Two episodes in, and this is still what I've been looking for in a Marvel TV show.
It's not perfect, by any means: the plots (so far) are a bit formulaic, and the characters certainly are cut from familiar cloth, but sometimes playing it safe (at first) is what it takes to reach a wider audience, and a wider audience is what it takes to keep a superhero-universe show (and some would argue, a Joss Whedon series) on the air.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have freelanced for Marvel, specifically the Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe among other things, but I have no connections to the SHIELD TV show nor do I receive regular paychecks from Marvel (not that I would mind, of course).
SamMaclay asked me to run down any potential Marvel connections in SHIELD episodes, and although I have a lot of things to do, that is one helluva fun request to fulfill. So let's jump right into it, shall we?
First, a quick light-on-spoilers recap: In this episode, Coulson and Company head to Peru, meet up with an old flame of Coulson's, there's a mysterious McGuffin of uncertain power, fights break out, stuff blows up, the heroes learn life lessons by the end.
Now the fan service, irrelevant trivia and other minutiae.
This episode's title comes from the SHIELD code 0-8-4, which means — we don't know what it means. But Coulson helpfully adds that this was the code for Thor's hammer before they knew it was Meow-Meow.
Coulson's team flies the world's skies in an airborne mobile command station called "the Bus." Although SHIELD's main helicarrier gets the most publicity, it should be pointed out that SHIELD has numerous helicarriers (including a gold one designed during Tony Stark's brief tenure as director of SHIELD), and often uses other flying vehicles for specialized missions, such as the Behemoth, above, which was designed to fight Godzilla. Yes, that Godzilla.
More importantly, however, is that the Bus' call sign is SHIELD 616. This is important of course, because Earth-616 is the reality designation of the main Marvel Universe (just as the DC Universe calls itself "Earth-1"). Fan theory has long held that the number "616" came from the year and month of Fantastic Four #1, June 1961, and although this has since been denied by Alan Moore (who popularized-but-did-not-create 616 in Captain Britain comics), that is the current standard used in naming most (but not all) Marvel realities.
What was that strange high-tech pyramid placed on Skye's van? I have no idea. But this is as good a time as any to point out that the original SHIELD comics - back when Nick Fury was an agent, not-yet director - had tons of crazy-cool gadgets. Nick Fury's SHIELD adventures were inspired by the James Bond films (themselves inspired by James Bond books, which were in turn inspired by Ian Flemming's actual career), but as they existed in a world of superheroes, the gadgets were turned up to the nth degree. Don't be surprised if you see SHIELD agents sporting flying suits at some point.
Later, Agent Ward uses some sort of spike-borne non-lethal concussion energy weapon. No idea what this is, other than cool, but Marvel has a long history of non-lethal concussion energy blasts. Just ask Cyclops.
Coulson mentions recruiting Skye as a "consultant" and namedrops Stark as a previous consultant. This is a reference to the mini-episode "The Consultant" on the Thor Blu-Ray, and to Stark's presence in the stinger of the Incredible Hulk film. In the comic books, SHIELD takes on superheroes and others all the time as consultants (although that term wasn't really used prior to its use in the Marvel films) including Daredevil, Kitty Pryde, the villain Taskmaster and others. The closest thing to this in currently-published comics would be the Secret Avengers series, in which (a Samuel L. Jackson-esque) Nick Fury and Coulson recruit various super-individuals for secret operations (sometimes against their will).
This is as good a point as any to point out some prose books name-dropped in the series so far. In the first episode, Coulson noted that while in Tahiti (more on that in a second), he read Travis McGee novels (no relation to Jack McGee of the classic Hulk TV show). These novels followed the adventures of a "salvage consultant" who went after dangerous and strange targets for clandestine employers. Hitting the nail on the head, much?
In this episode, Agent Ward reads Matterhorn, presumably the 2009 novel about soldiers in Vietnam, and not a reference to the Disneyland ride of the same name.
Repeating a line said twice in the pilot, Coulson refers to Tahiti as a "magical place." Obviously this is setting up for some big reveal, maybe this season, maybe not (maybe in Avengers 2?). The strongest fan-theory is that he may be an LMD. Life-Model Decoys are robotic body doubles so realistic that even the LMDs end up believing they are the real McCoys (or real Furys or whatever). This is not only possible, there is a precedent for this, as Stark name-checked LMDs in the Avengers movie, and Captain America: The First Avenger had a cameo appearance by Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch.
I know, I know, he wasn't called "Human Torch" in the film and was never activated. Fox owns the Johnny Storm version of the Human Torch, but if Fox and Marvel can "share" (for lack of a better word) the character of Quicksilver, sharing a name shouldn't be an issue. At any rate, this establishes that humanoid robots (called Synthozoids officially, but often spelled Synthezoids anyway) exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as Howard Stark's flying car set the precedent for Lola. This might also explain why JARVIS being so advanced in the Iron Man films is not seen as a big deal - AI has existed since 1939.
