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Posts Tagged ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

The most important holiday on the capitalist-utopia calendar, Cyber Monday, has come and gone, and that can only mean one thing:  most of the fall TV shows are either on hiatus, about to be on hiatus, or already cancelled.  That means I finally have chance to catch up on a bunch of hour-long serialized dramas, because that’s definitely how I should be spending my precious few hours between sleep and toil every day.   Here are my very scientific findings:

Constantine
Constantine 
I watched the series premiere of this, and quickly fell asleep trying to watch the second episode.  I am not a die hard fan of the Hellblazer comics (although I have a fat stack of ‘Blazer trade paperbacks I picked up in sort-of anticipation of this program and have yet to read), so I can only evaluate it on its own merits and not on how it stacks up vs. the Vertigo series.  My conclusion: this is a pile of hot garbage!  It does have a lot of pretty awesome special effects, and the pilot had one or two decent ‘scares,’ but hardly enough to sustain my attention.  And I wasn’t alone — as of this writing, NBC has suspended production on the series, which is not quite an outright cancellation but it’s certainly a sign things are on life support. GRADE: D-
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Arrow
Arrow hit some real peaks last season, with the interwoven story of Oliver’s escape from the island and his confrontation with Deathstroke in Starling City delivering the series’ most satisfying and ambitious arc to date.  By comparison, season three is so far floundering.  ‘Five years ago’ timeline Oliver is now off the island and working for Amanda Waller in Hong Kong, which means there is very little drama left in the flashback sequences.  All we wanted to know for most of seasons one and two was how Ollie would escape the island — now that that has been resolved, it seems like there is no tension left and really no reason to chart the rest of Oliver’s journey back to Starling City.  In the main, present-tense storyline, there are several promising threads unraveling:  Roy Harper has developed into a full-fledged sidekick, even adopting the Arsenal moniker, but continues to struggle with the after effects of the mirakuru experimental drug, which puts Oliver in the position of becoming more and more of a father figure for Roy even as the latter gains even more self-confidence.  Oliver’s sister Thea has returned to the city, ostensibly to reopen her nightclub, but in reality she’s developed ninja techniques and is working in cahoots with Malcolm Merlin, the Big Bad from season one, back (of course) from the dead.  And, in the most delightful but underutilized plot device of all, Queen Consolidated is in the process of being absorbed by billionaire super-genius Ray Palmer (aka, The Atom), played by failed-Superman Brandon Routh.  For existing fans of the show, this season still has the enjoyable characters and relationship dynamics (Oliver-Felicity-The Atom love triangle, anyone?) to obsess over, but plotwise, it really seems to be spinning its wheels.  Of course, with the 20+ episode seasons of all of these comic book inspired shows, it’s no surprise that the first halves of seasons are usually full of filler.  GRADE: B-
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The Flash
What do you love about classic Flash comic books?  Is it the affable, nerdy, do-gooder attitude of Barry Allen, one of comics’ most beloved heroes?  Is it the crime-solving and detective work inherent in Allen’s secret identity as a forensic scientist?  Is it the Flash Facts, little bits of science (or pseudo-science) frequently thrown in to explain the Flash and supporting characters’ remarkable powers and gadgets?  Is it the somewhat goofy lineup of rogues such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Gorilla Grodd?  Is the sheer joy of imagining all of the things you could do with superspeed, undoubtedly one of the most excellent of the classic comic book superpowers?  If you answered All of the Above, you should probably just go ahead and watch the Flash because it captures the vibe of the comics upon which it is based better than any comic-to-TV adaptation I can think of.  GRADE: A-
whyisyourpenis
How To Get Away With Murder
Superstar defense attorney Annalise Keating removes her many layers of makeup and her wig, turns to her husband, and utters the phrase that reverberated around the world: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”  That was the stinger at the end of one of this show’s early episodes, and it was the moment that solidified the show as yet another obsession-worthy Shonda Rhimes Special.  Just as Kerry Washington’s white hot charisma powers Scandal, much of the joy of HTGAWM comes from simply basking in the intensity of Viola Davis as she rips students to shreds, blows the tops off of courtrooms, and frequently displays heartbreaking vulnerability.  For me, an even bigger pleasure comes from watching the sexcapades of Keating’s very young, very hot, super diverse, and full-on hilarious team of junior associates.  If you like backstabbing, double-speak, network television’s most explicit boy-on-boy action, and this haircut:
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you will love the hell out of this show.  GRADE: A+
Gotham
I love the comic strip Garfield minus Garfield.  By removing the fat orange cat from the strip entirely, and leaving John Arbuckle alone to contemplate his meager existence, Garfield minus Garfield creates something entirely new through the art of omission.  It takes something mildly funny and recasts it as something profoundly dark.  Gotham, which could just as easily be called Batman minus Batman, does the opposite and recasts something profoundly dark as something *very* mildly funny.  This is a tune-in-every-once-in-awhile-if-the-episode-title-seems-promising kind of show.  Recommended for fans of Batman: Forever.  GRADE: C-
Scandal
This season just makes me want to toss off my all-white winter wardrobe
 Scandal -- Screengrab from exclusive EW.com clip.
curl up on the couch with some fried chicken in my Uggs
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sip on a nice, modestly sized glass of wine
 olivia-pope-wine
and watch it over and over and over because there’s a decent chance that this is the best season of Scandal yet.  GRADE: A
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
This series received an injection of buzz and fresh ideas when Captain America: Winter Soldier came out in the middle of its first season and completely changed the show’s status quo.  Suddenly a show about a lame bunch of do-gooder government flacks became a show about betrayal, secrets, and life on the lam.  As the second series has begun to pick up speed, it seems like Agents is failing to take advantage of the excitement and tension inherent in the Hydra storyline.  Coulson’s crew are already back on the right side of the law, with access to seemingly unlimited resources — not excitedly the underdog scenario that was promised in season one’s final episodes.  The one saving grace of this season has been the action sequences.  The fight choreography and special effects this season have been pristine — too bad you generally have to wade through 30-40 minutes of blah storytelling to get to them.  GRADE: C+
Brooklyn 99
 The funniest traditional sitcom currently on TV — in fact, maybe the only funny traditional sitcom currently on TV.  Immature gross out humor, a cast in which ‘competent white males’ take a backseat to actually competent women and men of color, genuinely lovable and delightfully flawed characters, and this face on a weekly basis:
braugher
GRADE: A-

