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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