There was a rerun for Marvel's Agents of SHIELD this week, so let's hop on Doom's time platform and hit the one episode whose secrets have yet to be revealed — the pilot!
This will be longer than most Secrets of SHIELD, if for no other reason than to (belatedly) introduce the main cast and concepts.
The month-old spoiler-light recap: A non-team comes together, characters are introduced, a season antagonist is hinted at, a young hacktivist learns to care and a single father nearly blows his lid.
So get on with it already:
Can I just note that the strangely sped-up HD footage of the city is oddly evocative of the BBC Sherlock opening? Is it just me?
Also, did they pay Hemsworth for the use of his arm in that shot? Maria Hill does say he has impressive arms.
While we're at it, it's refreshing to have a sci-fi genre show that doesn't need a distinctive opening. Personally, I tend to like opening songs, like those of True Blood, X-Files, and in its own way, even Enterprise, but everyone I watch shows with can't stand 'em. This show eschews the whole mess by doing away with an opening song altogether.
In the first real scene of the series, Mike, Ace and their friend Bernie (also known as Sir Not-Otherwise-Appearing-In-this-Episode) are in front of a toy store checking out "Battle of New York" action figures. Think about this for a second: here the people of Earth have a tragedy and shock of mind-boggling proportions as they learn not only do aliens exist, but they exist to blow the living snot out of New York City. Imagine if we had 9-11 action figures in the year following the terrorist attacks. It just wouldn't happen.
However, in the Marvel Universe, there is a tradition of superheroes getting officially licensed goods going way back to the '40s. Captain America's comic books inspired numerous superheroes, the Fantastic Four's Human Torch first learned about the Hulk and Sub-Mariner through comics, heck, even Steve Rogers worked as a professional artist on the "Captain America" comic for a while. More recently, the X-Statix and Thunderbolts, two teams known for bloody public battles with high fatality rates, were public darlings; their toys and other merchandise sold out at stores everywhere.
Back to Mike Peterson for a moment. The first Unregistered Gifted™ introduced in the series, Mike Peterson is empowered by the mysterious Big Bad organization with "the serum Dr. Erskine introduced... alien metal, gamma radiation," and Extremis. For those keeping track at home, Mike has the same power sources as Captain America (serum), Thor (whose hammer is made of the alien metal Uru, although obviously this is also a reference to the Chitauri from the Avengers movie), Hulk (gamma rays) and Iron Man (who dealt with Extremis in Iron Man 3). He is a walking Avenger. Strangely, however, he's named after a completely unrelated character: the best friend of the psychotic superhero Slapstick.
Using his powers, Mike climbs up a building Wolverine style. Wolverine made this method of climbing famous, but other heroes use it from time to time. Interestingly, Mike is also called the "Hooded Hero" or "Hooded Man," the latter being a moniker used by an alternate future counterpart of Wolverine.
On his way down from the building, Mike breaks the pavement with a solid landing. Why do superheroes hate city roads so much lately? Superman destroys pavement when landing (and taking off sometimes) and Thor destroys pavement when landing - this must drive city workers nuts.
Agent Ward is introduced to us in true James Bond style, as the lone secret agent using all manner of gadgets to get through a day's work. As mentioned before, gadgets are part and parcel for SHIELD - even if some of the science doesn't quite make sense (either that or the guy in the tie holds his glass in a really weird way). This is essential as, in a world of superheroes, spies need to up their game even further than the double-Os of MI6. Also true to the James Bond inspiration, there's a beautiful blond in negligee who couldn't care less about the spies killing each other in the next room.
Ward is quick to point out that " someone really wanted our initials to spell out SHIELD," and this couldn't be more true. Way back in the day, SHIELD was known as the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, but then it broke up and was put back together as the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate only to be dismantled again and brought back as the movie-friendly Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Learn more about the name changes in this handy song.
In his debriefing, Ward reveals that the mysterious (and thus-far unexplained) Vanchat was trying to sell Chitauri neural links. Vanchat was also responsible for killing (or capturing) Coulson's previous team, as mentioned in the episode "Eye Spy," but otherwise, the viewers know nothing about him (her? It? Them?) yet. At any rate, the Chitauri are the aliens from the Avengers movie, although they first appeared in Marvel's Ultimate Universe, an alternate reality where things are a little bit more gritty and bloody than in the main universe. The Chitauri have since appeared in the regular Marvel Comics universe (known as Earth-616), and are generally thought of as very much like the shape-shifting Skrulls, although their exact nature in the main universe (or the movies for that matter) has yet to be fleshed out.
Maria Hill makes an appearance this episode, and is expected to return for a few episodes here and there in the future. In the comic books she is the hard-as-nails replacement for Nick Fury (the original, not the Samuel L. Jackson-look-alike). Unlike her predecessor, she has no sense of humor, and no love for heroes in skin-tight costumes. In one of her earliest appearances, she even tries to arrest Captain America for not following federal laws! This is at odds with her screen persona, where she certainly has a funny bone (she drew a poop with knives in it!) and seems to admire superheroes.
