‘Agents of SHIELD’ Season 1 Recap, Episode 10: ‘The Bridge’
Agents of SHIELD came back from a one-week hiatus last night to drop its one and only December episode on us before heading out to the hills until January. TV executives call this a "mid-season finale", but that is a nonsensical concept, so let's call it "the Christmas hiccup" instead.
'The Bridge' marks an important point in the pacing of the season. The show's creators have used this episode to tie much of the first half together and propel us into the second half. In theory it should feel momentous. In practice, I was sadly underwhelmed.
The episode opens with a prison breakout. Three soldiers with Extremis strength enhancements crash through the roof to abduct Edison Po, who we previously met as a contact of Raina (the villainous "girl in the flower dress") in... Girl in the Flower Dress. Po insists on being addressed as "sir" before he will consent to leave. Po is a much bigger ass than he was when he was a Teletubby.
Meanwhile, on da plane, Skye (Chloe Bennet) is looking at possible candidates for the role of SHIELD-agent-who-abandoned-her-as-a-baby-and-might-be-her-mother. She's identified a likely suspect, and for a brief glorious moment I thought her name was "Katherine Chang" and the show meant to acknowledge actress Chloe Bennett's Chinese ethnicity, but no, she's Katherine Shane, and I'm back to expecting the worst.
Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells Skye that May (Ming-Na Wen) is looking into the restricted files that Skye can't access. This is a strange thing to tell her, because in fact Coulson and May are stonewalling Skye's hunt, and the episode later shows that May has no interest in playing along with the pantomime of keeping Skye's hopes up. Meanwhile, May and Ward (Brett Dalton) have the first of two awkward "let's not tell anyone we're sleeping together, oops, we should have checked no-one was listening" conversations, because it's not like they're highly trained covert operatives or anything.
The agents are assigned to track down Edison Po (anagram of Poseidon! Also, "poisoned." Probably not important), because they've identified his rescuers as agents of Centipede, the world's least threatening-sounding super villain organization. This means bringing in support, aka Mike Peterson (J August Richards), the Centipede test subject that they "saved" in the pilot (by shooting him in the head), who is now at a SHIELD training facility using his super-strength to shove bulldozers.
Neither May nor Ward is excited to have Peterson around, and Ward airs his grievances to the rest of the team only to... wait, I'll need a moment.
Ward is saying "he was a raging homicidal maniac", and then, oh, you're going to like this, it's almost too much; then Peterson walks into the room while he's talking, and...
Sorry, I'm going to have to breathe into a bag for a few seconds.
OK, so Ward says, "he was a maniac", and Peterson walks in while he's saying this, and Ward sees the look on everyone's faces and he realizes what's going on and he pauses, and then he says...
"He's standing right behind me, isn't he?"
God, you guys, it was so fresh.
If you can't read my tone of sarcasm; let the record show, this is the moment I considered whether I could continue to watch Agents of SHIELD even though I am technically paid to watch Agents of SHIELD.
Writers. You can't do this any more. You can't do the "he's standing right behind me, isn't he?" bit any more. You can't. It is your job to write, and this is not writing, this is stitching. This is taking a worn-out familiar patch and sewing it into your script because you're too lazy to invent. "He's standing right behind me," is an abdjugation of the responsibilities of imagination, one that creates the unfortunate impression that the makers of this show care not one bit for the audience's time or intelligence. It's piss-water. It's feeding dimes into the cliché jukebox, possibly because you don't have the quarter necessary to trot out the whole of "the scorpion and the frog" one more awful godforsaken time. Even subversions of "he's right behind me" are now cliché, and Brett Dalton, bless his little cheekbones, is not the actor to infuse new life into it.
It is done. It is done. It is done.
And I wish the writers of Agents of SHIELD were standing right behind me now because then we could have a very intense conversation. There is a lot we need to talk about.
I have feelings about this.
Anyway, back to the show.
