Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Clairvoyant Revealed? The “End Of The Beginning” Comes With The Revelation Of The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Villain!

The Good: Decent effects, Acting is all right
The Bad: Light on character development, Predictable plot
The Basics: Not the brilliant spy thriller one might have hoped for, “End Of The Beginning” teases the audience yet again with the identity of the primary antagonist on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

As U.S. audiences await the theatrical release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!) (and, isn’t there something strange about a Captain America film opening in Europe before it opens in the States?!), they have to hold themselves over for a few more days with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for their Marvel Cinematic Universe fix. Because the Captain America section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the portion that most directly overlaps with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it makes sense that there would be foreshadowing in the television series and then fallout from the new film. Given how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been largely doing its own thing - despite having a pretty direct crossover with the Thor corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the prior episode, “Yes Men” (reviewed here!) – it is unsurprising that it has its own momentum and direction. In “End Of The Beginning,” the most foreshadowing that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes with is a line about Director Fury calling Coulson to the Triskelion. Thematically, there are implications in “End Of The Beginning” that make sense for a crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but whether or not those play out remains to be seen.

“End Of The Beginning” does not follow directly on “Yes Men;” instead, it pushes the long-running thread through the first season of the villain being the unseen Clairvoyant. “End Of The Beginning” takes the fight to the villain and makes a strong, explicit, push to discover the identity of the mysterious adversary. Unfortunately, it does so in an unfortunately predictable way. When a show about brilliant super-spies has characters more dense than the audience, it has a bit of a problem. “End Of The Beginning” has just that problem.

Agent Garret is attacked by Deathlok which brings together the most significant (non-Fury, non How I Met Your Mother cast) Agents converge to stop the Clairvoyant. To design the mission to stop the Clairvoyant, the mission will divide S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents and keep information compartmentalized. The biggest Agents pair up to try to find which potentially psychic individuals S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogated might actually have been the Clairvoyant. May and Blake end up at an assisted living facility to interview Nash when Deathlok appears and disables Blake. Thomas Nash is not actually at the facility and the recall of the S.H.I.E.L.D. teams puts Agents Simmons and Triplet at the Hub while the rest of the Agents hunt Nash.

Triplet being assigned to the Hub puts dampers on Simmons’s plan to get her hands on the drug used to heal Skye while at the Hub. Tracking Deathlok to an abandoned racetrack, Coulson, May, Ward, and Garret chase Deathlok around the building. Garret and Coulson find Nash hooked up to life support and communications equipment. He psychoanalyzes Coulson and declares that Skye will die to get what his people want from her. Angered by what Nash says, Ward kills him and Coulson is recalled to the Triskelion to meet with Nick Fury. En route to the Triskelion, Coulson and Skye become concerned that Nash might not have actually been the Clairvoyant. Backing that theory up, Fitz discovers a hard line phone line on the Bus and a mole within S.H.I.E.L.D. is exposed to the team!

Here’s the thing, when the three teams are moving to interview Clairvoyant suspects, they get waylaid. Garret and Coulson hit a literal roadblock at the same time as May and Blake run into Deathlok. The moment that happened, I turned to my wife and said, “It would be real smart if Deathlok was just a distraction and one of the other teams was actually closer to the real Clairvoyant.” The net result of Deathlok’s attack is that all of the other teams race to save May and Blake, so it makes sense for the Deathlok attack to be used to throw the S.H.I.E.L.D. teams off the scent of the Clairvoyant. So, when Coulson and Skye get around to theorizing that Nash was not truly the Clairvoyant, it’s a bit of a letdown for viewers who have seen a lot of spy thrillers or science fiction works.

“End Of The Beginning” would have character development . . . if it were not for the fact that the prior episode included a character talking on the phone and revealing that they had something more to them than their surface character. Thus, the revelation that comes out in the last act of “End Of The Beginning” is more of a replay of the prior episode’s reveal. As for the Clairvoyant, Ward’s murder of Nash actually fits more with his character than confounds it and the friendship between Garret and Coulson was already alluded to in the episode in which Garret was introduced. So, this episode is light on character development.

By contrast, the guest cast and primary cast interact remarkably well. “End Of The Beginning” marks the return of all three big Agents who are on the same level as Coulson – Hand, Garret, and Blake. Saffron Burrows, Bill Paxton, and Titus Welliver each have at least the same level of on-screen presence as Clark Gregg’s Coulson. Each of them is credibly a super-agent with skills beyond those of Ward, May, Skye, Fitz, and Simmons. J. August Richard’s return as Deathlok plays as a transformative role for him; he is able to strip away more and more of his character’s humanity and the stiffness and inhumanity that he brings to the cyborg is intense. Similarly, Brad Dourif as Nash is great casting; Dourif plays so many villains or creepy characters, so when his name comes up in the credits, it seems credible that he would be the Clairvoyant. Dourif, however, is underused as Nash and the role of the bedridden villain is hardly one of his best ones.

Even director Bobby Roth seems somewhat bored with "End Of The Beginning;" Deathlok does a jump in the stadium that pretty much mirrors Mike Peterson's descent in the pilot episode (reviewed here!) and considering he now is cybernetically altered, one might think such jumps would be different. At least it looks good.

Such is how it is with “End Of The Beginning;” the episode had so much potential, so many pieces ready to achieve some level of greatness, but instead, it executed them as something far more average. The storyline is more formulaic than audacious and the result is an episode that sets up a far more important episode.

For other works with Brad Dourif, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
The Box
Alien: Resurrection
Star Trek: Voyager - "Basics, Part 2"
Star Trek: Voyager - "Basics"
Star Trek: Voyager - "Meld"
The X-Files “Beyond The Sea”
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

[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 and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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