It happened again. I expected to watch this week’s episode, “0-8-4,” and guffaw over my mixed feelings from last week. Alas, I have even more mixed feelings, but this week may also be with a larger portion of disappointment. Perhaps I came into it expecting too much. Maybe I didn’t fully grasp that this was an ABC, comics-inspired show just barely touched by Whedon instead of molded by his brawny brain. Or perhaps we’re seeing what happens when the soul is scrubbed out of a story.
Agent Coulson promised Skye a “front seat to the craziest show on earth.” I’ve seen Star Trek (every iteration), The X-Files, Fringe, Supernatural and Doctor Who. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has yet to deliver anything remotely crazy. This week’s “crazy” was a hidden Hydra artifact left over from World War II. We’ve already seen that. Dumping it in an Incan ruin in Peru (where they could have explored ancient culture, myths and the rich history of the place but ignored it) and then fighting over it with national police is small potatoes when compared to any other show that deals with supernatural or otherworldly phenomena.
Isn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. around because of contact with other life forms like the Norse gods, science experiments gone awry and rich, bratty men with shiny toys? Where are the altered or unknown life forms with which the team is supposed to be grappling? All we get is a lady army leader who has a history with Coulson (apparently not enough of one that he trusts her implicitly) who decides she cares about the technology more. What’s weird is that this did not feel like a threat at all. S.H.I.E.L.D. swooped in, grabbed the tech, and made it out and counter-attacked during the double-cross. The tech by itself isn’t scary. It’s the person wielding it that makes it terrifying, and I did not feel for one second that anyone was going to die or get seriously injured. I didn’t buy the hype.
There also isn’t a lot of chemistry between the team members. It’s disjointed. Everyone’s aloof. Their background stories are crawling along at a snail’s pace. We have the merest hints about Melinda May (the pilot) and Grant Ward (the muscle). And everyone’s beginning to look like a stock Whedon character. Melinda is obviously Zoe, Grant is Jayne, Skye is Echo, Coulson is a captain with the personality of Giles, and Fitz and Simmons are a mix of Kaylee, Fred and Willow. I’m not saying this combo doesn’t work. It has worked in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse. If you find a formula that works for you, use it. Maybe alter it a bit once in a while. I’m also not really sure whether it’s the actors warming up to each other or a problem in revealing too little about the characters, but something isn’t gelling.
This makes me sad. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the show I was looking forward to watching the most, and I’ve been in agony watching it, hoping it would get better. The writing is great – lean, solid, funny at times while not relying too much on exposition or technobabble. The actors are hitting their marks, although they’ve managed to do it without allowing me to care or generating chemistry between the team. You can forgive a flawed show for its beloved characters, but a perfectly written show that’s been sterilized until you can’t connect with any of the characters won’t last (Although it would be ironic if this is the one Joss-related show that keeps getting renewed because “It’s Joss Whedon!” but is the worst out of all of them, perhaps due to the lack of hands-on Joss).
There were some good things in “0-8-4”. I deeply appreciate the message of the show. Humans need to work together and communicate in order to get things done. Fighting as a united front defeats a common enemy. I’m interested to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Rising Tide work out their differences via Skye and the team. I also appreciated the Nick Fury cameo and the tiny little aside Coulson made to “an afterlife crisis.” Does he know what happened to him?
Unfortunately, “0-8-4” failed to impress. I’m still happy with the quality of writing and visuals, but the lack of interest in the characters and the unexplored potential of crazier things is frustrating, to say the least. I’m wondering how much input Joss actually has – he did not write or direct this episode, but I expected a consistent tone since Jed and Maurissa are such a great team. I’ll have to keep reminding myself that “0-8-4” is just the second episode and that sometimes it takes an entire season for a show to find itself. At this rate, though, we won’t find out what happened to Coulson until Avengers 7.