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Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 5: Girl In The Flower Dress

Bob Chipman | 23 Oct 2013 12:00
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"We don't want to hurt you. But we have to."

Oh, good. Last week's really good episode wasn't a fluke - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have found it's groove, and that groove is quick-moving spy business infused with sci-fi fantasy elements cribbed from the Marvel Universe. I think I had more fun with Eye-Spy, but that may be because it's spy-genre point of origin felt close to the (other) Avengers and I happen to dig that vibe. This week lives much more in the realm of Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan techno-thriller, which feels a little less distinctive, but the trade-off is a virtual info-dump of series-mythology and worldbuilding.

And on top of all that, it was pretty damn entertaining, too.

As is by now customary, we cold-open on Something Unusual; in this case a Hong Kong street magician named Chan Ho Yin (Louis Ozawa Changchien, last widely seen as the Yakuza hitman in Predators) whose fire-throwing tricks aren't tricks at all - he has pyrokinetic super-powers, possibly developed due to growing up near a nuclear meltdown site. Said powers earn him the attention of Raina (Ruth Negga), the titular "Girl" of the title; but instead of showing him a good time she introduces him to two guys in shiny hazmat suits who abduct him.

Yes, fans, I also jumped a little bit when those guys popped into frame, since in the comics such suits are the signature uniform of A.I.M, but let's remember that we've already met the Earth-199999 version of A.I.M as Aldrich Kilian's outfit from Iron Man 3. That's not to say they aren't involved here (in fact, since Extremis comes up again it's probably a given) just that the suits wouldn't be the clue.

As it turns out, Chan is already on S.H.I.E.L.D's watch-list; as the first of the episodes big reveals is that the agency actually has a working list of known superhumans, the more "interesting" of which are contacted by the agency and assigned caseworkers (Tzi Ma as Agent Kwan in Chan's case.) All this listmaking and secrecy reflexively-unnerves former hacktivist Skye, and it gets rougher for her once Kwan informs the team that Chan's existence was likely outed by a hacker from The Rising Tide - the WikiLeaks-like hacker collective with which she was formerly (and, as far as the audience has been led to believe) still is connected with.

Meanwhile, Skye isn't the only one not feeling overly fond of S.H.I.E.L.D's broad reach and info-suppression: Chan wakes up somewhere unknown, with Raina informing him that she works for an organization that wants to help super-people like him become super-heroes like The Avengers. She even suggests a code-name, Scorch. As it turns out, Chan is extremely receptive to the idea - his dream was to be famous like his idol Harry Houdini, and he feels cheated by S.H.I.E.L.D's insistence on superhumans keeping low profiles.

The hack is traced to a Texan Rising Tide big-shot named Miles, who manages to give even Coulson the slip thanks to an anonymous tip... from Skye. Surprise! Miles is her long-term boyfriend, and is apparently the guy she's been ominously texting while "undercover" in S.H.I.E.L.D. Technically, she's come to tell him to back off because messes like outing Chan are making her own, still unstated, agenda on the inside more difficult; but it's now clear that her loyalties remain quite divided.

On the plus side, this is both a good mid-episode curveball and good development for Skye, whose role as audience-surrogate has often threatened to render her bland (and Agent Ward is already more than enough bland for one show.) On the downside, it feels distressingly like the show writing itself a license to drag the already somewhat played-out "who's side is she on???" mystery out even longer...

...which is why it's all the more awesome when Agent May turns up busts the both of them. Gotcha! The other reason that's awesome? Good writing: Even if it would make good drama, there's just no buying that an organization that cracks the secret identities of superheroes as its day job isn't going to be able to run down a pair of code-monkey lovebirds shacking up in a crappy Austin apartment. So now Miles is S.H.I.E.L.D's prisoner and so is Skye, along with having all or most of her work making friends with the team shot to hell.

Chan's/Scorch's story is still playing out in the midst of all this, of course: Raina's people have an expectedly suspicious-looking mad science lab, where they give him injections that increase the amount of CGI fire his body is able to render onscreen. (All kidding aside, the fire effects are pretty great as TV shows go. Is this why the show has often looked so cheap - did they spend all the money on yet-untelevised super powers?) I like the way his character is pitched in this; the idea that post-Avengers people want to have nicknames and costumed identities is so much for fun (and economical) than the convoluted hoops series like the miserable Arrow leap through going half-way to the same place.

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