Saturday Night Live
This has been a season full of lame hosts and totally lacking in breakout stars among the cast.  Michael Che and Leslie Jones have been delightful but underused.  Pete Davidson seems promising but has yet to develop any memorable characters — besides himself on Weekend Update.  It seems like Kate McKinnon and Taran Killam are keeping the show afloat most nights with their broad repertoires, but they’re so overused that it’s just starting to seem like schtick.  The best parts about this season have been Kyle Mooney’s weird little segments and digital shorts — he’s the one writer/player who seems to have a distinct voice at this point – and the last run of musical guests.  Prince, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson/Mystikal brought the house down over the last few weeks.
GRADE: C

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD., “The Beginning of the End” (Season Finale)

That was an incredible episode.  The first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. concluded last night with the most action-packed, emotional, and satisfactory entry into the series so far.  After trailing behind my personal fave, Arrow, for the entire TV season, in the final moments Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rockets to the top of the table, leaving Arrow with an uphill battle if it has any hope of reclaiming First Place in my totally irrelevant rankings of superhero comic book – to – TV adaptations.   I’ve been watching a lot of English Premier League soccer this year so of course I was reminded of the stunning conclusion to that season:  Liverpool, the team of destiny, leading the title race for most of the season, only to be knocked off in the final weeks by a rising Manchester City*.  

Quick recap:

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Fitz and Simmons are at the bottom of the ocean and the only way for them to escape is to finally admit they have big crushes on each other, which will somehow cause Sam Jackson to appear and save the day — sort of.

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Peter Quinn’s secret headquarters is just some boring suburban office park and the bad guys who have been sending secret messages to Deathlok’s eyeballs this whole time are white collar schlubs who work in cubicles.  That’s called the Banality of Evil and Hannah Arendt wrote about it fifty years ago, except she didn’t think it was as funny as Skye and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team do.  Skye breaks in and rescues Deathlok’s son Ace, which will be important later.

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Bill Paxton took a shot of alien Go Go Juice right in his artificial heart and it is making him go crazy drawing weird diagrams and talking about being able to see the whole universe, or something.  This makes Ward pretty uncomfortable, so he leaves to try to hunt down Skye and May.

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May, who promptly kicks the shit out of Ward (and very nearly slices him in half with a circular saw, which would have been a pretty great twist, if you ask me), which conveniently allows them to work out the emotional tensions in their relationship at they same time they resolve a major plot loop, just like Fitz and Simmons did earlier!  Man, things are really clicking along in this ep…

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Cut to, Sam Jackson gives Agent Coulson a BFG so that he can take out the now super-strong and full blown insane Bill Paxton.  Unfortunately, the gun just isn’t quite big enough.  

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That’s when Skye hands her cellphone to Ace and has him text his dad a secret message, which instantly leads him to turn and shoot a rocket at his old boss.  Good guys win!

So it’s on to next season.  Oh, Coulson got to talk to Nick Fury about how pissed he is about getting resurrected against his will, so Nick Fury makes Coulson the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and gives him a little box that includes directions to a new secret base.  Fitz is alive but probably brain damaged, but now that Simmons knows he’s in love with her she’ll probably spend a good chunk of next season trying to fix him.  Either that or the brain damage will make him completely forget everything and not love Simmons anymore, which would allow for another whole season of “will they or won’t they.” Grumble.  

