Category Archives: Recaps

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “Fzzt”

Written by Paul Zbyszewski | Directed by Vincent Misiano | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen


After five decidedly hit-and-miss episodes and a week off the air, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come back with “F.Z.Z.T.”, possibly the strongest and definitely the most emotionally engaging entry to the series so far, though reminders of the limitations of bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen are still never far away , as evidenced in this week’s (relatively few) action sequences.

The central mystery of the episode has Coulson and his team trying to puzzle out how a camp leader and firefighter ended up dead and floating six feet off the ground.

The detective work from the agents is fairly rote and it’s quickly discovered that the culprit is not a murderer targeting members of a fireman team who were in New York during the Chitauri invasion in Avengers but a virus contracted by the men when they cleaned a recovered alien helmet (though that doesn’t stop us being fed a brief, all but negligible red herring about a serial killer). But that’s not a big deal as the real story of “F.Z.Z.T.” lies in Fitz/Simmons’ relationship and Coulson’s difficulty with his body post-Avengers; both welcome changes from the ongoing angst-ridden saga of Skye and constant non-teases of Melinda May’s past, though both crop up fleetingly.

The virus in question is actually pretty novel: making itself known to the victim through a buzzing only they can hear, they begin involuntarily sweating and making objects around them float before giving off a wide electromagnetic pulse that also inconveniently kills them. It’s almost a cliche in genre and action-based television – giving the ensemble an enemy that they can neither hit (as Ward laments later on) or defuse to solve the problem – but it’s for pretty good reason as those episodes tend to focus on characterisation and emotion rather than the more fleeting kick-punching of other installments.

About halfway through the episode Simmons shows symptoms of having the virus (contracted when she received a static shock from the first body) and the firemen are pretty swiftly forgotten, although Coulson’s palpable frustration at not having been able to save the last victim goes a long way towards reminding us that Agents really is trying to be a show about the people on the ground of the Marvel U, even if it does spend most of its time 30,000 feet above sea level.

This is where the episode kicks in, and there’s really not that much to say about it other than that Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) really does a tremendous job of stepping up to a central role after having been confined to technobabble and awkward nerdery for the bulk of the series so far. She and Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) are the emotional core of “F.Z.Z.T.”, and maybe even the whole show, because – as we learn through their variously panicked and heated discussions in and around Simmons’ quarantine area/lab – they’re the least qualified people to be on this team, just like us. Sure, they have specialist knowledge and are invaluable assets to Coulson and the rest, but they didn’t pass the field exams and are pretty sure that, although the experiences they’re having are once in a lifetime opportunities, that’s because people usually die from them and they’re ill-equipped to deal with that very concept, let alone the reality. Anyone who’s ever felt out of their depth can relate to that, and Fitz/Simmons’ constant reality checks ground us much more than Skye’s flippant attitude and one-liners.

If anything, this is probably the most ‘Joss Whedon’ episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, possibly more by legacy than active involvement on his part. It’s been said many times by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers that they discovered early on the best way to worry viewers or grab their attention was to put Willow in danger – she wasn’t a fighter, she was a nerd, and thus more inherently vulnerable, like many of that show’s viewers felt as a teenager. The parallels between Alyson Hannigan’s character (at least in the first few seasons) and Simmons are pretty obvious: both are tech-savvy, bright and enthusiastic but not on their social A-game. Judging by how big a following Buffy (and, in particular, Willow) developed, I’m taking this as a positive sign for S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s future.

But there’s another Whedon show – an exact episode, even – that’s had an even clearer influence on this episode: “A Hole in the World” from Angel‘s fifth season, in which Fred (that series’ heart and resident nerd – see a pattern emerging?) is exposed to an ancient disease that eventually hollows her out and replaces her with a god-like being, with no semblance of Fred present other than her appearance.

Clearly there’s a difference in context between the two episodes (“A Hole in the World” takes place seven episodes before the end of the series, while “F.Z.Z.T.” is too new an entry to have the same emotional heft or backstory), but the similarities are striking, especially in the other characters’ reactions to Simmons’ plight Most are upset and powerless to help, especially the group’s leader (Coulson/Angel), but the other nerd in the group with the strongest personal connection to the infected (Fitz/Wesley) does everything in his power to help, even when the person he’s helping has already resigned herself to her fate.

The crucial difference, however, is how it all ends.

Like Fred, Simmons gives up on finding a cure after her last lab rat is left floating in its cage, knocks out Fitz with a fire extinguisher (somewhat brutally for a woman of science, I thought) and throws herself from the plane’s hangar so that she doesn’t take everyone else with her when she blows. If only she’d waited for ten more seconds; then she would have seen that the rat was just knocked unconscious & the anti-serum worked.

Fitz makes a grand gesture in attempting to follow Simmons and save her life in mid-air, but the more capable (and likely pretty bored) Ward snatches the parachute away from him and does the honours pretty dependably in a slightly iffy – if brief – green-screen freefalling sequence.

