This is a Review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 4. It contains SPOILERS.
As fans continue to track the progress of Marvel's TV universe experiment, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provided us with further evidence that the showrunners are aware of major flaws in the early episodes, and are gradually tweaking those flaws, thereby creating a better balance to the show. There were fewer Disney overtures in the soundtrack; better implementations of humor (the "Seduce Him" scene with Agent Ward? Priceless.), and a more mature storyline that actually justified and sold the world our S.H.I.E.L.D. team inhabits.
Could Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. be turning into another Marvel success story after all? The studio is already working on four new TV projects and a miniseries, which at least suggests some sort of confidence in the season 1 progression of their flagship show.
"Eye-spy" started off with a nice bit of mystery (and darker, more adult-style action), teasing us with the question of whether or not Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) was some sort of superhuman threat. Things quickly took a turn for the cliche (it seemed) when it was then revealed that Amador was that proverbial Red Hood of the AoS universe (i.e., former protege, thought dead, returns as a villain); however, in a rather nice development, the whole spy-gone-bad trope is turned on its head when we learn of the twisted manner in which some unseen puppeteer is stringing along former intelligence agents, using them as flesh-and-blood avatars to do his bidding.
Despite "borrowing" a bit heavily from Mission: Impossible III (brain-bomb FTW), the addition of the cybernetic eye was a nice touch - though not without its fair share of hokey tech-related plot holes (I'm sure they'll be pointed out in the comments). Also nice was the way the writers actually turned the situation with Akela into legitimate means for further probing and developing the central cast. Agent May had her hardened cynicism challenged on the topic of teamwork; Skye continues to get real motivation for changing her ways (surrogate daddy Coulson); Grant's wooden personality was actually utilized for a good laugh; and even Fitz/Simmons got some nice Bones-style banter over a half-removed eye. The characters are being filled out and developed in ways that are much less cheesy and fluffy than we initially saw, and hopefully that upward trend continues.
As always, Clark Gregg helped sell the entire thing. Thankfully, this episode in particular let Coulson be something more than comic relief, instead giving him a strong but grounded dramatic angle to play. Gregg nailed it, as you would suspect he would, and Armand (GTA V) was a pretty strong guest star, helping inject some equally powerful (but carefully restrained) emotion into the long-suffering Agent Amador.
Meanwhile, the brief exchange between May and Amador at the end of the episode was meant to once again cheerlead the mystery of Coulson's resurrection - which ironically stands as the least intriguing element of the show, despite being positioned as the primary mystery. We're getting to the point where the characters are developed enough that learning how Coulson came back isn't nearly as interesting as seeing how that eventual revelation affects the team - and Coulson himself. Hopefully the showrunners won't be milking this thing for much longer.
Personally speaking, the most telling thing in that May/Amador exchange at the end wasn't Amador's "What did they do to him?" comment, it was the look in Amador's eyes when she realized that the perplexed Agent May doesn't really know Coulson well enough to distinguish the difference. In THAT, my friends, lies potential drama to come.
Of course this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we're talking about, so there once again HAD to be some needlessly silly elements thrown into the mix. Forgetting the bungled dynamics of a cybernetic eye kill switch - if the final scene between Skye, Ward and Fitz is any indication, maybe we don't need an epilogue scene with EVERY episode. Just saying: Graviton teases? Yes. X-ray vision cliches? No thanks.
By the way: What was that super-secret diagram that Ward found? On to to our next big non-intriguing mystery...
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next week with episode 5, "Girl in the Flower Dress". You can watch a preview below: