Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 4 review: Eye Spy

Review James Hunt 17 Oct 2013 - 07:31

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is improving, but will it do so quickly enough to keep its audience? Here's James' review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 Eye Spy

This week's episode of Agents of SHIELD was easily the best yet, but let's face it: against the competition that's probably not as much as a triumph as it sounds.

The episode's high point, as with last week, was its opening – an eerie, dreamlike sequence in which red-masked businessmen carrying briefcases swarm through a major metropolitan area. It owed a little to Hush, one of Whedon's most memorable Buffy episodes, but unfortunately what followed didn't reach anywhere near those heights. The rest of the episode was disappointingly by-the-numbers, never coming close to generating the level of intrigue or surprise the initial scenes suggested it was capable of.

This week's plot, at least, was the first that actually felt like an engaging story with a decent mystery, as the SHIELD agents got on the trail of Akela, a former agent apparently gone rogue. It was compelling stuff, even though the eventual pay-off didn't make you go "Oh!" so much as "Oh, they nicked the ending from that one film." There were also some weird diversions, such as the trio of techies getting attacked in a van for… some reason… it wasn't really clear. We can make assumptions (maybe her handler had found out they were observing what was going on, so she pretended to kill them to get him/her off the scent) but it's a fairly major plot point to skim over.

At least this episode cut down significantly on the try-hard banter. There was a little in the episode's first scene with the crew, and some of the attempted call-backs (particularly Skye's gun-fumbling moment) were so clunky you could practically see the gears crunching, but by reducing the amount of pithy dialogue and references to the movies, we finally got to see the team members doing what they're good at, and it didn't even involve those stupid mini-robots of exposition.

Even Agent Ward is starting to display some unique traits, and the scene of him attempting to, er, chat up a Russian guard was probably his best yet. If we can just do something about Simmons' cringe-inducing Hermione-squared accent and attitude, the cast might actually be in with a chance of becoming actual characters instead of one-dimensional punchline-spouting plot-advancers. To be fair, the scene of Skye, Fitz and Simmons in the van did at least serve one purpose: it showed that Skye is the missing ingredient in that relationship. Having the uncool kids hanging out in a van and making stupid requests to the professionals did more to make those three likeable than anything we've yet seen.

One of the big problems this episode made clear is something almost any vaguely procedural TV series wrestles with: the team is supposed to be made up of the keenest, most razor-sharp individuals available. So why are they all so far behind the viewers whenever there's a mystery to solve? When they're watching Akela's video feed, they spend ages puzzling over where the camera is, long past the point where even the dullest audience member is shouting "It's in her eye!" at the TV, and they spectacularly fail to recognise their own van on the feed even after saying "it looks like our van".

It's not the easiest problem to solve - viewers (allegedly) don't like a TV series to be more intelligent than they are, so that gives the people making it two options: use sleight-of-hand and deft writing to make the audience think they're a step ahead of the cast… or make the cast slower than a Prius with a weight problem. This time they actually cheated as well, using a number of audio cues to suggest Akela was using telepathy before delivering the "twist" and then ignoring the audio cues entirely. That's not clever writing, that's just outright lies.

Just to end this review on a positive note, I should say that I'm glad we got the first hint of an actual arc as Ward completed Akela's mission without quite realising what it was that he delivered. Equations? Alien code? Something else? It's clearly something that's going to come back in a big way, and as mysteries go it's actually quite intriguing in its possibilities – much more so than the "Rising Tide" stuff. Let's just hope the pay-off sticks, and that we're not too long getting to it.

So anyway, Agents of SHIELD is definitely getting better and that's the main thing to take away from this episode. At this rate it should actually be quite good (rather than forgivably average) by Christmas. Let's hope the viewers last that long.

Read James' review of the previous episode, The Asset, here.

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Disqus - noscript

Another week, another shoe horned "Coulson is different" line. Oh how we'll never get tired of those.

Yeah, i agree, i think we all get that there is something going on there.

Weren't the eyeball bombs more than a little "Mission: Impossible III"?

Abridged version: Less dire than the previous 3 episodes.
I'm bailing out - the term 'flogging a dead horse' springs to mind. I'm instead going to rewatch Angel.

Clone Coulson is a Clone or is that the Red Herring so far?

"Just to end this review on a positive note, I should say that I'm glad we got the first hint of an actual arc as Ward completed Akela's mission without quite realising what it was that he delivered. Equations? Alien code? Something else? It's clearly something that's going to come back in a big way, and as mysteries go it's actually quite intriguing in its possibilities – much more so than the "Rising Tide" stuff. Let's just hope the pay-off sticks, and that we're not too long getting to it."
1. it might not be the FIRST hint of an actual arc … other potential arcs have been hinted at previously … maybe the others hints actually belong to the same arc … who knows …

2. maybe it is not "much more than the rising tide stuff" … skye believes the rising tide is the "good guys" but maybe those at the top of the rising tide are also behind centipede … is it going to be one big bad wolf or several little ones ?

3. all the above does not really matter as long as they deliver about 42' of fun every week … :D

Normally I'm the 1st to shoot stuff down but I actually quite enjoyed this episode. I must have an under active snark gland.

I keep hoping that there will soon be something on the show that has something tangibly to do with the Marvel Universe, and which is not relegated to those last few seconds when the story is already over.

Episodes 5 and 6 will determine if audience is kept. The Skye loyalty issue is annoying, not interesting anymore. F&S should stop behaving like kids. Maybe bringing a contender that attracts the help of one of the big characters of Marvel in one of the episodes, or bringing a fight between Shield and the Competition would be nice or recruiting a gifted citizen with powers will spice it up. The show is competing against the other Marvel superheroes movies and the lack of special effects and science fiction parts are killing the tv show Agents of

To the people opting out: give the series another chance, remember previous Whedon series that were great in the end but didn't get another season.

Let's see:

- Buffy. Notoriously weak 1st season. BUT....not in the same consistent manner. 1st 2 episodes were great, and most of the season alternated between 'great' and 'OMG-awful'. It's weakest moments in that 1st season were truly dire, but also more forgiveable in that they're weaknesses shared by most tv series centered around teenage characters. In the best episodes, the show gave those teenagers a depth that SHIELD hasn't yet managed.

Most importantly, just in terms of story technique, even in that 1st season, Buffy never sunk into the trap of having the characters responding with the same 'breezy adventure' feel as the show. The show was light tv adventure (the more intelligent coming of age and feminist elements arrived in the 2nd season), but the characters always responded in a manner that was believably commensurate with the danger they in.. SHIELD has the team preparing for a dangerous op, while all talking as though they're teenagers preparing a highschool assignment (case in point: Fitz's 'monkey' dialogue in episode 3).

2. Angel - strong from the start, but I'll accept that's an unfair comparison, being a spinoff series with a pre-established core set of charactrers.

3. Firefly - utterly superb from the start, though badly damaged by Fox showing the episodes out of order (a problem when River is hidden in the box until the end of episode 2 - one episode she's been out for ages and all talkative, the next week she's not introduced yet and the characters are all wondering what the mysterious doctor has stowed away in his coffin-like box).

4. Dollhouse - even in the worst episodes it wasn't as weak as SHIELD, and like Buffy it alternated between brilliant and poor. The episodes that focused on the core theme of how good people fool themselves into doing terrible things shone from the start, demonstrating the show's potential.

Unlike his other 2 'weak start' series, SHIELD has been consistently mediocre - there hasn't been a 'great episode' like ep1-2 of Buffy or episodes of Dollhouse that focused on the supporting cast instead of being yet another 'sexy spy' clone.

I'd love it if Shield ends up recovering. And heck, Revolution has actually been quite watchable this season after an embarassingly poor 1st season. But you can't ask people to watch a show in the HOPE that it becomes better, when (unlike Buffy or Dollhouse) it hasn't actually had any episodes that establish a higher potential. It's entirely reasonable at this point that people shelve it and pick it up down the track if word of mouth indicates it's picked up.

And Marvel only has themselves to blame. Unlike when Whedon made Buffy, there's been numerous AAA tv series that have shown how to launch a great serialised show (Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, heck at this point I'll watch any serialised show that begins with 'B'). SHIELD also has a massive budget, creative freedom and arrives at a time when audiences are far more welcoming of this kind of show than when Buffy was made.

Anyway, why are you bringing Joss Whedon into it? You know he isn't actually writing or directing it, don't you? He isn't even show-runner. He's busy working on Avengers 2 - his involvement in SHIELD is limited to the show's concept, publicity interviews and letting Marvel use his name for marketing, Writing and show-running duties for SHIELD go to the OTHER Whedon - JED Whedon (Joss's less talented brother).

In honesty, I can't think of a single Jed written episode of any of Joss's shows where I didn't come out of it thinking 'OMG Joss, tell your little brother to GET HIS OWN JOB!'.

Sounds like the ugly counter-productive truth of nepotism

I can still only see it as Warehouse 14.

Sounds strange to say, but I haven't really enjoyed an episode yet. When I first watched Firefly, I fell in love with it quickly - for the characters. Each member of the crew, from episode one, had their own distinct, LIKABLE personalities. I was having fun watching them.
We're what, four episodes in on this? Let's sum up the characters.
3 cocky, unlikable experts, with roguish elements. (Yes, I'm including Coulson. Deal with it.)
1 gruff veteran.
2 of the most stereotypical, individuality deprived, science nerd characters I would never have expected from a writer of Wheadon's calibre.

I'm not critiquing the show, that's not my place. I'm just expressing what I see when I watch the show. All in all, nothing that's making me WANT to come back, aside from Avenger's references and faith, I guess.

Yeah.. Faith. Is this how religious people feel? Little to no substance to what I'm seeing, yet blindly returning out of some kind of belief?

Is it me or does it seem like James Hunt is just not the right person to keep reviewing this series? He sounds like he's actively looking for things to nitpick. I've enjoyed each and every episode so far, and personally I think he's so far off the mark when it comes to Fitz and Simmons that it's almost funny. Those two are by far my favourite characters, as they actually feel like they have genuine chemistry. And about that "cringe-inducing Hermione-squared accent", I can't hear anything wrong with it. It's British. We sound like that.

It's good television. Yes, it's not at the heights of things like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but it's still very impressive considering Whedon has only written one episode and undoubtedly has little time to manage the others. People need to realise it's NOT a television version of The Avengers. It just shares a universe.

A show about spies using a device like something used in a spy film... THAT'S OUTRAGEOUS! I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DID THAT!

Or you're not expecting way too much from the first few episodes like everyone who hates it is. It tends to take at least 5 episodes for everything in a show to click properly, usually more. Joss has been lucky in his past shows when everything clicked pretty much straight away. Everyone needs to lower their bar for a few weeks and chill the f**k out, I'm sure the back half of the season will be awesome.

Totally agree. I remember the 1st series of TNG, god awful. Same for DS9, Buffy, any stargate series, and every series of walking dead which seems to consistently getting a free pass despite being mostly dull& plodding.

Well tell me another of these spy shows where, specifically, a bomb inside someone's eye has been used...

And you need to calm down a little my angry friend. :-p

Name another instance of it then. I can't think of one. You're being a bit of a twat.

No sorry. I apologise. You're being a lot of a twat.


Jed co-wrote (with his wife
Maurissa Tancharoen - who played Kilo in Dollhouse) several episodes of Dollhouse (including Epitaph 1 and 2) and also the Dr Horrible miniseries. Oh and some Spartacus, but that isn't really one in his favour.

I thought that exact same thing too. Unlike our Random friend who has clearly seen imaginary shows and films in his mind, I've never seen such a device outside of this and Mission Impossible 3.

Maybe I'm missing the point, but watching this with my six and eight year old boys provides the perfect cross generational TV experience that has been missing for years. It might not suite all my needs as an intelligent adult viewer, but for ALL of us, it's just about perfect.

That's how I've been viewing it too - reminds me of sitting with my brothers and parents watching The Dukes of Hazzard or Knight Rider. It's a lot of fun which some people are just taking far too seriously.

God this is really hard to watch, such dull bland characters & average plots. I GIVE UP!

Shield is in my opinion is very cheesy and weak in its story line, The show feels very childish and i have seen more brutality in children's shows say "star wars the clone wars" For instance with the first episode, the mans about to blow up and the scientist boy magically comes up with a Antidote and manages to adapt it to a gun? in one action sequence.. Sorry i don't know there names im still watching the show and not connected with any of the characters except Colsen, who is the only reason im still watching.

I can't think of any specific examples because I don't really follow spy stuff that much, but its not the first time a similar or even the same plot device has been used in two different things. It actually happens a lot.
PS It wasn't anger, 'twas sarcasm.

For the walking dead, it was weird for the second season, it was good at the start (and the end) but it was boring for the middle.

Not this specific example, dick, but I've seen many other cases.

I 100% agree. And Fitzsimmons are my favourite characters, any characters that argue all the time tend to be my faves. It's also only Americans that have a problem with their accents, the reason to which I could not give past the stupid and easily confused stereotypes which haven't applied to the few I have met.