So Simmons lives, much to the surprise of cynical television critics who expect characters in Whedon’s shows to be picked off fairly rapidly, and it really couldn’t have ended any other way; sure, there’s shock value to be had in killing off a character early in a series’ run (Revolution), but it rarely ever pays off because we hadn’t been given enough reason to care about them in the first place (Revolution).

Granted, I already care about Simmons enough that her death would matter to me, but we’ll let that slide on account of decent character work.

After the main events, we’re given little hints at where Agents might be heading next – Coulson stands up for himself and his team in front of Item 47‘s Agent Blake (Titus Welliver), much to the latter’s surprise, which suggests that they might be facing off against the head office at some point…which is another Whedon trope (Angel S5, Dollhouse). Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t need to detail the show’s issues – which are still present here, if muted – but after this latest episode I’m pretty confident that if I stick around and find out what direction we’re headed in, I’m going to enjoy the ride more than anything else.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’

Written by Brent Fletcher | Directed by Jesse Bochco | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen


This week’s episode sees a welcome and significant progression in the season’s main arc, a superpowered plot more in keeping with the MCU and a couple of decent steps forward in some characters’ development. ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’ may not have as interesting a story as last week’s ‘Eye-Spy’, but there’s enough juicy teases, new characters and concepts introduced to more than make up for its failings. And there are a few.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘Eye-Spy’

Written by Jeffrey Bell | Directed by Roxann Dawson | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen


This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for: the batshit-crazy superspy technology and straight-laced insanity that was promised at the end of the pilot with Lola, Coulson’s flying car, taking off into the camera and causing mass fanboy hysteria/incredulous guffaws (depends on who you ask) the world over. Sure, we had a radioactive explodeybox in ’0-8-4′ and gravity-warping shenanigans in ‘The Asset’, but neither of those were implemented in particularly exciting ways or had the op-art, Jim Steranko escapism feel of exploding eyeballs and cool-as-fuck eye patches.

In the cold open 50 masked men with handcuff briefcases making their way through the centre of Stockholm, only to have three of their number relieved of their luggage – and the hands holding them – by a mysterious, possibly psychic assassin that Coulson reveals he was responsible for training. Gasp!

The plot breaks fairly neatly into two halves after this point: the first sees the team tracking said assassin, Akela, down to sunny Belarus (which Fitz/Simmons get into a thoroughly unbelievable nerd-off about, just in case you forgot they like science) where they hack into her implanted eye-camera (cue a thousand groans at the episode title’s true meaning) and discover she’s getting orders from an unknown source; in the second half, after learning that Akela’s implant has a kill switch that will detonate if she tries to escape or deviate from her masters’ plan, the team switch her feed to a pair of glasses worn by Ward so that he can carry out her next mission while Coulson interrogates her about her handlers and Fitz/Simmons come up with a way to remove the device from her skull without resulting in grey matter on the laboratory ceiling.

The series is still finding its feet, but the crazy stuff in ‘Eye-Spy’ more than makes up for a few teething problems, from Fitz & Simmons performing ludicrous eye surgery on a conscious (but fearless) Akela to the horrifying idea of having your every waking moment monitored and controlled through your own body, not to mention a neat twist on the ‘rogue agent’ trope.

The mission Ward embarks on in Akela’s stead feels ripped straight from the N64 Goldeneye game, albeit without hip watch lasers or exploding barrels. Indeed, Ward – being the most conventional of all the leads – could easily be a gamer surrogate, being controlled by Skye in cement-grey environments and given arbitrary objectives (“SEDUCE HIM” was really something of a wasted joke). As a result nothing in the sequence feels quite like it matters and the peril toward the end doesn’t sink in because we’re less interested in Ward meeting his objectives than Akela’s face not exploding.

…that said, I would kind of like to know what those funky symbols that even S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t translate were all about.

The videogame parallels surface again any time we see things from Akela’s perspective, especially when she uses her x-ray vision, although when she raises her gun during her fight with Agent May there’s a whiff of uncanny valley about the angle of her arm. Though it could just be me and all the CoD fans out there who feel this way.

Melinda May doesn’t do a single interesting thing all episode, instead being relegated to speaking aloud plot points (“It’s her eye. The camera’s her eye”) and watching a computer track down Akela’s handler. She  barely even leaves the plane except for . It’s troubling for an ensemble drama when it can’t find anything for a character to do as it suggests not a great deal of thought has gone into their being around. Hell, Xander always had something to do on Buffy and he was consistently the least capable character (an argument could be made for Dawn, but that’s really forum fodder) – something’s definitely rotten in Denmark when the most capable member of her team is benched so often, especially after signing back on for ass-kicking duty in the last episode.

Coulson’s relationships with his mentees, both former (Akela, who he feels he failed) and current (Skye, who he’s trying not to), form the emotional backbone of the episode which works pretty effectively in fleshing out A.C.’s backstory, deepening his connection with Skye and adding more conspiratorial fuel to the fire of his mysterious resurrection when Akela asks some disconcerting questions about what happened to him.

[The end of the episode – plotwise – also throws up a nice red herring in the form of the Englishman and offers a stark counterpoint to Coulson’s belief that, because he himself was saved, everyone can be.]

