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Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “The Girl In the Flower Dress”: More human than super


“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has been a slow burn. The writers make it clear that they do have a storyline in place and have from the very beginning of the pilot, but they’ve been extremely cautious when it comes to acting on that storyline. Little hints here and there remind us that the hacker collective Rising Tide still exists, that there’s a mysterious group known as Centipede attempting to make superhumans, and that Coulson (Clark Gregg) isn’t all he seems to be. But there’s been very little furthered in those storylines until now.

While “The Girl In the Flower Dress” didn’t address the Coulson mystery, it did bring back the Rising Tide and Centipede and revisited the hacktivist side of Skye (Chloe Bennett) that we met in the pilot. The episode also as showed what happens when S.H.I.E.L.D. is too slow to save the day, with more focus on drama rather than action or fighting.

Renshu Tseng (Louis Ozawa Changchien) is a street performer in Hong Kong under the watch of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the superhuman ability to manipulate fire. He is kidnapped by Raina (Ruth Negga), a scientist working for Centipede. The Agents soon find out that the Rising Tide has hacked into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s data stream before the kidnapping, which immediately puts Skye on edge. The team tracks down the Rising Tide hacker to Austin, Texas, where a chase ensues, and ends with the Agents just barely losing him.

When the hacker Miles (Austin Nichols) gets home, he finds Skye, the one who tipped him off to the Agents’ arrival, waiting for him. It turns out Miles taught Skye everything she knows about hacking, and that the two were once lovers as well. After they hop into bed with each other, Skye prepares to head back to the Agents, only to find them waiting right outside Miles’ bedroom door–and they are not at all happy to see her.

Meanwhile, Tseng is tempted with the chance to show the world just what he can do with his abilities by Raina and her fellow scientist Debbie (Shannon Lucio), He is getting accustomed to the codename they’ve assigned him: Scorch.

This episode takes the situations from the pilot and turns them on their heads. While the pilot had Coulson believing in Skye’s capabilities as a potential agent, “Flower Dress” had him losing nearly all faith in her. Likewise, the pilot had a big focus on a good person starting to lose himself to his power, while this episode had an already somewhat-unhinged person immediately fall victim to his own greed and lust for power. The differences between the two episodes are played well by the writers, especially near the end of the episode. Some scenes and shots are done specifically to call back to the pilot–for instance, Skye in custody in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s interrogation room.

The writers did a good job of making S.H.I.E.L.D. feel like an actual law enforcement agency in this episode. Instead of the usual “It can’t be! Tell me it isn’t true!” kind of thing that other shows would do when a character seemingly betrays the cast, Coulson, May (Ming-Na Wen) and Ward (Brett Dalton) flat-out arrest her, going about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. May in particular focuses less on Skye and more on Miles, putting the mission above the team’s internal issues. Ward even puts the cuffs on Skye, not bothering to listen to her pleas for forgiveness.

During this scene, Coulson gives Skye the kind of glare a disappointed parent would give their child, his voice cold and his tone sharp when explaining just how much she screwed up. May is extremely blunt and to the point when interrogating Miles, and Ward is eerily quiet during his time on screen. All of this shows the varying degrees of pain the team feels after this betrayal, and the cast does a good job conveying how each of their characters is coping. Gregg in particular is fantastic, really playing up how serious the situation is for Coulson and the team.

However, despite the others’ more subtle ways of coping, Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) is obviously devastated after the team corners Skye at Miles’ house, asking, “How could she do this to us?” Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) tries to console him, but with little success. It’s understandable that he’s upset–it’s obvious that everyone on the team was shaken by her “betrayal”–but de Caestecker took it up a notch, making Fitz sound like he was in a lot of emotional pain. The writing emphasized that Fitz was upset because Skye was with “another guy.” There might be a bit of a romantic attraction growing between the two–or at least from him to her.

This could lead to a lot in the coming episodes, considering the growing chemistry between Ward and Skye. This also throws the idea that Fitz and Simmons are actually a couple into doubt, which might make for some actual character development for Simmons.

While this dramatic scene was the best of the episode, the scenes taking place in the Centipede labs really showed off Changchien’s acting capabilities. His only other major role in TV and film up to this point was in the 2010 film “Predators,” where he played a quiet, honorable swordsman. Here, however, he plays an extremely temperamental and talkative showman. He treats his growing powers with ecstatic glee. He seems so happy to finally be able to use his powers without having to follow the orders of S.H.I.E.L.D. or keep them hidden away. When this happiness is taken away near the end of the episode, that glee turns into rage. Changchien really makes you feel sorry for Tseng by playing up the agony that he is going through.

Earlier in the episode, Raina tries to get Tseng to accept the codename “Scorch” by playing to his need to be recognized and appreciated. She tells him that no one cares who Steve Rogers is, but that everyone pays attention to his superhero alter ego, Captain America. It’s a subtle nod to the Marvel films and works a lot better than how the show usually tries to tie into the rest of Marvel’s products.

Oddly enough, Tseng’s story parallels Captain America’s in a way. Both of them were people who knew they had potential but were incapable of acting on it. Both were offered a chance to change who they were from scientists who promised them power and strength. While Cap used his powers for good through his own kind nature, Tseng’s greedy core leads to intense tragedy and suffering.

“The Girl in the Flower Dress” gets an A. This episode has a compelling and somber tone that I really hope the show tries to keep going over the next few episodes.

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