Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scorching The Double Agent, Why “Girl In The Flower Dress” Fizzles

The Good: Serialized plot moves forward, Decent-enough acting
The Bad: Continuity issues, Lack of emotional resonance for the reversal.
The Basics: The fifth episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finds Skye exposed and a new villain emerging.

Only five episodes into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and one of the two major character events that the season has been building to is virtually played out. While the show is still very new, there have been only two big things that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been working toward on a character level, the show has worked to seed those elements into virtually every episode so far. Since the “Pilot” (reviewed here!), each episode has left clues as to how Agent Phil Coulson, killed in The Avengers (reviewed here!), was brought back for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The other character element that has been seeded is that Skye is a double agent, still working for the hacker (possibly terrorist) organization Rising Tide.

“Girl In The Flower Dress” follows “Eye Spy” (reviewed here!) and is another episode that is related to Iron Man 3 (reviewed here!) in that it has a victim of the Extremis Virus and if there was ever an appropriate place for a Tony Stark cameo, this episode is it. In fact, given how Pepper Potts is treated for Extremis by Tony Stark, it seems strange that S.H.I.E.L.D. is not privy to Stark’s cure in this television show. As it stands, “Girl In The Flower Dress” is supposed to be more about how Skye is exposed as still working for Rising Tide. The fundamental problem with “Girl In The Flower Dress” is the revelation comes so early in the series that it is hard to care about what happens. If Skye is truly exposed, if she becomes an adversary, the story moves forward. If Skye is exposed and switches sides, leaving behind Rising Tide, then the only interesting character aspect of Skye is lost. Sadly, the episode tries to convince the viewer that the second direction is the way Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going, so it desperately tries to rebrand Skye with a vulnerability and new character aspect that will continue her journey, but it is not a particularly intriguing one. The net result of “Girl In The Flower Dress” is that Skye remains a startlingly uninteresting character and the potentially more interesting character trait for the character is replaced by a droll backstory element.

A smalltime illusionist is captured by Raina, a woman who takes Tseng to Hong Kong to a laboratory. Raina wants Tseng to both explore his ability to spout fire from his hands and she tries to learn what is causing the physical abnormality in the entertainer. Aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. bus, the Agents are shocked when the Rising Tide releases a hack of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the other agents scramble to find the source of the hack, Skye visits her old beau from Rising Tide and discovers he was the one to release S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret information.

Skye was followed, though, by Agent May, who takes Skye and her Rising Tide partner into custody. As Skye’s friend is exposed as a freelancer who is willing to sell secrets for a million dollars, not actually upholding the Rising Tide ideals, Skye deals with the fallout from her S.H.I.E.L.D. friends irked that she has continued working for Rising Tide. Going to Hong Kong to stop Scorch (the Extremis infected entertainer) and get him into a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment facility, Coulson wrestles with Skye’s betrayal and the uncertainty that comes from him unsure of whom he can trust.

“Girl In The Flower Dress” is delightful in its set-up, but irksome in its execution. As the episode sets up “Scorch,” fans of the Marvel Universe are teased with what appears to be the first mutant in the expanded universe. But, Scorch is not a crossover between the established Avengers universe and the X-Men universe. Instead, Scorch is a victim of Extremis who has an ability to channel the internal flame, as opposed to blowing himself up. The Extremis virus should have been cured, but rather than cure Scorch, S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to capture, contain, and study him much the way Raina is doing to him.

What should have been a far more important plotline, Skye being exposed as a traitor, is minimized in favor of the special effects-driven Extremis infected man storyline. Coulson’s inability to trust himself moves the story into a point where he is put in danger, but it does not resonate the way a betrayal story ought to. In fact, “Girl In The Flower Dress” feels a lot like an episode of Alias (reviewed here!) where the dire threat of exposure is easily reversed.

The Skye storyline truly flops in relation to the relationship between Grant Ward and Skye. Skye has been trained by Ward and in true Whedon tradition the betrayal episode comes just as Ward is admitting that Skye has become a valued member of the team. While not as shocking as adding Amber Benson to the opening credits in the episode Tara is killed, there is a somewhat formulaic progression of the story that fans of Joss Whedon’s works are sure to recognize.

The end result is that “Girl In The Flower Dress” is not bad, but it fails to develop the Scorch plotline and fails to make the Skye betrayal resonate. Instead, Skye is recast as a potential badass villain into a victim searching for her own past and that is hardly as compelling as her original characterization. She is not powerful and in control, which is a change for a Joss Whedon female character, and that is disappointing given all Whedon has done to make powerful and interesting characters (female or otherwise).

The acting in “Girl In The Flower Dress” is fine, but nothing stellar. At least the performances almost gloss over the lack of genuine and compelling character development in the episode. Hopefully, by the next week, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be going in a direction that truly makes the show worth returning to.

[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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