November 27, 2013 10:34am PT by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': Maximizing Surprises and Minimizing Irritations
Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, recaps Agents of SHIELD for THR's Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.
"God's punishing me!" says the subject of this week's mutant hunt on Agents of SHIELD, a prophetic punchline that could be as tempting as a Mango Julius to a one-legged man crossing the Sahara in midsummer.
Nonetheless, the episode scored its share of points by maximizing surprises and minimizing irritations, which have marred the comic book-inspired series since its inception. Like the previous entry ("The Well"), tonight's adventure capitalized on the traditional Mission: Impossible, "This is your assignment, Mr. Briggs" structure, scooting the team to Utah to investigate the possibility of a telekinetic tragedy tied to the death of a group of lab scientists.
According to the angry mob of mutant-haters, lab survivor Hannah (sympathetically portrayed by Laura Seay, who may have been paid by the teardrop) somehow caused the incident. As Coulson and crew attempt to calm the hot-tempered rioters, May cuts through the baloney PDQ with a tranquilizing gun -- aimed at Hannah. Who loves ya, baby?
Cut to the high-flying "Bus," where the subject is neatly sequestered in a mutant-proof cell (wouldn't we all want to be at 30,000 feet with a wrathful mutie?). But Hannah claims she's innocent and lays the problem on God -- or maybe demons. Or both!
Pivotal Scene of the Week: Seay's uncharacteristically emotional delivery (for this series) infused the moment with a resonant, eerie touch beyond the script that aesthetically set up the subsequent action -- a harrowing presence lurking in a dark, confined space, obviously inspired by Ridley Scott's Alien (except Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and John Hurt weren't on tap to creep us out).
Twist layered upon twist as the telekinetic theory was trumped by tragedy victim Tobias, a phantom trapped between an Earthly plane and an unnamed dimension (my guess: Science Heaven, attended by Michio Kaku). Even twistier: In one scene, Coulson was virtually unrecognizable without his tie!
Of course, I can always do without the Fitz-Simmons jabberwocky (although their manipulation of the Minority Report holo-images was marginal eyewash). Then, I couldn't help asking myself if SHIELD is manned by such ineffective simpletons they need advice on how to proceed by the intolerably adorable Skye? Finally, why is Rising Tide MIA for the past few weeks (my guess: They tried signing up for Obamacare and joined the GOP from terminal frustration).
And, if anyone out there thought Agent Ward decided to visit May in her hotel room last week to play checkers or compare Berzerker notes, the matter is settled once and for all. Towel me off, Scotty!
Seriously, if I were Whedon and company, I'd have sold my soul for a Samuel Jackson soundbite every week: a 30-second bit to be played with his headshot on a computer screen (he could have recorded the entire season in less than 10 minutes) and dropped into each episode to establish a deeper connection with the Marvel Universe and underscore the fact that SHIELD is Nick Fury's spearhead force — a point intrusively missing in the cathode epic.
Bottom line: Don'cha just love it when May takes over with her shoot-first policy, no-nonsense attitude, and iceberg demeanor (her low-key, anti-overblown, climactic lines to the Outer Limits-like entity Tobias played about perfectly). Ming-Na Wen is, by far, the most interesting character on Agents of SHIELD. By comparison, the rest of the cast has about as much edge as a squad of What's-in-Your-Wallet salesmen.
It's doubtful that any will make it into the Marvel movies, so how about sacrificing them one or two at a time to punch up the show's impact (and if their demise is a problem, just ticket them afterward to Tahiti!). Replace them with bare-knuckle vets, and install May as the SHIELD ramrod, just under Fury (no pun intended!). Proof? That ass-kicking trailer that ran between segments for the upcoming Killer Women! That's what I'm talkin' about!!!