At the risk of guys in black suits coming for me, I’ll tell you what I know about Agents of Shield.

Light spoilers ahead. If you want to know about the show without getting the plot of the first episode completely ruined, this is for you.


Well, J. August Richards is not playing Luke Cage. I expected that, though I hoped differently. This gets confirmed pretty early in.

So does Coulson’s fate. They gave the realistic explanation so easily (that he was just, in the words of Miracle Max, “mostly dead” — and Avengers does leave it rather ambiguous) that it’s obviously a lie. Soon after, it’s revealed that Maria Hill knows something he doesn’t about that event.

Oh, and another Whedon alum is back: Ron Glass (better known as Shepherd Book from Firefly) makes a brief appearance as a SHIELD doctor.

So onto the story.

On Facebook, I went on the record about how much Agents of SHIELD would be dealing with superpowers. We’ve got a guy in the start of the series jumping out of a burning building without a problem. SHIELD mostly deals with superpowers these days, and it is the Marvel universe. The issue was that none of the characters have superpowers, so it might not feel like Marvel.

Well, it went in a direction that I didn’t expect — or rather, it came from a different direction. In its comic-book origin, SHIELD was a super-spy organization, Marvel’s version of James Bond and The Man from UNCLE with a dash of Get Smart. It seems the Marvel Cinematic Universe is keeping to that origin. We’re shown a glimpse of a super-spy organization that is used to espionage and Mission: Impossible tasks that’s now trying to re-tool itself for a different world where people know that superheroes — and supervillains — exist.

This comes in the form of Coulson apparently resurrecting an old idea that he and Melinda May, a former field agent, had once discussed: a small, elite team that’s authorized for rapid-response to special threats and events.  They get a spec-ops agent guy (obligatorily good-looking), a genius engineer guy (obligatorily nerdy-looking), and a genius biochemist lady (obligatorily nerdy and good-looking) to round out their team. May also brings driving and piloting skills to the table, along with martial arts moves that I’m pretty certain were choreographed by the exact same person who did Scarlett Johansson’s fight scenes as Black Widow.

And Coulson is . . . Coulson. His performance seems a little different from the movies, but that could be for two reasons. One, he’s the one in charge now, which changes the dynamic. Two, he’s just back from the dead. (Or is he?)

Coulson doesn’t demonstrate any particular abilities in this episode, assuming you blinked too fast. There’s a moment that was in one of the previews that had caught my eye, and the fact that it wasn’t particularly showcased in the show made it really stand out for me. There’s a moment when a piece of a van flies straight at both Coulson and Ward. Ward throws himself to the side, sprawling on the ground. Coulson merely ducks.

Well, that’s not quite right. Coulson does a Matrix dodge, leaning back while spinning metal death passes over him.

It happens very quickly, and you can literally blink and miss it. That stood out to me in the preview, but next to Ward — buff and manly, the agent’s agent — throwing himself to the ground, this becomes literally superhuman. There’s no way that a normal human has that reaction time.

So what’s up with Coulson? I have two ideas, but neither of them are my favorites and neither seems incredibly likely at this point. One is cloning; the other is a Life-Model Decoy. I haven’t seen the latter being brought up, but I’m sure someone’s come up with it. And unlike cloning, Life-Model Decoys have actually been mentioned in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as a joke, but ironically on a video-phone call between Tony Stark and Agent Coulson).

As I said, neither one seems absolutely fitting, and neither one seems like it would be as good for fiction as if this really were the original Coulson, somehow modified without memory of the event. (Mind you, there was a theory that Coulson actually had a version of the super-soldier serum, and while that’s merely speculation it deserves mention if only to point out that he could have been modified before his death.)

The final person we add is Skye, the hacker. We’ve had Ward the Pretty, Fitz the Nerdy, and Simmons the Pretty Nerd. Now we’ve got Skye, the Pretty Sarcastic Nerd. This being Whedon, I don’t expect them to be just their stereotypes, but Skye does not look grungy enough to be living in her van. I have absolutely nothing against a gorgeous nerd-girl (I rather prefer them and knew plenty in real life), but that van must have an invisible or extra-dimensional shower. I warmed up to all the other characters pretty quickly, but despite some classic Whedonesque dialog I just don’t find Skye believable just yet. We’ll see how things go in the next episode when she’s officially part of the team.

Rounding it all out are the plane and the car. The plane is obviously modified with Time Lord technology, mainly on the upper deck. It’s a curious layout, with some areas looking like efficient use of space and others . . . not. Reminds me a bit of the plane in Air Force One, only not quite as physics-defying.  Apparently it was mothballed after the Hellicarrier was created, and Coulson’s brought it back.

The car — “Lola” — isn’t just a fancy car. We’re told when it shows up that it’s “One of Coulson’s old SHIELD collectables. Flamethrowers, world’s first GPS.” Coulson adds that “Lola’s not just a collectable, you know. People tend to confuse the words ‘new’ and ‘improved.'” He doesn’t elaborate on that at the time, but the last scene of the episode shows that “Lola” is directly out of the wacky days of the original SHIELD.

So what’s my verdict? In a word: cautious. The hype has been a model of marketing, and that always makes me suspicious. Getting a show to live up to this sort of advertising can be hard, as the BBC has learned with Doctor Who. The latter, of course, has a dedicated fanbase; Agents of SHIELD is still courting  the audience.

However, it has a strong opener, solid characters (except for Skye, so far), the great dialog and pacing we’ve come to expect from Joss Whedon, and an excellent concept. I was thoroughly entertained. I wasn’t knocked back with a “wow!” but I wasn’t expecting to be; I was expecting a solid opener to anchor a series with overarching plots, and that’s exactly what I got.

As Mike Peterson says in the episode, “It’s an origin story.”