This may be a record. ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ had another reasonably entertaining and decidedly not terrible episode this week. That’s two in a row now. Could there be hope for this show after all?
In episode ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’, we learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps an index of all identified people with unnatural powers or abilities. Not all of them are powerful enough to become superheroes or super-villains. The focus of this week’s storyline is a struggling street magician named Chan who has “moderate pyrokinetic abilities.” In other words, he can generate small balls of flame from the palms of his hands without burning himself. It’s enough to make for a convincing magic trick in his act, but not much more. S.H.I.E.L.D. has assigned a handler to keep tabs on him, but mostly they just leave him be, so long as he promises not to expose the true nature of his ability to the public.
One night, a pretty girl named Raina (Ruth Negga from the British sci-fi series ‘Misfits’) flirts with Chan and takes an interest in his talents. Just as he thinks he’s about to get lucky, however, men in flame resistant suits show up and kidnap him. It turns out the Raina works for the shadowy organization called Centipede with the female doctor from the pilot episode – the one who performed experiments to create a superhuman. They want to inject Chan with a serum that will boost his abilities. Although he resists at first, Raina appeals to his ego and vanity. She promises to make him more powerful and (more importantly to Chan) famous. She even gives him a new superhero name: “Scorch.” No, that’s certainly no “Iron Man,” but Chan seems to like it.
When Chan goes missing, Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team track him down via a Rising Tide hacker named Miles, who we soon find out is actually Skye’s boyfriend. She helps him to evade S.H.I.E.L.D. capture, and has some sexy sexy fun time with him. (Fan Service Alert: Skye prances around in lacy underwear this week.) Unfortunately, she’s not as clever as she thinks she is, and Agent May walks in on her. The jig appears to be up on Skye’s double agent status. Coulson is very displeased that she has disappointed him so badly.
Meanwhile, the serum works as promised and significantly boosts Scorch’s pyrotechnic abilities. It’s too bad for him that Raina and the Centipede doctor have no interest in letting him join their team. Once they discover that the platelets in his blood have protected Chan from the heat of his fire, they extract those platelets to use in their further experiments. While Scorch can still create fire, it burns him now.
The ladies plan to dispose of him, but Scorch isn’t really down with that. When Coulson and his team invade the lab to rescue him, Scorch goes postal and kills his S.H.I.E.L.D. handler. He then chases after the Centipede ladies and rather gruesomely incinerates the doctor. Raina gets away unharmed. With Scorch unhinged and unstable, Coulson makes the call to have May inject him with a massive dose of the serum, which causes him to (literally) explode. That’s twice now that Coulson has killed people for (in his estimation) the greater good.
In the course of all this, Skye has to prove herself trustworthy again by disabling the security system in the building and doing other hacker nonsense to assist the team. She gives Coulson a sob story about being an orphan, and joining Rising Tide because she wants to find her parents, whose file has been classified by S.H.I.E.L.D. Still a softy, he lets her stay on the team in a probationary status.
As for Skye’s boyfriend, Coulson lets him go, but dumps him in Hong Kong with no money and a bracelet that will prevent him from using computers or other electronics.
As the episode wraps up, Raina meets with a man in prison who appears to be her superior. He says something about moving on to “Level 3” in their experiments and gives her some other vague instructions. This leaves many hints to a greater ongoing mystery plot.
Honestly, with two graphic murders and the (off-screen) killing of a character we started the story sympathizing with, this is a pretty dark episode for a series that’s been fairly lightweight up to now and airs at an 8 PM timeslot on a Disney-owned network. The show’s writing, dialogue and cast chemistry have also steadily improved from episode to episode. I still don’t think it’s quite where it needs to be just yet, but it’s getting better and I no longer dread preparing to watch. That’s a lot more than I could say a few weeks ago.
‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is off next week but will return on November 5th.