Same. People have got to stop treating it like something it's not and then complaining that's its not what its supposed to be.

I completely agree. These reviews, while saying *some* positive things.. seem to be looking for things to complain about. I also think FitzSimmons are possibly my favourite characters and yes... that's how we sound in England. lol

Someone needs to get over that. Is James Hunt british or american do we know? If he's american... that explains it... if he's british.... maybe he just hates people with posh accents? God knows.

Either way, I've loved each of these episodes and going by previous Whedon shows, that means it is going to be SPECTACULAR later on.

Absolutely agree, there's no balance in these reviews
if you didn't know anything about the series, based on these you wouldn't watch it - which would be wrong. Stop expecting the avebgers 1.5

Guys, you do realise the point of a review is to analyse a work critically, right? Of course I'm looking for things to praise and/or complain about. That's what a review is.

I will admit I didn't think much of the first episode - I didn't think it much a worthy depiction of the supposed highest skilled organization of the marvel cinematic universe. However, I have come to by now warm to the characters, and how it is that they comprise the team.
I'm just about engaged with the show, mainly in part because of the beginning to emerge affection I'm feeling for the aforementioned characters - especially Skye, and Ward.
I look forward to the future!

This episode was boring filler. Zero character development, zero world building, zero arc advancement. Only two interesting scenes for me were the opening with the masked guys and the "seducing" scene. Everything else was painfully average and by the numbers.

Then he should be able to deliver by now.

If he can't do the job, get rid of him--and his brother and his brother's wife.

I'm not paying with my time to watch people learn on the job.

They hit the ground running or out they go!

I hope you have your tongue firmly in cheek there! As a North East lad, It's not how we sound, not by a long shot.

You must never have left your bedroom in the north east. People do sound like that.

I am officially bored of this show. It's terrible. A kid's show. The majority of people are just forcing themselves to like it because it's Marvel.

Tsk tsk, resorting to name calling. In your post you imply we ALL sound like "FitzSimmons" in England, I am simply stating that in fact we don't. If I were to be a pedant, Fitz is Scottish not English and even the Scots do not all sound the same, just like even the denizens of the USA have different accents. Perhaps I could have inserted the word "all" in between "we sound" to be particularly accurate.

this episode is a ripp of of torchwood

I cant see myself sitting through 22 epsiodes to be honest. 12 eps would be better. Sleepy Hollow should be 22 eps instead

My ability to enjoy this fell apart when they took the camera feed from the eye of a black woman and put it in the glasses of a white man, meaning that a) her black nose would have disappeared from the camera feed or been visible, and WHITE, and B) that he was driving, which means sat in front of a rear-view mirror in which his passenger would have been clearly visible and so would his WHITE, UN-GLOVED HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL.

I gave up after the first episode. Its a cheap imitation of Heroes.

Or a Life Model Decoy…

How so? Apart from the pilot, there's been no sign of superpowers at all.

If that's why you stopped enjoying it, then you mustn't enjoy much TV then. There's no such thing as a 100% logic proof show!

Oh OK. From the pilot I thought it was like 'The Company' from Heroes recruiting people with special abilities...

Where's M.O.D.O.K ? M.O.D.O.K would be cooooool!

Have to say, I'm thoroughly enjoying all of the episodes. It's funny, it's got loads of room to develop, in all sorts of ways, and each episode has taken us a little further. Loved the men in red masks, very Avengers ( that's John Steed/Emma Peel vintage, not the US comic gunk).

Honestly this series seems to be getting better and better by the week its certainly improving characters are becoming more real. I think its starting to be really engaging! Also loving Fitzsimmons's operating scene they are just the two best characters in the series at the minute

I agree in that respect, but how else could it be written? It's set in a world of superheroes!(ish)

better than no torchwood. Moffat! #Shakes Fist#

I admit it's had a slow start, but I actually enjoyed eye spy. no sign of any forced film references (extremis-urskin centipede thing, Hydra laser etc.) and Coulson is starting to ease into the team

I agree with the reviewer. This series is, for me, teetering on a knife edge. I could just as easily walk away from it right now, and probably not loose any sleep over it.

Fitz & Simmons are probably characters that 'sounded' good on paper, but when they assault my ears with their inane, persistent techno-babble & squabbling it just makes me cringe. They are not funny, offer zero comic relief and most of their scenes end up pulling me out of the story entirely, usually because I can hardly make out what they are saying which therefore means that everything they say is irrelevant. I'm sorry to say that they are becoming the Jar Jar & Young Annekin of the series.