The Girl in the Flower Dress got away and she knows who Skye’s father is — throughout the episode she kept mentioning a next phase of human evolution and that Skye is the key to it.  She also told Paxton that the question she always wanted to ask the Clairvoyant was “what will I become?”  With the further suggestion that the drug that rescued Skye, Coulson and Paxton was of Kree origin, I think all of the clues point to Skye being an Inhuman — so who was the villain we saw at the very end with his back to the camera, seemingly dripping blood?  We heard him talk (I think), so that mean’s it’s probably not Black Bolt.  In last week’s episode, Raina told us Skye’s origin story, how she was the lone survivor when her own parents, some kind of monsters, destroyed an entire Chinese village to try to get to her.  Perhaps it was the monstrous Inhuman Gorgon?  It might not be an Inhuman, or even and existing comic book character, at all.  Finally, in the last last scene of the episode (there were like five endings, seriously), Coulson gets up in the middle of the night to start scrawling the same symbols on the wall of his new base that Paxton was earlier drawing at the Cybertek campus.  

So we’ve got a ton of mysteries and plot lines resolved, one big one (Skye’s complete origin and how she fits into the wider Marvel universe) still picking up steam, and a few new ones tossed in.  It will be a long three to four months waiting for this show to come back — and to think, for most of the season I could barely keep my eyes open through the episodes.  Well played Marvel, well played.

Tomorrow:  Arrow’s three-part season finale has been a snooze so far (except for the parts where Summer Glau kicks people’s ass, that is still always welcome).  But the final episode of the show’s second season promises the return of The Flash and a preview of what we can expect from next season’s new Flash series.  Can the Scarlet Speedster save a sinking ship?  Can Felicity Smoak please please finally get some action on this show?  Watch the episode tonight and then check out my recap tomorrow to find out.

*I could take the ill-fitting metaphor further: Liverpool may have had the heart and the drive to win it all, but at the end of the day they were done in by a combination of their own mistakes** and the other squad’s ability to spend more on talent***.

**In Liverpool’s case, allowing mid-table darlings Crystal Palace to come back from three-nil in the final twelve minutes of a crucial game and force a draw; in Arrow’s case, allowing a promising Deathstroke-Green Arrow rivalry to be spun out far beyond any reasonable person’s level of interest.

***Manchester City was of course one of two teams singled out this year by UEFA for violating the new Financial Fair Play rules that are meant to prevent teams from drastically outspending competitors, and I believe they carry the highest player payroll in all of the Premier League.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has always looked more expensive than Arrow, with its digital effects and daylight shots, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that we got to see how worthwhile it was to spend a ton of money on personnel, in the form of The House of Whedon**** and Bill Paxton.

****What would the House of Whedon’s sigil and house motto be in Westeros?  I’m thinking the sigil would be a Ticking Time Bomb, representing a goofy and obvious plot device, and their motto would be “Everyone Dies.”  Actually, now that I think about it, they would fit into Westeros really, really well.

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SHIELDVSARROWSLOGO

As we approach the end of the season, once cohesive units begin to unravel and long-simmering plots finally boil over as dominant players are suddenly threatened by underdogs who have already overcome impossible odds.

Obviously, I’m talking about the NBA Eastern Conference where the fast-fading Pacers and the old-looking Heat are wheezing across the finish line while a resurgent Bulls, stripped of both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, have surged into contention on the backs of Joakim Noah’s defense and DJ Agustin’s three-point shooting.

But I may as well be talking about superhero-comic based television shows.  And I will do so, for the remainder of the column.

When we last checked in, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was steadily picking up steam with a plotline about secrets within secrets within the massive spy organization that protects the Marvel Cinematic Universe from existential threats, be they extraterrestrial, Asgardian, or Robo-Nazi.  Meanwhile, the Arrow Oliver Queen found himself being hunted by Deathstroke the Terminator, finally bringing the Island-Five Years Ago and Starling City-Now plotlines together.  Arrow was still the better TV experience…but that margin was shrinking.  Has the peppy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally caught up to its dark and sexy rival?  Only pitting this week’s episodeshead to head in a series of meaningless categories will tell us!

Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. Season 1 Episode 18

“Providence” 

vs.

Arrow Season 2 Episode 2 Episode 19

“The Man Under the Hood”

Let the battle….begin!

