Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E01 “Laws Of Nature” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writers: Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Director: Vincent Misiano
Essential Plot Points:
- SHIELD is trying to locate and recruit Inhumans but a mysterious, government-backed organisation, the ACTU, keeps beating them to it.
- Coulson seems both repulsed by the ACTU’s methods while being intrigued by its leader, Rosalind Price. They do banter. A lot.
- Someone else is also tracking down Inhumans but he appears to be an independent agent who wants to kill them. He’s a big blue guy with claws and energy beams.
- Fitz turns Indiana Jones, trotting the globe to find clues about what the monolith has done with Simmons.
- Simmons is on an alien planet looking scared.
- With Bobbi still recovering from her season two finale ordeal, Hunter vows to take revenge on Ward.
Agents Of SHIELD returns with a blistering cold opening full of action and powers and FX –promising great things for this “Year Of The New Inhumans” –then rapidly settles back into the show it’s always been, with all the plus points and problems that entails. It’s fast-paced, but oddly talky, apparently hoping that if the talk is fast-paced too (they call it banter) we won’t notice. There are loads of different storylines, all with potential, but none of them have the room to develop into something that really grabs you. It’s full of great characters but has a lead who’s like a desperate-to-be-hip vicar. It’s really witty and clever in places but downright cheesy in others. And it has amazing special effects but is pretty drab in the other design aspects.
Watching Agents Of SHIELD has always been like watching Andrew Murray. You know it’s trying really hard, it serves loads of aces and occasionally claims a major win. On the other hand it never looks completely at ease, you can see the effort it’s making and there’s always the danger of it going off the boil at any moment. “Laws Of Nature” is the perfect example. As a season premier it ticks a lot of boxes (action, spectacle, new big bads, new directions for existing characters) and there’s a lot to enjoy, but there’s something a bit plodding and half-hearted about the way the elements end up on screen. As the impressive Avengers-style action unfurls in the pre-credit teaser you hope that this is year that the show truly becomes the small screen superhero accompaniment to Marvel’s big screen hitters, but as the episode progresses and a bunch of plots fight for the oxygen, the fear sets in once again that SHIELD is going to flounder.
There is, perhaps, too much going on, and that’s even with May’s marital woes being sensibly set aside for now. There’s the ACTU, the new government-backed task force that’s butting horns with SHIELD now, who feel similar to just about every other slightly dodgy government-backed task force with a shady agenda in telefantasy. Sure, they may develop into something more interesting but this is the season premier and the whiff of familiarity here hardly gets you automatically reaching for the “record series” button.
Then there’s Daisy recruiting for her Secret Warriors, which actually has a lot of potential and is one of the most effective threads in the episode. Not just on the action side of things, but Daisy’s conversations with Joey, and Joey trying to come to terms with this paradigm shift in his life, were solidly-written and acted too; just the right balance of exposition and character beats. It was actually refreshing to see Daisy slightly shocked the Joey wasn’t all “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” and realising that recruiting may not be a doddle. The transition from Skye to Daisy seems to have her done her the world of good.
Meanwhile Fitz is off playing Indiana Jones in an attempt to rescue Simmons in a series of scenes that were fun, but only felt half-convincing and half-baked. Iain De Caestecker is in first rate form through the whole episode and her alone sells these scenes, but honestly, would the episode have suffered if the Moroccan section had been cut entirely and we’d just had Fitz arriving late in the episode with his mysterious artefact? If the idea is to show what lengths he’s prepared to go to, then those lengths needed to be a little more extreme and/or exciting. Luckily Fitz gets to have his crazy moment at the episode’s end which leaves you in no doubt the emotional turmoil he’s going through.
Lash makes a pretty impressive entrance (even though he’s not named yet) but in typical SHIELD style it’s in a slightly mundane environment (a hospital) that somehow robs the scenes of some impact. At least it wasn’t a hotel room for a change. Having said that, Lash is immediately infinitely more intriguing than the ACTU as an adversary.
Also immediately intriguing is Simmons’s fate, revealed at the end of the episode in a fantastic play of the “WTF?!” card. Simmons on an alien planet? Suddenly this season looks like it might actually make an interesting change of course.
