Friday, June 5, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 4, "Eye Spy" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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The fourth episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Eye Spy,” blows the whole series wide open by introducing two key pieces which propel the series forward—one in season one, and the other in season two.  When I saw this episode after season one had finished and realized how early on they started dropping hints at what was going to come in season two, I was completely blown away.  And I would hazard a guess that I’m not the only one.

Reminder:  the "Retro-Reviews" contain spoilers for everything in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. through season 2, along with the movies.

The episode begins with a mysterious woman following an even more mysterious crowd of identically-dressed men carrying briefcases into a subway station.  The woman follows a group of them into a subway, waits a moment, and then closes her eyes, knocks out the lights, and assaults the men, knocking them all out and cutting one’s hand off to take his briefcase.  She removes the package of diamonds from the briefcase and disappears into the city.  This is a very “James Bond” opening and premise for the episode—which works pretty well this early in the series.  I actually think they could have played up the old-school spy aspects of the show a little more early on.

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Coulson brings his team in to investigate this latest diamond heist—the third one to occur under equally-impossible circumstances—and Skye suggests that the woman who carried out the heist might have ESP.  May immediately disregards the idea because there isn’t any evidence of people with precognition, telepathy, or ESP—but after watching season 2, we know that they are starting to bring those powers into the MCU.  We’ve seen precognition with Raina; are we going to see telepathy or ESP in season 3 through the Inhumans?  We discover later in the episode that the woman—Coulson’s former protégé Akela Amador—was not using telepathy or precognition; instead, she has an ocular implant which switches to backscatter when she closes her eyes.  Amador was captured by a mysterious group after a botched S.H.I.E.L.D. mission.  The mysterious organization replaced an eye she had lost with the implant, and turned her into a weapon which they could control via a fail-safe built into the implant.  If she does not obey their commands, they give her a migraine; if she fails her mission or is discovered, they blow the eye and kill her.

At first Coulson is unwilling to believe that his former protégé has turned on them; he wants to find out what is going on before bringing S.H.I.E.L.D. into the equation.  Though she attacked Skye, Fitz, and Simmons, and could have killed them, he believes that she intentionally left them alive because she wanted to get away without killing them.  When they discover that she is being watched and controlled, Coulson decides that he needs to bring her in and help her get away from the people controlling her.  The fight between May and Akela was pretty cool, though not quite as intense as the fights in season 2 (May vs. May, in particular), and it was over pretty quickly.  However, the focus in this episode was not on the fight; it was on introducing the ocular implant, hinting at the changes in Coulson’s personality, and teasing the alien writing.

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While Coulson and Akela are talking about her situation, she comments that he is behaving differently than she remembered him from when he was her S.O.  She was expecting wisecracks and “I told you so”s, but he is only interested in giving her a second chance.  He helps her to piece together a profile of her handler, and then sends her to Fitz and Simmons to remove the implant before her handler discovers their ruse and blows it up.  Meanwhile, Coulson goes to track down the handler and bring him in.  At the end of the episode, May and Akela share a moment before Akela is taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. in which Akela comments on the changes in Coiulson, which May passes off as a result of him having almost died before the Battle of New York.  However, Akela responds with “What did they do to him?”  From this it is clear that she thinks that someone made radical changes to Coulson himself in the years since she last saw him.  Considering how long she was in this mysterious organization’s control, it would be easy enough to pass off Coulson’s changes as simply a matter of time; I think this early in the season it would have been better to stick with that explanation.  That she is so obviously calling attention to the changes in his personality doesn’t quite fit with the fact that there are still seven episodes left before we learn exactly what happened to Coulson.  If this kind of obvious clue had come much closer to the midseason finale, I think it would have flowed better with the season-long arc.