Round 1: I’m a Comics Nerd So Let’s Just Get the Easter Eggs Out of the Way Now

Left, newcomer Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon wielding Dr. Light's light-gun; Right, Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig in one of Nick Fury's Secret Bases

Left, newcomer Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon wielding Dr. Light’s light-gun; Right, Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig in one of Nick Fury’s Secret Bases

 Arrow: A crucial scene takes place in a S.T.A.R. Labs (ding!) secret facility where we are introduced to scientist/warehouse worker Cisco Ramon when he manages to do what Oliver hasn’t all season and knock Deathstroke on his ass.  He does so using a weapon designed by one Doctor Arthur Light (ding!).  You might recognize Cisco Ramon as the secret identity of Vibe (ding!), a character DC has been desperately trying to push to the mainstream since he is one of their very few latino characters.  After the fight, Cisco tips Felicity off to the existence of Iris West (ding!), with whom she will soon have to form a love triangle when Barry Allen finally returns to the show.

S.H.I.E.L.D.: After S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, a secret signal embedded in his ID badge leads Agent Coulson and his team to one of Nick Fury’s Secret Bases (ding!) where they encounter Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig (ding!).  In the comics Koenig is an ex-Nazi who joined up with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos — and he was last seen in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors series.  Secret Bases, Agent Koenig, and every cast member constantly calling back the tagline “Agents of Nothing” can only mean one thing, nerds: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is totally doing Secret Warriors now!  On the run from Hydra with no one to trust…double agents everywhere you look…a network of secret bases in exotic locales around the globe…it’s my favorite Marvel storyline of the last five years so you can possibly see why I’m peeing my pants with excitement right now.

Advantage:  Arrow technically had more dings! but I never said I was going with the ding system so this round goes to S.H.I.E.L.D. — now you all go on and do a nice, reverent job with the original comics source material and don’t go trying to appeal to no mass audiences, ya hear?

Round 2: The ladies love bondage boys. Show me the most homoerotic screencap from this episode.

shieldvsarrowsround2

 Advantage:  As psyched as I am about the possibility of S.H.I.E.L.D. somehow morphing into a buddy cop show starring Bill Paxton, I think it’s clear that when it comes to putting nubile flesh in compromising positions with pseudo-religious overtones and a heavy, heavy does of S&M sensibility, Arrow continues to reign supreme.

Round 3:  How about a best dressed award?

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Arrow: With this outfit, Thea is saying “I’m mature and businesslike enough for a conservatively cut blue-grey blazer but I’m wild and fun enough for a bare midriff.”  Bold, evocative.

S.H.I.E.L.D.: Agent May’s winter look says “I may be an ice cold ice queen, but even I need to bundle up in this snow covered soundstage.”

Advantage: I value practicality above all else, so despite the versatility on display in Thea’s day-to-night ensemble, I have to give it to the Parka.  S.H.I.E.L.D. 2, Arrow 1.

Round 4:  I watch these shows for the bad writing and the worse acting.  Which show is more over-the-top?

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S.H.I.E.L.D: The dramatic climax off this whole episode comes when Agent Coulson sacrifices life and limb and does the bravest thing he can possibly do, which is — stand out in an open clearing and loudly state his name while striking a very unintimidating pose.  Sometimes this show is like one long, boring G.I. Joe public service announcement: hey kids, sometimes all you need to do is tell the truth!  Telling the truth is great and after you do it, everyone gets invited inside for cookies and ice creams and snuggletime!

Arrow: Right after Thea Queen learns that her mother had an affair with last season’s big bad, Malcolm Merlin, an affair of which she was the unknowing progeny (“I’m the daughter of two mass murderers!”), we discover that the man Thea thought was her father also had an affair — with this season’s assistant Big Bad, played by Summer Glau (“I was your father’s soulmate!”).  That’s the CW for you.  Then there’s Oliver’s secret identity quagmire.  Bro:  everyone knows you are the Arrow.  Your only disguise is pretty much a hoody and that facepaint that Raiders fans put under their eyes.  You don’t even disguise your voice.  And every person who has anything to do with the Arrow just happens to be either employed by your company or a longtime friend of your family.  Even Laurel figured it out!  But the most absurd thing? THE MOST ABSURD THING?  It’s the scene where Thea is unpacking crates of liquor at her nightclub, Verdant, and she just randomly puts bottles of the same brand on different shelves all over the storeroom.  As a food and beverage worker for many years now, I find this cavalier approach to inventory management offensive.  Without the financial might of Queen Consolidated, I predict that Thea’s poorly managed bar will be shut down by the Starling City Liquor Commission any day now.

Advantage: Arrow, a thousand times Arrow, you beautiful disaster.

Round 5:  I know these shows are based on characters that were invented in the post-War era to sell sugar cereal to children, but is there anybody cold-blooded, execution style murder in either of them?

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Advantage:  Really?  Both of them?  No shit.  Well I guess that means this is a tie.

Final Count:  S.H.I.E.L.D. 2-2-1, Arrow 2-2-1.

