Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Paradigm Shift Or Preposterous? “T.A.H.I.T.I.”

The Good: Engaging story, Decent acting, Good effects
The Bad: Light on character development, Big Moral Decision is something of a no-brainer.
The Basics: While supposed to be significant for telling the story of how the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. try to save Skye’s life, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” is notable truly for finally, conclusively, revealing how Coulson’s resurrection was attained for the series.

If one were to believe the hype, the latest episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., “T.A.H.I.T.I.,” is the episode where the Marvel cinematic universe will indelibly change and viewers will finally get the television show that they were teased with all along. That’s hype for you; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled to find its footing with fans for many reasons, not the least of which is that the show has been taking its time getting to its point and purpose. Many Marvel fans seemed to hope that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might be like The X-Files (reviewed here!) or the bottle episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) where the “alien/demon Of The Week” was replaced with a Recognizable Marvel Villain Of The Week. Alas, for the fans, though; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been incredibly slow to commit to a-listers. To be clear, the appearance of a-list actor Samuel L. Jackson for a cameo in “0-8-4” (reviewed here!) was very cool, but while Jackson is an a-list actor, his Marvel Universe character of Nick Fury has, at best, been a second string, cameo character as opposed to an integral member of any film in which his character has appeared.

So, as viewers eagerly await the cinematic release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and see if there is any crossover with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the narrative picks back up with “T.A.H.I.T.I.” “T.A.H.I.T.I.” picks up almost immediately after “T.R.A.C.K.S.” (reviewed here!) and given the way “T.R.A.C.K.S.” leaves one character near death, it is impossible to discuss “T.A.H.I.T.I.” without some references to “T.R.A.C.K.S.,” though “T.A.H.I.T.I.” manages to follow up without continuing the exciting Deathlok arc of the prior episode.

With Skye dying and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nearest doctors unable to help, Agent Coulson pulls May off beating the captured villain, Ian Quinn, to fly the plane to Bethesda for the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors who resurrected him. With three fighter planes threatening to bring The Bus down, S.H.I.E.L.D. has Agent John Garrett rendezvousing with the plane-based headquarters. Simmons and Fitz make a troubling discovery as the plane heads to Bethesda; Coulson’s resurrection was not done at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and none of the doctors listed in the official S.H.I.E.L.D. report on the incident actually exist. Under interrogation from Garrett and Coulson, Quinn admits that the Clairvoyant for whom he works could not see how Coulson was resurrected and he was ordered to shoot Skye in order to force S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hand.

Using S.H.I.E.L.D. archives, Fitz and Simmons discover the non-S.H.I.E.L.D. facility known as the Guest House where Coulson’s operation took place. With Garrett, Coulson, Ward and Fitz infiltrate the Guest House where the two operatives left in the bunker resist the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s entrance. Trapped in the Guest House with a failsafe detonator preparing to eliminate all evidence of the facility, Garrett and Ward work to disarm the bunker’s bomb while Coulson and Fitz look for the wonder drug GH-325, which should regenerate Skye’s damaged tissue. When Coulson sees part of the Guest House labeled T.A.H.I.T.I., he goes into a trance and is convinced that GH-325 is dangerous to Skye.

One of the problems with “T.A.H.I.T.I.” is how the episode fits into the larger Marvel mythos and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; the emotional resonance of the episode hinges entirely on the viewer caring about Skye. Given that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a direct follow-up to larger-than-life Marvel Universe-based movies, where Presidents lives are in the balance, extradimensional beings attack Earth and threaten the multiverse and creatures are created who wipe out large sections of major cities, Skye is not only a minor character, but a troublingly unlikable/insignificant one. The prior thirteen episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have put some focus on Skye, but they have failed to make the viewer truly care about her. She’s in the show for obvious sex appeal, but her character is erratic and not in a compelling or interesting way like, for example, Spike from the Buffyverse. In other words, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” hinges on putting Coulson in a position to make an unenviable decision; save Skye and give the Clairvoyant what he needs or let her die and throw the Clairvoyant off his game.

In a world where so many huge events have been seen and villains like the Abomination, Mandarin, and Loki exist, the idea of empowering an adversary like the Clairvoyant who seems to have equal resources to S.H.I.E.L.D. and some superhuman abilities is a no-brainer for an intelligence or military-like organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. Despite Skye being a mysterious 084 case and Coulson and Ward having some protective instinct toward her, the trade off is not a fair one; if the Clairvoyant has motivated most of the action that has preceded “T.A.H.I.T.I.” in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. one non-agent’s life is a fair trade to keep the villain from getting empowered.

“T.A.H.I.T.I.” actually, finally, answers the first season’s initial mystery of how Agent Coulson was resurrected in a straightforward, complete way. Those who suspected (reasonably, given all the clues prior to “The Magical Place”) that Coulson was a S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy are likely to only experience a moment’s disappointment after the truth is finally revealed in “T.A.H.I.T.I.” In fact, the only thing that doesn’t truly make sense about how S.H.I.E.L.D. resurrected Coulson is the speed at which they synthesized the drugs needed to do so.

On the character front, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” continues the deep friendship between Coulson and May, but does little else other than introduce a potential future love interest for Simmons and create more backstory for Ward and Coulson through the introduction of the character Garrett. Like Victoria Hand before him, Garrett is brought on as a guest character in a way that instantly generates backstory and some sense of conflict without having an enduring effect on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team we watch week after week. In other words, those hoping Bill Paxton’s Garrett might get a spin-off would really be stretching for it.

That said, Bill Paxton does a decent job of forcefully entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Garrett and Garrett’s chief lieutenant, Agent Triplett, is ably played by B.J. Britt (albeit with a very rushed seeded romance line and a somewhat preposterous fight sequence with Ward). The main cast does well with “T.A.H.I.T.I.,” though there are no truly exceptional single performances. To be fair, it’s not That Kind Of Episode; the emotional context for the episode is pretty much out of the way by the end of the first act and the episode becomes a race against time that does not offer much in the way of time for character reflection.

In fine Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. tradition, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” hits its climax a little early, offers a brief moment of introspection and then uses the last few minutes to set up the next big arc. But those hoping for an a-list hero to aid the team against the villain who pops up for the final minutes will remain disappointed. But that’s for next week . . .

On its own, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” may not solve all the prior problems of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it does present an exciting race against time story that definitively answers lingering questions from the outset of the series and pushes the overall story arc of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. forward in an interesting-enough way to make one want to tune in again.

For other works with Bill Paxton, please visit my reviews of:
The Terminator

[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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