The Good: Performances are fine, Moments of character, Good direction
The Bad: Pacing, Plot plods to a problematic reveal, Light on character development.
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up its fifth season with "Orientation, Part 1," which belabors setting over character . . . or sensibility.
As the fifth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins, the show has a pretty big burden to explain itself. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was once a comparatively grounded place with a few extraordinary elements in it, has become increasingly more absurd. And the fantastic elements in the MCU have, generally, been seeded slowly and sensibly enough to make the change in the nature of the franchise seem gradual and almost logical. But as "Orientation, Part 1" begins, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is struggling to keep itself relevant in a franchise that is now spanning alternate realities, outer space adventures and an onslaught of alien invaders. To remain relevant in that type of universe, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has transitioned from a spy show to a series focused on relations between mundane humans and humans given amazing powers through the activation of alien DNA in their bodies to a paranoid fight against android replicants and an alternate Matrix-like reality. Attempting to top that and remain relevant in a universe that is gearing up for The Infinity War is requiring Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to raise the stakes once again.
"Orientation, Part 1" follows on the final events of "World's End" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the fifth season premiere without some references to where the fourth season ended. After all, following the Darkhold being secured in another dimension by Ghost Rider, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. knew they were going to be held accountable for the assassination attempt on Talbot and their part in the Framework debacle. The final scene of "World's End" featured Coulson waking up on a facility in an asteroid field and preparing to go to work. With such a place to start, "Orientation, Part 1" had a ton of explaining to do to make that final scene make sense.
A person - who appears to be wearing the skin of a man - abducts the Agents and puts them in a room with a monolith, much like the one that opened a portal to Maveth. Coulson and his team are teleported to a mining rig in space, in asteroid field. There, a breach has occurred and the humans who are working there are freaked out by apparent invaders in the facility. Coulson is not equipped with one of his technologically advanced hands and Agent May is impaled. One of the natives of the facility, Virgil, is a fan of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and he starts to familiarize the team with their new surroundings. Daisy manages to reunite with the team while they flee an alien invader and May encounters one of the workers who is equipped with technology that allows him to travel around the breach.
The Agents find an area that gives them information that the facility is close enough to Earth to potentially get a message to Fitz (who was not transported with them), but moments later they encounter Kree soldiers who capture the entire team. When Deke brings May to the cell, he bribes the guard to spring Coulson's team. Deke informs the humans that there is a ship on the facility, but Virgil was the only pilot he knew. While Daisy goes off to rescue Mack and Rodriguez, Coulson interrogates Deke.
For an almost complete reboot of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Orientation, Part 1" does a fairly decent job of incorporating the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while reminding viewers of the flavor of the series. The idea that the team is still within the Framework is quickly discounted, as is the possibility that the teleport is part of Ghost Rider's fee. Rodriguez makes a sly reference to the Inhumans. The moment the Kree appear on screen, it reinforces the idea (implied by Deke's helmet) that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is moving more into the Guardians Of The Galaxy corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Much of "Orientation, Part 1" is spent establishing the setting. The base appears to be a Kree base that is in striking distance of Earth where humans are periodically abducted from Earth to give the Kree current information and act as slave labor. "Orientation, Part 1" shows off the technology on the base, as well as the dark setting of the base. Throughout the episode, Virgil and Deke make dark implications about humanity and the state of Earth. The setting sets up the episode's big reversal, which all of the Agents reach right around the same time.
Agents May and Mackenzie are given the most opportunities to show off their character in "Orientation, Part 1." The season premiere reminds viewers that May is a crack pilot as she quickly figures out how to fly the trawler. May is clever and more than just a fighter; from day one, she has been an ace pilot and her ability to fly the trawler reminds viewers of that.
In a similar fashion, Mack shows off his multiple talents, not the least of which is his ability to wisecrack through the crisis in which he finds himself. Mack makes some potent observations - Coulson went to the diner woefully unprepared, when he finds himself in a physical fight of course he hit the person he was up against as hard as he possibly could - and he illustrates his attachment for Rodriguez and his ability to figure out the station's systems using his extensive engineering knowledge. Mack is tortured, this time mostly by watching Yo-Yo get tortured and he illustrates a resilience to his recent ordeal in the Framework and the transport by being able to pick up and fight almost immediately.
Ultimately, "Orientation, Part 1" acts as a hook, little more. The episode is a build-up to make the teleport to an (apparent) alien facility make sense within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the macguffin of the monolith is one of the few consistent elements with the familiar Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It is, however, a long way to go for the revelation and it is hardly a satisfying one; the episode moves toward a climax geared more toward getting the viewer to watch the next episode than it is to actually providing good answers or a sense of decent continuity. In fact, only neophytes to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will not leave the first part of "Orientation" without the feeling that the series is going into territory that will absolutely require the show to deny much of what has been previously established in the show.
For other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"Laws Of Nature"
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© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.