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For the first time this season, S.H.I.E.L.D. has actually pulled even with the older, wiser (by one season) Arrow.  Can they carry this momentum on to the season finales in a few short weeks?  This is more of a nail biter than the Premier League Table.  Even though I obviously want Arrow to stomp all competition and be renewed forever and ever and for Oliver and Felicity to get married and have one thousand babies….deep breaths fangirl, calm down…I’m glad there’s not just one but two solid superhero comic book based TV shows on air right now.  That probably hasn’t happened since X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series in the early 1990s.  Huzzah, everything I loved as a child is cool now!  The culture is celebrating me and my tastes!  This is what it must feel like to be a Baby Boomer!  I hope this isn’t a sign that I’ve grown old and irrelevant, my mind closed to new ideas!

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Cast chemistry, both on screen and off, is so important to the long term success of a TV show.  One of these women is thinking 'please stop touching my arm.'  One of them is thinking 'What up sluts, I'm going to bone Stephen Amell tonight and you're not so have f writing fanfic about us and then crying into your pillow, kthxbye'

Cast chemistry, both on screen and off, is so important to the long term success of a TV show. One of these women is thinking ‘please stop touching my arm.’ One of them is thinking ‘What up sluts, I’m going to bone Stephen Amell tonight and YOU’RE NOT so have fun writing fanfic about us and then crying into your pillow, kthxbye’

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. has come back from its mid-season hiatus reinvigorated. The first two episodes of this second half, “Magical Place” and “Seeds,” have delivered big revelations about Coulson and Skye, further intertwining their character arcs, and have hinted at the existence of a true Big Bad while continuing to develop Reina and Ian Quin as major obstacles. I don’t want to jump the gun and say the show has found its stride, but it has finally developed some momentum. The first half of the season seems like an extended pilot in comparison.

In more important news, Arrow is back with a soft premiere as well! Despite a villain whose signature move is throwing grenades around like they’re singles at a strip club, “Blast Radius” was a pretty low key episode for a midseason opener. There were no major revelations but it moved the goal posts forward with all of the major plot threads:

  • Roy has definitely developed superpowers and continues to be the worst liar on a show full of terrible, turrrrrrible liars.
  • On the island, Professor Ivo is hunting Oliver and Sarah like wild pigs and Slade may have turned on them as well.
  • Felicity is definitely trying to form a Golden Gate with Green Arrow and the Flash; Godspeed and good luck on your heroic quest Felicity! Truly ye are the hero of this show.
  • Despite his rakish good looks Sebastian Blood is not going to make the leap from rival to ally like Detective Lance did, so please stop trying Ollie!

I’m a hundred times more emotionally invested in Arrow than S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point so ranking or rating them seems kind of silly. Let’s just say Arrow wins every week for the rest of the season and I’ll let you know if anything changes. S.H.I.E.L.D. earns nothing more than the backhanded accolade that it is “surprisingly watchable,” an honor it now shares with Almost Human, which should tell you something.

Some random thoughts on these episodes:

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  • The underground secret nightclub at “S.H.I.E.L.D. Hogwarts” kind of reminds of Cyberdelia, the nightclub from Hackers. Over in Starling City, Verdant (which weirdly does kind of sound exactly like what the C.E.O. of a high-tech international conglomerate would name his horrible, tacky nightclub) reminds me of the sets from a Schumacher Batman movie (just imagine an unsafe number of smoke machines going in there). Also, who the hell holds a political campaign event in a nightclub? Is Brother Blood’s core constituency 40 year old male coke users and their “dates”, or suburban rich kids with fake IDs?

JackandDavidhaveissues

  • The kid who played Donny Gill AKA Blizzard gave me one of those “where do I recognize him from” headaches. Turns out he was Jack’s distant, bratty sideways universe son in the distant, bratty sideways universe final season of Lost. If you had trouble putting your finger on Mark Sheffer/Shrapnel in Arrow , you can hand in your Browncoats I.D. card on your way out because it’s none other than Sean Maher, Dr. Simon Tam from Firefly!
  • It’s been unclear how the creators S.H.I.E.L.D. come down in the great privacy vs. security debate. When Simmons tells us that S.H.I.E.L.D. is scrubbing our Facebook selfies looking for terrorists in the background, are we supposed to be impressed or scared to death? The viewer is asked to wrestle with this quandary alongside the technocratic Coulson and the libertarian Skye, and “Seeds” suggests that the way to reconcile these two viewpoints is through Transparency. Even though everyone tells Coulson that the only way to keep Skye safe is by concealing the truth from her, he does the opposite, and it works out just fine. Julian Assange would be proud.
  • They’ve really been putting the emphasis back on Oliver Queen’s bow skills. In “Blast Radius” his scarily accurate aim twice gets him out of seemingly impossible situations with ease. This continues to be awesome.

