Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Providence" Is So Good . . .It Almost Bamboozles Viewers Into Thinking A Lot Happens!

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of character
The Bad: A little lighter on plot
The Basics: “Providence” might not be a great stand-alone episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it is an essential and fast-moving bridge episode of the series well worth watching!

In the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!), S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles. It is impossible to discuss the serialized television series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it enters its final episodes of the first season without revealing what could be considered spoilers from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the prior episode, “Turn, Turn, Turn” (reviewed here!) when one discusses “Providence,” the current episode. “Providence” is heavily plot-focused, which makes sense given how traumatic the events of recent events in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been.

As I postulated in my review of “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Providence” has a number of similarities to Alias (reviewed here!) following the collapse of SD-6. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the major issues I asked in my prior review was dealt with in the first ten minutes of “Providence;” the Bus (the massive plane used by Agent Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team) is running low on fuel and Coulson and May have to worry about where and how to refuel the vehicle! “Providence” might not be the most character-based episode, though Coulson is appropriately heroic in his monologues in the episode, but it fits exceptionally well with the ongoing story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With S.H.I.E.L.D. in collapse, Ward releases Raina from a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison and brings her to John Garrett. Despite being disappointed that Garrett is not actually psychic, Raina willingly enters the H.Y.D.R.A. facility. Fitz and Simmons begin repairing the Bus while Simmons questions the jurisdiction of S.H.I.E.L.D. When the U.S. government responds to the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. by sending the Air Force, in the form of General Talbot, on the tail of the Bus, Coulson engages the Odyssey Protocol, which forces Skye to wipe the identities of all of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. While Garrett, Ward, and Raina work to restart the Centipede Program, Coulson gets coordinates from his badge that he is convinced are from Nick Fury.

Raina and Ward begin bonding with one another as H.Y.D.R.A. agents head to the Fridge to break out the gadgets and prisoners that S.H.I.E.L.D. had captured. May and Coulson have a discussion about Fury’s motives over resurrecting Coulson when May worries that Coulson may have H.Y.D.R.A. programming. Ward and Garrett break into the Fridge successfully and they release prisoners who are dangerous and unstable, while grabbing up all of the powerful (and alien) artifacts they can find. Despite his team doubting him, Coulson follows the coordinates to their location, exhausting the fuel on the bus and leading the team to the middle of nowhere. There, the team finds a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility no one knew about with one of Nick Fury’s oldest allies.

“Providence” is a tough sell for an episode on its own. The episode is so solidly referential to other episodes and concepts within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it is tough to look at on its own and rate highly. The episode is good, but if one had never seen an episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., there is little to recommend “Providence.” The particle beam weapon and other goodies in the Fridge, as well as Raina’s Project Centipede, are all references to prior episodes in the season. For an episode that includes so many references (like Ward holding the Asgardian spear) to prior episodes to reward the loyal fans of the show, there is something asinine about the few technical errors in the episode. Like why do the Agents wander through the Canadian wilderness for seven miles when Coulson has a flying car on the Bus that is sitting right next to where they all walk out?!

Threaded throughout “Providence” is a character line with Fitz and Simmons. Fitz and Simmons are questioning their place in the world. While Simmons has been developing a clear romantic relationship with Triplett, in “Providence” there is the implication that Simmons might be developing feelings for Fitz. That adds some good character depth, considering the two work so closely and it promises future plotlines for Simmons.

Coulson and May have a decent part in “Providence” and the use of Eric Koenig, one of Nick Fury’s oldest friends, is a treat for fans of the larger Marvel universe. Coulson’s devotion to S.H.I.E.L.D. gets the team as far as it goes in the episode and May’s doubts about Coulson actually add a realism and dramatic tension that make an otherwise eventless episode work. “Providence” is an episode where the team is running away and given that a solid half of the episode has the team fleeing aimlessly, it’s a tough sell ruined by the previews/opening credits. Given that the viewers who saw even a few seconds of clips have seen Patton Oswalt in the previews, the episode has a destination and the process of getting there is based largely on Coulson’s blind faith.

“Providence” creates some serious doubts about the longevity of the suspension of disbelief surrounding the character of Grant Ward, though. Ward claims that he owes Garrett everything and in a conversation with Raina, he details the systematic way he deceived Coulson and his team. The problem with double agent characters like that, as Alias discovered the longer it went on, is that the character has to have something that roots them with one character set over the others . . . or they come across as either inhuman or entirely inconsistent. Going forward, the challenge to Ward’s character is to either justify his genuine feelings for Skye (though why one would choose her over May is a bit of a mystery to me) or have actor Brett Dalton play the part in such a way that it is obvious to the audience, but not Skye, that Ward is just manipulating her. That’s a tough part for an actor to get right and whether Dalton has it in him or not is yet to be determined.

In addition to giving Agent Coulson good monologues delivered exceptionally well by Clark Gregg, “Providence” gives Patton Oswalt the plum role of Eric Koenig. Unlike the dipshit guards at the Fridge, Oswalt’s Koenig is delightfully suspicious and keeps everyone but Coulson at an arm’s length . . . which is exactly what a situation in which an entire organization that has been overthrown by sleeper agents calls for. Oswalt’s brief time on screen in “Providence,” along with the final scene that returns Ian Quinn and gravitonium to the mix, is enough to make viewers enthusiastic for the next episode.

For other works with Patton Oswalt, please visit my reviews of:
Young Adult
The Informant!
Observe And Report
Failure To Launch
Blade Trinity

[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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