“Eye-Spy” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Well, here we are four episodes into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the show is finally starting to play to its strengths, albeit not in the way I anticipated. While its still having trouble finding its feet in its storytelling style, the show is really starting to develop its own world and its characters.
This episode finds Coulson and crew tracking Coulson’s former protégé-turned-agent-for-hire Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) who was responsible for a recent diamond heist. The catch is she was able to pull the heist with some ESP-like abilities. Through their investigation, the team learns that Akela hasn’t become a mercenary selling her skills to the highest bidder, but been forced against her will to be a pawn for a shadowy organization. She doesn’t have ESP, but was outfitted with a robotic camera eye (hence the episode’s title) that has a killswitch should she choose to disobey orders from her handler.
Here’s where the show is at odds: from a story perspective, this is the second time the writers have used someone from Coulson’s past as a trope (see episode 2, “0-8-4”), but “Eye-Spy” also boasts the show’s best performances so far. This episode features some excellent character work from Clark Gregg, who is finally being given the chance to fill in the sketches of Agent Coulson that have been teased. As well, Chloe Bennet’s Skye is being developed nicely and not in an obvious, exposition-heavy way. I really like how the episode moves Coulson and Skye’s relationship forward by drawing parallels between Coulson and Akela. Skye and Coulson share a couple strong scenes — their quiet moment at the end gives the show some subtlety that’s sorely needed.
It should be noted too that Pascale Armand turns in a very good performance here as well — her scenes with Gregg are the episode’s best, the way they interact while searching for Akela’s handler. The two infer a personal history — and use their skills — as they try to identify those using Akela as a weapon and a tool; Akela is a character I’d certainly like to see return.
Yet, as Gregg and Bennett get some great material this week (even Brett Dalton’s Ward gets some fun things), Iain De Caestecker’s Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge’s Simmons, and Ming-Na Wen’s May still don’t have much to go on besides broad character strokes. At this point, I’m needing to see some development, particularly with Fitz and Simmons. Their brand of Big Bang Theory awkward nerdist behaviour-meets-Hogwarts students is wearing quite thin. May, on the other hand, I can let slide for a few more weeks since Ming-Na Wen’s professional, icy demenour is just cool (though, I would love to see her get a more active role in the team).
“Eye-Spy” has a real espionage film vibe to it, from being set in Belarus to the reveal that Akela’s handler was also being used by this evil organization. This kind of stuff can be really compelling whether its dropping little hints at Coulson’s past (like Jason Bourne’s in The Bourne Identity or Logan’s in X2) or the far-reaching mysterious organization (like Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). The episode does a really good job of drawing these threads out, especially in Coulson’s case — Akela notes to May that he’s “different” but doesn’t specify how and quickly dismisses the subject once she realizes May doesn’t know what she’s referring to.
In a lot of ways, television perfectly complements the comic book, since they both deal primarily in serialized storytelling. Episode to episode or issue to issue, the writers need to craft a (mostly) self-contained story while pushing a larger arc forward at steady pace to bring viewers and readers back. The writers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (this episode was penned by Jeffrey Bell, who wrote for X-Files and Angel) are starting to find their way in this balancing act. The show isn’t perfect yet, but with “Eye-Spy” it’s beginning to build a little more momentum.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Eye-Spy.” Directed by Roxann Dawson. Written by Jeffrey Bell.