Finally, I’d like to end today’s column with this inspiring photo.  When someone in your life has you upset, just remember that  if Speedy and Malmer can resolve their differences, anyone can.

coltonjohn-24670123194638197

image: fanpop.com

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Welcome to Week Five of the showdown between ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The CW’s Arrow.  Why am I calling this Week Five when it’s only the second time I’ve run the column and S.H.I.E.L.D. is already on it’s sixth episode?  Because we here at disastercouch.com follow the same “no fucks given” numbering policy as all the major comics publishing houses.  Next week is gonna be Week Four point One.  Want to know which one of these shows hits the mark every week and which one is currently crashing its Helicarrier into Canceltown?  Read on, now with low-res charts!

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TWO

THREE

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DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment battle every week to win the hearts of fans…and this year, the fight comes to the small screen. Who comes out on top when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 5 “The Girl in the Flower Dress ” takes on Arrow episode 3 “Broken Dolls”?

That "Girl in the Flower Dress" is out villain this episode...should give you some insight into why this show is kind of boring...real menacing dress pattern, tho. Behind the scenes image via sciencefiction.com

That “Girl in the Flower Dress” is out villain this episode…should give you some insight into why this show is kind of boring…real menacing dress pattern, tho. Behind the scenes image via sciencefiction.com

Ridiculous set-up? Check!

When a protected asset goes missing, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. look for the source of the leak and find a link to The Rising Tide…y’know, Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) old crew of left-libertarian super-hackers?

One of Oliver Queen’s bitterest rivals last season, Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), has been busted down to beat cop and he’s ready to help Arrow hunt down a villain from his past.

Advantage: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — This show is doing a good job keeping its eye on the ball in terms of developing the relationship at the core of the show between the freelancing Skye and the authoritarian Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

He's Grows a Beard and Then They Bone: A 21st Century Love Story. Composite via E! Online

He’s Grows a Beard and Then They Bone: A 21st Century Love Story. Composite via E! Online

Eye Candy Factor:

S.H.I.E.L.D. guest star Austin Nichols (One Tree Hill) brings the pain as Miles Lydon, Skye’s former lover. Within minutes of reuniting with Skye, the pair are getting busy, and showing off some previously hidden tattoos — despite the fact that Miles pretty much borked Skye’s whole plan to secretly infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.  Their chemistry is probably helped by the fact that the pair are borking in real life, too.

We haven’t seen much of Summer Glau since the season premiere, and it’s a been a whole episode since Stephen Amell has taken his shirt off, so the I guess the Arrow eye candy award in this episode goes to Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) for just…being there.  We do get a get glimpse of new hottie Sin (Bex Taylor Klaus ), who has some connection to the Black Canary — pixie cuts certainly do it for me, as does anyone who puts the snotty Roy in his place.

Advantage: Surprisingly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. nabs this one too; what’s happening at CW?  Hormonal sexiness is 100% of your brand guys, lets see some fucking abs.

Ex-Detective Quentin Lance was stripped of his badge and apparently his squad car on the last season of Arrow

Ex-Detective Quentin Lance was stripped of his badge and apparently his squad car on the last season of Arrow

Zoom! Pop! Wow!

It’s becoming increasingly troubling how unnatural and unreal Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks; the show purports to jet from locale to locale multiple times in each episode, yet the producers seem to put the bare minimum of effort into making Los Angeles and studio sound stages look like Hong Kong, Malta, or Austin, TX…although one wonders if, even if they did shoot in real locations if you could even tell the difference because so much of the screen is taken over by CGI pop. The CGI fire effects in this episode are medium plus, at best, and the one ‘big’ explosion has all of the impact of a spaceship detonation in Galaga.

Practical effects-based action on nighttime sets with lots of rain, broken glass and police sirens…Arrow at its best looks like Die Hard or 48 Hrs, and at its worst it still looks as good as, say, Leverage.  This episode features a pair of tense abandoned factory fight scenes with plenty of arrows flying and things exploding.  Nothing balances soap operatic personal drama with set-piece action this well besides…really good superhero comic books.

Advantage: Unquestionably, this one goes to Arrow — I’m waiting for S.H.I.E.L.D. to deliver a satisfying fight or action sequence, but as they’ve assembled the least ready-for-action team of secret agents in history (2 oldsters, 2 nerds, a total n00b, and ONE GUY who could maybe take a punch in his pwetty wittle face), I’m not holding my breath.

Black Canary on Arrow

Black Canary on Arrow

Who’s Who in the (insert major publisher here) universe?

When pyrotechnic magician Chan Ho Yin is captured by the mysterious Woman in the Flower Dress, her henchmen’s outfits are a nod to the classic regalia of AIM, a frequent foil for Nick Fury’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America — but I doubt that means we should expect AIM as a major player this season. Lately, Marvel Comics has parodied the interchangeable nature of secret organizations like AIM and Hyrda in titles like Secret Warriors and Daredevil; any network of supervillains on the small screen will likely borrow elements from several comic book sources.

