Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 5, "The Girl in the Flower Dress" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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“The Girl in the Flower Dress” (1x05) introduces us to one of the series’ longstanding villain/heroes as well as the major villain for the season.  Along the way, we also see just what CENTIPEDE is capable of, and how far S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to go to keep people safe.  This episode also gives us some major character development from Skye.  Not too bad when you consider how unimpressive a character Scorch was.

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The episode introduces us to Chan Ho Yin, a street performer in Hong Kong who was given limited pyrokinetic abilities, possibly by his proximity to a power plant fire.  He is approached by the eponymous “Girl in the Flower Dress”—later identified as Raina—after demonstrating his ability to a crowd on the street.  Raina talks to him for a while, playing to his vanity, before he invites her back to his apartment for a private show.  While there, Raina convinces him to close his eyes, and when he opens them he is attacked and subdued by men wearing fireproof suits.  On waking up, Chan finds himself in a mysterious facility with Raina, who tells him that he has a gift which she can help him to improve and show to the world.  She names him “Scorch,” and he agrees to help her.  They give him a shot of Extremis, and it improves his fire abilities substantially—and his “fireproof platelets” prevent the Extremis from combusting.  As a fun little line, Chan calls Raina a “beautiful angel”—words which become far more meaningful for Raina’s character in season 2.  The same doctor who was overseeing Mike’s procedure in the “Pilot” (1x01) appears at this facility and orders Raina to “drain” Chan’s blood so they can use it to stabilize the Extremis in their CENTIPEDE serum.  I really liked how we got to meet Chan Ho Yin in this episode:  smalltime street performer with minor superpowers.  This was the first time we learned about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “Gifted Index”—the list of superhumans that S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps.  The introduction of superheroes was definitely one of this series’ selling points early on, considering that it was a part of the MCU.  I was actually hoping that S.H.I.E.L.D. would save Chan and he would return as a bona fide superhero in future episodes, even though his character arc wasn’t the most exciting thing ever:  he’s a small time street performer that for some reason goes crazy (was that the Extremis?).  That he went power crazy, attacked S.H.I.E.L.D., and had to be put down was a bit disappointing.

The key plot in this episode revolved around Skye.  At the beginning of the episode, the whole team seems to have warmed up to her:  she is fitting in with Ward as her S.O., and Coulson is confident that he made the right decision in bringing her in.  However, that all starts to change as soon as they learn of Chan Ho Yin’s disappearance.  The team learns that CENTIPEDE had discovered Chan’s location when someone associated with the Rising Tide hacked the Hong Kong S.H.I.E.L.D. feed and discovered his location.  Though at first they suspect Skye, she convinces them to let her trace the hacker, which she does, identifying him as Miles Lydon, a Rising Tide hacker who was responsible for releasing the picture of Putin on horseback on the internet (pop culture reference!).   

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The team goes to Austin, Texas, to apprehend him and question him to find out what he did with the information, but their plan is foiled when Miles “makes” Ward and uses a computer program to lose Coulson in a traffic gridlock.  On returning to his apartment, Miles is confronted by Skye, who is angry at him to hacking S.H.I.E.L.D. and putting her at risk when she has succeeded in gaining their trust.  The two of them clearly have a history together, as the scene ends with them having sex off-camera.  Following their tryst, Miles asks Skye about her experiences with S.H.I.E.L.D., and from the conversation she clearly likes being part of the team.  However, she has an ulterior motive for working with them, which is connected to the memory card that she took from her van.  After pressing Miles for information on what he had done with the information he stole from S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye prepares to leave and is caught by May.

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I really liked how this episode tested all of the relationships Skye had developed with the team.  Coulson is visibly hurt by the breach of trust—to the point of being willing to kick her off the team and have her arrested if she doesn’t come clean.  May does not react visibly; she does not appear to take any pleasure in having been proven right about Skye.  Ward is upset and protective of Skye—and even a bit jealous, perhaps—because of her relationship with Miles.  Fitz is disappointed that she hid Miles from them, especially after everything they’d been through together.  Of all the team members, Simmons is the most understanding of her, which is somewhat enlightening for her character.  By the end of the episode, the only relationship that is really close to being mended is that between Skye and Coulson, who decides to trust her after she divulges that she has been searching for information about her parents, and all she has is a document which was redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.  This sets up an important plot for the next few episodes as Skye works to earn S.H.I.E.L.D.’s trust and the trust of her teammates.  I’m glad that they don’t leave the team dynamics alone in this series, especially when they are incorporating a complete outsider like Skye into the group.  You may remember that I touched on that slightly with regard to episode 2, “0-8-4.”

