In its first episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the team. For its second episode, it brings them together. It’s a safe and, to be honest, retreaded trope for the show to employ, but it lays the groundwork for better and more complex episodes to come. And it’s not bad.
I’m always leery of second episodes. Second episodes of seasons, even subsequent seasons of established shows, are notoriously shaky. The first episode is tasked with setting the stage; the second episode has the unenviable task of giving all of the first episode’s concepts momentum. Even for an hour-long show, that means packing a lot of information into the plot and dialogue while still coming up with enough action to keep the audience engaged.
Here, the titular agents investigate the 0-8-4 reported at the end of the previous episode. What does 0-8-4 mean? “It means we don’t know,” Coulson tells us. The designation is for unidentified objects of unknown potential, which means the team has to identify and, as it turns out, contain the hazard. The last 0-8-4 Coulson handled was Thor’s hammer, so these kinds of missions can go all kinds of ways.
The way this mission goes takes us to Camilla Reyes, a former flame from Coulson’s past. She wants the 0-8-4, which turns out to be a Hydra-esque tesseract weapon that has the potential to end Peru’s rebellions. So she slips onto the Bus, using nostalgia and cleavage to distract Coulson while her men take over the plane and lock his team in the cargo hold. The captured agents free themselves and then foil the hijacking through a clever counterassault that involves shooting a hole in their own hull.
For Reyes, the 0-8-4 represents national stability. But deeper than that, it’s power, exactly the kind that Loki prized so highly in The Avengers. Coulson’s seen the price of that power firsthand, and he’s desperate to make sure no one has it. He tries to tell Reyes that national borders are vanishing; humanity is emerging onto the galactic scene, and they are (as Nick Fury put it) “hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.” From these early episodes, it seems that Agents will deal with the fallout of the Battle of New York happening all across the globe. It’s a fantastic way to world-build the cinematic universe without chewing up precious movie time, and it will let the show explore more complex stories and non-super characters that would never make it to the silver screen.
How are our characters faring the transition from the pilot? This should have been a big character episode for Coulson, but somehow it fell flat in that regard. It should have been nice seeing an element of Coulson’s past reemerge. Instead, it felt as though we learned nothing new about who Coulson is: he’s always been sentimental according to Reyes. His collection of spy antiquities and classic cars are just the latest expression of that trait. Or, as Reyes believes, a midlife crisis (“More of an afterlife thing, really.”).
Ward and Skyler approach a more amicable relationship, sharing worldviews over a drink before the whole plane goes to hell. Anyone who’s watched television more than twice can tell these two will be the show’s smoldering romantic tension pair, but so far I don’t see much smolder. It would be nice to see a genuine friendship emerge between them before anything truly romantic begins. Perhaps the biggest character stretch of the hour is Ward’s softening from his “specialist” mantra, which is a big improvement; nobody wants to watch him complain about being on a team in an ensemble show all season. Melinda May, conversely, grows more mysterious as the tidbits of her past emerge. She resents being thrust back into combat, and shows even less interest in working with her team than Ward does.
Fitz-Simmons began the episode as insufferable as they were in the pilot, fumbling around and generally getting in the way. That’s why it was a pleasant surprise when they unexpectedly grew spines, pushing back against Ward’s callous manhandling of the 0-8-4. I actually like our resident scientists when they’re doing their jobs and trying to assert their expertise over the combat-ready members of the team. More of that and less stammering, please.
And Skyler? “She’s dangerous,” Fury tells Coulson. Coulson claims that he knows, and he might be the savviest member of the Marvel cinematic universe. Does that mean he knows that Skyler hasn’t severed ties with Rising Tide? Skyler is playing a dangerous game by trying to keep a secret agenda from within a team of secret agents. The celebratory scene of the team watching their 0-8-4 rocket out of the atmosphere on its way to the sun gave us the illusion of unity, but Skyler’s cryptic texting reminds us that “unity” is a malleable word in the world of spycraft.
- “Imagine what she could do with our resources.” “I am. That’s exactly what I’m imagining during this frown.”
- Tahiti. Still “a magical place.”
- I can’t wait to hear the story of The Cavalry.
- “We don’t know the level of photon emissions coming out of this.” Really, Fitz? We can’t tell how bright it is? I’m not sure how bright you are either.
- “Do you need anything else before I go check on the device fueled by evil sitting in our cargo hold?”
- Agent May went from “highly competent” to “terrifyingly competent.” She may not want to be in the field, but we sure as hell want her there.
- The Bus’s designation is “S.H.I.E.L.D. 616,” a fantastic reference to Marvel comics’ continuity.
- “I read the safety pamphlet.” “You might be the first.”
- The Slingshot: throwing all your undesirables into the sun. If memory serves, that was the preferred method used by Marvel hero The Sentry.
- “Yeah, we’re gonna have to kill the fish tank.”