By Thom Yee
In 2011’s The Avengers, about half-way through, Loki remarks “How desperate are you that you would call upon such lost creatures to defend you?” The original Avengers comic is built on the idea of heroes that don’t belong coming together against a common foe. But that was the ‘60s, and by now, the Avengers — as characterized by the super-soldier, the god, the armoured knight, and various other hanger-ons —is one of the most visible archetypes on which superhero teams are built. The answer to the question “How desperate are you…” is supposed to lie in the idea of making do with what you have, but the real truth is the certain knowledge that a team without conflict, without markedly different character types, would make for a boring story.
“0-8-4” (the name of this episode and S.H.I.E.L.D. code for an object of unknown origin), deals with a MacGuffin the team is sent in to investigate with origins tying back to the days of WWII Captain America and Hydra. And that description was a lot more exciting than the episode actually was. The team travels to the jungles of Peru where, through various machinations, we’re meant to explore the broad idea of what it means to be a team (vis-à-vis our Agents) juxtaposed against the Peruvian people rising up under a common cause. Along the way, Agent Coulson is reunited with a seeming former love interest from a lifetime ago. But is she what she seems?
There’s a scene in the middle of “0-8-4” that’s ripped directly from The Avengers as the “lost creatures” on this Marvel team argue over what happened during the 0-8-4 extraction, Agent Grant complaining that he can’t work while the others are liabilities on the field and Fitz and Simmons arguing that he couldn’t do his work without their scientific contributions. This episode is clearly meant to show us what a misfit band of protagonists we have, but it’s a tired concept done in a way overly reminiscent of the show’s immediate forebear. Except the set’s smaller and the actors are a little weaker. And unlike in that film, afterward we get some flaccid gunfire instead of a real-life Hulk vs. Thor fight.
I’m a big fan of the storytelling device used in this episode, starting out at an intriguing point towards the end of the story, then shunting backwards to explain how we got to that point. It’s a surprisingly effective way of throwing the audience into the story if only for the cognitive alignment that occurs when we realize we’re back to “real time” and the story’s synced up, but this time it’s a little too transparent in its attempt to inject a bit of excitement in the episode. While seeing how we got to the point of a sidewall on the Agents’ ship blowing out and someone flying out midair (presumably to his death) is a simple way of showing us what an action-packed show this is supposed to be, it fails to add anything to the storytelling.
The end of the episode also introduces our second long-running sub-plot for the series (the first being “How did Coulson survive?”, the answer to which is so obvious that I really hope they don’t go that way). Is Skye a mole? And perhaps a little less prominently, what exactly is the Rising Tide?
Overall, I really wasn’t feeling this episode. I’m consciously aware of the fact that I don’t care for jungle-based adventures (I just don’t like nature) and I know that played a part in my judgement, but there just wasn’t anything special about “0-8-4”. I’m struggling to find the line between what’s supposed to be a high-end, featured network television show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a lower-end, made-for-a-specific-audience, Syfy-esque cable show like Warehouse 13. That’s not necessarily a damning condemnation of the show we’ve seen thus far, but it is a measure of how much Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. commands my attention and occupies my thoughts at this point (the answers to which are “only so much” and “not very much”).
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “0-8-4” final score: 6.5
Items of Note:
-Who knows if this will stick around as a Marvel TV show staple, but make sure to stick around for a post-credits (well, post-last-commercials, pre-closing credits) scene.
-It was actually really cool seeing the effect the emergence of superhumans has had on weapons development with Agent Ward’s Mjolnir-esque shockwave grenade.
-Last night was also the debut of the 2014 NHL season. So I switch away from the Oilers game to watch Agents, thinking “It’s 4-2 Edmonton, the game’s probably safe.”