Agents Of SHIELD 5.01-5.02 “Orientation” REVIEW
Airing Sundays on E4 in the UK at 9pm
Writers: Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen (Part One): DJ Doyle (Part Two)
Directors: Jesse Bochco (Part One); David Solomon (Part Two)
Essential Plot Points:
- Some aliens in human skinsuits kidnap Coulson, Daisy, May, Jemma, Yo-Yo and Mack from the diner where they were waiting for arrest.
- The aliens leave Fitz behind.
- Team Coulson wakes up just in time to see a monolith melt and engulf them.
- They then materialise – separately – on some near-deserted decks of a rickety, dingy space station.
- Coulson encounters a guy called Virgil who seems very happy to meet him and clearly knows him – he has even been expecting him – but before Virgil can explain too much an alien creature called a Vrellnexian (colloquially a “roach”) kills him.
- After much running from roaches and avoiding (or killing) the blue-skinned Kree boot boys are running the station, the team regroups, with help from a couple of the station’s human inhabitants:
• Deke – a “look-after-number-one” rogue whom Virgil paid to supply Coulson and co with control devices called Metrics, which are implanted into the wrists of all human station inhabitants. Deke supplies May with one before realising that Virgil is dead at which point he tells them to go fend for themselves.
• Tess – a far more helpful station dweller with big hair who does a lot of expositioning.
- From these two (and by briefly stealing a spaceship and taking a quick trip outside) they work out that they’re not only in space but in the far future too.
- They also find a postcard with a message from Fitz saying, “WORKING ON IT”.
- The Earth was apparently destroyed long ago (there’s just a sliver of the crust left) and what remains of humanity is taking refuge in this space station, called the Lighthouse.
- The Kree did not destroy Earth, though. They simply turned up afterwards and took advantage of the situation, seaizing control of the space station.
- Tess takes the SHIELD team to the Exchange where humans live in squalid, overcrowded conditions, working hard for scraps of food.
- They try to find out more about Virgil to learn how he knew the SHIELD team was coming, and why he thought they were the saviours of humanity. Coulson finds a book of his scribblings in his quarters, but cannot make head nor tail of them.
- When there’s a scuffle in the Exchange over food rationing, one guy accidentally stabs a human working for the Kree.
- The accidental killer is brought down by female Kree assassin called Sinara, using her levitating steel balls.
- After Jemma works to save the life of the human Kree servant, she’s carted off the see the station’s (and possiby’s Earth’s) Kree boss, Kasius.
- Jemma is washed and cleaned then taken before Kasius, who is captivated by beauty – and lack of blemishes.
- He gets Sinara to livitating-steel-ball his old aide to death because – even though Jemma saved his life – he has scars now, and so is imperfect.
- Kasius takes something from his dead aide’s ear and places it in Jemma’s. She becomes deaf to anything except Kasius’s voice.
- Jemma is then taken to get a Kree servant makeover (aka, way too much gold make-up).
- Daisy follows Deke to discover what dodgy business he’s running.
- Finding him in what looks like an opium den, she’s overcome by… something… and wakes up inside the Framework.
- Well, not THE Framework.
- Deke has used Framework technology to create VR sims of old Earth life for the station’s human inhabitants to immerse themselves in.
- But because the Kree have banned all humans from learning about their history (controlling people by denying them their past is a form of mind control straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Fourx), it’s not a perfect recreation.
- Also, the Kree are well aware of Deke’s activities. They turn a blind eye to them because his simulations keep the humans docile – a true opium for the masses.
- Back at the Exchange the Kree start checking everybody’s Metrics, so Coulson and co need to get their implanted asap – they’re essential for survival on the Lighthouse.
- They turn to a dodgy gang boss called Grill and bargain with him to get him to administer them with black market Metrics. He agrees. There’s a catch…
- Coulson, Yo-Yo and Mack become mixed up in a “Renewal”: the Kree select “low-earners” who must then either kill or be killed. The lowest earners are indicated by their Metrics turning red.
- When that happens all hell breaks loose. Grill locks himself away, and magnetises Coulson, Yo-Yo and Mack’s Metrics so that they are stuck to the wall.
- This way, the trio are sacrificial lambs when one low earner comes to kill Grill. He’s pissed because Grill owes him money and that caused him to register as a low earner. Grill tells him to vent his anger on the guys stuck to the wall…
- Just in time, May shows up and fights off the low earner, until Tess also shows up and guns him down. May says there was no need to kill the guy but Tess implies they won’t think like that after you’ve been forced to live here a while.
- Back in the bargain basement Framework, Deke tells Daisy she was responsible for the destruction of Earth
- Back up on the luxury deck, Kasius watches as a big new spaceship draws near. “Just in time for my guests,” says Kasius as Jemma arrives having undergone full makeover and looking ready to represent Sweden in Eurovision.
As gamechangers go, this is like the Terminator being brought in to bat for England. Rarely has a show ever had such a radical format makeover. But shooting SHIELD into space doesn’t feel like a show desperately grasping for new life; it feels like a show boldly exploring new frontiers within its established format and having a lot of fun with it.