The scenes with Skye in the back seat of the team’s car (no, not like that – she just misses her van) are especially effective as they give the two most compelling and complex leads more screen time together and they make inventive use of the deceptively small set, something that was done exquisitely on Firefly.

The central conceit of the show makes it seem easy to compare the Agents to the crew of Serenity, but the crucial difference is that Firefly was about a makeshift family trying to hold itself (and its ship) together, whereas AoS is about someone trying to make a family out of spare parts – and while Coulson is certainly a father figure to much of the cast, Skye’s assertion that May is their mother feels incredibly forced when the fact that she spends all her time in the cockpit is made a point of. That’s not a perfect analogy, but it establishes the point that it doesn’t feel like there’s as much connective tissue between Coulson’s team as Mal’s crew just yet, and sometimes those gaps feel pretty damn wide.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “The Asset”


Ethically sketchy split-second decisions. A morally compromised but uncompromising, fearless leader. Young, vulnerable women turning out to be not so vulnerable.

Yep, it’s starting to look like a Whedon show all right, and while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might not quite be firing on all cylinders just yet, its third episode takes a huge step in the right direction.

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Beach Ball

Boxing Day 2012 was a bit of an odd one.

I’ve been spending the holidays at my parents’ house in Scarborough, where the free meals are plentiful and the laundry done with only the slightest of grudges held, and in my hometown – like any other – they have some downright baffling customs, like the annual Fishermen (whites) vs. Firemen (reds) football match that’s been held on the beach for, uh, *does a brisk google search* over 100 years.

And, somehow, not only was I in attendance on the beach that cold December morning, but I was actually on the pitch, too. Wearing red.

For those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m sure it’ll come as no shock to you that I’m not a particularly sporting fellow. Please, your gasps of feigned surprise are welcome but not at all necessary. The last time I kicked a football was likely at a barbeque some time last year,  and the last game I played in is so far back in the recesses of my memory that it’s likely a genetic flashback to my father’s school days.

All of which is to say that I’m rather shit at the game.

But when my good friend Tariq (it would be his fourth time) asked myself and another chum to accompany him to this year’s game I thought why the hell not? Just because you’re terrible at something doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing it.

[Just look at blogging.]

The morning came around, I got ready – and by ‘ready’ I mean ‘dressed’, because wearing jeans, a blazer and four layers of t-shirts probably wouldn’t constitute being ready in any sport – and was picked up by Tariq, who informed me our mutual friend wouldn’t be joining us, choosing instead (wisely, as it turned out) to stay in bed for the duration of the game.

Tariq also chose this moment, as we hurtled toward the sea, to inform me that because this was my first game, it would end with my being ‘dipped’ in the ocean.

There are some guys who’ve just got a knack for timing.

Once on the sand I tried to put this out of my mind – surely I could just keep quiet and sneak off by the end of the game? – and focused my energies on actually surviving the match itself, which by half time seemed a rather Herculean feat. My body had succumbed to the many trips and falls – one sustained when merely kicking the ball – and respiratory troubles that come with playing a game you’re awful at with a bunch of lairy northerners who’ve been drinking rum since 8AM.

But survive I did somehow, and actually enjoyed myself doing it. I even got a good couple of tackles in here and there, or so I like to tell myself. The final scores are trivial (largely because my team lost) because all became moot when I was accosted by a gang of my teammates and hauled – quite unceremoniously – over to the ocean.

I’d like to tell you that I sat there stoic in the face of my watery fate and have that be the truth. But I’m just not that guy. Lies turned to pleading which turned to begging which turned to – by way of quotes from Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes – begrudging acceptance.

Dipped I was, and ice cream was my reward. Peaks and troughs, I guess.

A more pragmatic person than myself would take this whole ordeal as a sign that sport is simply an exercise in self-flagellation, but I guess I’m not as sensible as I thought.

Because I’m kind of looking forward to next year.

[I mean, it’s not like I’m going to train or anything in the meantime. Let’s not go berserk. But my heart’s in the right place so you can sod right off.]

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Let’s all just take a step back for a moment

Yesterday included zero planning and maximum doing, hence the lack of posting. I started the day having to catch a train I didn’t know I needed to get an hour after I woke up in order to talk about shopping and ended it at a 60th birthday party by the sea I didn’t know I was attending.

There was free wine and cocktail sausages and music and cake. You know the rest.

Seeing as this post should have gone up yesterday (I thought I owed you a real one rather than another in a long line of text-blogs) and there’s no set topic for Saturdays, we can just catch up.

On another belated-writing note, my second entry for the Strange Bedfellows project went live a couple of days ago. It’s about prizing the quality and sincerity of your art over its originality (which is SO overrated). On the topic I mention Looper, I Am Tim and (naturally) Buffy. Read it here if you’re into that kind of thing.

People have been saying nice things about the first entry into my flash fiction series, but according to the site stats not that many have actually read it. You can read The Chrononaut here if you wish. Let me know what you think.

And that’s about it, really, aside from a couple of reviews of Ghibli movies over on B3k, but I waxed lyrical about animation enough the other day.

I’ll be putting up my first dedicated comics post later on tonight if wine doesn’t enter the situation.

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