That aside, I am not yet getting the impression that this particular Scooby gang is actually part of something bigger, such as a globally spanning secret service. There's reference to HQ, but rarely have I had the impression it actually exists.

Another thing that seems to have changed is that SHIELD has gone from a shadowy, seldom referenced and clandestine organisation to a well known, global 'Police' agency. One flash of a badge seems sufficient to assert their authority anywhere in the World. Next time you want to try it, just flash some false ID at a hotel clerk and say you're with the FBI, MI6 or CIA, see how far that gets you in some European city.

Ward has finally loosed up in this episode, although if his acting was any stiffer you could use him as a railway sleeper. The gruff, po-faced guy who takes himself and everything way too seriously. Another ready-made stereotype character straight from the manual of, "Characters you expect to have in an unlikely team,"

Ming Na in such a comic / action movie stereotype. She's the, "I'm only coming out of retirement for 1 last job," character, who ends up going right back to her old job. Her performance is annoyingly disdainful and again, laden with stereotypical brooding and the kind of restrained menace you would expect from someone who always wears leather jackets and a scowl.

Skye fares a little better, although I suspect her story arc will be; bad girl acts like a good girl, while remaining bad but ultimately tries to betray her team only to come good in the end. We are supposed to be viewing SHIELD through her eyes. She's like The Doctor's companion, through whom we get to experience the excitement and thrills of being part of a secret organisation. Instead, she's shoring up the role of comedy assistant, in the absence of any comedy from the geeks. Her schmaltzy monologue in each episode makes me think of a desperate X Factor contestant spilling their darkest episodes from their life in order to curry favour with (us) and the team. It gets a bit tiresome, after a while.

And finally, Coulson. He is my favourite character, probably because he's been around longer, but I liked him from all of his dead pan deliveries in Iron Man. His is the only story arc I'm interested in. How is he back from the dead? Clearly, Tahiti is a magical place indeed.

I want to enjoy this a lot more, but it is all a bit A-Team / Knight Rider cheesiness that's been left out a bit too long, and starting to go off. The problem is, it doesn't matter what we say about it from episode to episode, because we're so far behind the production team that nothing we say will make any difference. Our only hope is that we remember that Star Trek TNG took a couple of seasons to get good, as did Buffy. Perhaps, and hopefully, Agents of SHIELD will have a steeper learning curve.

It is a frustrating programme. Though judging by people's comments I might just be not its target audience. Due to growing with my parents watching an obscene amount of procedural TV, I have grown to rather not like it.

This show for me just isn't working. The dialogue makes me cringe at least once an episode and the characters just aren't that interesting. And how many times are they going to say something along the lines of "Well I never thought 'avenger-reference' would exist, so why can't 'insert-surreal-idea'?"

All I want is a Jane-esq character! A bit of edge!

I don't want to compare it to Firefly because they are two different shows (A rag tag band of people in space and a rag tag team flying round the skies...) But where is the variation, both the agents are stern characters. All three of the geeky characters are, well... geeky!

Shake it up a bit!

Thats what I was kinda hoping for! Or at least they would be dealing with some people with special abilities instead of bad guys who punch and shoot.

They stopped being a shadowy organisation when they started putting their logos on the side of their SUVs.

The picture of Agent Hermione you've picked to illustrate this review definitely needs to become a meme of some kind.

Well said Les. That was a ridiculous statement. I'll wager around 1 percent of the population speak like Fitzsimmons. And half of those are in the Tory government. What a crock!

So... name these other cases then.

By the way - your imaginative insult makes you look both big AND clever so I congratulate you.

Good luck with that second half of season 3/first half of season 4! ;-)

Yeah fair enough, the whole Jasmine / Connor incest / Cordy coma nonsense - to be honest that's why I never got round to watching S5 until now

last action hero, a caddilac of movies.

Not really a spy show/film, but I see where you're coming from. It's an exploding eyeball which can be removed and used as a bomb.

I've still yet to find one of these mythical abundant examples which Random Bystander seems to think exists where a bomb is placed inside the victim's head against their will as a way of controlling them, and where it is detonated if they step out of line, destroying one of the carrier's eyes.

Season 2 was the best for me, with s5 a close second. At least it ended on a high note...

looks like that code did come back in a big way ;)

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