MM: It’s typically recommended to stick with a TV show for four episodes before deciding whether or not it’s worth continuing with. The first three episodes of SHIELD are middling (or worse) affairs, so “Eye Spy” came as a pleasant surprise to me. It’s a genuinely good piece of TV that sees a lot of the more positive elements of SHIELD coalescing in a satisfying way.
The opening scene is a good example of this: the improved cinematography from “The Asset” returns here, and it makes for an initially thrilling start. Back at the plane, the dialogue is a lot more consistently executed (even May and Ward got laughs out of me). From here, the “Eye Spy” steadily improves; the stakeout scene, where Skye, Fitz, and Simmons are suddenly attacked by Akela, is a highlight (another plus: tolerable Fitz and Simmons dialogue!).
It’s also nice that the plot is pretty strong: Akela, a former apprentice of Coulson’s, is forced to commit crimes with the help of a robotic x-ray eye. If she resists, a failsafe explosive inside the eye will explode, killing her. It works well as a good thriller plot (the third act, where Ward has to complete Akela’s mission without tipping off her handler, is supremely enjoyable), but it’s also useful at dropping tantalizing hints about Coulson’s past.
I also liked how “Eye Spy” had a pretty sharp thematic focus: there’s a lot of commentary about the surveillance state going on in this episode. This is most obvious in the scenes concerning Akela and her handler, but it pops up in other scenes, especially early on when Coulson is able to easily track down Akela by scanning Facebook and Instagram.
SHIELD still has some work to do, but “Eye Spy” made me feel a whole lot better about the show. How about you?
ET: Hot damn, Matthew! They did it! SHIELD is saved! Bring out the Emmys!
Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but I agree with your broader points. “Eye Spy” is the first episode of SHIELD I’d call solidly good. Never great, exactly, but good. The story they tell is moderately engaging, the banter is better, and the set-pieces were more efficiently thrilling.
It’s also worth noting that “Eye Spy” is sort of fantastically stupid in that fun, comic book kind of way. Some of these moments work better than others; Ward being told to seduce the security guard is his current finest moment, while I found the surveillance overtones you mentioned really overbearing and silly. Not to mention how Coulson and Akela profile our antagonist by noting that he calls flash drives “disk drives.” But I’ll take what I can get.
Those last fifteen minutes, though. It’s the first sequence that’s really lived up to the show’s action movie/high budget ambitions. It juggles every part of the team in different locations, all intertwining and affecting each other through osmosis. It’s the most that SHIELD has engaged me to date.
And, like you said, there were fewer side character problems! May is still pretty uninteresting, but Fitz and Simmons got some pretty good lines in, and Ward is far and away used better here than he has been before. He’s pretty alright as a straight man, but as an emotional well, or a love interest, or a quip-filled hero, I still find him more than a little off.
I’m excited to see where SHIELD goes next, which is a definite step up from my mood on it last week. They seem to have cracked the nut, at least once, on a procedural format, but couldn’t this show be so much more? What say you, Matthew?
MM: Glad for the concurrence! The surveillance state stuff, while admittedly a bit more clunky than I’d like, is at least a sign that the show might want to say something from time to time. It’s the sort of thing that pushed Whedon’s previous shows to another level.
That said, I don’t think we can really expect too much more than this level of quality for the time being. SHIELD, for the moment at least, seems pretty content to toss a couple of tidbits about its mythology rather than commit to any sort of serialized format.
If this show was more serialized though? Aside from the train wreck that was Angel season 4, Whedon-affiliated shows have always benefited from that kind of structure. It’s just arguably a far more efficient system for deepening characters and their relationships.
Still, “Eye Spy” depicts a version of the show that I’m currently content with watching. Colorful characters spouting witty one-liners in a fantastical setting? With this episode, SHIELD gets a step closer to such being such a show.