Peterson chit-chats with the team. Skye reminds us that he has a son. This will be important later. Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) measures Peterson for his new super-suit (sorry; "diagnostic suit"), and Peterson reveals that the night-night gun stabilized his condition so he wouldn't explode. There is a nice beat here in which Simmons gabbles on about Peterson's aesthetic charms on the assumption that Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) is talking over her, only to realize that he isn't. It's true to character, it's well performed, it's funny. It must have been written on a different day to the one when they dragged "he's standing right behind me" out of the trash. Someone in the writer's room put on a fresh pot of coffee that day.
Ward goes to a Cleveland campus to talk to the sister of one of the Extremis soldiers so they can track his cellphone using a transparent "he won the lottery" ploy. This is really just a set-up to allow Ward and Coulson to talk about "women's studies," which gives Coulson the chance to reminisce about the cellist in Portland and remind us all that he's officially dead. Ward suggests that the relationship would be easier if the cellist had been part of the agency, and Coulson shoots this down, suggesting that agency relationships are "asking for trouble." He might also have pointed out that there isn't a lot of work for cellists in intelligence organizations.
Which of Ward's three female co-workers is he thinking of having a relationship with? Well, the next scene cuts to Skye, who has learned that Po was visited by the girl in the flower dress. She also discovered from video of the visit that Po is working with someone named "the clairvoyant." Peterson identifies the girl in the flower dress as a Centipede recruiter named Raina. Everything's coming up clues.
Meanwhile, in a warehouse, Po tells Raina that the Clairvoyant hasn't found the man who is the key to stage three of their project. Raina in turn tells Po that they have to keep their operation mobile because of one SHIELD team that shut down two of their past ops. She then shows Po pictures of Agent Coulson leading a raid. Later in the episode we'll discover that Coulson is in fact the key to stage three of their project, but they can't mention that or it'll ruin the surprise.
Skye has a heart-to-heart with Peterson about his son, and for some reason Peterson is sleeping in the plane's prison cell and not in one of the little bed cabins. They don't have guest quarters? He couldn't use one of the sofas? Peterson says he would do anything for his son. Foreshadowing. He then suits up in his new costume. Hurray! It looks like a tailored garbage bag. Boo.
Coulson, Ward, May and Peterson follow the Extremis soldier's phone signal to a warehouse. They run into three Extremis soldiers, which is not a big surprise given that's the exact number of Extremis soldiers they were expecting, but it does seem like a lot of Extremis soldiers for three non-powered agents and one barely-trained Extremis dude to go up against. But they didn't need more back-up than this because something something look over there.
The agents get whipped. Peterson gets stabbed with some rebar. Two of the soldiers then run away rather than press the advantage and take down Agent Coulson, the guy who is the key to stage three of Centipede's plans, while he's right there. The third soldier gets knocked down, and the villains explode the camera in his eye, thus establishing that they were also the villains behind episode 4.
Raina and Po watch from a remote location (a car, a sinister villain car). Raina identifies Peterson and notes that he's been stabilized. Po says that he has "the key to stage three," and we're meant to think that Po means Peterson is the key, but he actually means Coulson, because, hey, now you've seen two fuzzy pictures of Coulson on a tablet, this is a good time to concoct an elaborate plan to try and grab that same guy you just beat up and overpowered. Good work, villains.
After a brief aside in which the heroes regroup, we return to the car (it's a really exotic and glamorous car), and Raina asks about the Clairvoyant. Po tells her to mind her own business. Raina initiates some sexually-suggestive finger-brushing. Disappointingly, this scene serves to downgrade Raina in my affections from cool icy villain to run-of-the-mill lackey. She had potential, but it's gone.
What do we know about the Clairvoyant so far? Well, he was able to make contact with Po in prison without visiting him. He values his privacy enough to have nosy people killed. Raina implies he knows if he's being talked about, even in "whispers." And, of course, his name is "the Clairvoyant", though Coulson insists there's no such thing as psychics. My theory is that the Clairvoyant is Kuato from Total Recall, but it's just a theory.
On the plane, May gets mad at Ward for protecting her in the fight. He says "don't flatter yourself" that he cares that much about her, and flounces off with a bottle of spy-booze. Skye overhears this exchange, possibly because they had it in a dark room with glass walls. Great spying, everyone. May tells Skye, "ugh, shut up about your dead parents", but not exactly like that, but to basically that effect.
Peterson confides to Coulson that he hasn't seen his son since he hulked out in the pilot, because he's scared he'll harm or frighten him. Coulson convinces him to stop being dumb. Peterson calls home and discovers that, oh no, Raina has his son. The episode is almost over; time to introduce some stakes!
The agents arrange a trade, Peterson for his son. No SHIELD support, because blah blah blah, the usual reasons, the moon is in Aries and there's an R in the month, but they'll put an undetectable tracker on Peterson so they can get him back.
The agents and the villains meet at either end of a bridge in Long Beach, with Ward in the sniper nest. But there's a double cross -- the trade wasn't for Peterson, it was for Coulson! Because he is the key to stage three! (I'm hoping Coulson has the schematics for AIM beekeeper outfits tattooed on his back, and that's stage three.)
Peterson has a last minute change of heart and threatens to snap Raina's neck, but Raina says her employer doesn't care about her and his son will still die. Coulson consents to the exchange. Peterson takes his son to safety, goes back for Coulson, and gets blown up by some hidden explosives. The car containing Coulson also explodes. Oh, and Ward gets shot.
The kicker reveals that Coulson was taken on board a helicopter. Raina wants to know about "the day after [he] died." Which is when he got the beekeeper suit tattooed on his back, probably.
Despite two last ditch attempts to undo the damage of his betrayal, Mike Peterson dies a traitor. That's not good news. It's been pointed out that the villains in early episodes of Agents of SHIELD tended to be more multi-racial than the heroes, as Agent May is the only confirmed person of color in the core cast. (The actress playing Skye is mixed race, but the character could be whitewashed.) By comparison, the non-white antagonists include Peterson in the pilot, Reyes in episode two, Amadour in episode four, and Raina and Chan in episode five.
That trend has eased off since, with white villains in episodes seven, eight and nine (and no explicit villain in episode six). I was always willing to give the show some leeway on the assumption that some of these characters -- Peterson and Amadour -- would return as heroes. That Peterson's "heroic" return involved him betraying the team and dying is disappointing to say the least, and I think the audience must now cast a skeptical eye over the show's treatment of race as it progresses. (If you're the sort of person who decries that sort of analysis as political correctness, hey, bye.)
Our big cliffhanger for the half-season is that Coulson has been taken by "Centipede." Hopefully this will lead to a swift resolution of the lingering mystery around Coulson's death, and a lot more information about the bad guys. Ward taking a bullet is less of a cliffhanger; he was wearing body armor, he'll be fine.
In theory I feel I should have loved this episode, because it built on the arc and it built up the bad guys. I'm sorry to say that I thought it was boring, badly structured, and unambitious.
And I really am sorry to say that. I know there will be those reading this who don't believe that, who think I'm too hard on the show, that I'm holding it to an impossible standard or expecting it to be something it was never meant to be. It's not true. I'm a lifelong fan of Marvel's characters and universe, and that makes me biased in the show's favor. I want the show to succeed. But I'm not going to pretend it's great when it's not. That's the publicist's job.
When Agents of SHIELD comes back next year, I hope it shows signs that the show's creators have listened to critics and made changes. I will be first in line to praise the show if it manages to turn around.
Credit where it's due:
'The Bridge' was directed by Holly Dale and written by Shalisha Francis, but let's not hold either of them responsible for the "he's behind me" bit. Let's say that was a product of the writer's room that somehow slipped by everyone. It was late. They had places to be. These things happen, and we all make mistakes.
SHIELD was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Super Soldier serum and Abraham Erskine were created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Extremis was created by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.