It’s easy to get too picky and pernickety with Agents Of SHIELD but that’s because, as with Andy Murray, you always want it do do better. This is a perfectly enjoyable, entertaining season opener, it just lacks a bit of the wow factor. But at least there are hints that plenty of wow factors could be in store.
- The season kicks off with a pretty impressive cold open: a powers-filled, FX-packed action sequence of the kind you wish the show could afford more often. It definitely felt like it took place in a corner of the same universe where the Avengers live.
- Lash looks very impressive – a rare case of a character on screen being more outlandish than his comic book counterpart.
- Lash taking the combined forces of Quake and Lincoln on his chest and still managing to lurch in their direction was very, very impressive.
- The moment when Price and Coulson realise that it’s neither of their outfits that are killing Inhumans.
- The new grim, determined, resourceful Fitz is hugely entertaining to watch, even if he does look like a member of a new Romantic band from the early ’8os during the period when they all shot their pop videos abroad, dressed like something out Brideshead Revisited.
- Fitz’s hissyfit at the end of the episode is a fantastically believable bit of acting. Almost painful to watch.
- “Assist Skye with the intake.”
“Daisy. Dammit. Hard for us to get used to, huh?”
“Umm, no. Just you.” – An amusing and revealing little character beat.
- It’s great to see Daisy starting to form the Secret Warriors even if her first recruit looks like he has a long way to go before he’s field ready.
- Mack continues the sudden improvement he showed in the season two finale. He’s actually got something approaching a personality and function in the show now.
- That final scene.
- The ACTU don’t make a particularly thrilling entrance. Rosalind is fine, but as an organisation, the ACTU their MO has a “been there, done that” whiff of familiarity to it.
- The production design, lighting and camerawork is still as annoyingly bland as it’s always been on this show – it simply doesn’t look as stylish as the shows it should be competing with. All Warners’ superhero shows look far more impressive, and that’s even taking into account Arrow’s unnatural reliance on warehouses. Agents of SHIELD often feels like it’s being shot in the way shows were made in the ’80s.
- “May took off on vacation and never came back… so I lost my right hand too.” Terrible line, terribly delivered (as if Clark Gregg was embarrassed having to say it).
- Whiney Lincoln isn’t much fun to watch. Make him a Secret Warrior – QUICK!
- It’s great to have a homosexual Inhuman, but it would have been better if they didn’t feel the need to hammer it home by drawing parallels between coming out as gay and coming out as Inhuman. It’s not like it’s a metaphor that hasn’t been laboured to death in the past. Why can’t gay characters just be gay and not to need to have some justification/reason for being so?
And The Random:
- Let’s first address all those MCU references in traditional Marvel Comics fashion:
- President Ellis is played by William Sadler reprising the role he played in Iron Man 3. His name is a reference to comics scribe Warren Ellis who wrote the six-issue mini series “Extremis” which inspired many elements in Iron Man 3. His speech here seems to be the first step toward the Superhero Registration Act that will form a major part of Captain America: Civil War.
- DID YOU SPOT? The axe that Mack used to cut off Coulson’s arm in last season’s finale is now on the wall in Coulson’s office.
- Later in the episode it transpires that SHIELD has also kept Coulson’s severed arm as a souvenir too.
- WHIH is a fictional news channel that has featured in a number of MCU films and shows, including The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It also cropped up in the game LEGO Marvel’s Avengers, and was the basis of a webseries that appeared in the run-up to the release of Ant-Man.
- Last season (in episode six, “A Fractured House”) Coulson seemed annoyed when he found a Grumpy Cat mug in the SHIELD kitchen. In this episode he seems quite happy to be drinking from one. For the record: it’s an “I hate Mondays” Grumpy Cat mug.
- This is the first episode of the show that Agent May hasn’t appeared in. We thought Simmons was a no-show as well unless that final scene.
- Lash is actually a relatively new character in the Marvel Comics universe having been introduced in Inhumans #1 (2004). In the comics he doesn’t believe all potential Inhumans are worthy of undergoing terrigenesis. So when King Black Bolt activates a Terrigen Bomb above New York, flooding the world with Terrigen Mist and awakening the powers of inhuman descendants living among humanity, Lash embarks on a mission to find all the individuals affected, and judge for himself whether they were worthy to live with their new abilities.
Review by Dave Golder