It's interesting to note that when describing the Avengers, she alludes to Captain America by saying "a costumed hero from the '40s" said as if there may have been more than one. I hold out hope that one of the Captain America sequels will spotlight the other masked adventurers of World War II, as there were dozens and dozens of them.
Agent Coulson makes his series debut in trademark understated fashion, as Ward's upgrade to Clearance Level 7 allowed Coulson to step out of a dark corner, revealing his (apparent) survival following the Battle of New York. By the by, prior to the Battle, Fury said the loss of the Tesseract to an evil god was a "Level 7 event," so make of that what you will.
Much has been made of Coulson's seeming resurrection. Did he really die? Is he even human? Could he be an LMD? Could "magic" really have brought him back? What's so special about Tahiti anyway? Why does he seem so different to people who knew him? What exactly can't he be allowed to know? What's up with his muscle memory? So many questions...
Dr. Streiten seems to know the answers, but he doesn't tell the viewers.
Ward is said to have the "highest marks since Romanoff," an obvious reference to Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. What is strange here is that, if Ward is so darn good at whatever it is that the Black Widow is good at, then what does that make May?
Melinda May is introduced as a pencil pusher, but we'll learned in later episodes that she is a legendary butt-kicker, known around SHIELD as the Cavalry. In this episode though, she is merely the pilot.
Fitz-Simmons are introduced nicely here, with the Fitz' Scottish brogue discussing technological jargon and Simmons' English accent gushing about biological wonders. By the way, and I cannot stress this enough, the official subtitles (both on TV and online) describe Fitz-Simmons with a hyphen. Not FitzSimmons or Fitzsimmons or Fitz Simmons or Fitz/Simmons. A hyphen: learn it, love it.
The scientific duo invent the first version of what Fitz (and only Fitz) is determined to call the "Night-Night gun." Here it is introduced as a large rifle, but it returns in "Eye Spy" as a pistol. This gun, introduced casually early in the episode, becomes pivotal later as Ward's traditional sniper weapon is swapped out for the non-lethal Night-Night at a key moment.
Skye, presumably the audience's window through which to view the clandestine SHIELD organization, is introduced as a hacker/activist. This self-described hacktivist is little more than a self-aggrandizing paparazzo, airing everyone's dirty laundry for the world to see with the click of a mouse, but Coulson is there to be her father figure, guiding her toward the light side. Skye is also shown organizing packets of artificial sweetener - one assumes this is meant to hint at some sort of OCD proclivities she might have.
Her van has all kinds of strange newspaper clippings and maps in it. One shows a boy in red pajamas with a blue towel who saved his family. Maybe (but probably not) a reference to Forbush-Man (aka Irving Forbush)?
Skye mentions that the Battle of New York was "cleaned it up before anyone could ask any real questions. Over night." I bet you're wondering how that could be possible. Marvel provides the answer for that with the private construction, repair and clean-up organization, Damage Control. This group swoops in to fix the messes superheroes and villains leave behind. I really hope they show up in a future episode, and honestly, they are exactly the kind of group that could get a TV show spin-off.
She also tells Mike that, "with great power comes ... a ton of real crap that you are not prepared to deal with." Naturally this is a reference to Spider-Man's famous maxim, but it cannot be quoted verbatim without acknowledging Sony's film ownership of the character. Call it a tip of the hat, if you will.
Another quick nod comes from Simmons who invites Ward on the group's "Journey Into Mystery." This is, of course, the name of a long-running Marvel series that introduced the blond heroic version of Thor to comic book readers everywhere.
Astute comic book fans will also notice the reference to Project PEGASUS, one of several programs Skye's Red Tide organization was investigating. Unlike the aforementioned nods, this one will no doubt become the focus of a future episode. Project Potential Energy Groups/Alternate Sources/United States (they do love their acronyms) is a mostly beneficial group of super scientists (as opposed to all of the mad scientist groups out there, like AIM) who work with superheroes to help make the world a better place. The Project also tends to be an impromptu housing facility for any supervillain too powerful or poorly understood to be kept in a regular prison.
Centipede, the mysterious reoccurring bad guys of the series so far, created a cover for themselves as a "self-empowerment center." Interestingly, there are several villains who have used that same modus operandi in the Marvel Universe. Most have used the name Power Broker. This episode introduces a Centipede member known only as Dr. Debbie. She returns in "Girl in the Flower Dress" only to die on screen.
Mike's life is saved at the end, but Coulson notes that they didn't "cut off the head of the Centipede." This seems very much like Hydra's catchphrase in the comics: Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place. Hydra in the movies was presented as merely a Nazi splinter group active during WWII, but in the comics, Hydra has been around for decades bringing the specter of terrorism all around the world.
Hmm... this has gone on way too long. Okay, one more:
And a question for the peanut gallery:
So, this is a comics-connection for a rerun episode, how about having this for various Marvel movies and Marvel One-Shots? This probably won't happen until the next time there's a break in SHIELD's programming, but what should we start with? Go chronologically from Iron Man? Hit the shorter One-Shots first? Go straight for the big guns with the Avengers (a lot of material to be mined there)?