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Skye provided most of the comic relief for the episode.  At the beginning Ward and Coulson discuss her weapons skills—or lack thereof:  she confuses the safety release with the magazine release (they should’ve just given her a Glock—can’t confuse the safety release and magazine release if there’s no safety!), and she keeps saying “bang” whenever she pulls the trigger.  Early on it’s just a quick joke; when they get attacked by Amador and Skye accidently released the magazine, it’s funnier in action.  Even though their van was getting rammed with a big box truck, I still laughed when Skye saw the magazine in her lap and said “Bang?”  That’s the kind of sequence that fit in very well early on in the series but really wouldn’t fit as well at this point after the Hydra uprising and after the Inhumans.  It’s also funny to see how inexperienced Skye, Fitz, and Simmons are in the field:  breaking protocol to ask about a bathroom break and snacks.  Considering how much Skye came into her own as an agent in season 2 (along with Fitz and Simmons), it’s incredible to see how bad she was at the beginning of the series.

Skye and Ward carrying out Amador’s mission also had a couple of amusing moments, particularly when Ward was instructed to “seduce” the guard.  As I said above, that’s the kind of thing that fit in well this early in the series, but would not fit in anymore after all the later developments in the series.

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There are a couple of moments in the episode which seem to hint at Ward’s eventual betrayal of the team.  The first comes while Ward and Coulson are searching the village for Amador.  Ward comments to Coulson that this situation must hurt:  he has been betrayed by someone he trained and in whom he believed (meaning Amador).  However, at the end of the season, Coulson is betrayed again by someone he trained and believed in—Ward, himself.  At this point I think Ward was trying to feel out Coulson:  how would he react if he found out that Ward was working for Hydra?  Coulson is not willing to give up on Amador, so Ward surmises that Coulson probably would not be willing to give up on him.  The second one is when the team discovers the ocular implant.  Skye turns to Ward and says, “You’re a robot, can you do that?”  At the time it’s just another nod to Skye’s respect for Ward as someone who can complete virtually impossible missions.  Looking back, however, I think the team would have been much more willing to accept Ward’s betrayal if he really did have an ocular implant with a kill switch (as Fitz implied after the reveal).  That he was doing everything of his own free will hurt them deeply.

Two pieces from this episode plant seeds for future developments.  The first is in Akela’s account of her “rescue” from her captors.  S.H.I.E.L.D. heard rumors that she had been taken to a Chinese province; shortly thereafter a highly-organized team assaulted the compound to “rescue” her.  At the time it could have been anyone; at this point it’s pretty clear that it must have been a Hydra team which was fed the location by a Hydra agent within S.H.I.E.L.D.  From this account we can also gather that Hydra had been “recruiting” spies around the world and using these ocular implants to control them.  Akela’s handler was a former British spy who fell off the grid when Hydra captured him.  That he was killed as soon as Coulson identified himself as S.H.I.E.L.D. showed that this organization was much larger than two people and included a lot of unwilling participants.

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The second seed is in the diagram that Ward discovered at the end of his mission.  This was the first time we saw the alien writing which the Kree blood induced from Garrett, Coulson, and all the other subjects of the T.A.H.I.T.I. Protocol.  S.H.I.E.L.D. was unable to figure out what it was, and it was not until season 2 that Coulson and Skye managed to solve the riddle.  However, that this clue was planted so early in the series should be proof enough that they already knew where the series was going to go.

This was another fun episode, but it was also when the series started getting a little darker.  We saw the handler killed for no reason other than to protect this mysterious organization’s secrets.  Amador was nearly killed.  I enjoyed watching the episode again, especially since I can see what all of these hints were building toward.  I was a little disappointed that we never saw Akela Amador again after this episode; perhaps they will bring her back with a new ocular implant (without a kill switch) to join Skye’s “Secret Warriors” in season 3.  Thus far I think the “Pilot” has been by favorite episode, but it’s not like the series has been getting worse.  If anything, it’s been improving since “0-8-4” (1x02).

What did you think of “Eye Spy” when you first saw it?  What is your opinion now after seeing the first 2 seasons?  Do you want to see Akela Amador’s story continued during season 3?  Let me know in the comments!

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