Spoiler alert! Further reading will reveal plot twists from the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premiered Tuesday night on ABC. Writer Allen Barra and his film student daughter, Margaret, Marvel fans of two generations, previewed the episode.
Allen: OK, what is this, then? S.H.I.E.L.D., what Nick Fury is commander of, or something. What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for?
Maggie: Uh, Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement…
Allen: Never mind. You know who Nick Fury is?
Maggie: He’s Samuel L. Jackson, but I don’t think he’s in this show.
Allen: So the show is about more Marvel superheroes?
Maggie: Actually, they’re more like secret agents.
Allen: Who budgets S.H.I.E.L.D., Congress?
Maggie: No, Marvel Comics! This is a Joss Whedon production, which means lots of snappy dialogue. A lot of it is self-referential, i.e., to other incidents to the Marvel universe.
Allen: I don’t think I’ll recognize any of them…
Maggie: I’ll point them out to you.
Allen: The first character I see is a black guy in a hoodie who can punch through brick walls, climb a three-story burning building, and save a woman. Who’s he?
Maggie: The character’s name is Mike Peterson. I don’t think I’ve seen him before in a Marvel movie or comic. These are original characters.
Allen: Now we’re in Paris, cool. Hand-to-hand in an apartment with an Edith Piaf song in the background. Can you follow this plot? I’m already lost.
Maggie: It’s what Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) just said: “We’re the line between the world and the much weirder world. We protect people from news they’re not ready to hear. When we can’t do that, we keep them safe.”
I love the dialogue in Whedon’s productions. His dialogue gives Aaron Sorkin a run for his money.
BTW, the woman playing Agent Hill is Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother. She was in The Avengers and is married to Taran Killum of SNL.
Allen: Is she a character in this?
Maggie: I think it’s a cameo. Josh Whedon is famous for that.
Allen: OK, I’m getting it. This story takes place after New York was destroyed in The Avengers. They keep referring to Marvel heroes. I think Captain America is a pompous jerk. The “Green Monster” she talks about is the Hulk, of course.
Maggie: She just explained it all. “The Battle of New York was the end of the world. This is the new world.”
Allen: Hey, that actor who just popped of the shadows, didn’t he get killed in The Avengers?
Maggie: That’s Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. Death in the comic book world doesn’t necessarily mean what it does in our world. The only Marvel character who stayed dead is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben.
Allen: Coulson just said the Avengers aren’t “Clearance Level 7.” What does that mean?
Maggie: It means they know things the Avengers don’t. Interesting.
Allen: Now they’re looking for the guy who climbed up the building. “The Hooded Hero” (J. August Richards), they’re calling him. Is he a mutant?
Maggie: No, they’re X-Men, but Josh Whedon sometimes mixes his super groups, so they could be mutants.
Allen: The Hooded Hero guy, this girl Skye (Chloe Bennet) has been following him and wants to be his agent or something …
Maggie: She just gave the Marvel mantra: “With great power comes a lot of weird crap.”
Allen: Now we cut to Agent Melinda May.
Maggie: Ming-Na Wen is the actress. She was the voice of Mulan in the Disney movie …
Allen: Why does she say she’s never going back “to the field”?
Maggie: We don’t know yet, but I have a feeling she won’t be behind a desk for long unless she can use it as a weapon.
Allen: The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have abducted the girl who followed the Hooded Hero. Does that mean she’s a bad guy? And where do they get their authority from?
Maggie: Look, you’ve just got to go with it. She’s a hacker who’s better than them. She knows where the Hooded Hero is.
Allen: Holy crap! The Hooded Hero just beat up his boss at the factory. I guess he’s not a good guy after all.
Maggie: The important thing is that he thinks he’s the hero, that he’s in the right. That really makes him dangerous. But there’s a serious complication: he’s a single parent with a little boy who needs him.
Allen: Where is Whedon taking this?
Maggie: Well, it looks like the woman he saved from the burning building is the scientist who gave him his powers.
Allen: She doesn’t seem very grateful.
Maggie: In superhero stories that’s a sign of a bad person.
Allen: I think the S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists have now cracked this one: the bad guys are injecting people with some kind of super-steroids…
Maggie: The kind Guy Pearce used on himself in Iron Man 3!
Allen: Which gives them incredible strength and agility ...
Maggie: But also gives them ’roid rage.
Allen: I get it, they’re like ++BALCO and Barry Bonds++ [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/04/03/barry-bonds-federal-steroids-case-should-be-dropped.html].
Maggie: If Barry Bonds killed people with baseball bats.
Allen: You’re right. Melinda is back in the field.
Maggie: In less than 45 minutes!
Allen: Now we’re in Union Station in Los Angeles. Maybe you remember it from Raymond Chandler stories?
Maggie: Awesome place for a showdown. And I’m glad they figured out a way to save Mike, the Hooded Hero.
Allen: Great ending!
Maggie: Did you follow the plot?
Allen: Pretty much. There’s only one thing I didn’t understand: why everyone did what they did.
Maggie: I think the quick cutting from one plot line to another might be confusing to someone from your generation …
Allen: Thanks for that.
Maggie: But Whedon rewards his fans for paying attention. He doesn’t write down to his fans and expect them to keep up.
Allen: I’ve got to admit it is fun.
Maggie: The sets are a nice mix of futuristic and art deco, particularly the jumbo jet, which functions as a very clever mobile base. S.H.I.E.L.D. must have employed a kick-ass interior decorator.
Allen: One thing I liked is that they didn’t try to cram too much action into the story. They let the suspense build up and let you get interested in the characters before things get frantic. This is better than some of the superhero movies I’ve seen in the past two years. But can they sustain this week after week without any real superheroes?
Maggie: Yeah, I think so, as long as the stories are clever and character-driven, like this one.
Allen: Why does an agency that’s supposed to be super secret use a logo?
Maggie: For the merchandising.