Arrow delivers in an episode dense with fan-service.  New 52! Batman fans may well recognize this version of The Dollmaker from Tony Daniels Detective run.  In the comics, Barton Mathis was instrumental in the Joker’s plans during the “Death of the Family” crossover event when he helped the Joker remove his own face and reattach another one in its place…or something really twisted like that.  In this episode, his modus operandi is to fill women’s throats with a gooey white substance (get your mind out of the gutter!) and he’s played by busy-ass character actor Michael Eklund.  Dollmaker’s not exactly a classic villain, but this episode does see a genuine classic Green Arrow character really come into play when Black Canary (Caity Lotz) makes herself useful in the final battle, and, we get a hint that Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins may be the or a Big Bad for this season.

Advantage: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems so desperate to prove that it’s not just a show for comic book nerds that they’re ignoring the vast reservoir of great characters and story points they have to draw from…it’s like, if Fables were so intent on being a “different kind” of fairy tale story that they didn’t use any recognizable fairtytale characters…why would anyone care? Why create a brand new fire-powered character for the Marvel Universe when you could just use Firestar, Pyro, one of several Human Torches, or probably two dozen other characters? Even relying on a fairly weak New 52! creation, Arrow takes home this crown easily by giving fans something fun in a way that honestly detracts nothing for casual viewers of the show.

Hey kids! Don't forget to practice hacking on the library computers at school and never your home computer so it can't be traced directly back to you! Good Crypto Saves Lives!

Hey kids! Don’t forget to practice hacking on the library computers at school and never your home computer so it can’t be traced directly back to you! Good Crypto Saves Lives!

With great power comes…

S.H.I.E.L.D. continues the ping-pong game of privacy versus security. Midway through, the seemingly idealistic Will says of the agency, “These people stand for everything we despise; secrets, censorship. Manning, Snowden, Assange, these are modern day revolutionaries” to which Ming Na responds: “He’s hiding behind platitudes.” Later, we learn that Will has actually been stealing secrets for profit, not because of revolutionary ideals. Skye seems to turn on him when she realizes everything he’s done has been for personal gain…which makes it all the more interesting when it’s revealed that her infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been motivated by a very personal quest, as well.

The big theme of this season on Arrow is Oliver becoming a true hero by fighting crime without killing.  This episode shows his first big moral conundrum: he doesn’t want to send the Dollmaker to jail because he’s already been there and escaped once.  So what does Ollie do?  He doesn’t have to do anything, because Black Canary conveniently puts a knife in Dollmaker’s chest.  Ollie does not seem to have a big problem with this, so maybe he’ll just keep her around as a tidy little conflict resolution device.

Advantage: I’m starting to lose my faith that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will produce any real relevant commentary on the security state, but I still admire the way the show is keeping the conversation going.  The big news headlines this morning were about the American government monitoring the private conversations of world leaders in France and Germany; even if it is itself a form of a propaganda, I feel that a show that dramatizes the government surveillance state is worth watching…remember, in the beginning Judge Dredd seemed to celebrate the very fascist police state that it later came to expose and lampoon so effectively.

 

Agents_of_S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Verdict: It’s a three-two decision in favor of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Despite not having much to offer fans of Marvel comics or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and being a total snoozefest compared to the action-heavy Arrow, ABC’s show this week proved that stronger writing and one good sex scene can, in fact, win the day.  See you next week when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 6, “FZZT” , faces off against Arrow episode 4, “Crucible.”

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SHIELD_02_pg00

After the first episode of ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired, I heard a fair amount of grumbling on Twitter regarding the show’s politics.  The Joss Whedon scripted first episode suggested that a secretive, all-powerful government organization like S.H.I.E.L.D., a cardboard stand-in for our all-too-real Department of Homeland Security, was a force for good in the world.  This rubbed many of the weberati the wrong way, ignoring as it did the privacy and liberty concerns inherent in an organization that monitors everyone and loves to act preemptively.  But, that episode also introduced Skye, a self-described ‘hacktivist’ whose organization The Rising Tide is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s equivalent of WikiLeaks or Anonymous (luckily, Skye is better looking than Julian Assange, but not necessarily better looking than Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in an upcoming film).

