Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': Smoother, But 'Too Unfocused to Be Satisfying'
In his THR recap, the comics veteran also appraises the Samuel L. Jackson cameo: "An electrifying reminder of what the series could and should be."
Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, is recapping Agents of SHIELD for THR's Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.
Those who persevered through the second SHIELD episode, "0-8-4," were rewarded for their loyalty by the show's high point, a gratuitous but welcome surprise appearance by the Man with the Eye Patch. Samuel L. Jackson's hard-boiled, half-minute cameo was an electrifying reminder of what the series could and should be. His razor-edged, energetic barking supercharged the wrap-up bookend, however, with a promise aimed more at previewing his forthcoming feature film than interacting with SHIELD in the future (no plot threads in evidence) -- but no complaint here!
Mr. Cool's Van Dyke beard was apparently of little concern to Coulson with his cloying, Boy Scout, "Yes, sir!" attitude, but perhaps that's what happens to one's composure when Fury/Jackson pays an unexpected visit to the set. And FYI, as a former Nick Fury associate (and one who created his trademark zipsuit), I can confirm that he would not be seen dead in a black leather pimp coat.
The adventure played smoother, although more formulaic, than last week's pilot. 0-8-4 was the mysterious MacGuffin that SHIELD (and everybody else in the show) couldn't wait to get their mitts on, even though they had a tough time explaining what it did, who created it, and why it was where it was -- in an ancient Peruvian temple. (And couldn't we have had just one decent close-up of the damned thing?) Coincidence heaped upon coincidence (hey, it's Marvel time!) as the agents appear at the same moment as the local army -- and the rebels they're fighting. After the Act 1 shootout, Coulson (just how capable is a guy who wears a suit and tie into the wilds of the South American tropics?) and company grab the MacGuffin and escape in their super-secret plane, taking with them the Peruvian army, who are conveniently offered the freedom to move about the craft -- a shrewd strategy, no doubt.
Maybe that decision was swayed by the appearance of Commandant Camilla Reyes, hotspur Latina grointugger who makes Coulson an offer he can't refuse -- to warm over some old memories from liaisons past (did anyone find this bit believable, involving as it did the lizard-blooded Coulson?). It's all a ploy to capture the 0-8-4 (and if you didn't figure that one out at the beginning of Act 2, you forfeit your No Prize from Smilin' Stan). The ensuing donnybrook provides the SHIELD agents (aren't they too young and inexperienced to handle this kind of action?) an opportunity to get their daily exercise before sending the MacGuffin into cosmic oblivion.
Skye (nobody knows her last name) is about as important to the adventure as a plastic spoon at a banquet, yet she's brought aboard so Coulson can presumably keep an eye on her traitorous machinations (apparently no one except him, not even Fury, knows she's a Rising Tide pawn). She and Agent Ward are coupled for better or worse. Fitz and Simmons, the techdogs who were a curiosity last ep, are a rampant irritation this time around with their unintelligible accents, exacerbating the ongoing problem of lines delivered too quickly or too incomprehensibly or too inarticulately by the rest of the cast.
Sure, we realize that SHIELD is an ensemble effort, but the original comic book concept heralded Fury as its C.O., and it's still too unfocused to be satisfying. If no single figure is to emerge as the series' driving force, the simplest solution would be to headline one of the majors each week, giving them opportunity for much-needed character development and to reveal their battle chops. For example, we got a minimal taste of the value to the team and edgy persona of Melinda May, who could have been neatly developed as the spotlight character in "0-8-4." With a prefacing segment showing the MacGuffin creating tesseract havoc in the South American jungle and threatening to expand across the equator, SHIELD would have responded to the emergency, but with May featured in key moments, just as she was in freeing the agents and dominating their captors. The show could alternate its focus between May, Ward and Coulson (who appears being set up as an LMD -- Life Model Decoy), with the others as supporting staffers.
Another point: It might be worthwhile to place more emphasis on SHIELD being the ultra-high-tech agency (flying cars, holo-images, airborne minidrones, etc), like the bit where Ward drives a shockwave weapon into the ground to take out their adversaries at the temple. Maybe with a little imagination and integrity, SHIELD could out-Bond 007!