HOWEVER, this seems a bit too obvious (even if only die-hard fans are aware of it). The "magic" thing could be a hint that something else - maybe a Faustian deal - might have been involved in bringing him back to life.
Fitz-Simmons (the closed captions refer to them using the hyphen, and so shall I) are referred to as trained SHIELD scientists. Much like Star Trek's Starfleet, there is a high standard for SHIELD agents (although mistakes in recruitment have been made), so it's expected that SHIELD agents be experts, geniuses or have other amazing qualifications. Several heroes and villains have had their start as SHIELD scientists, including forgettable villain Gargantua and Hawkeye's ex-wife Mockingbird.
Fitz-Simmons' drones are named after Disney's Seven Dwarves, but you knew that, right?
Llactapata is a real place in Peru, but nothing else about this set piece makes sense to me. The step pyramid is inspired by Mayan temples, even the corbelled arch (with Olmec heads) the agents walk through is inspired by Mayan architecture. This would be like visiting a Norse mead hall and finding Greek ionic columns. The professor mentions "pre-Incan artifacts" and aside from the fact that the people we call "Incan" did not call themselves that, there are tons of pre-Incan civilizations in the Andes, so this isn't news to archaeology. These things aren't comic book-related facts, just pet peeves of mine. Studying Mesoamerican and South American cultures is a personal hobby of mine, so when people get them wrong, it annoys me. Seriously, have questions about Aztec mythology, Mayan ballgames or who the Peruvian Staff God was - I'm up for it.
Oh, you wanted a Marvel connection? Okay, fine. Aside from the fact that the Incan gods are real in the Marvel Universe, ancient Peruvian peoples also worshiped the Eternals as gods. Explaining who the Eternals are would take too much space here, but trust me, they were cool. Kirby cool.
Want to know about the anti-mater meteorite that splashed down just off the coast of Miami? Me too.
How about the secret mission Melinda "The Cavalry" May went through in Bahrain? I got no clue, but can I just say that "Cavalry" is a horrible superhero name.
It's important to note that Coulson confirms something long established in the Marvel Universe, but not-much-touched-upon in the Cinematic U. SHIELD can supersede local governments all over the world. Despite having "Homeland" in their current title, SHIELD is very much an international peace-keeping organization, similar to Doctor Who's UNIT.
Also note that the trucks in this episode explode when shot. There's no plot reason for this, nor does it make any scientific sense, but hey, 'splosions!
Similarly, holes in plane walls should not cause people to get continually sucked out for several minutes.
The mysterious McGuffin is powered by Hydra-cultivated Tesseract Energy (which, as established in the Avengers movie, also gives off gamma radiation). Ward asks if it's nuclear, but it isn't. In the comic book universe, the "tesseract" is called the Cosmic Cube (more alliterative, but less dignified). It has been given different origins over the years, but the general consensus is that, despite being "created" on Earth by AIM scientists, there are actually dozens of cosmic containment units throughout the universe, they are or can be sentient, and they eventually take conscious, sapient forms. Neat, huh?
Gamma radiation in the real world just blows you up real good, but in the Marvel Universe it tends to mutate you, most often the mutations take the form of whatever your subconscious desires are. Bruce Banner bottled up his repressed anger, so he became the savage Hulk. Jennifer Walters was shy, hiding her more adventurous side, so she became the sensational She-Hulk. Leonard Samson was hiding his big ego, so he transformed into the ruggedly handsome Doc Samson. I wonder what I'd turn into?
Coulson mentions a walkie-talkie wristwatch from 1936. I don't know if this is a reference to anything else, but the Dick Tracy comic strip began in 1936, and it later featured the famous two-way radio watch.
Fitz-Simmons namecheck someone named Professor Vaughn. No idea who this is, but the only Vaughn that pops to mind is Wendell Vaughn, SHIELD-agent-turned-superhero, best known as Quasar.
At the end, the team watches some sort of rocket fly up. Fitz-Simmons start throwing out scientific jargon like "Lagrange point" and "Herschel" (named for William Herschel?). Other than the idea that this thing is intended to orbit the sun, I have no clue. Maybe someone with a better astronomy background can field this one.
Oh, and as mentioned last time, I'm not sure what Rising Tide is, but Skye and her secret group of superpower-whistleblowers seem to have a modus operandi a whole lot like that of the True Believers, a Marvel group that does basically the same thing, but without the evil intentions.
Alright, that's more than enough for today. See you next time, agents!