Anyone who assumed after that pilot that S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to take a straightforward pro-Homeland Security/Patriot Act political tack was not giving Whedon enough credit.  If there is one thing that Whedon demonstrated over-and-over in his long running Buffy, it’s that he prefers to take potential plotholes head on — in the language of critical theory, Whedon consistently problematizes his own narratives.  In Buffy, if a particular storyline, like Angel and Buffy’s on-again-off again-will-they-won’t-they romance, became overwrought, Whedon wouldn’t ignore it — he would use the scripts to actively make fun of it, just the way his fans did.  The same is true in S.H.I.E.L.D. — Whedon and his team know that having secret government agents as protagonists in the post-Snowden era is problematic, but rather than glossing over that as almost every other cop/spy show in history has, they have taken the question of liberty versus security and made it the central issue of the entire show.  That theme was present in the pilot and sophomore episodes, but it’s brought to the forefront in “The Asset”, the new show’s third episode.

The episode opens with a semi-truck cruising through high desert country.  The truck driver calls to his dispatcher on CB radio and makes some comments about making it through a weigh station undetected.  The implication is that this is a truck full of illicit goods on its way to some nefarious purpose.  Then the vehicle comes under attack and the driver pulls up a holographic HUD on his dash and phones home again — this time identifying himself as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.  Already, the viewer’s expectations have been subverted — we are shown what to appears to be a bad guy and start speculating as to what he’s up to, only to quickly learn that he’s actually one of the good guys a few moments later.  This same approach was used in the first episode of BBC’s Luther — the show opens with a man running from a shadowy pursuer, implying that he is a defenseless innocent being pursued by a brute, yet it turns out that the man is a child killer and his pursuer is supercop John Luther.   Of course, Luther is not a morally unambiguous character; and S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a morally unambiguous organization.

Dr. Franklin Hall is played by a recognizable character actor (Ian Hart), so I'm thinking he'll be back for more later in the show.

Dr. Franklin Hall is played by a recognizable character actor (Ian Hart), so I’m thinking he’ll be back for more later in the show.

The sensitive cargo in the S.H.I.E.L.D. truck turns out to be a “Priority Red protected asset” in the form of scientist Dr. Frank Hall, a researcher whom S.H.I.E.L.D. considers essentially too smart to risk him falling into enemy hands.  Astute Marvel fans might recognize Dr. Franklin Hall as Graviton, a classic Marvel villain introduced in Avengers #158 (1977).  We don’t actually see Graviton in this episode, but we essentially see his origin story, so it’s safe to say he will return as a villain and a possible Big Bad later in the season.   It doesn’t take long for the S.H.I.E.LD. team to deduce that Hall’s kidnapper is billionaire industrialist Ian Quinn, and they immediately zero in on Quinn’s haven in the tiny nation of Malta, where is exempt from taxes, UN treaties, and (supposedly) the prying eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Quin’s motivation as a villain are explicitly stated.  “You and I have always believed that information should be free,” Quin says to Hall.  Quin is a hardcore libertarian who believes that government institutions actively limit innovation.  This is a commonplace of libertarian rhetoric (and not an entirely uncontroversial claim), but in the Marvel U, at least, Quinn is right in a very literal way — so far all we have seen S.H.I.E.L.D. do in the show is try to put a lid on technologies that they believe are ‘too dangerous’ for the world at large.  And yet, as Quin later points out to Agent Coulson, “S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as guilty of the same thing; your search for an unlimited power source brought an alien invasion!”

"Don't you get it? SHIELD's against everything you stand for.  They're Big Brother!"  Industrialist super villain Ian Quinn (David Conrad) and hacker/S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee Skye (Chloe Bennet) on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“Don’t you get it? SHIELD’s against everything you stand for. They’re Big Brother!” Industrialist super villain Ian Quinn (David Conrad) and hacker/S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee Skye (Chloe Bennet) on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When it comes time to take Quinn down, Skye is assigned as the point person.  Since she’s not yet technically a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she’s allowed on Maltese soil, unlike the rest of the team.  She infiltrates Quin’s compound and is quickly caught snooping around by Quinn himself.  When confronted, she does exactly what Whedon would do and again subverts our expectations — rather than trying to concoct a lie, she just tells Quinn the truth.  Just not the whole truth.  She tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening in on them and that the global spy organization has been recruiting her (she leaves out the bit where all she needs to do is get into his office to disable his security perimeter).  Quinn counters that she should join his corporation instead.  The two banter back and forth, eventually reaching the conclusion that Quinn Corp and S.H.I.E.L.D. are both big and potentially corrupt institutions.  “Don’t you get it?” Quin asks Skye, who is supposed to be an internet freedom fighter, after all, “S.H.I.E.L.D. is against everything you stand for.  They’re Big Brother.”

“Yeah,” she counters, “But they’re the nice big brother.”  And then she kicks his ass.  So far, Skye seems to have concluded that in a world full of corrupt institutions, the only choice is to play realpolitick and choose the least bad option.  The question now will be, can Skye successfully change the system from the inside? Or will the system change her?  I imagine these questions will be major themes in this first season and for the show as a whole.

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