Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Predictable, But Worthwhile, “The Hub” Buys Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. A Little More Time!

The Good: Moments of performance, Moments of character, Action sequences
The Bad: Painfully predictable plot/character arcs, Most of the characters are utterly unrealistic, Attention to Skye
The Basics: With “The Hub,” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gives an episode to the last remaining main character, Fitz, which is presented in an unfortunately formulaic way.

As a fan and a reviewer, I can always tell when a television series is slipping in that I do not prioritize it the way I once did. Truth be told, while my wife has been on a Doctor Who kick lately, I’ve been okay to let her dominate the television. I’ve been so okay with it, in fact, that it did not occur to me until afterwards that I missed last night’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The truth is, that type of lapse indicates to me what emotionally I realized several episodes ago: I don’t genuinely care about the show any more and truly, it is not really living up to the initial hype. It has, however, been renewed for the full season and I’ll stick with it, but going into the seventh episode, “The Hub,” I was certainly not as committed to it as I was at the beginning.

“The Hub” follows on the heels of “FZZT” (reviewed here!) and alludes to the prior episode, which makes sense in serialized television like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. What also makes sense is that “The Hub” would make an effort to focus on the character of Leo Fitz. Fitz is the last main character on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have an episode where his character is fleshed out and the producers give the character a chance to shine after Fitz was robbed of the heroic moment in “FZZT.” Smartly, the writers and producers separate Fitz from Simmons in “The Hub” in order to help differentiate the two reclusive scientists. Unfortunately, the set-up for the episode virtually writes the formulaic resolution to the a-plot. Fitz is not a field agent, which is one of the few aspects of the characters viewers know from the prior six episodes; so “The Hub” puts him in a situation where it seems like his lack of lack of field experience would be a liability, but he proves his worth with both his technical and adaptive skills. Unfortunately, “The Hub” follows that exact model for predictable, plotted, television.

After rescuing S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Shaw from a Siberian facility he infiltrated, Agent Coulson clams up about what Shaw was doing in the facility. Instead of sharing with the team, the team makes the trip to The Hub, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s classified depot where Skye whines about not having access. Agents Coulson, Ward and May meet with Hand, who informs them that Shaw’s intel points to a separatist group in one of the former Soviet Republics that wants to declare its independence. It has a sonic weapon that it is prepared to use and in addition to Agent Ward, Fitz is assigned to the team to disable and recover the weapon, called the Overkill Device.

Arriving near the border, Ward discovers that his friend Uri is dead. The locals, who do not trust Ward and Fitz, are about to kill them until the power goes out and Fitz gains their trust by restoring the power (having been the one to knock it out in the first place). Skye and Simmons hatch a plan to learn about the mission while Fitz and Ward are getting across the border. Their attempt to hack the system results in Simmons shooting a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with the “night night gun.” Skye, predictably, uses the hack as an opportunity to look into the redacted document about her parents, but she learns that Ward and Fitz were sent into Ossetia without an extraction team. After discovering there is no extraction for them, Ward gets Fitz into the factory to disable the Overkill Device. As the agents at the Hub work to save their team, Ward and Fitz flee the hot zone.

“The Hub” is more flawed from its conception and the incongruent aspects with the prior episodes than actually feeling like bad television. There is, for example, a forced character relationship between Fitz and Simmons that has a budding romantic tension between them that comes out of nowhere. The two have been characterized in the prior episodes almost like a brother and sister; compatriots working together closely who are so invested in their work that they do not consider a romantic entanglement. In fact, there were hints in prior episodes that Simmons actually has a girlish crush on Agent Ward. So, when Skye seems to pull on Simmons’s heart strings in “The Hub” to get her to pretty much commit treason, it does not resonate as well for fans as the writers might have hoped.

On the subject of Skye, “The Hub” is yet another episode that gives too much attention on Skye. Skye, even more than Coulson, dominates the b-plot in “The Hub” and given that she is not even the third most interesting character on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the overexposure of the character is becoming much more annoying than compelling. In fact, Skye in “The Hub” reveals how little the writers understand their own character; Skye is not written like a terrorist. Skye is supposed to be a hacker from a rogue terrorist organization, The Rising Tide. As such, she should appreciate the concept of compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is what allows terrorist and guerilla warfare cells to survive because no one member can compromise the entire organization. So, Skye’s pissy attitude about being kept in the dark about mission details that she is not authorized to have comes across as far more juvenile and ridiculous than genuinely curious or protective of the team she has joined.

By contrast, May is written as the consummate professional. Ming-Na Wen sells a scene with Clark Gregg perfectly without a single line on her part and it is one of the few delights in “The Hub.” Gregg continues to play Coulson with a straight face, amid even more allusions as to what actually happened to him after The Avengers (reviewed here!). At this point, his resurrection should be pretty transparent, but one suspects the final revelation will be made for a midseason or season finale while jerking along the regular viewers.

While Iain De Caestecker performs the predictable character arc for Fitz adequately, the performance of the episode for “The Hub” actually comes from Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward. When Ward signals for the extraction, Dalton has to emote understanding and acceptance with his eyes while maintaining a professional façade. It’s a tough balance to create, but Dalton nails it perfectly, long before Ward tells Fitz that help is not coming.

Unfortunately, neither that performance, nor the additional tidbits about Skye’s past and the appearance of Agent Hand are enough to give viewers a real thrill. At this point, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still building. By this point in Angel (reviewed here!), Joss Whedon and his team had already introduced the series-long menace of Wolfram & Hart and even the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) had The Master. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been listing along, pulled by loyal Marvel and Joss Whedon fanbases; we have invested in seven episodes now and if the show does not start paying off the investment soon, it is hard to imagine how it will survive. Objectively, it is not as incredible or impressive as other Marvel or Whedon works. Hopefully, now that all six main characters have had at least one episode’s a-plot each, the show will start taking us somewhere.

For other works with Saffron Burrows, please visit my reviews of:
Boston Legal - Season 4
Reign Over Me

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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