Friday, May 29, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 2, "0-8-4" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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After a decent pilot episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for an “explosive” second episode, which expands on a key concept for the series and plants seeds for future developments of the season.  The episode throws in a lot of campiness, especially with Coulson, and it is clear that they are still trying to work out the tone for the series—serious or funny.  Ultimately, I suppose this reflects the theme of the episode:  the team is still trying to get its legs and become a true team.

The team is called in to assess an “0-8-4,” an “object of unknown origin,” which was discovered embedded in the wall of an ancient Incan temple in Peru.  Fitz and Simmons examine the object and discover it to be highly unstable and powered by Tesseract technology.  Fitz asserts that its shape and craftsmanship make it look German, though Simmons dates it to 1500 years ago based on its placement in the rock wall.  This creates a mystery which is eventually clarified partway through the episode thanks to the Peruvian National Police, who explain that it was built by Hydra/Nazi scientists who fled to South America after World War II, and that it was lost in a clash with rebels.  I like the connection this makes to real-life events—it falls along the same lines as the connection Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes to Operation Paperclip with Dr. Zola.

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While at the dig site, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is approached by a team of Peruvian National Police (PMP) officers led by Commandante Camilla Reyes, a woman with whom Coulson clearly has a history.  Camilla is disappointed to see S.H.I.E.L.D., and even more disappointed that S.H.I.E.L.D. is not going to allow the PMP to keep the device.  However, she and Coulson have to put their discussion of jurisdiction on hold when the site is attacked by guerrilla rebels and they must work together to escape.  Ward rescues the noncombatants (Skye, Fitz, and Simmons) using a device that knocks over everyone standing on their feet.  Like I said in my review of the “Pilot,” I like all of the James Bond devices they use.  The devices do not get in the way of the plot and they don’t solve every problem; they simply offer a glimpse into the advanced organization that S.H.I.E.L.D. really is.

After the team’s escape, however, everything starts going wrong for them.  It is obvious that they are not a team; they cannot get along.  Ward thinks that the scientists hold him back and get in the way.  Fitz and Simmons think of Ward as nothing but a meathead who doesn’t understand or appreciate their contributions.  Skye feels out of place as the only non-agent on the team (“a consultant” according to Coulson).  Ward is exceedingly mistrustful of Skye as an outsider and non-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (though now we know that she is simply an unanticipated variable in his mission).  May is upset with Coulson for putting her in a position to see combat after promising that she would not have to do anything but “drive the Bus.”  And because the team can’t cooperate, they are placed in even more danger when the PMP officers turn on them and attempt to take over the plane.  Camilla attempts to distract Coulson, while officers subdue Fitz and Simmons and gas May to take the cockpit.  In the end, Ward fails to stop them because he does not want to risk Fitz’ life.  I actually like how this episode plays with the team dynamics.  They are putting a completely new team together with people who think differently from each other; of course there will be some conflict at the beginning as they try to learn how to work together.  It’s a little disappointing that the infighting ended so quickly this episode, but in the context of the story it works.

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While Camilla and the PMP officers are busy convincing Coulson to play along with their hijacking scheme, the rest of the team has to learn to work together.  Ward follows Skye’s advice that no one needs to have the whole solution, and encourages the team to put their minds together to come up with a plan.  May frees herself from the cargo hold door by dislocating her wrist to get out of the handcuffs, and then she takes out the guard.  The team frees themselves, and May gets them into the lab by driving through the door in the SUV.  Fitz sends one of his Dwarves (his flying, scanning, probing machines) through the vents to activate the 0-8-4, blowing a hole in the plane, forcing the cabin pressure to drop, and releasing the doors.  Ward takes out the PMP officers and May retakes the cockpit while the others reclaim the 0-8-4 and plug the hole in the plane.  I liked how everyone contributed to the plan, but I really didn’t feel a lot of tension; I didn’t believe they were in any real danger.  It seemed pretty quick for them to start working together, and I really didn’t think anyone was going to die while they were retaking the plane.  It all worked, but I’m sure that if this had happened in season 2 it would have gone much differently—much higher stakes.

After the fight to retake the Bus, the team brings the 0-8-4 to the Slingshot, where they unwind while watching the 0-8-4 (supposedly) being shot into space on a collision course with the sun.  In reality, we learn at the end of the season that Fury is a compulsive packrat and does not destroy any of the dangerous devices that S.H.I.E.L.D. discovers; instead they are hidden away where S.H.I.E.L.D. can still use them if necessary—or Hydra can use them for fun.  At the time this seemed like another feel-good ending with the team sitting around and laughing over beers.  However, at the time we did not realize how significant these events were.  The Peruvian 0-8-4 comes back at the end of the season when Garrett reclaims it from Fury’s storage facility—planting the seed of Fury’s packrat nature which would eventually (inevitably) culminate with “Theta Protocol,” or “Fury stashed the helicarrier and told Coulson to fix it.”  However, the biggest foreshadowing of the episode was Coulson’s explanation to Skye of what an “0-8-4” is:  “An object of unknown origin… kind of like you.”  Considering that the showrunners knew from the beginning that Skye was going to become a major comic book character (and were even toying with the idea of Daisy Johnson, aka Quake), it is more than just a coincidence that Coulson comments on the parallel between her and the 0-8-4.  And given that this 0-8-4 turned out to be a piece of alien technology modified by humans, was that another foreshadowing that she would be revealed as an Inhuman—a human modified by aliens?  Maybe, maybe not.  Definitely food for thought.

From these first two episodes, it seemed pretty obvious that they were trying to build up the Rising Tide as a major villain for the season.  They revealed the location of the Chitauri neural implant in the “Pilot.”  They (or at least Skye) tried to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. from learning Mike’s identity to prevent him from hurting people.  And now it turns out that Skye is still working for them—and potentially attempting to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. for them.  I thought that the Rising Tide’s complete disappearance from the series partway through the season was a bit surprising; I don’t remember if that storyline was satisfactorily resolved, so I will be keeping an eye out for that as I rewatch the season.

I think the most fun part of the episode is the Nick Fury cameo at the end when he is complaining about Coulson trashing the Bus only 6 days into the assignment.  It’s a fun reminder that this series is taking place within the MCU—if the references to Stark being a consultant and Thor’s hammer being the last 0-8-4 didn’t clue you in.  I’m glad they stopped using such obvious MCU Easter eggs; there’s a fine line between throwing in fun little reminders and beating you over the head with the shared universe.  At the time I enjoyed the references; now I’m glad they’re more subtle in season 2.

All told, this was a fun episode, though I was a little disappointed with how quickly they moved past the initial infighting and into a healthy team dynamic.  Especially in a TV series with 22 episodes to play with, I would have expected them to spend at least a little more time exploring the team dynamics.  They way it happened worked in the context of the episode, but I hope that going forward there is still at least some modicum of tension as they are learning to live and work together.  Because they throw a giant monkey wrench in the team at the end of the season, the exploration of the team dynamic at the beginning of the season is a great way that they set up the twist.

I’m actually enjoying my rewatching of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1; it’s fun to find all of the subtle hints and foreshadows of what would come later in the season and in season 2.

What did you think of “0-8-4” when you saw it?  What is your opinion now after seeing the first 2 seasons?  Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. The sharing a beer scene at the end is a favorite of mine as well. I kind of wish that they still did that sort of thing, just bantering and socializing with each other. Maybe they can bring that levity back in season three.