Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Eye Spy”, The Eyes Have It

Donovan Bertch

UPREVIEWS_S.H.I.E.L.D._01EPISODE GRADE: B

“Agents of S.H.I.E.LD.,” in its four episodes on the air, has had excellent episode hooks so far. In the pilot, a normal man suddenly went superhero; in “0-8-4,” a transport plane exploded in midair; and in “The Asset,” a S.H.I.E.L.D. convoy was demolished by a gravity-defying enemy force. All of these hooks provided great teases for what was to come in each episode. They also were addressed specifically and in detail in the episodes themselves, integrating them into the plot of the episodes instead of leaving them as stand-alone cold opens.

The hook for “Eye Spy,” on the other hand, is different. It starts like the others — giving a really interesting tease — but the tease is soon swept under the rug and leaves it as a very bizarre, very unnecessary start to a rather odd episode altogether.

A mob of men with identical suits, briefcases, and very detailed red masks all converge on a subway station in Sweden. While a lot of people just gawk and stare at the sudden flash mob, one woman in particular tails them, sliding undetected into a subway with the mob. As the members of the mob hold their briefcases close, the woman smashes the subway car’s fuse box, making everything go dark. As soon as the lights come back on, the girl is gone and the men are dead.

This is one hell of a hook, and a hook like this should have some excellent payoff. What we get is anything but.

The Agents are tasked with investigating the train murders, the latest in a series of robberies committed by an unknown and possibly super powered thief. As it turns out, the red-masked men are glorified bodyguards for a gem company, each carrying a case with diamonds in them, but only one filled with actual diamonds. Coulson (Clark Gregg) explains that the men were dressed alike in order to keep the real diamonds hidden, so the thief would supposedly be unable to locate them. That worked out well, didn’t it?

While the characters do question the reasoning for the masks, the scene is not addressed again for the rest of the episode, and that in itself is incredibly disappointing.

It soon becomes clear that the heist was the work of a former protege of Coulson’s, Akaela (Pascale Armand), who, after a mission she led resulted in the deaths of two other agents, went missing. The team resolves to find her and bring her in while halfway around the world, Akaela closes a deal with a man who gives her a security clearance card for her next heist. When the team tries to track Akaela down, they soon realize that in their game of cat and mouse, the roles aren’t as clear as it might seem. While the team may be watching her, Akeala is watching them…and someone is watching her.

The writing in this episode wasn’t entirely on the mark. Besides the aforementioned hook and follow up, the early scenes have an exchange where May (Ming-Na Wen)  dismisses the idea that their target might have any kind of psychic ability like telekinesis or mind reading. Lady, you are in a world with aliens and gods that just saved — and somewhat destroyed — a major metropolitan area. That kind of skepticism is heavily misplaced.

Again, there’s a lot of emphasis on telling what happened instead of showing what happened. This comes out rather awkwardly in a scene later in the episode where flashbacks are used to illustrate exactly what happened to Akaela.  This is standard TV formula, but she goes into in-depth detail using narration where another show would have let the images speak for themselves with little dialogue. While narration has its place, the images in this sequence spoke volumes and didn’t really require any explaining.

However, specific scenes were extremely well written, even if the episode as a whole faltered. A scene where Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) and Ward (Brett Dalton) play poker as Skye (Chloe Bennett) watches from afar is really well done because of the focus on the characters as people instead of as a means of exposition.

The plot in this episode really centers around the parallels between Coulson’s former teacher-student relationship with Akaela and his current one with Skye, leading to a lot of screen time for Gregg. He has a lot of emotional moments with Armand, but the emotions never seem to come out in his voice. His facial cues — twitchy lips, long stares, etc. — make up for most of his acting this episode. It would have been a bit better if his tone went beyond its usual stoicism, as it did last episode, but he puts out a great performance nonetheless.

Skye joins Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) as mission control for this episode, showcasing the chemistry between the three. Seeing them interact as they try to figure out how to track Akaela’s location really gives this episode a nice touch of light-hearted humor, with the banter actually seeming like natural conversation. There’s not really much development to be found here, but they make for an entertaining trio. A scene at the end of the episode between de Caestecker and Bennett cements this chemistry. Hopefully more will come of it.

May actually does something this episode! It was a pleasant surprise to see her get into action on her own instead of being forced into fighting, and the showdown between her and Akaela was something out of an action-thriller flick. Wen definitely shows that she can do her own stunts during this sequence, and it’s a satisfying payoff after three episodes of waiting.

Ward is surprisingly shunted to the side for most of the episode, as his main purpose for this mission is to be a distraction for the Agents during an attempt to find Akaela’s handler in Russia. Dalton is pretty funny in this sequence, trying desperately to trick a guard while being fed Russian chit-chat through his earpiece. It goes about as well as you’d expect, making for an excellent scene straight out of a Sean Connery era James Bond film.

Armand makes for a solid antagonist, playing Akaela as a mix between the Terminator and a villain in a slasher flick, a battle-hardened soldier with an almost inhuman amount of power and ability. She stalks the red-masked mob like a shadow, and comes out of nowhere to nearly kill Skye, Fitz and Simmons in their van. Like with Gregg, her face does most of her acting with a lot of emphasis on her eyes and expressions. It’s pretty damn impressive, since until the second half of the episode, she has very little dialogue. The fact that she can say so much while saying so little makes her a very memorable villain.

There’s just one other major thing that might put some people off in this episode. There is a scene where Fitz and Simmons have to operate on an eye, and it is not at all stingy with the details. If you get freaked out by this kind of stuff, you may want to cover your own eyes.

“Eye Spy” gets a B. The writing still has its issues in the plot department, but the excellent performances make this episode shine.