Credit where it’s due, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ breaks from its routine case-of-the-week procedural formula this week, and attempts to tie together some earlier story threads into a coherent serial narrative arc. I appreciate the effort, even if the episode itself underwhelms.
‘The Bridge’ (the episode title, not the unrelated FX drama of that name) opens with a prison break, in which a trio of super-soldiers from Centipede (remember them?) bust into the place and set free a baddie named Edison Poe, who had previously appeared briefly back in Episode 5. Clearly a big-wig in the Centipede organization, Poe meets up with Raina (the girl in the flowered dress), who informs him of their current status. Their scientists have finally stabilized the super-soldier formula enough that the test subjects no longer explode, but the soldiers tend to burn through their energy quickly after missions and require a lot of upkeep. Maintaining them has proven difficult, given that S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps the group on the run, constantly picking up shop and moving every couple of days.
After the break-out, Coulson requests assistance from Mike Petersen (J. August Richards from ‘Angel’), the former Centipede recruit who was the subject of the show’s pilot episode. Since being captured, Mike has been rehabilitated, learned to control his own super-soldier powers, and is now a rookie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. This will be his first mission. Everyone on the team approaches his involvement with hesitation and skepticism, but he says that he’s determined to prove himself. Fitz and Simmons design him a slick super-suit uniform.
Tracking Centipede to a warehouse in Oakland, Mike, Coulson and the team walk into a trap and are attacked by the super-solider trio. Mike is injured in the scuffle. One of the evil super-soldiers is captured and the other two run away. Before the one left behind can talk, he’s killed remotely by an explosive implant in his bionic eye, which confirms that Centipede was behind the conspiracy in Episode 4 as well. See, the pieces are starting to fit together.
Monitoring from afar, Raina and Poe take note that Mike is apparently even more stable than their own soldiers. They believe that he’s the key to “Stage 3″ of their experiment. Ironically, Mike informs Fitz and Simmons that it was being shot by their “Nite-Nite Gun” that set his system right and saved his life.
Next, Centipede kidnaps Mike’s young son and arranges an exchange (for what, I’m not clear – him, I guess) on a bridge with poor visibility for Agent Ward, who’s set up in a sniper position some distance away. Coulson goes with Mike to handle the negotiation, upon which they reveal that it was a ruse, and that what Centipede really wants is Coulson himself. Mike has betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D. for his son. However, after getting the boy to safety, Mike tries to run back and rescue Coulson, but a big explosion makes it look like he’s killed in the effort. (Somehow, I suspect he’s still alive and will redeem himself.) Another explosion appears to kill Coulson. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team grieves, but we in the audience are smart enough to know better. Of course, the Centipede people got away with Coulson. In the final scene, they explain why they kidnapped him: “We want you to tell us about the day after you died.”
The preview for the next episode suggests that we’ll finally learn some details about how Coulson was brought back from the dead after the events of ‘The Avengers’, but we’ll have to wait until January 7th to find out. Like so many other series, this show is taking the rest of December off after this week.
Honestly, I want to like ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ more than I do, and I feel that the show is getting better little-by-little after a rocky start – but this episode, as much as it tries to ramp up the mystery and intrigue, still feels very dull and predictable and flat, like so many others before it. It’s clear that Joss Whedon walked away after the pilot episode, because nothing that followed it has exhibited even a trace of his spark.
The series needs a big shake-up. If by some miracle it’s renewed for a second season, I think Disney should bring in a new show-runner and a bunch of fresh writers. The core concept is sound, but the execution so far has disappointed. Why isn’t this show any fun?