As a fan of Marvel comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I've been impatiently awaiting this series. I've also shielded (heh) myself from any potential teases or spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to fully experience the show with only my own ridiculous expectations — rather than everyone's — to cloud my judgment. (After writing this, I can finally read and appreciate the full Joss Whedon interview.)
So when the flickering comics pages fade into the iconic red Marvel icon on my TV screen, I get the same geekbumps as when attending a midnight movie premiere. Such chills stem from the excitement of seeing beloved characters come alive on screen as well as the hope of experiencing something, frankly, super. Can Marvel deliver the same movie magic goods on the small screen? It's time to find out.
We start right where we left off in New York City (including Stark Tower) with flashes of the Avengers plus the alien Chitauri from the epic battle depicted in The Avengers. But that's movie territory, so we focus on another part of the world.
Zoom in on East L.A. — a man (played by Angel alum J. August Richards) pays for a hot dog while his son stares intently on action figures of the Avengers. What's cute is that the "Heroes of New York" dolls are probably actual merchandise. What's annoying is that Black Widow's hair is long as it is in the comics but not as long as it is in The Avengers. (File this under: things I notice that no one else cares about.) Times are tough for the two as the man has lost his factory job. The man asks his son which hero is his favorite, but we don't find out, for there's an EXPLOSION! He tells his son to stay with the friendly, neighborhood hot dog vendor. The man rushes toward the burning building to help save any survivors.
How can this be possible for an ordinary man with seemingly no fire rescue skills? He has other skills — a very particular set of skills — that give him super strength, enhanced physiology, and the ability to leap from a building in a single bound.
I know that the showrunners have certain restrictions due to copyright issues (like not being able to say the M-word) but if scaling a brick wall doesn't evoke Spider-man without legally evoking anything related to Spider-man, then I don't know what does.
The man saves a woman from the building as several onlookers — including one of our main characters — takes video footage of the scene on their phones. (How about using the phone to call an ambulance? Sheesh.)
As this is happening in L.A., we then cut to Paris, France where a clandestine spy operation is underway. This is S.H.I.E.L.D. in action — without superhero aid or interference. (Thanks to a super-sized pilot budget, the exterior Paris scenes were shot on location. Oh, hi Notre Dame!) Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is close to completing his latest mission when he gets notice to abort -- for the location of "the package" has been compromised by mysterious organization, The Rising Tide. Unfazed, Ward continues with the mission, deftly securing fingerprints to open to a secret fireplace safe that holds the important "package."
But thanks to The Rising Tide, Ward encounters "hostiles" that stymie his retrieval op. In a Whedonesque version of Jason Bourne's encounter with a "hostile" in Paris, Ward fights off the bad guys and is airlifted out of the mission.
Next, Ward debriefs in a S.H.I.E.L.D. field office in an undisclosed location. For the uninitiated and to remind the initiated, Ward explains that S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. To Ward, it means, "someone really wanted our initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D." It's meant as a quip but Maria Hill is having none of it. Reprising her role from The Avengers, Cobie Smulders guest stars as Nick Fury's number two agent and thereby top S.H.I.E.L.D. official, further connecting the Marvel films to a television extension. It's revealed that Ward recovered a Chitauri neural link while in Paris.
It's a new world out there, explains Hill. One in which the public now knows about aliens and super serums and all sorts of oddities S.H.I.E.L.D. typically kept from the masses. To deal with the growing number of strange threats and exposure from hacker group The Rising Tide, Ward has been recruited to join Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in a new mobile command unit. Coulson was last seen dead, having been fatally stabbed by Thor's mischievous and sometimes murderous brother Loki in The Avengers. But that's the official Level 6 report. This is Level 7. First mission is to contain "an unregistered gifted" — the man seen in the beginning of the episode. (Sorry, Marvel — mutant is still a better term than gifted.)
All is not as it seems in Level 7. There is more to Agent Coulson's miraculous recovery than meets the eye as the discussion between Hill and Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass a.k.a. Shepherd Book of Firefly) suggests they are keeping the real details of his recovery under wraps — even from Coulson.
NEXT: We meet the rest of the team. Skye! FitzSimmons!