Skye’s trust in Miles is irreparably damaged when Ward reveals that they had discovered evidence that Miles had made a number of deposits following the leak, totaling about $1 million.  When Skye met him, he was an idealist who believed that knowledge should be free; that Miles would not have taken money to sell information.  Because Miles did this, Skye is practically done with him.  That he thought the girl (Raina) who hired him was just a “rich girl” working for an “eco-research lab”—and that lab turns out to be Centipede—makes it all the worse.  Suddenly the people who took Chan are revealed to be associated with the same experimentation that produced Mike Peterson, experimentation which includes Extremis.  Simmons realizes that they might be trying to use Chan’s gift to stabilize the Extremis and prevent their subjects from exploding.  I think this episode is when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally revealed that Centipede was going to be the primary villain for the season, though we still didn’t have a face to associate with the group beyond those of the doctor—who didn’t make it through the episode—and Raina.  That was one huge improvement I noticed in season 2:  We met Daniel Whitehall—the primary villain for the first half of season 2—right off the bat.  Of course, they couldn’t come right out and show us the “Clairvoyant” in the “Pilot,” but they could have given us more than just the doctor (who died) as a face for the villainous organization.

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Once they have the accounts that the money came from, S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to track Chan to the specific facility where Centipede is likely keeping him.  May and Coulson join the Hong Kong S.H.I.E.L.D. team in entering the facility to rescue Chan, while Ward stays on the Bus to guard the prisoners.  When Centipede locks down the facility, Ward brings Skye into the building so she can hack into the system and end the lockdown.  Meanwhile, Coulson and May confront Chan, whose fireproof platelets had been removed—meaning he feels excruciating pain every time he uses his firepower.  Chan kills his case agent, Kwan, by burning a hole through his chest, before turning on Coulson and May, blaming them and S.H.I.E.L.D. for forcing him to keep his abilities shut up inside instead of showing them to the world.  He has evidently gone “power-hungry” under the influence of the Extremis (anyone else reminded of the “addict” at the Chinese market in Iron Man 3?).  Chan injects himself with the unstable Extremis and attacks Coulson and May, who try to talk him down before Coulson tries to shoot him with the Night-Night Pistol.  Unfortunately, Chan incinerates all the bullets by producing a fire-shield behind his back (which is pretty cool).  Chan escapes from them and attacks the doctor, immolating her in a matter of seconds.  Coulson and May decide on another plan, which requires clearing the building and having Miles manipulate all the doors and ventilation in the building to direct a blast to the roof.  Coulson distracts Chan, giving May a chance to inject Chan with 2 syringes, after which he falls to his knees and begins to overheat.  From outside the building we see flames shooting out of the roof as he explodes.

I’m really not a fan of that scene.  This whole episode showed just how ruthless and heartless Centipede is—harvesting Chan’s platelets to use in their serum and then leaving him to explode from the Extremis.  However, it also showed Coulson to be nearly as ruthless as Centipede:  when his first non-lethal option failed (and come on, did he really need to shoot all 8 bullets to figure out they weren’t going to penetrate Chan’s fire-shield?), he immediately switched to the most explosive option available.  Whether May injected Chan with a paralytic or Extremis, the result was the same:  he died.  Chan was going mad from the overwhelming power and the excruciating pain of burns all over his body, but was there no other option available?  Coulson risked everything to rescue Mike Peterson in the “Pilot”; surely there was another option available for Chan Ho Yin.

The episode ends with Miles getting left behind in Hong Kong without any money (his payoff was anonymously “donated” to Agent Kwan’s family) and wearing a bracelet that would track his moves and not allow him to use any electronics.  Skye elects to stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. if they will let her, hands her memory card over to Coulson, and accepts a similar bracelet as a way to start regaining Coulson’s trust.

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The biggest complaint I have with this episode is with how Coulson killed Chan Ho Yin, though it did make a degree of narrative sense and raised the stakes for the series by showing how far Coulson is willing to go if someone threatens his team.  Other than that moment, I really liked how well it developed Skye’s character and tested all of these relationships which we were just starting to understand.  We also met Raina, whose story was central to season 2, and who gave us the most recognizable face associated with Centipede in season 1.  I think this was also the first major use of CGI in the series when Chan was throwing fire all over the place, and I really liked those visuals.  Long story short, “The Girl in the Flower Dress” had its good spots and it had its bad spots.

What did you think of “The Girl in the Flower Dress” when you first saw it?  What is your opinion now after seeing the first 2 seasons?  What did you think of the way Coulson took out Chan?  Let me know in the comments!

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