Friday, October 18, 2013

Lackluster Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Eye Spy” Lacks Spark.

The Good: Ward gets a decent part, Interesting adversary
The Bad: Bland story, Clunky humor, Belabored themes, Breaks the established formula in a pretty uninteresting way
The Basics: The fourth episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the low point for the season so far, though it has the potential to pan out into something vastly more interesting should subsequent episodes see a casualty in the main cast.

It is a rare thing for me to be on the fence about a series by the fourth episode, especially with a work Joss Whedon is producing. Admittedly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) took me a season and a half to warm up to (ostensibly because I was at a different place in life than the characters and I, smartly, started with some superior late-series episodes before going back to start the series from the beginning), but by the second episode of Angel (reviewed here!), I was hooked. With Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., I came in biased in favor of the project, but already the show is starting to illustrate signs that it is either unsure what it wants to be or is not counting on Clark Gregg to get the series there. After three episodes where the shows end with big cameos and predictable reversals, it seems like the series is taking a more formulaic route that is disappointing to those who like the audacity and originality of Joss Whedon’s original works.

“Eye Spy” follows more loosely on the heels of “The Asset” (reviewed here!) and the stakes hardly seem as great, which makes the episode initially underwhelming. In fact, “Eye Spy” is all potential and no pay off. The character of Akela Amador has some potential and while I would hate to see Melinda May bite the dust, she is virtually interchangeable with May and could replace her if Whedon’s penchant for killing off characters pops up in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. But that is not where “Eye Spy” is.

In Sweden, a group of masked men each handcuffed to a briefcase, board a subway where they are promptly assaulted by a single woman who steals only one of the briefcases. The briefcase contains diamonds and Agent Coulson instantly identifies the thief as Akela Amador. Amador was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that Coulson trained and disappeared during a mission years prior. Skye believes that Amador might possess telepathic powers and when she tries to fence the merchandise to Kropsky in Bellarus, her ability to sense his guards in adjacent rooms seems to bear that out. Coulson leads his team to try to find Amador.

When Skye, Simmons and Fitz are attacked by Amador, Coulson defends Amador to the detriment of the team. When it appears that she is being controlled – something Coulson and his team realize when Skye taps into the feed from her bionic eye – Coulson becomes committed to rescuing Amador. When May goes rogue to meet Amador, Amador reveals that she will be killed unless she takes out the Bus’s pilot. Hijacking the feed, Coulson is able to interrogate Amador and learn what she has been up to for the past few years. Extorted to do work for an unseen organization, Amador reveals her handler is an Englishman and she gains Coulson’s confidence to get the killswitch inside her eye removed.

“Eye Spy” is an unfortunate combination of goofy and predictable. Early in the episode, Ward makes a comment that Skye still does not know the difference between the magazine release and safety release on a gun and it sets up for a joke an act later that falls unfortunately flat (to be fair to writer Jeffrey Bell, I’m still betting on a long arc for the joke wherein when Skye turns and reveals herself to still be a Rising Tide agent, she illustrates that her abilities with a firearm are actually significant and she’s been acting the whole time).

As “Eye Spy” develops and illustrates the powers that Amador has as a result of her bionic eye, it begins to mitigate the reasonable fear Skye should be feeling. Unfortunately, Skye and actress Chloe Bennet do not land it. Skye is presented as dippy and ridiculous and if she is acting as a double agent setting up to betray Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D., a telepath should scare the hell out of her. While it’s a pretty easy leap to realize that an x-ray eye would allow Amador to mimic ESP, Bennet as Skye does not reasonably convince the viewer that she has made that leap.

The episode’s humor lands best in a scene where Grant Ward is given directives intended for Amador that he – as a man – is not able to execute. Ward seems competent and smart in a way that Skye – who is given quite a bit more airtime – does not. As a result, there is an unfortunate quality to the episode and the way it requires Skye to rescue Ward.

Unfortunately, given the somewhat formulaic nature of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the way the Coulson/May relationship belabors the idea that Coulson was betrayed and the scenes Skye and Coulson share have a lot to do with expressing concepts of loyalty, the episode’s potential for betrayal seems obvious. Given the likelihood of what Coulson is, “Eye Spy” only works when S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents are kept in the dark about their own technology. Amador pointedly asks what happened to Coulson and Fitz is pretty emphatic that the bionic eye technology is well-beyond the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical tech, which seems to be setting up a pretty big surprise for him (and the few viewers who have not figured out how Coulson was brought back for the series).

“Eye Spy” is notable in that it features Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons in more scenes than prior episodes. Simmons, like Fitz, is still pretty much just a supporting character (either one could be killed for a Whedon-mandated early-series casualty and the team would survive without having to replace them) with virtually no substantive character, but Henstridge makes her way through the technobabble well. Henstridge appears in “Eye Spy” as a mimic for Anne Hathaway and it is unclear yet whether or not she has the range to truly pull that off. As it stands, she reminds one of Hathaway with her body language and ease of line deliveries; if she is given a role with some gravitas to back it up and rises to the occasion, that will be a delight to see. Unfortunately, “Eye Spy” is not that episode.

Directed by Star Trek: Voyager’s Roxann Dawson, “Eye Spy” looks good and flows like one of the slower episodes of Alias. The episode breaks the formula for reversal endings, but unfortunately, the result is hardly one likely to bring viewers back, excited, for the next episode.

For other works directed by Roxann Dawson, please visit my reviews of:
“Riddles” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Workforce, Part 2” - Star Trek: Voyager
“The Andorian Incident” - Enterprise
“Vox Sola” - Enterprise
“Dead Stop” - Enterprise
“Dawn” - Enterprise
“Bounty” - Enterprise

[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 reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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