of a missed opportunity (although it’s funny to see him try and fail with the bromance approach), and it’s never fully convincing that he could hijack Akela’s feed for so long without revealing his true identity. Also, after stressing how ‘genius’ and advanced the optical X-ray technology was, the method used by Fitz and Simmons to disable the failsafe feels too straightforward.
But in its finer moments it’s the best that Shield has offered us to date, utilising the full team to good effect, giving Coulson and Skye some genuinely emotional material to chew on, and hinting at the presence of a shadowy nemesis that will surely soon be unveiled.Tagged in: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
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