The pilot was Joss Whedon setting his team up to be a successful, largely self sustaining, enterprise. “0-8-4” is written by showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon and staff Jeffrey Bell. It’s a bit clunky in how it uses meaningless sci-fi mumbojumbo but due to a reliance on a well worn plot that every show like this needs to do eventually it isn’t all that bad. Passably entertaining feels like the correct adjective.
What is an 0-8-4? It is code that means, it is an object of unknown origin(like Thor’s Hammer). Which is to say that the 0-8-4 could’ve just been called a macguffin and it would have given everything a fun bit of metaness. The fact that the plot device turns out to be an old post-WW2 Hydra weapon built by ex-Hydra scientists for the Peruvian government. In a nice nod that further ties Hydra to the Nazis. Is not that important and one of those vaguely interesting world building moments. The object, a laser cannon...thing, is there to simply function as an object that will make people vie for it.
This week a former flame of Coulson’s, Comandante Camilla Reyes who works with the national police. Reyes gets a little more window dressing than the object does but in the end she comes down to mechanical necessity more than interesting character that serves a purpose like Mike Peterson (J. August Richards). Her purpose in “0-8-4”, to her it’s to retrieve the object and use it to suppress the rebels and unite her country again. In actuality it is to give the team a common enemy to work together against.
“0-8-4” gets bogged down in sci-fi comic book speak that all just comes off as heavy. The majority of which are just words without definition or connotative meaning for the viewer, leaving me unengaged for the brief 30 seconds in which FitzSimmons explain why the object is super duper dangerous. Suddenly Brett Dalton’s wooden delivery fits as he dryly asks for them to speak in “english”. The dialog in general this week didn’t have the lightness and verve the pilot had. While I thought the pilot at times went a bit too light there was still a sense of fun and adventure to it. Here things felt bogged down in procedure for which we don’t understand or care for.
This is a issue that should be elevated with time as the show deepens the characters and the actors (hopefully) develop chemistry together. They will need it if they are going to sell the weekly events of the craziest show on earth. If you stayed after the credits, you’ll know that the eyepatch wearing Nick Fury shows up to berate Coulson for wrecking the Magic School Bus on its second week. Fury goes on about how everything must be replaced as it once was (showing an odd amount of sentimentality). Coulson just stands there taking it, slipping in a bit of wit when he can. When you break it down though their words are largely meaningless but the rapport between actors and their commitment to this craziness sells it to you. That short post credit scene had sharper writing and acting than the entirety of the episode. An entire episode should not be outshined by a minute long post credit scene that has the novelty of Samuel L. Jackson appearing in it.
Coulson’s crew aka the Kids on the Magic School Bus were not really a team in the pilot and they aren’t by the end of “0-8-4”, just closer to that ideal. Pushing them team apart and bringing them together is a necessary step for Agents of SHIELD to function in the long term. It’s also a plot that everyone knows and can be easily entertained by. Melinda May (who is apparently The Calvary) is not happy that they have already seen combat. Agent Ward is all huffy and puffy about being a baby sister when he is a “specialist” (which he often reminds everyone) who was trained to be the entire package and eliminate all the variables. Out of context his insistence that he is great at killing everyone efficiently is kinda sociopathic. The duo of FitzSimmons aren’t taking to being out of the lab and shot at to kindly. That pairing in general has gotten the broadest of strokes for characterization which makes them function more mechanically than any of the other broadly characterized bus riders. They at least serve a function in the show: to spit sci-fi mumbo jumbo and “explain” things. Skye has no function on the team so far and is seen by an interloper by most of them. Even as they all sit back to watch a rocket launch she is segregated herself off to answer mysterious text messages. When the pilot jumped from Ward to Skye as the audience surrogate, it was fun. Skye continues this function but without there being her niche on the team it strains believability. Perhaps being the outsider will be her team function, she is the one who draws them all together in her own weird way.
On a mechanical level “0-8-4” operated like a well oiled machine that continues to rev up. This was a necessary plot to work through and it’s always an enjoyable one to see. The surface level execution of it though is lacking. Like the team they play these actors and writers need to come together so that everything is firing on all cylinders and not thudding like poorly tuned engine.
The Bits At The End
So are like FitzSimmons together or something? Man that means they are going to die.
I didn’t know Brett Dalton was able at expressing something like an “angry face”
Melinda May is a badass and I want flashbacks to her efficiently working a desk job.
It doesn't help having meaningless dialog when you poke fun at having silly code words for everything
Few shows can be both terrible and good in one hour like Agents of SHIELD was with this episode. Leaving the pilot hanging with a "084" was intriguing and even mentioning the last one turned out to be Thor's hammer really makes you wonder about the strange things this group of SHIELD agents could get involved with. I wasn't expecting superheroes coming out of the woodwork for every episode but I was expecting more from the first half hour or so from this episode.
We kick off with a flash froward teasing the SHIELD planes carrying Coulson's team having a hole ripped into the side of it and Coulson nearly being sucked out. Flashback 19 hours and we have Coulson's team responding to the 084, an unknown object, somewhere in Peru. Coulson's team is now ready to handle what their team is charged with except for the sudden addition of former Rising Tide hacker Skye. Team leader Agent Ward doesn't want her on any mission still suspecting her and her connections to terrorist groups. Skye, meanwhile, finds herself adrift within the team since her skills aren't very useful for field work. The entire episode deals with teamwork and getting these characters to all realize each has their own worth. Some of the interplay between these characters gets interesting, like Ward and Melinda May who both respect the work the other does but with Ward coming across almost like he seeks approval from the veteran agent.
Character development and cliches is where the show wears the most thin for me. While the gun fight that forces Peruvian army personnel onto the SHIELD plane was forced, the very apparent love connection between Skye and Ward is worse. Their relationship reeks of "will they or won't they" already and could serve to distract from more interesting plot points down the line. The same goes for Coulson's past. In the films Coulson was a no-nonsense but lovable character and the blank slate he portrayed made for interesting character moments. In The Avengers there is mention of a cellist Coulson dates in Seattle, the talk is background talk and serves nothing of the plot but it does make you feel for that character.
And then the show picked up towards the end. The poor dialogue and seemingly forced interactions serve for the team to come together after being detained by the Peruvian army. The twist of the 084 being man made and a former Hydra weapon was a nice add on connecting this one off episode back to the larger Marvel universe. But few things seem to be building up. Sure Skye has her double agent moment towards the end of the episode and the question of "is Coulson just a clone?" still remains unanswered. Without an overarching theme or plot to tie this all together this show won't live up to the grandiose of the Whedon name or the Marvel universe. When you stand next to superheroes you need to at least try to look like one.