Wednesday, January 15, 2014

“Seeds” Of Mediocrity And Greatness For Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Coulson, May, Ward, and Fitz (plot, character, acting!)
The Bad: Predictable overall plot, Skye plotline is largely uninteresting/executed poorly
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a real split episode with “Seeds” as the Skye backstory arc is fleshed out, but it is hard to care . . . just as Fitz gets attention for a painfully predictable a-plot.

Action-adventure works are, largely, based on keeping excitement going and because such works are not simply an extended chase or race in a single direction, they tend to have reversals and work to build interesting characters. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no exception. The series began with the built-in mystery of how Agent Coulson was resurrected following The Avengers (reviewed here!) and it slowly developed a mystery surrounding the terrorist-turned-Agent/Consultant Skye and her background. By the time “Seeds” comes up, most of the mystery surrounding Coulson has been answered and with the latest episode, the focus turns to Skye.

Skye, we have already learned, was the subject of a S.H.I.E.L.D. report that indicated that an Agent was responsible for dropping her off at an orphanage. Since learning that, Skye has slowly worked to get undoctored documents that would indicate who she is and who her parents are. So, while Agent Coulson is wrestling with the consequences of “The Magical Place” (reviewed here!), Skye is given another chance to explore a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that might have more clues about her parentage. Unfortunately for the fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show does not work that way (like most action-adventure stories); all the answers are not going to come out in “Seeds” and, also unfortunately, the attention on Skye in “Seeds” does nothing to make her character any more interesting or compelling. In fact, Skye is peripheral to the Skye plot in "Seeds;" it is May and Coulson who learn about Skye for the bulk of the episode.

Opening with three young people complaining about their exams at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Academy, they break into the pool to relax when it freezes over. Rescued by Donnie Gill – a fourth classmate apparently responsible for freezing the pool – the young Agents are shaken. Fitz and Simmons are recalled to the Academy to investigate the mysterious freezing and calm the student body down because it was a device they conceived and created that was responsible for the accident. While Coulson remains in his office, pouring over information about his resurrection, Ward, Skye, Fitz and Simmons arrive at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Science And Tech Academy. May tells Coulson that she has found information about Skye’s past and the two go to investigate. Flying to Mexico City, the two hunt for Agent Lumley, the partner of the Agent who dropped off Skye and who went into hiding when his partner was killed. During their speech, Simmons and Fitz are shocked when Donnie Gill is suddenly frozen. Rescued by Ward, the Agents learn from Agent Weaver that Gill is brilliant, but bored.

The investigation into Agent Lumley leads to the story of Skye’s past. Lumley tells how Skye was an 0-8-4, an unknown entity/phenomenon. He tells Coulson and May about how Agent Avery brought the 0-8-4 (Skye) to the foster system and the two agree to drop Lumley off on their route to keep him safe from S.H.I.E.L.D. As Skye tracks down leads in the boiler room, Fitz connects with Donnie Gill. Soon, though, the perpetrators of the freezing problem becomes evident and the team reunites to try to thwart an enemy that they have dealt with before.

“Seeds” does a decent job of creating more of a culture for S.H.I.E.L.D., even if it is a somewhat ridiculous one. In “Seeds” we learn that there is a real schism between the Cadets for the different divisions of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Operations and Science Divisions have a rivalry that might make sense for a college-based story, but is silly for a show about an organization that works as a cohesive unit to try to save the world. Coming out of an institution where the divisions are set against one another seems like an incredibly inefficient way to run an intelligence organization.

Unfortunately, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has invested heavily in the character of Skye and, sadly, through “Seeds,” she is arguably the least interesting character on the show. When it focuses on the plot in which Skye is involved, the show becomes remarkably predictable and somewhat stupid. When Ward meets with a cadet over pool, she makes a comment about being good “for a girl,” which seems juvenile. The line might play well with a general audience, but anyone who thinks about what the Academy is supposed to be it plays poorly; it’s a stupid line that dumbs down the concept of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. When Coulson tells Skye about the Agent who dropped her at St. Agnes as a baby, the show treads into melodrama and Chloe Bennet’s somewhat limited performance range makes the moment suffer. Skye breaks down crying, which seems like all Bennet can handle as opposed to the writers giving her compelling dialogue to deliver during the scene. Part of that is not Bennet’s fault, but there is something impotent about the scene, which could have packed a real emotional punch for fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

On the plus side, May and Coulson’s relationship is defined better in “Seeds” and their time on screen is compelling and interesting. Coulson is having an existential crisis and early in the episode, he and May talk about disappearing – which is played off Lumley because he has managed to stay off the grid for years. Ming-Na Wen once again gives a great performance as May when Coulson declares he is tired of secrets. Moments before May confesses her relationship with Ward to Coulson, Wen telegraphs the move with her performance. Wen brilliantly emotes with her eyes and facial expressions the thought process May goes through and without a word, she lets the viewer know how deeply May cares for Coulson.

The return of Ian Quinn illustrates that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not afraid to push the show toward a more serialized nature and the idea that a wealthy venture capitalist might exploit S.H.I.E.L.D. cadets is a good one. It comes up, though, after a painfully predictable reversal that puts what initially appears as the least-likely suspects out of the running for the investigation into the freezing device. Fans of Joss Whedon’s works or mystery-investigation shows will see the reversal coming a mile away and, sadly, the episode goes in exactly that direction.

The performances – Chloe Bennet aside – are pretty good in “Seeds.” Agent Ward is defined through lines as being stiff, but Brett Dalton does not deliver a performance that makes him seem off-putting in “Seeds.” Iain De Caestecker is good as Fitz and he plays the rising enthusiasm needed to make Fitz’s blindness to Donnie seem realistic. He plays off Dylan Minnette (Donnie) very well.

“Seeds” apparently finishes the backstory of Skye and it sets up a future that would allow Skye to start exploring mysterious powers, but it is not quite enough to make one eager for continuing with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Then again, Joss Whedon’s executive producing vision has gotten the viewer this far and after “Seeds” I’m not quite ready to give it up yet.

For other works with Christine Adams, please visit my reviews of:
Tron: Legacy
Pushing Daisies - Season 1
Batman Begins

[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!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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