Girl in the Flower Dress is the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to progress the show’s overall plotline since the pilot. Various plot points that haven’t been addressed for weeks are quickly resolved or developed further. More significant events happen in this single episode than in the past four episodes. In some ways, such progress is a good sign. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had tremendous problems finding a distinct identity and tone; though none of the episodes have been terrible, many have bordered on being mediocre because of this lack of direction. The unfortunate side of an episode like this is that it has automatically made the previous four episodes utterly irrelevant. A future viewer could easily forego them without losing anything of importance. This is episodic storytelling of the laziest nature.
The episode itself, however, is certainly entertaining. A Hong Kong street magician (Louis Ozawa Changchien) with the power to project fire from his hands is abducted by the sinister Centipede organisation that was last seen in the pilot. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents travel to Texas to track a computer hacker with a connection to the abduction. The computer hacker, Miles (Austin Nichols), turns out to be Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) boyfriend. More shocking to the team is the revelation that Skye has been compiling information on S.H.I.E.L.D. in secret, breaking the bonds of trust between her and the rest of the team. Secrets and information are at the forefront of the episode’s thematic concerns. Much of the episode is spent with Miles and Skye debating the merits of freedom of information. Edward Snowden’s name is dropped (likely in an attempt to be culturally relevant) as the two characters discuss the politics of leaking potentially dangerous information to the world in the name of freedom. Unlike the similar debate that took place in the second episode, in which no conclusion was found in regards to the freedom verses security dispute, this episode almost outright condemns the “hacktivist” movement by portraying Miles as untrustworthy and arrogant; hiding behind his speeches of freedom and democracy whilst committing crimes for his own self-interest. This is a surprisingly conservative viewpoint for the show to take, considering its usually more liberal sensibilities. Depending upon one’s politics, the episode will either be more or less palatable than any other episode so far.
Alongside the Skye and Miles plot is the ongoing story of the Chinese magician, who comes to call himself “Scorch” in reference to his superhuman fire powers. The notion that all people with superpowers have to select bizarre names for themselves is an interesting way of linking the series back to its cinematic precursors; the Marvel Comics films (in which superheroes with catchy codenames are commonplace). “Scorch” is taken to a secret lab by the titular girl in the flower dress (Ruth Negga) where he and his strange powers are experimented upon. Shannon Lucio returns from the Pilot as a scientist hoping to advance Scorch’s powers. Having a character with fire powers allows for a very exciting and visually stunning finale in which Coulson and May (Ming-Na Wen) have to enter the lab facility and battle the now-insane Scorch. The special effects of Scorch’s fire powers look great, as does a surprisingly dark sequence in which one of the villains is burnt to death and melted into ash. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has so far managed to tell several varied and interesting stories centred around ordinary people gaining powers and at least at this point in the show’s lifespan, the trope has not become worn or overused. More episodes of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team taking on superhumans would be very welcome.
Like every episode of this show, there are some pretty glaring problems. All of the scenes that take place in China are accompanied with stereotypical Chinese music. Not only is this more than a little racist, it insults the intelligence of the viewer by suggesting that we’d forget where the characters are unless the music reminds us. Much of the character’s dialogue continues to be trite and witty for the sake of being witty. One imagines that Brett Fletcher, the writer of this episode according to IMDB.com, was concerned more with the characters speaking in cool quotable one-liners than he was with giving the characters compelling or realistic lines. The Scorch character’s turn from slightly unpleasant to homicidally insane was far too quick to take seriously. Perhaps the biggest problem with this episode, and with all of the episodes of this show, is the creator’s emphasis on the characters as a family rather than as a team. Five episodes in and the characters are being written as if they’ve been together for years; as if this is the second or third season rather than the first. Obviously, watching the characters bond over time is the appeal of a programme like this. The problem is that it seems like the show’s creators wanted to sidestep character development in order to make the team like a dysfunctional family from day one. Watching these characters evolve from a formal team into something more personal and familial should have been the main joy of watching this show. Instead, when Skye seemingly betrays her teammates in this episode, the other agents act like a beloved family member has been lying to them. It is too early in the show’s existence for the characters to be treating each other in this way. In other words, this episode is one of the stronger thus far but it still has not broken away from the same issues that have surrounded the show from day one.
Image from comicbook.com
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