Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Pilot review S1 E1

With no new shows coming, I figured it was time to revisit some of the episodes of shows I regularly review that I previously missed on the first run. The trick with filling in the review gaps of a show like Agents of SHIELD is deciding to write it like I know what’s already happened with the benefit of hindsight or play it like I’m watching it for the first time.

At the time of Agents of SHIELD’s debut much of the hype focused on the curious return of Agent Coulson who was seemingly killed by Loki (spoiler) in Marvel’s The Avengers. The pilot episode was all about establishing the new team and teasing them operating on the fringes of a superpowered world.

A man (J. August Richards) charges over to an exploded building to make a daring rescue, but scales it by punching holes in the bricks. He leaps out while being recorded by a woman we’re clearly supposed to remember. No problem on that front.

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SHIELD agents are tracking down a group called Rising Tide and Agent Ward pulls off a very James Bond style smash and grab of some valuable intel – a Chitaurai neural link — before getting debriefed by Maria Hill. This was in that special magical time when it seemed like AOS was going to be a true spin-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with deep ties to what’s going on in the movies.

Hill drops the bombshell that Coulson is still alive. Coulson says he recovered from the Asgardian Mussolini and rested up in Tahiti, a magical place. Coulson and Hill tell Ward he’s been selected for Coulson’s mobile command unit. Their first task is taking out Rising Tide and helping this mysterious new hero. Ward said he’s not much of a team player, but neither Hill or Coulson want to hear any of his excuses.

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Not exactly a hot take, but AOS really could have been a way to make Hill more of a featured player in the MCU as Coulson’s direct supervisor. Cobie Smulders was quietly a perfect choice to play Hill and she bounces off Clark Gregg very well.

Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass) says the rest of the team is cleared and when Coulson walks off, expresses disbelief that Coulson doesn’t know what happened. Hill says he can never know prompting a new mystery.

People are buzzing about the daring rescue of the nurse by The Hooded Hero. It’s funny how the first hero in SHIELD uses the same clothing description as Arrow did for Green Arrow in its first season. Skye introduces herself to Mike and warns him about SHIELD. Well, she’s not wrong…

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Coulson continues his recruitment pitch and asks Malinda May to drive The Bus. As much as I loved the first phase of Marvel Studios’ films, it was a little annoying that AOS didn’t have a black agent among its initial cast. That was especially puzzling considering how prominent War Machine and Nick Fury were featured and Heimdall even got race swapped to add more diversity.

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Ward arrives at The Bus and encounters FitzSimmons: Agents Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz. AOS definitely leaned hard into the 007 presentation as FitzSimmons were more Q in two characters while Ward had the Bond dismissive attitude toward their excitement. Bonus points for Simmons name dropping Journey Into Mystery. Ward knows all about May and is shocked she’s “just” the pilot.

Skye is in her hacker conspiracy theory van making another propaganda broadcast and is quickly apprehended by Coulson and Ward. Man, Skye is every annoying 90s hacker cliche and it’s also perfectly ludicrous that she’s more competent than Coulson’s hand selected crew. Did he not think to have a computer whiz while doubling up on science geeks?

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Skye is tracking down something called Centipede similar to the mark on his arm. Ward’s line about sweaty cosplay girls around Stark Tower was pretty funny.  To earn her trust, Coulson gives Ward some truth serum accomplishing a dual goal of showing some tension with Ward and Coulson and an early romantic spark with Ward and Skye.  Ward is not a fan of Coulson’s tactics making for a decent power dynamic.

Mike has a device on his arm similar to a centipede and apparently it’s starting to make him more aggressive when he confronts his jerky boss (Bob Stephenson). Yeah, I’m not a fan of the black guy being the increasingly delusional quasi-bad guy. The woman Mike saved was actually a doctor who was partially responsible for the device on his arm.

FitzSimmons are pretty useless and worse they seem redundant with the far more efficient Skye. Throwing three science/computer geeks onto a six member team isn’t the best specialty breakdown. Centipede is a hybrid of Erkskine’s secret formula, gamma radiation and Extremis so if you’re looking for a start point to place AOS during a long form MCU binge, it’s directly after Iron Man 3.

The production values on this episode are so much better than comparable shows of that era. AOS raised the bar big time in terms of bringing the MCU quality to the small screen.

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Coulson’s team manages to neutralize Mike’s Extremis before he blows up and help get him on the path to becoming a hero. It’s the kind of mission Skye can get behind as she takes Coulson up on his offer to join the team.

This was a solid opening act for Agents of SHIELD that lays out the initial cast dynamic while promising a close connection to the MCU mixed with its own mysteries and drama.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Photo Credit: ABC

 

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