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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.02 "O-8-4" Review: Communication Is Key

    This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “O-8-4,” was written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, and Jeffrey Bell and was directed by David Straiton. Both Bell and Straiton are from the Whedon stable of talent. Bell got his start on The X-Files before writing for Angel and then becoming showrunner on Angel for two years. Straiton directed Angel as well as Dollhouse. Straiton’s credentials include a number of other effects and stunt heavy properties, including Dark Angel, Star Trek: Enterprise, Grimm, and Fringe. It helps to have a well-oiled machine right from day one! It was another strong episode, and I really liked the character development and the story structure.
     I liked the way the episode was structured. Once again we started off  with the signature Marvel comic page flip and this episode even ended with a surprise cameo scene “after” the credits. More importantly we jump right into an action sequence of the Coulson-jet in jeopardy and then flashback to 19 hours earlier – leaving us a good part of the episode to play catch up. The core of the episode did a wonderful job of balancing some more character exposition with the case of the week and some great action sequences. The majority of the fight scenes were terrific, though at times I did find that the fight scenes suffered a bit from too many cuts and close ups. By now, I’m sure everyone knows that that’s my pet peeve. I don’t want a lot of camera work to interfere with my watching a good fight sequence. Actors and stunt people work hard to put those together and I like to watch them strut their stuff! However, that’s just a small quibble. We actually had lots of opportunity to see Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) demonstrate their fighting skills.

    We did learn some interesting things about the characters as they learned about each other. We learned that the super-jet was actually a gift to Coulson from Fury after Coulson was “hit” in the fight to save New York. Once again, when he discussed this with Skye (Chloe Bennet), there was an undercurrent of something else going on. We keep getting told that Tahiti is a magical place, and I keep wondering just how magical Tahiti really is and if Coulson ever actually went there... No doubt we will learn more as the season goes on. We also learn that Coulson has a pretty steamy past when Camilla Reyes (Leonor Varela) shows up leading the Peruvian Police troops. I have to say, I loved her ticking off all the evidence of Coulson being in the throes of amid-life crisis, including his “airborne man-cave”! It was a nice touch that Coulson has so many “antiques” in his office – his touchstones to the past. And again, I found myself wondering if this was a clue – does he need these touchstones to keep him grounded to his own past?

    We also learn that May is a famous agent – a member of  The Cavalry. Wen is doing a fantastic job playing her, keeping her very reserved and understated. I very much like her very dry delivery; it feels right for the character, but it’s not an easy characterization to pull off. I would contrast her performance with Brett Dalton as Ward. Both characters are used to working alone on tactical, high risk missions, so it makes sense, as I’ve said, for them to be reserved, observant, and loners. To this point, I feel that Dalton’s portrayal is a bit stiff at times, whereas Wen feels more natural. And my hat is off to her for keeping a straight face while Gregg’s Coulson is apologizing to her for having put her in combat when she specifically said she didn’t want to be in a combat situation - his delivery is priceless.

    There seems to be plenty of evidence to suggest that this disparate group of characters is not going to make a good team. Ward and May tell Coulson that at the beginning of the episode. The episode does a brilliant job of showing how the team comes together. It doesn’t feel forced and I’m happy they aren’t going to drag out the internal friction for the entire season. I’m sure there will still be rough patches, but by the end of the episode, it feels like they have all gained some respect for each other. Coulson knows exactly what he’s doing. When Reyes accuses him of using the team members to make himself feel relevant, he tells her, “they don’t need me; they need time.” And he meant, of course, not only that they needed time to develop a plot to take the plane back, but more importantly, that they needed time to come together as a team. Of course, lines like that make me worried that we won’t always have Coulson with the team.

    There is a terrific story thread about the importance of communication that runs all the way through the episode, tying it nicely together. Ward has no respect for what Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) do, so he doesn’t listen to them when they tell him not to pull the mysterious device from the wall in the Mayan temple. Skye suggests to Coulson that she should be the captain of the team when she learns that she has just as much experience on the team as everyone else and they clearly don’t like each other. Coulson tells them all “to work it out.” He makes sure to let them know the strengths that the others have: Ward speaks six languages, Fitz IS a rocket scientist, and Simmons has two PhDs. It’s interesting and completely ironic that Ward knows six languages and still sucks at communicating with people.

    Skye brings Ward a drink in hopes of starting over with him. She tries to explain about the Rising Tide and how it brings people together to get things done – everyone contributes a small piece toward the whole. Indeed, Skye’s “super power” is managing information and knowing what’s going on in the world. She knows about the Rebels in Peru, for instance. She’s also the one who is interested in picking up the “lingo” of the others. Ward tells her they’re from different worlds and it’s too bad that they can’t communicate. However, both Ward and Coulson are good at reading the situation, and both manage to anticipate the attack just before it occurs. They all still end up being captured, however, and then the team really does have to work together to save the day. Skye points out that it’s like a puzzle and each of them is a piece to solving it. Skye actually does pay attention to the information on the plane’s escape plan that Ward gives her when she boards, so she’s able to find the life raft and use it to plug the hole and save Ward’s life.

    The team ends the mission drinking beer companionably and watching the object of unknown origin being blasted off to the sun. All except Skye that is who is answering a text from Rising Tide, telling them to count her in to their plans. It will be interesting going forward to see how long it takes before her continued affiliation with them becomes a problem.

    The final scene of the episode is a terrific and utterly surprising cameo from the inimitable Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury. Arriving to give Coulson a hard time about what he’s done to the plane. He tells him that he could take it away and make Coulson use a Winnebago! He tells Coulson no fishtank, and then warns him that Skye is a risk. Fury was perhaps my favorite moment in the entire episode – I may have squeed when he appeared. But this episode had lots of great moments, such as the several shout outs to the movies, such as finding Thor’s hammer. Coulson is just so genuinely excited about flying off to find an object of unknown origin that it’s impossible not to find that excitement infectious. There is also a reference to the tessarack technology used during Captain America’s first appearance, and Coulson justifies bringing Skye on as a consultant by pointing out that Stark (Tony) is also a consultant.

    So very much to love in this second episode! Great dialogue, a satisfying storyline, and terrific fight sequences, especially with Wen.  Coulson is simply my idea of a perfect character. He’s a fanboy and he can be funny; he genuinely cares about the people under him, and he understands them. At the same time, he’s brave, and he can hold his own in a fight and be a bad ass when he needs to be. What did you think of the episode? Did it live up to last week? Were you surprised to see Nick Fury? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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