Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Cheap Retread Of The X-Files, “Repairs” Introduces Another Invisible Adversary!

The Good: Ming-Na Wen’s performance, Character growth for Melinda May
The Bad: Ridiculous b-plot, Largely derivative plot, Predictable
The Basics: The legend of Melinda May grows in “Repairs,” an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode that is unfortunately weak.

There is something deeply ironic about the latest episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Repairs.” The irony comes from how the episode works so hard to be smart in a big picture kind of way – like “The Well” (reviewed here!) before it, “Repairs” follows on the heels of Thor: The Dark World (reviewed here!) and it works to play up the cataclysmic nature of the Greenwich occurrence in the film – but it misses the mark on the little things. The episode is painfully predictable and derivative of at least two episodes of The X-Files that featured invisible enemies and adversaries whose motives were entirely misunderstood. More than that, it includes a ridiculous b-plot whose sole point seems to be to set up a humorous reversal at the end that plays about as badly as the episodes of Star Trek that end with the bridge crew of the Enterprise laughing inordinately hard at some joke at Spock’s expense. Unfortunately for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., at this point, the big picture successes of the episode do not outweigh the particularly stale feeling of the bulk of “Repairs.”

“Repairs” is the second episode to truly focus on Melinda May, after the good part she had in “0-8-4” (reviewed here!) and she continues to be one of the most intriguing characters of the series (though, sadly, the one I would bet on being killed off in a Whedon-esque heroic moments – which doesn’t mean much in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. considering how Coulson was “resurrected”). While the series so far continues to belabor Skye as the “outsider working her way in,” it would do much better to focus on the interesting characters who have substantive potential and more than just obvious, market-tested, sex appeal going for them. Melinda May fits the bill and while most of the episode may be a painfully predictable dud, the focus on Melinda May and the adept acting on the part of actress Ming-Na Wen keeps it from being a total loss.

A shop keeper confronts a woman over the death of Jack Benson and when she gets agitated by the clerk, things at the gas station get knocked about and the pumps explode. Back at a hotel, Ward and May clean up after spending the night together (again). Coulson and Skye go over the plan to deal with the woman with the newfound abilities. When meeting with Hannah, she apparently manifests her telekinetic abilities when threatened and May shoots her to end the standoff with locals who menace Hannah. While Fitz and Simmons haze Skye over how May got the nickname “Cavalry,” May and Coulson interview Hannah while aboard the Bus. Hannah believes that she is being hunted by demons because god abandoned her after a laboratory accident at a superconducting supercollider.

When Ward and Skye discover a rival to Hannah at the supercollider, who was killed in the accident, they come to believe that the accident left him falling between worlds and hunting Hannah. As the S.H.I.E.L.D. team comes under attack by Tobias Ford – crashing the Bus – Skye and May independently realize what his true motivations are and May does what she needs to do to stop him.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of “Repairs,” outside of the banal b-plot which suddenly makes the usually insular Fitz and Simmons into a pair of outgoing pranksters in a way that makes no sense given their previously-established characters, is the adversary. Tobias Ford is treated like an adversary – he made numerous safety complaints at the facility where Hannah was the safety inspector – but his underlying motivation is obvious from the teaser onward. In fact, seasoned fans of science fiction will be utterly unsurprised when he first pops up; Hannah does not seem to have any control over her apparent “power” and so the idea that she is telekinetic is weakly presented and easily dismissed.

With Hannah and then Ford being weak adversaries, it diminishes the heroism of Melinda May. In other words, she is not given a sufficiently strong or compelling adversary to defeat in the episode, minimizing the strength of her character. May is talked about as a great tactician, yet the most obvious solution to one of the big problems in the episode is not taken; May breaks Hannah out of the secure room that Ford does not seem to be able to penetrate. Rather than running away, why didn’t May trap Ford in the very same room?! Moreover, May’s cunning is diminished some by the fact that she seems to have reasoned the true motivation behind Ford’s violent acts only moments before Skye (who is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent) did.

None of the problems with “Repairs” truly fall on the cast. Led by Ming-Na Wen, “Repairs” is well-acted and director Bill Gierhart does as well as he can with the material written for him. But the story is simplistic and the b-plot feels like filler (a far more interesting potential b-plot would have been Skye thinking pranks were normal for S.H.I.E.L.D. training and being woefully wrong about that . . . with disastrous consequences). Given that Fitz worked so hard to be taken seriously as a valuable, solid, agent in “The Hub” (reviewed here!), the character regression seems particularly painful for his usually serious character.

Ultimately, “Repairs” is a step back for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; the series is proving to be remarkably erratic in its first season and after the prior episode, it seems like the producers did not know how to build on their success and the trended toward the overly-familiar.

For other shows with a potentially supernatural bent, please visit my reviews of:
The X-Files
Twin Peaks

[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 check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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