Of course, it helps to have Whedon-verse alum Jeffrey Bell penning the script for what I think is the strongest outing the series has had so far and even more indications that the series looks ready to find its stride.
“Eye Spy” expands the universe of SHIELD just a bit, giving us hints about Coulson’s history as well as a few glimpses into his character and it also introduces the idea that there is a rival organization out there that may have a step or two up on SHIELD in certain areas (for example, the technology used to spy on Akela). Consider me intrigued enough by these developments to be fully on-board for the rest of the season, though I do think that the series needs to start giving some substantial hints or answers to what happened to Coulson sooner rather than later. *
* Part of this is selfishly motivated since every time someone brings up something about Coulson’s past, my wife turns to me and goes, “What happened to him again? Have they told us how he came back from the dead?”
Bell’s script is one that does well from mis-direction. The previews last week (admit it, you watch them as well) gave us several scenes of the men in masks with briefcases handcuffed to them. From that, it would be easy to assume that this is the new threat facing SHIELD this week but instead Bell turns the story on its head by making the men in masks the good guys and the targets of the rival organization for SHIELD. This team is using a former operative under Coulson’s command, Akela. Has she gone rogue or is there something else at work?
Turns out she’s being manipulated and forced into service by someone she calls The Englishman. She has an implanted eye that gives her commands, spies on her every waking moment and can be set to self destruct if she fails to comply with The Englishman’s wishes. Coulson wants the chance to get with Akela and bring her in himself, without necessarily bringing in the rest of SHIELD — a decision that Mae is none to happy about but willing to go along with. A lot of this episode finds various agents bending the rules a bit for their own agenda and I like that. Coulson is willing to keep the fact that Akela is alive and committing these acts off SHIELD’s radar for a while and Mae is willing to bend his directive to watch the feed and then track Akela down to her hotel room to confront her.
There are secrets being kept here from various team members and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from previous Whedon-verse shows, it’s that keeping secrets will always backfire sooner or later.
I also get the feeling that Coulson is extremely loyal to his teams — both past and present. This time out, his loyalty is rewarded with Akela being willing to help out and face the music for what she’s done. I get the feeling that at some point, this loyalty is going to come back to bite Coulson a bit. (Again, I watch the previews, so this could come as early as next week with Skye. I think it might be more interesting if it came from Mae, but we’ll see where the writers want to take us).
Bell’s script seems to have a firm grasp on what the strengths of each character are and how they are best used in the overall story. Coulson and Mae carry a bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of story and character arc this week with Skye getting a few moments to shine. Ward isn’t given much in the way of heavy lifting, but he does carry his portion of going undercover with the glasses very well. I will admit I snickered a bit at the directive to seduce the guard and his attempts to “bro-mance” the guard. I still have reservations about the character as a whole, but they are making steps in the right direction with him and in the amount of screen time he gets each week. At this point, I am far more interested in Coulson and Mae than I am in most of the rest of the cast, but I am counting on Joss and company to change this as the season goes along.
That said, I still can’t help but get the feeling after only five episodes that it would be nice to have Fitz and Simmons not be all knowing about everything or to see one or both of them make a mistake that impacts the team. I get the early episodes are supposed to establish the team and we can’t start tearing it down just yet. But I’m hopeful that we’ll see one or both of them make a blunder or mis-assumption along the way. It’s just no fun if they’re nothing more than the Scotty of this universe.
But that’s a minor quibble in what was, otherwise, another solid SHIELD entry. As I said last week, I think they’ve baited the hook well and this week felt a bit like a confident tug or two. I’m not going to lose patience with the show, especially in the light that it took Buffy twelve or so episodes to find its groove and it took Dollhouse nearly as long as well.
I wonder if the setting the hook episode might not be the one that gives us a few big reveals about Coulson….