Now I’m really not sure why they did have a two hour pilot for SHIELD in the first place. This second episode not only felt like the logical second half to the pilot, it provided the overall hook and resolution that the premier did not. Instead of a fast paced hour of individual introductions, we see the team come together for the first time.
The episode starts with the experienced agents expressing very reasonable concerns about the three specialists and whether they belonged in the field. Coulson literally brushes their concerns aside and proceeds to deploy his new team in search of a “0.8.4.” or in common language, an unknown but suspicious object. Retrieving what turns out to be a piece of alien tech from an ancient tomb in a jungle seemed like an almost over the top first scenario. But it got better. Not only does the local government send in troops to try and claim the artifact, the local guerrilla resistance shows up too. Suddenly, the dysfunctional team finds itself scrambling to even stay alive.
Fortunately, they have Grant Ward and Melinda May, and they both quickly prove why Coulson wanted them on his elite team. In fact, we saw the beginnings of Agent May’s backstory emerge here as she is thrown back into the combat scenario she wanted to avoid. Ward repeatedly refers to her as The Calvary, and while she might not want to be called that anymore, her few lines do nothing but reinforce the nickname.
“If I need a gun, I’ll take one.”
While Coulson reunites with an old flame during the heat of battle, Ward gets fed up by the baggage of three non-combatants and ,over Fitz’ protests, rips the artifact out of the wall and everyone makes it back to the “bus” including some of the local soldiers.
On the jet, the team finally starts to let their emotions surface. May is off flying the plane so she misses out on the roundtable yelling match, but the other four members express themselves quite clearly to each other and to Coulson. He basically tells them to grow up, and then goes off to the give his old girlfriend (who incidentally is in charge of the soldiers hitching a ride with SHIELD) a tour of his state of the art head quarters. After reaming out Ward for his handling of the artifact, Fitz and Simmons turn their attention to discovering what it is and what it can do. Their fancy 3D holograms straight out Iron Man allow them to quickly determine that the object is powered by Tesseract energy, and they reiterate their earlier claims that the object is extremely explosive. They also discuss whether or not they’re really cut out for field work or if it wouldn’t be best for them to just stay in the lab.
Meanwhile, Ward and Skye are having a small heart to heart. Skye cautiously brings up the Rising Tide and tries to explain what she’s trying to accomplish and why it’s so important to her.
“Usually one person doesn’t solve the solution, but 100 people with 1% of the solution that will get it done. I think that’s beautiful, pieces solving a puzzle.”
Ward clearly listens to her and appreciates her olive branch, but he is quick to point out that he has a different view of the world. He’s used to being the entire solution and not having to include other “pieces.” His view is reinforced to Skye when she notices blood on his shirt from where a bullet nicked him. She immediately realizes that if he’d been on his own, he wouldn’t have been hurt, and that protecting them had put him in harm’s way.
Before either of these two duos can successfully resolve their conversations, it becomes clear the other soldiers are planning more than catching a ride. Coulson cottons on to this almost at once, not hesitating to slam his former friend into a few walls as he races to help his team. Ward takes out a few other soldiers, but their greatest asset, May, is knocked out by gas before alarms are raised. Even without her, it seemed possible that Ward and Coulson could have maintained control over the jet, but Fitz and Simmons are taken hostage, and the remaining agents stand down.
I won’t detail the rather magnificent action sequence that follows in the name of spoilers, but suffice it say that this is the moment the team truly comes together. Without Coulson to mediate and lead, the five members must bring all their specialties to the table and work together. And what follows is a thing of beauty. Coulson is completely vindicated in his faith in his team, the weekly crisis is resolved, and the team celebrates their newly minted bonds by drinking into the sunset.
I felt this second episode was a much better indicator of the overall show than the pilot, and I liked what I saw. It seems poised to capitalize on the type of deep character and plot development a TV season can offer, and at the same time keeps the special effects and choreography at a movie level. We’ve already been treated to some major cameos ala Joss as well as a lot of name dropping to ground it in the Marvel universe as created by the movies. This cross media universe building is nothing new to Star Wars fans, but so far Marvel seems to be doing it a bit more intentionally leading to a well coordinated whole. I personally am still hoping for some books, but in the meantime, I’m more than happy to tune into SHIELD each week while waiting for the next blockbuster.