It’s kind of fitting that I watched All Hail the King, which continues Iron Man 3theme of media and audience manipulation, before ] I watch "T.R.A.C.K.S." (hence forth known as “TRACKS”). That is not to be taken as a comparative statement in terms of quality but there is some material likeness. The marketing material for “TRACKS” made it look like a bottle episode (haven’t had one of those in a while). Instead we got a mostly non-linear episode that flowed into a second half that actually managed to create some stakes. For once character and plot was meshed together without needing to use a setting that was somehow deeply tied to an Agents past. This episode was just a lot of fun, something this show hasn’t really had.
The unifying element of “TRACKS”, the train and its repetitive horn blowing and intercom may not have been the strongest spine. In an episode deeply tied to the sense and proper measurement of time, “TRACKS” never gives a clear indication of how much time is passing once we are shown the other thread that inevitably crosses over with the prior one. May finds Coulson and Ward catatonic on the side of the tracks after being blasted by the Night-Night Grenade but we are never given an indication of how long the effects of the grenade last. Sometimes it seemed like 15 minutes, others it seemed like an hour. Overall “TRACKS” pulls off the leap frogging narrative well enough. It is the kind of structural one-off that is required and appreciated when making 22 episodes of not so compelling procedurals feel less monotonous.
It will be interesting to view this episode without commercial breaks. Even as I fast forwarded through the commercials there was still a break created in the episode. Separating the various threads and enhancing the time bending nature of the episode as it jumps from Coulson -> Ward -> May -> FtizSimmons -> Skye and Simmons. As one continuous flow without interruptions, I wonder if the structural integrity of the “TRACKS” will hold up.
The non-linear structure allows for this show to finally do something that it should’ve done a long time ago: pairing off teammates into non-normal circumstances. This show really does have a Scooby Doo “Let’s Split Up Gang” problem. Splitting off into what would become Ward-Coulson-May, Simmons, and Skye-Fitz allowed them to finally write these characters a bit more as characters and less as narrative automatons. As terrible as the cameo by Stan Lee was, it was still nice to see Simmons and Coulson bounce off one another, the first time we’d really gotten to see that. With the Agents all separated, we got to see Ward and Coulson try and be FitzSimmons and vice versa. There was the right amount of mockery found in their failed attempts to manipulate the objects on the holotable.
Agent Ward has often and rightfully been the butt of many jokes surrounding this show. With “TRACKS” it isn’t hard to see why. HA! Big meat head agent can’t operate a holotable. HA! Big meat head agent has antiquated view of gender roles that makes him stop and think about punching a woman trying to kill him. O look, he has issues acting like an adult and saying the word “sex” – which actually reinforces his overall inability to verbally express himself intimately or otherwise. By no means is Ward my favorite character but with this show it’s mostly a big o’ll tie for 5 and no one really wins.
Once the narrative finally catches up to itself with Skye and Simmons infiltrating Ian Quinn’s secrete Italian mansion (which looked a lot like California), things got a little interesting. Skye once again decides to go all Agent Ward and discover what the package is, a dumb move. Eventually coming across not just the package but Mike Peterson! It’s a discovery that will cost her as Quinn shoots her several times. Yes, I may have let out a little bit of glee at the possibility of no more Skye. It would be the kind of big change moment that would make demarcation easy and simple. Her death would also give the show something to rally behind, their own Avengers moment. Than the logic side of my brain kicked in and well we all knew that just wasn’t going to happen.
The melodramatic POV as Skye tries so hard to crawl to a wall, slowly bleed out, and the eventual character reactions to Skye’s state weren’t exactly the most engaging. I don’t really care about any of these characters; this show has not earned that yet. That said, how the characters react to and after discovering Skye has been shot and putting her in that Sleeping Beauty pod was well handled. I do believe that the characters would react in such a distraught way. Sure this show hasn’t shown this group of Agents being friendly and family like but I believe the writers think they have been that in between episodes. Eventually as this show (hopefully) transitions into being good something’s we’re just going to have to leap with, move on, and not really think about the internal logic too much.
There has been a lot of discussion around how publicity for this show has been handled. Winter TCA Press Tour happening certainly made the normal batch of “Marvel Character X is coming to Agents of SHIELD” feel a bit more torrential. Coming out and saying that Mike Peterson is Deathlok kind of built up the wrong expectations a bit. Right now it seems a bit hollow; Peterson is certainly the man who would be Deathlok. His robotic leg is the mcguffin that the Agents are after. There’s just the whole part where character needs to come into play. Still it’s a good first step. Peterson only has the leg at the moment and his face looks like it’s out of The Terminator so it’s a work in progress. Hopefully this is a thread that isn’t just dropped in the next couple of episodes as Bill Paxton joins the team as Agent John Garrett for several episodes. It would give the show a serialized thread to turn back to when the main ones wouldn’t be the most interesting thing to watch.
“TRACKS” compared against its fellow episodes of SHIELD is pretty great (hollow praise). This is a step I the right direction but like Mike Peterson’s first steps on his new leg, I’m not ready to jump in feet first and believe.
Bits at the End
- Skye Theory Corner: I’ve got two trains of thoughts on what will happen to Skye. Either A) she’s an Inhuman and that’s how they are introduced to the MCU, they are just space mutants right? B) She’s an Asgardian and a lot like Valkayrie a bit more boring but that could mean she gets a sword of unusual size to carry around with.
- The action was both better and worse this episode. On one hand there’s an amount of blood and wear shown that we haven’t gotten before. On the other hand the lighting was so low that we could barely see the what looked like decently choreographed fights.
- SHIELD is once again taking a break due to the Olympics happening so see ya in like 3 weeks.