Betrayal is a fact of life in the spy world (or fictional spy worlds, at least). When your whole job is based around lying to people to get things, you presumably have to develop a sliding scale of morality to get the job done. But inevitable or not, betrayal is still hard to forgive. Maybe that’s why Skye thinks Coulson is so cool: he’s a spy who clings to his sense of humanity through an unshakable faith in his team, past or present. Too bad it’s going to get him killed. Again, I mean.
By now it’s obvious that Skye is meant to be our POV protagonist in this ensemble. I have mixed feelings about the choice. From a writing perspective, an outsider like Skye is ideal for allowing the more savvy agents to feed her (and the audience) exposition. Through Skye, we get to learn what being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent means and all of the dirty little deeds it entails. But I’m not convinced Chloe Bennet has the charisma to carry such a role; she’s pretty, white, and good at her job, which qualifies her to be one-half of a romantic comedy, but it’s hard to believe Skye when she tells Ward she wants to be an agent. We know she has ulterior motives, but why do the other agents believe that a “hacktivist” like her would suddenly switch teams? Coulson just made the offer, and Skye accepted. There are some growing pains as she adapts to her role, but no ideological differences left to resolve; Skye went from uncovering secrets to keeping them. End transition.
Skye’s inconsistent characterization is symptomatic of my biggest gripe about Agents so far: the characters feel extremely generic. Every character plays a familiar action genre archetype: the hardened agent, the scientist forced out of the lab, the rebel loner forced to play with others…the only one breaking the mold is Coulson, and that’s mostly because he’s still an enigma.
This episode introduces someone much more familiar with Coulson than we are, and she’s unsettled by the changes she sees in him, literally: with her x-ray vision, Agent-turned-traitor Amador knows something about Coulson we don’t, and it startles her.
Amador is held hostage by an implanted cybernetic eye that, while providing her with backscatter x-ray vision—the nightmare technology that’s quickly working its way toward airport security—also comes with a remote kill switch and a handler watching her every move. She’s forced to steal funds to purchase a macguffin keycard, which in turn will grant her access to a macguffin Russian facility and a set of macguffin blueprints on a chalkboard. Initially, the agents don’t realize that Amador is being coerced, and think her a traitor. But Coulson, even without proof, still has faith that something more is going on, and that faith is rapidly becoming the core of his character.
Coulson and May are cleverly juxtaposed in this episode. May advocates taking Amador down without hesitation, and we get the sense that she’s dealt with similar situations before, which makes her ruthlessness pragmatic. But Coulson, who trained Amador, insists that there’s more going on, and pushes the team to investigate. Both characters have valid points: Coulson gambles the lives of his current team based on an old and probably void relationship, while May’s aggression has a note of vengeance to it, as though she simply wants to punish a traitor instead of uncovering the mystery behind Amador’s betrayal.
As rough as these early episodes feel, we’re starting to get a sense of what Agents will become. Ward and Skye team up to run Amador’s infiltration for her, armed with Google Glasses that mimic the implant, while Fitz-Simmons removes and disarms Amador’s eye. The “field” and “bus” halves of the team are falling into a groove with their respective roles, mixing strengths and compensating for weaknesses, but they’re not a well-oiled machine yet. An apt metaphor for the show itself, I think.
The masterminds behind Amador’s eye remain a mystery. Could they be connected to Project: Centipede from the first episode, or could they be a different evil organization out for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s blood? I have a feeling the show will introduce a few new threads before we see any serious development, if only to see which mysteries play well with audiences, and which can be left at the wayside. Hopefully we can get some non-Skye character development in the meantime.
- The episode starts with a small army of men in red masks who garner exactly zero attention. Flash mobs have ruined creepy groups like that. Now you just expect them to show up on some idiot’s YouTube page.
- Before Amador’s name was given, I took to calling her “Nikita Fury,” which makes the loss of her eye even more ironic.
- The “night-night pistol” proves that while Fitz-Simmons can invent amazing gadgetry, they can’t invent a decent name to save their lives.
- “Has she stopped saying “bang” when she pulls the trigger?” “Mostly.
- If the company wanted their diamond shipment to be safe, why did they make it as conspicuous as humanly possible?
- Super-dissolving golf balls: perfect for smuggling diamonds.
- “Go for Short Bus.” “Next time I’ll decide what we call ourselves, okay?”
- Ward doesn’t care for the difference between boy parts and girl parts. A water bottle is a unisex bathroom on stakeouts.
- May goes rogue to take down Amador on her own to protect Coulson from another hard choice. We really need to see her leave the Bus more often.
- “I’m just glad you’re alive.” Dying really did change Coulson. Presumably, he’s become even more sentimental post-Avengers. It’s a neat angle to play on his character, the formerly-unflappable spy who now just wants to see everyone make it out of an op alive. Also, COULSON IS A ROBOT!
- Simmons gets to shine—finally—with a little impromptu surgery. Of all the characters, she’s the least developed. I want to see her as more than half of Fitz-Simmons.
- SEDUCE HIM. “…help.”
- In a show with x-ray ocular prosthetics, it feels uncanny to see a non-electric typewriter.