‘Agents of SHIELD’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episode 1: ‘Laws of Nature’
Agents of SHIELD made its return to TV screens last night for its third season, and our first impression is that it's already a much-improved show. But there's always room for a second --- or third --- opinion, so we're kicking off a brand new format for Agents of Something, our regular post-show analysis of the latest Agents of SHIELD episode.
We've invited two CA contributors, Ziah Grace and Chris Haley, to share their thoughts about the show. Neither of them have been keeping up with the agents 'til now, so they'll offer a fresh new perspective, and they'll probably have quite a few questions...
'Laws of Nature' was directed by Vincent Misiano and written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.
Ziah: I’m Ziah Grace, and I’m here with Chris Haley to discuss every episode of Agents of SHIELD as they air. It looks like the show’s finally turning into what everyone hoped it would be when it first aired; the real question is whether that’s a good thing. Let’s start with the basics. Chris, have you seen any of the previous two seasons?
Chris: I watched the first episode of the first season when it premiered and remembered enjoying it well enough, but for some reason, I never watched any more, though I have to say, after watching the five minute “all the cool stuff that happened in Season 2” video, the show looks a lot more interesting than I’d been led to believe.
Ziah: Yeah, same here. I found the first few episodes entertaining enough, but honestly, “entertaining enough” doesn’t work for me in a Marvel TV show unless Major Ursa or the Prowler are involved, so I checked out. I was reading Andrew Wheeler’s recaps, but I don’t remember all the details, so this should be fun.
Let’s start with what we know. Agent Coulson, (from Iron Man and everything else) faked his death in Avengers to continue working with SHIELD. In doing so, he lost his charisma, and, apparently, his left hand. Luckily, he still has his right hand and right hand-lady, Daisy Johnson AKA Quake AKA Skye, the hacker from the pilot.
Daisy Johnson, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Gabrielle Dell’Otto, has been around since Secret War (the one where they fight Dr. Doom secretly), not to be confused with Secret Wars (the one where everyone fights everyone on an alien planet), Secret Wars II (the one where The Beyonder learns to poop), or Secret Wars 2015 (the one where they fight Dr. Doom openly). She came to prominence in Secret Invasion (the one where they fight Skrulls)
Chris: I know the Inhumans are a big deal on this show now, and it seems like there were two clashing versions of SHIELD, one led by Coulson, and one led by Edward James Olmos, and the handsome guy from the first episode was secretly working for HYDRA the whole time? Is that what I’m getting?
Ziah: I think you’re right? I remember hearing that the handsome guy was evil, but I don’t know how many versions of SHIELD there are now. In the premiere, they seem to be working covertly, and actively avoiding other government officials, so who knows. If the show’s replicating the Secret Invasion plot of Daisy recruiting superpowered “Caterpillars” (superheroes who haven’t become butterflies, yet?), then they might not be officially SHIELD anymore, but I’m still unclear on that. Okay, agent run down:
- Daisy Johnson/Skye/Quake: Has earthquake powers and Kyle MacLachlan as a dad, so it’s safe to say she’s living the dream.
- Phil Coulson: Has a robot hand, went to Tahiti.
- Mack, aka Alphonso Mackenzie: Really annoyed at all these superpowered people; has a fire axe he hangs on the wall?!
- Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, aka Agent 19: In the comics, she’s a secret agent/biologist who hung out with Ka-Zar (Marvel’s Tarzan) and Man-Thing (Marvel’s Swamp Thing). In the premiere, she hangs out in the lab, and is sleeping with/divorced from…
- Lance Hunter: British guy who was in Captain Britain comics.
- Leo Fitz: Very angry scientist, wants his lady-love Simmons back who is…
- Jemma Simmons: Stuck on an alien planet after going through a magic space rock.
So the show’s definitely become a lot weirder than it was in the pilot; in the first five minutes, we’ve got a “Nuhuman” blowing things up, invisible earthquake power blasts, and a box that shoots off into the sky. Maybe it’s just because that last bit felt like an early 00s Doctor Who episode, but I thought the opening scene was kind of charming. What about you?
Chris: I definitely got that same Doctor Who vibe from the opening, but whereas “special effects on a budget” has always been part of Doctor Who’s charm to me, I find myself judging this show’s effect work against Avengers, since that’s the world it’s set in. I know that’s probably not fair, but I’m not the one who told Marvel/Disney to make a tv show that relies so heavily on special effects. There were definitely a few effects heavy moments that felt laughable/below '90s Buffy (The Vampire Slayer (the TV show)) caliber, but I probably wouldn’t be bothered by them so much if this show didn’t have anything to do with Marvel. But then, I guess I probably wouldn’t be watching it if it didn’t have anything to do with Marvel, so what can you do?
Ziah: Fair enough. I think having an aesthetic that would feed off the budget they do have would definitely help. If this were 'Blade and the Creature Commandos' or something, it would be fine, but AoS is specifically being sold to us as the background of the Avengers franchise, so the effects work stands out more.
