‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: ‘Pilot’ Review

Pictured: Colbie Smulders (Maria Hill) and Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson) in a scene from the pilot. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/ABC

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started with a bang, but as the hour came and went, I was shown a series that’s more than just its ties to a bigger franchise; but a series that’s just as full of heart as it is action. I was hooked after the first 10 minutes and by the time it was over, I was convinced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the best shows of the new fall season.

Joss Whedon, the creative genius behind the feature film Marvel’s The Avengers, one of the highest grossing films of all time, and of the iconic television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, has co-created Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a dynamic, action-packed one-hour drama that brings back a newly resurrected Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to lead a team of highly skilled agents. These agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have a mission: To investigate the new, the strange and the unknown around the globe, protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary.

Separating the Marvel connection, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is part action thriller, part spy-fi drama. Consider it Alias meets Person of Interest meets The X Files. A handpicked team investigates and tracks down threats representing the unknown, or in this case, those with “unregistered gifts” (code word for mutants). The series picks up where The Avengers left off, with secret, shadow organization SHIELD, which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, in the midst of a re-organization.

In the premiere episode, “Pilot,” it’s just after the battle of New York, and now that the existence of superheroes and aliens has become public knowledge, the world is trying to come to grips with this new reality. Agent Phil Coulson is back in action and has his eye on a mysterious group called ‘The Rising Tide’. In order to track this unseen, unknown enemy, he has assembled a small, highly select group of Agents to join his “Level 7” team.

Cobie Smulders reprises her "Avengers" role as Agent Maria Hill. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/ABC

Cobie Smulders reprises her “Avengers” role as Agent Maria Hill. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/ABC

Agent Maria Hill (guest star Cobie Smulders, reprising her Avengers role) has set her sights on a kick-ass S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). His physical prowess and marksman abilities made him the perfect candidate to join Agent Coulson’s new team. Ward is reluctant to take part in the new team, and almost botches an interrogation as a result.

Agent Coulson was believed to be killed in The Avengers film before the battle in New York, it turns out the Director Nick Fury faked his death to motivate the heroes. “The death of a common ally is a particularly effective team builder,” quipped Hill to Ward. An interesting scene soon followed, as one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors discussing the physical clearance of Coulson’s new team.

The doctor expresses reservations about clearing Coulson, to which he responded that he had plenty of rest. Maria Hill questions whether he actually got enough rest. When she asks where he was, Coulson replies with, “Tahiti. It’s a magical place.” When he departs the room, the doctor’s tone changes and seems surprised that Coulson “doesn’t really know” something. Maria retorts, “He can never know.” Uh oh! #WhatHappenedInTahiti? What is Maria keeping from Agent Coulson? Hopefully the answer to this mystery will slowly play out over the course of the season.

In addition to Ward, veteran S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is brought in, though she has unknown reasons for not wanting to be active in the field. Rounding out the team is engineering specialist Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and biochemist specialist Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Though young and naive, these two are great at what they do, as evidenced later in the episode. The group, part of the few with “Level 7” clearance, are searching for Michael Peterson (guest star J. August Richards), whose super heroic rescue is captured for the world to see. But S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t the only ones searching for Michael.

Skye (Chloe Bennet) tries to help Michael (guest star J. August Richards) escape his predicament. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/ABC

Skye (Chloe Bennet) tries to help Michael (guest star J. August Richards) escape his predicament. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/ABC

Skye (Chloe Bennet), a hacker and superhero groupie, tracks down Michael and tries to warn him that the men in black suits will be after him soon. She’s a rebel with a spunky personality, skills that managed to crack into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s super secure server, and a healthy distrust of everything shadowy in the world.

As the hunt for Michael continues, we learn more about the “freak of this week” – a widowed father who’s fallen on hard times. The woman he saved from the building is actually a doctor who helped bestow his new gifts. The building itself was a secret lab that was blown up as a result of one of the test subjects gone awry. He’s not really a villain; more of a victim to circumstance. After an extended action sequence (kidnapping, car chase, gun battle, etc.), the action slows to a crawl during one of the best scenes of the episode.

Richards delivers a powerful monologue about the false promises made to those who work hard and do good, that being normal was okay. But in a world now filled with gods and the super powered, what’s exceptional about being normal? It’s a wonderfully directed scene that’s made even better thanks to talent of Richards and Gregg.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is easily one of the best new shows of the fall season. Watching it is like getting a one hour movie every week. Whedon is in an extremely powerful position. As showrunner of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and director of The Avengers franchise, the potential for synergy between the two entertainment brands is limitless. Imagine Whedon introducing characters from the Marvel Universe with no chance of appearing in the films, on the TV series.

Let’s take Julia Carpenter (the second Spider-Woman) for example. Her origin story fits perfectly into the kind of stories the series hopes to tell. There’s little chance of any version of Spider-Woman appearing in the Marvel cinematic universe, but she could excel in the television universe.  As the product of an unwilling genetic experiment, her introduction could provide the “super” aspect of the team that’s missing said “super” characters. It’s that potential that is one of the series’ greatest strengths. The depths of Marvel’s universe is vast and unchallenged even by DC.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will definitely appeal to the comic fan base, but most importantly, its appeals to the non-comic fans as well. Those expecting the non-stop action of from the superhero films will be in store for an awakening. Whereas the Marvel cinematic universe sells itself on the heroes alone, SHIELD has the ability to do something that can’t be done in a 142 minute action film — tell character driven stories.

The characters are the heart and soul of the series. Over the course of 22 episodes, viewers will come to care about these characters, want them to succeed in their triumph over evil and learn more about them in the process. Characterization is one of Whedon’s biggest strengths; something exhibited in his popular, albeit ratings-challenged past projects like Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse.

Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) takes out an assailant. Photo Credit: Bob D'Amico/ABC

Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) takes out an assailant. Photo Credit: Bob D’Amico/ABC

With a relative unknown cast, Gregg and Wen serve as the veterans that will steer the ship. Gregg brings a combination of relatable, yet stern, no-nonsense, sardonic elements to his portrayal of Coulson. He stole scenes in the films, and he’ll steal them weekly on the show. Wen as a female action-hero might be jarring for those who remember her from her days on NBC’s E.R., but she’s very convincing. The days of the female action-hero are all-too rare on TV these days, and with The CW’s Nikita bowing this fall, it appears that Wen will be one of the few remaining.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the show builds towards pairing Dalton’s Grant Ward and Bennet’s Skye together. Even in an action-series, there has to be a romantic element that lures the all-powerful female demographic. Dalton’s quite the eye candy and will surely be a hit with the ladies. The chemistry between the two was evident during a humorous scene in which Skye questioned Grant while he was drugged.

It’s impossible to please everyone, but I’m hoping the general audience likes the series enough to make it a ratings success. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the perfect blend of action, camp and humor – something that could only be accomplished by the brilliance of Whedon. Watch this show…or kittens will die.

Ryan White-Nobles
Ryan White-Nobles is Editor-in-Chief of TV Source Magazine. He's began covering entertainment and soap operas in 2005. In 2009 he co-launched Soap Opera Source, and led the TV Source rebrand in 2012. He's a natural #Heel who loves a spirited debate and probably watches too much TV. Follow him on Twitter at @SourceRyan to discuss all things TV, soaps, sports, wrestling and pop culture.

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