Sam Jackson makes a cameo appearance as Nick Fury.
The second episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shares many of the good and bad points that were evident in the Pilot. However, this second episode in the season, 0-8-4, is an overall improvement that suggests that the show will become a great deal better once it finds more of an identity. As the character Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) says in this episode, “We’re still working out the kinks”. Now that the team has been fully assembled, creator Joss Whedon has begun to focus on the interactions between the main characters. Teamwork is an important theme in this episode; each character is called upon to bring their particular skills to the episode’s conflict. Unsurprising considering Whedon’s track record, the appeal of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly going to be the team itself and how the various agents play off one another.
Picking up almost immediately from where the Pilot left off, Skye (Chloe Bennet) moves onto the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane in order to serve as a consultant for the newly-formed team. Their first mission takes them to the jungles of Peru to hunt down a mysterious artefact that previously appeared in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger (reminding the audience yet again that the show takes place in the same continuity as the Marvel Comics films). Soon they are attacked by local militants and have to make a hasty retreat with the help of a military official who happens to be an old friend of Coulson’s. Once the team is back on their plane, they soon realise that the artefact is far more dangerous than they realised and that the aircraft is in considerable danger. The good news about 0-8-4 is that its positive aspects certainly outnumber its faults. The narrative of the episode is even better than the previous one. The jungle setting sets the episode apart from its cinematic source material. The connection to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is subtle and clever (much more so than it was in the Pilot). The action sequences are well shot and very engaging. Most important is the fact that the tone continues to be light-hearted and optimistic. So many television shows that utilise sci-fi concepts like superheroes and alien technology (Heroes and Fringe being the most obvious examples) are written and shot with a strong emphasis on gritty realism; as if the creators are self-conscious and embarrassed about handling such out-there concepts and feel the need to disguise it with the trappings of serious drama. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has no such reservations—the creators are clearly not conflicted about making a live-action comic book on the small screen; making the show a refreshingly cheery watch.
Also impressive is the show’s subtle but mature examination of important modern political issues. Skye professes her support for the lower class revolution taking place in the show’s version of Peru, citing the use of Twitter as an organisational tool for protest as being an amazing symbol of unification against oppression. Meanwhile, Ward (Brett Dalton) argues from a more conservative point of view; that Skye is ignoring the violent militant behaviour of those she supports because she is not directly involved in the combat. The show doesn’t exactly take a side in this debate. Instead, both characters learn something from one another’s differing perspectives. This is extremely intelligent stuff for escapist action-adventure television.
Nevertheless, the episode is not without its problems. One wonders why Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) gives Skye such a hard time for not knowing about the events of Captain America; events that were supposedly classified (most likely, this scene is a shout-out to the more diehard Marvel fans in the audience). Guest star Leonor Varela delivers a pretty weak performance which tends to harm the more serious scenes. Elizabeth Henstridge’s Simmons continues to be a very irritating British stereotype. Most problematic for this particular episode is the frequently poor computer effects. This is likely due to the creators attempting comic book movie action on a television budget. The jungle action scenes are far more compelling than those in the plane because they feel more real and perilous. Most egregious is how the characters solve the problem of a large hole that has exploded in the side of the plane: their solution is so ludicrous that it goes beyond far-fetched (even in a world where Iron Man and Captain America exist). But none of these problems serve to damage the episode. These faults feel more like the natural growing pains of a very young show than they do serious flaws. Considering that the show is even better than it was last week, there’s no reason not to be optimistic about the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Plus, a special appearance by Samuel L. Jackson is always something to get excited about!
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