We also get a glimpse at another bit of Marvel lore that they’ll be using this season: Lash. Created by Charles Soule and Joe Madureira in the recent Inhuman series, Lash is the leader of a rival group of Inhumans to Queen Medusa and the ones we know. I actually enjoyed that series, but Lash always seemed fairly rote as a villain. His design is pretty boring, and his energy absorption/redirection powers are really common without a unique visual flair.
Even though his appearance at the hospital to fight Daisy and an Inhuman Dr. McDreamy seemed like something straight out of a comic, I’d much rather they strengthen the writing and bring in some of the more interesting characters from Soule’s run than focus on Lash. Lineage, a character whose ancestors join his body and offer information, would be a fun addition to the cast, since he’s got a useful power without needing to break the VFX budget. Who would you like to see this season?
Chris: I don’t know who these people are (below), but I’m told they are part of Lash’s crew in the comics, and it is my sincere hope we see them at some point and that they look exactly like this.
Speaking of Lash, I agree with you completely on his design, but I have two things about the way he looks on the show that I have to get off my chest.
- One of my biggest pet peeves on genre on a budget shows like this is when they have “aliens” or “demons” or “whatever” and you know they can’t afford to totally go crazy making the character looking other-worldly or unnatural, so they take an actor, spend a lot of attention to giving them a weird face/head, but then they just have normal clothes on. Lash is supposed to be this big, scary Inhuman hunter, and sure he’s got weird eyes and goofy hair and he’s blue, but then they cut to his feet and he’s just wearing work boots and my ability to suspend disbelief goes out the window, because all I can think about is, “Oh, this is just a dude pretending to struggle as two people across from him wiggle their arms.” It’s as if the whole thing is silly, and you should feel silly for watching it.
- This dude straight up looks like Sonic the Hedgehog.
Ziah: Reference corner: I counted a few connections to the Marvel universe. Sekovia, the site of the Age of Ultron climax, is mentioned twice as a warning for what not to do, and “Pym Particles” are mentioned to clarify that Simmons isn’t trapped in the microverse. Chris, how do you feel about these mentions? For me, they take me out of the show, since the references are so bald-facedly there just to be references. The Sekovia reference at least shows a bit of a connection to the point that the president is making, but the Ant-Man reference exists to remind you to buy a DVD of Ant-Man.
Chris: Not for nothing, but I appreciated that they bothered bringing William Sadler back to play the president again after Iron Man 3 instead of just having it be a “White House official” at that press conference at the end of the episode. They also had him mention the crashing of the SHIELD helicarriers at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There were probably a couple others we’re forgetting.
I think I’ve got just the opposite take on the references though, because while they do always stand out like sore thumbs, if they’re going to live in this world, I want them to live in this world. And if they can’t have the movie stars showing up all the time and they don’t have the budget to make things look like the movies, I at least want them talking about what happens in the movies since I’m just going to be thinking about it anyway.
Ziah: Oh, nice catch on the president continuity. I was wondering about that, but didn’t feel like looking it up. And that’s fair that the characters would and should talk about the events of the universe, but there’s no reason they can’t be smoother. Making it part of a joke or a character’s personality would be better than just saying the titles of the movies occasionally.
Chris: Let’s talk about the acting for a minute. To the show’s credit, I felt like things got much smoother the further we got into the episode, but that cold open was rough. I mean, I was embarrassed for almost everyone involved. All the characters on the show also seem to have a case of “talking fast is the same as being clever.” Whenever a show does that, I imagine that they wrote the script and then realized it was a few minutes too long, but rather than cut anything out, they just speed all the dialogue scenes up. Like literally use the speed-things-up dial. Did any of that stand out or bother you?
Ziah: Oh, definitely. Coulson’s chat with the head of a rival spy network was really confusing, just because it felt like they were talking at 2x the normal speed. Is Joss Whedon still connected to the show, or is that just an affectation they’re taking? Because I know that’s something he does in a lot of his work.
Chris: If I had to guess, I’d say he’s involved in name only, but who knows?
Ziah: What’d you think of the stinger of the episode? Simmons is on another planet, which could lead to some interesting stories, but for a soft relaunch of the show, they didn’t really make an effort to introduce us to the world.
Chris: Baffling. I mean, I guess I can’t complain too much about not knowing what’s going on in a show I haven’t been watching, but it would be really easy to say that someone just tuning in would have no idea what was going on with a lot of this show. I get the feeling we’ll be on the same page with them before too long though.
Ziah: Worth noting; Marvel’s actually included a canonically gay Latino man in the cinematic universe, and he survives the episode! Joey, with the power to… melt metal. He’s The Melter, maybe? Look, if they’re bringing in third-rate heroes and villains who will never show up in the movies, then I’m pleased. That puts us one step closer to a D-Man episode.
Any final thoughts? Did you enjoy the first episode overall?
Chris: Yeah, complaints aside, I enjoyed it well enough and am not dreading the next episodes at all. This is not sarcasm. Please believe that I am being sincere right now. Why won’t you believe me?
Ziah: Yeah, same here. I guess we’ll see next week!
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