January 15, 2014 9:48am PT by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko on 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.': 'Do We REALLY Give a Damn?'
Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, recaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for THR's Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.
Here's the problem: The comic book-derived Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to be like its big-brother film blockbusters because the audience can't help but make that association. The show's execs may think of it as a kind of stand-alone entity, but we know wishful thinking from reality -- and reality, in this case, is the hope we can experience the same cyclonic jolt we get from (some) other offerings that tout the Marvel and S.H.I.E.L.D. logos like they're the pot of gold at the end of the branding rainbow -- and OK, they often are!
So, the audience's appetite and the series' creators/producers' agenda have essentially spawned a schism larger than Tony Stark’s ego, a negative situation no matter how you/they/ABC spins it!
This week's episode, "Seeds," was the perfect example of frustration, apathy, and disappointment. I choked on "Seeds"! It showcased typically anti-cinematic, endless chatter about major plot points, instead of showing them. The entire Skye-focused exposition -- mysterious, super-powered baby girl; rogue agent Lumley; the slaughter in China; dead Linda Avery; the ol' mama switcheroo; the murdered cordon of agents; blah, blah, blah -- violates the First Rule of Cinematic Law: DON'T TALK IT, SHOW IT, for God's sake!
It's Film School 101, folks! First day in class! Read my lips!
I can forgive a shortcut now and then, especially in TV fare, but S.H.I.E.L.D. has elevated the flaw into a showcase concept, with Coulson spouting jabberwocky that would cause psychotic cerebral cortex lesions if read in a paperback book version. He tips Skye to the rockin' revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. is indeed her family -- and the jaw-dropping visual during what could be the series' most shattering and long-awaited moment is her eyeballing a memorial for fallen agents. Huh? No doubt about it, this creative crew knows how to thrill an audience down to their toenails!
The characters, good guys and bad, set a new record in this segment for being tepid or indifferent, and they were all so damned end-of-the-world serious about it. I would have given my right hand for a snicker or even a guffaw, but this ep was about as funny as a year-long pass to a Molokai leper colony.
There were no memorable lines to amp ho-hum scenes or take away with us after the ep played out. The scenes had about zero confrontational quotient, which made them as compelling as warmed-over chicken soup in a paper cup.
The direction had as much tension as a traffic light on a deserted road, and melodrama without tension is like a philosopher without an idea, dynamite without a fuse, an egg without a yoke. And to top it off, this week's S.H.I.E.L.D. was quantified low-budget TV, matter-of-factly devoid of the standard framing-editing style offered by most cathode series. S.H.I.E.L.D. begs for visual style!
How about those Coulson bits, leftover crumbs from old chapters? Yawn! And did anyone understand the Fitz/Simmons dialogue with those heavy accents? Apparently the Academy audience did, which I suppose makes us chopped liver! And with the Academy apparently turning out a cavalcade of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, I can't help wondering why all we ever witness is this lackluster group of inepts, dorks, and whiners (with one Asian exception).
Are we supposed to remember insidious millionaire Ian Quinn from a previous ep as unmemorable as this one? And how the hell did S.H.I.E.L.D. cadets Donnie and Dormer even know about Quinn and his villainous agenda, let alone make a deal with him (they were obviously screened by the Obama administration) for their Bazooka-gum ice-cube stormmaker? (Could it really create a horizon-to-horizon sky full of hail with power sourced from plugging into a truck’s cigarette lighter? Wow -- eat that Michio Kaku!!!) And instead of visualizing an Oz-quality ice tornado climax, we got a cracked windshield -- and the thrill of guessing the villainous Blizzard will be guesting in an upcoming ep (but tossed away in this one)!
A final point: Skinny dipping -- is nothing sacred?
Ultimately, "Seeds" was another intolerable set-up for some far-future segment where Skye saves the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D -- and probably the universe -- from Centipede, the Clairvoyant, and the host of superbozos lining up in the Rising Tide queue! The question is: Do we really give a damn?
I'm beginning to realize why Samuel L. Jackson/Nick Fury is MIA most of the time; if he witnessed this kind of flaccid presentation -- or just rampant impotence -- he'd be on a rampage for Whedon blood!