Episode five of Agents of SHIELD, "Girl in the Flower Dress." brings us almost a quarter of the way through the first season, and for the first time I didn't think the episode was better than last week's -- but I didn't think it was worse either. Has Agents of SHIELD found its plateau?

The main story this week wasn't as strong as last, but it compensated; this was the first episode since the pilot to really push any elements of the greater arc. For that reason, it was maybe the most satisfying episode yet.


"Girl in the Flower Dress" opens with the familiar sounds of a guzheng or Chinese zither, your sure-fire always-ready ethnic shorthand for "we're going to be in China this week." Later in the episode there are scenes set in Texas, yet weirdly they are not presaged by the sound of a jug band.

We meet Chan Ho Yin (Louis Changchien), a young street magician with the power to produce flames from his hands and silence hecklers. Chan meets Raina (Ruth Negga), a girl in a flower dress. He takes Raina home, shows her his powers up-close, and explains that he came by his power a few years ago. Raina in turn introduces Chan to the guys in environmental suits from E.T.

Might Chan be the Marvel cinematic universe's first mutant? Well, no. They can't use the word because of their deal with Fox, which holds the X-Men rights, but also the show handwaves his powers away as probably the result of radiation exposure in adulthood.

Chan is the third super-powered character on the show after Akela Amador and Mike Peterson (Franklin Hall doesn't technically count yet), and I note that all three have been people of color. That's refreshing given the Marvel universe's own built-in lack of diversity, though none of these new supers have ended their episodes terribly well, let alone with an invitation to join the Avengers.

On the plane, Ward (Brett Dalton) plays Battleship with Skye (Chloe Bennet), but while the boards are up between them, his walls are starting to come down. It's visual metaphor as juxtaposition, you guys! Art. Meanwhile, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) have a weird moment that I think is flirting ("If you want, I could lay out the mats downstairs, we could go a few rounds, like the old days."), but I hope it isn't. I don't want the cast to be sorted into breeding pairs.

The agents are briefed on the abduction of Chan, who was already on SHIELD's books, leading Skye to freak out at the idea of SHIELD keeping tabs on super-people, even though that's... well, the premise of the show. A quick video-chat with their man in Hong Kong, and the agents learn that Chan's identity was compromised when the Rising Tide hacked into their system. Suspicion naturally falls on Skye, because, oh yeah, she's a member of the Rising Tide. Who would have thought that inviting a radical activist hacker to join a covert intelligence organization might have security implications? The more you know™.



Meanwhile, Raina gives Chan her sales pitch; she's going to turn him into a superhero with the codename "Scorch." As I'm sure you all remember, there was an Asian pyrokinetic named Scorch in Night Thrasher's solo series during the mid-'90s. I mentioned the similarity to Dan Slott, who wrote that book, and it was the first he'd heard of it, so maybe it's a coincidence?

The agents go looking for the hacker in Texas (no fiddle music plays), but he uses his L33T skills to get away and goes home... to find Skye waiting. TWIST!

Miles the hacker (Austin Nichols) dodged SHIELD because Skye tipped him off. He's not only Skye's fellow Rising Tiddlywink, but also her sometime lover (with the power to take off his t-shirt twice - weird editing). He's also pretty cute with his little hacktivist beard, which begs the question, where was this guy when they were casting all the generic white dudes for this show? If we must have milquetoast, let's at least put butter on it.

Skye finishes up her rebooty call and finds Agent May standing at the door. DOUBLE TWIST! We're not going to watch Skye play double agent for twenty episodes, because they're going to kick her lying deceiving no-good self out of the plane at 30,000 feet. Right guys? Right?

"I thought she was our friend," whines Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) in one of his few lines this episode. Did you, Fitz? Why did you think that? What evidence did you have?



The agents head to Hong Kong, where "Scorch" discovers that he's to become a lab rat to boost his power. Scorch is excited about becoming a hero, and this is all going to end really well for everyone.

En route, Skye argues with Miles (so that we and Ward can see that her loyalties are shifting) and Ward exposes Miles for selling information to the girl in a flower dress. This leads the agents to a "Centipede" lab, which means... which means we're actually going with "Centipede" for the name of the villain organization. Noooooo! I suppose they couldn't use Hydra or AIM because they're already known quantities in the cinematic universe, but... Centipede?

If you weren't keeping track and don't remember Centipede from the pilot, the episode spells it all out, both by telling (Coulson breaks it down) and by showing. Debbie (Shannon Lucio), the unthreateningly-named scientist from the first episode, is back to extract Scorch's blood platelets. They only wanted him for the power to stop their Extremis soldiers exploding. This is actually... a pretty smart plot development that makes total sense. Oh.



SHIELD goes in to the lab, and for once the agents we know are actually using back-up from the wider SHIELD organization. Crazy! They try to rescue Scorch, only for Scorch to go full supervillain. Meanwhile, Skye gets dragged back into action by Ward when the lab goes into lockdown, because, ugh. And Miles gets dragged into it as well, because, well, why the hell not at this point? Where's that Peruvian traitor from episode two? I expect she'd be super-handy right now too!

Meanwhile, in villain-world, Raina beautifully backstabs Debbie and leaves her to die (horribly) at Scorch's hands. It's a passing of the villain torch that establishes Raina as the real threat. Scorch goes boom, and Miles uses his hacker skills to... create a chimney. You had to be there. Oh, you were there? Well. That was certainly a thing that happened.

Miles's reward for helping his ideological opponents is to be abandoned in a foreign country with no money and a bracelet that stops him using technology. He'll probably be dead in a week. Skye's reward for lying to everyone and betraying the organization that gave her a chance is... another chance.

OK, so SHIELD redacted information that would help Skye find her true parents. That's not terrible motivation, and it does at last give the character some much-needed vulnerability. But it's not enough for me to buy that she should be allowed to stick around. She does also get one of those anti-tech bracelets (which use magnets to improve blood circulation, it's science), but I'd sooner see her back in handcuffs. It's not that I'm not on her side vis-a-vis freedom of information, I'm just on the side of narrative plausibility.

Also, there are more pressing mysteries about Skye's past that need to be answered. Like, why didn't her amazing pop career take off?


The kicker scene this week returns us to Raina as she visits a strange man in prison. We don't know who he is or why he's locked up. Raina tells him to make contact with someone called "The Clairvoyant." Actual clairvoyance would break last week's "no ESP rule" but maybe the rule was made to be broken.

The scene sets up a lot of new mysteries, but the big question I'm left asking is, are any of these people going to be established Marvel characters? I need to get my nerd on, Agents of SHIELD. You don't understand. If this keeps going I'll end up watching Arrow, and they only have DC characters! It's the worst!

By moving both Skye's story and the villains' story forward, this episode did some of the work I think it needed to do to keep the audience interested. However, it's crystallized one of the show's big problems, which is that the guest characters and their stories are a lot more compelling than the core characters and their stories.

I especially like Raina as a villain. Ruth Negga is a very watchable actress and she's excellent at subtle menace. I hope we'll see a lot more of her. She'd make a fine Madame Hydra or Madame Masque. At this point I'd be happy if she turns out to be MODAM.

Credit where it's due:

"Girl in the Flower Dress" was directed by Jesse Bochco and written by Brent Fletcher. SHIELD was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. Extremis is based on an idea by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. Scorch was created by Dan Slott.