There’s a lot going on in this double-length premiere and while not all of it makes sense at the moment (we’re not sure some of it ever will*), it’s certainly engrossing. The series’ stars are on top quipping form, ably supported by a strong set of new supporting characters, including two already outstanding villains: sinister Sinara and creepy Kasius. Okay, Deke may owe a little too much to the Han Solo/Peter Quill space rogue trope at first, but the twist with his “opium den of fantasy” added an intriguing new dimension. And Grill is gloriously odious – his trick with the magnetised Metrics was one of the episode’s great WTF moments.
As noted below, the visuals in the episodes don’t match the spark in the script, with muddy lighting and uninspired production design leeching some of the energy out of the action. This is one future that certainly doesn’t look bright. The murky fight scene are especially frustrating to watch – the stunt team must wonder why they bother turning up.
But the main weapons in Agents Of SHIELD’s dramatic arsenal remain its ability to surprise and have its main characters react engagingly to those surprises. At the moment the members of Team Coulson are the fishiest of fish out of water, but they’re learning to swim fast.
(* What was Deke doing flying around outside the ship other than preparing for a cool entrance?)
- The shift to outer space is a brilliant gamechanger. There’s so much potential for fun here.
- The opening sequence with the alien boss in his human skin suit getting ready in morning for his “day at the office” is a brilliantly unexpected way to start the season.
- We already love Sinara and her steel-balls-of-doom, even if she does look and move like one of those women from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” video.
- Kasius is great too. Creepy as hell but great.
- The core team now is mostly female – and it doesn’t feel at all like tokenism, just something that’s happened organically over time.
- Some of the CG FX shots are really impressive, both technically and design-wise. We hope to get to see a lot more of the Vrell Nexian – it’d be a shame to waste them.
- We liked Virgil. He was a bit quirky and more instantly loveable than Deke (whom we’ll no doubt grow to like but is a tad irritating at times here). Shame he had to die.
- Although we did like Deke’s initial reaction to May: “You know, I didn’t want to hurt you, but the idea is starting to grow on me.”
- Jemma: “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.”
Mack: “Ah, please. We just got zapped through space by Stonehenge, and we’re trying to rule out the involvement of a flame-headed demon from east LA? Science my ass.”
- Jemma: “Well, I’m a biologist, but sure, I can invent time travel. Just give me a minute.”
- Tess: “What about all the dangers – earthquakes, floods, sharknados? Feels safer inside, no?”
Coulson: “ Okay, hold up. The whole Sharknado thing that’s just entertainment.”
Tess: “Who would put a shark inside a tornado?”
- Why is the cinematography on this show so drab? It’s been over 30 years since Alien showed how sci-fi settings could look scuzzy and utilitarian but cool and interesting at the same time. But Agents Of SHIELD manages to make its space station downright dreary. There’s always been a certain flatness to the show’s signature visual style (we’ve certainly complained about it enough in previous reviews) but it’s worse than ever now they’re in space. The imaginatively-designed, impressive CG shots just make the contrast even worse. And as for the moment when Coulson says, “This has to be the coolest we’ve ever looked” (above), well, we wouldn’t know because we could hardly see anything through the gloom.
- Even when the action moves to the more brightly lit Framework and the Kree luxury quarters, the sets are still pretty uninteresting.
- It’s a shame that a show that so well written and packed full of colourful, intriguing concepts continually looks so drab! It doesn’t have to look like a Luc Besson-style explosion in a Duluxe factory, but some flare would be appreciated. We’d recommend the lighting, camera and art departments be forced to binge-watch Defiance, Farscape and Killjoys to see how low-budget sci-fi can look cool.
- How the hell did May and Daisy manage to nick a spaceship without the Kree noticing?
- No Fitz.
- It was a shame that while the show was having a lot of fun elsewhere, it didn’t embrace the potential in Deke’s faux-Earth being created from rumours and half-truths. The place should have been really bizarre and quirky – would he really know what a TV news report looked like? Or a bar? Or the fashions of the time?
And The Random:
- Yo-Yo Rodriguez wonders why, “SHIELD doesn’t have a space division called SPEAR or something?” They may not, but in the comics they do have a subdivision called SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) which deals specifically with extraterrestrial threats to world security.
- The space station in the episode is known as the Lighthouse. There was a space station in the Marvel Comics universe, introduced in Secret Avengers #22 (2012) and used as a base by that team. There’s no evidence yet that the two are one in the same, but you never know; the writers of the show may make the connection official in a future episode.
- Virgil describes himself as being one of the “True Believers” which must be a shout-out to marvel guru Stan Lee who in his editorials – Stan Lee’s Soapbox – used to refer to Marvel Comics fans as “True Believers!”.
- When the aliens are deciding how to disguise their van using a swipe-able logo system, the two companies we see have been featured on the show before:
• The SHIELD team went undercover in a Rush Cleaning Services van in the season one episode “Ragtag” (1.21).
• Certain members of the SHIELD team have been seen drinking Bendeery English Ale since season two (we think it was first seen in “Who You Really Are” (S02E12)). It was created when Lance Hunter joined the team, and the actor who played him, Nick Blood, suggested to the art department that Hunter would have a favourite brand. Bendeery was named after one of Blood’s friends.
- Hands up everyone who reckons these drawings will make sense by the end of the season.
- The music over the opening sequence was the Talking Heads track, “This Must Be The Place”.
- The Vrellnexians first appeared in the Marvel Comics universe in Thor #112 (1973).