‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 1.04 Recap: “An Electric Migraine”

Hey, would you look at that? This week actually brought us a moderately decent episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’. Still not a great one, mind you, but one that I can at least comfortably rate as “OK.” Perhaps that’s damning the show with faint praise, especially given that it took four episodes to get even this far. Still… progress!

This one’s called ‘Eye Spy’, for reasons that turn out to be exceedingly literal. The action starts in Sweden, where a group of men in identical gray suits, carrying identical briefcases, and wearing identical creepy red masks walk through a public square and then board a subway. This can’t be good, right? I know that I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck on the car with these weirdos. Are they part of a supervillain organization? Does this have something to do with Rising Tide?

No, in fact, this is all a big fake-out. The men are security guards. One of them carries a briefcase full of diamonds valued at $30 million. The costumes are merely to create a diversion. None of the men knows which one actually holds the goods. The real threat here is a black woman named Akela Amador, who appears to telepathically identify the correct target. She attacks and kills all the men, and chops off one’s hand to get his briefcase.

We soon learn that Akela is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent classified as having gone rogue. Coulson trained her, and takes this mission very personally. He wants to bring her in himself, and refuses to notify S.H.I.E.L.D. or call for backup.

Coulson and his team track Akela to Belarus by tapping into a video feed generated by a camera in her bionic eye. (That eye also has x-ray vision, which is how she identified the correct briefcase.) Initially, they fail to capture her, mainly due to Skye being totally incompetent at handling a gun. While I’m inclined to make a snarky comment here about this being an uncomfortably sexist gag (Silly woman shouldn’t be allowed to play with guns! Doesn’t she know that’s man’s work?), I’ll forgive the episode since Agent May turns all badass a few minutes later and single-handedly captures Akela.

On board the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane where communication to and from her implant is blocked, Akela tells her side of the story. She was captured while on a mission a few years earlier, had the bionic eye implanted into her, and has been forced under duress to commit various crimes based on instructions transmitted through a read-out in the eye. If she fails to comply, a kill-switch inside the implant will trigger a small explosive and kill her.

In order to fool Akela’s handler into believing that she’s still on her mission, Ward wears a special pair of glasses with a camera rigged into them. He follows the instructions to a factory, where he’s ordered to make his way into a high security room. Amusingly, upon encountering a guard in front of the room, Ward is transmitted the order to “Seduce him.” That doesn’t go so well. Some fisticuffs prove more effective.

Inside the room, men clack away at old electric typewriters in front of a big chalkboard with what look like mathematical formulas and a whole lot of gibberish written on it. (Fitz and Simmons say that it’s incomprehensible and may be alien.) Ward’s camera takes a photo of the chalkboard, and he receives a message that the mission is complete. Unfortunately, getting out of the room proves even trickier than getting in.

While this is going on, Coulson hunts down Akela’s handler. As soon as he confronts the man, the handler’s own bionic implant explodes and kills him instantly. He was just a middleman, another patsy like Akela. Coulson still has no idea who’s really behind all these mysterious shenanigans or what they’re goal is.

While I certainly wouldn’t call this an outstanding episode, the plotting is tight and coherent, the jokey dialogue is toned down to a level that’s more amusing than grating, and the characters finally seem to be finding their groove when they work together. The storyline also hints at a bigger mystery that could be interesting to see develop over the course of the season (or series).

In other words, I think the show might finally have a little potential. It’s unfortunate, however, that the first few episodes started off on such bad footing. Unless things really start ramping up quickly, this small amount of improvement could be too little too late.

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