ABC‘s Agents of SHIELD Girl in the Flower Dress TV Show Review. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Episode 5: Girl in the Flower Dress left me on something of a fence. On one hand, promising developments in terms of characterization and underlying plot, continued to roll out. On the other, the pace remained too slow with not a whole lot to show, roughly one fifth of the way into the season.
The overall problem, so far, may not be with the show itself, but its association with The Avengers film. The show, on its own, has had its own problems. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D without Joss Whedon‘s direct input has seemed as hollow as Lost became without J.J. Abrams‘ at the helm. It has had its moments, however, and its potential as a light-hearted sci-fi/ action series remains high. It just has not been living up to either the Marvel cinematic universe it is supposedly a part of or its own comic book roots. “Girl in the Flower Dress” reminded me of all of these points.
The episode began with a Hong Kong street magician, Chan Ho Yin (Louis Ozawa Changchien), responding to an onlooker’s skepticism with a pyrotechnic display. This caught the attention of another onlooker, Raina (Ruth Negga) who cozied up to Chan as an enthusiast, out to pick his brain about his act. Well, maybe not so much. After they got back to his place, she managed to leverage his desire (to be remembered for more than mere parlor trickery) into the revelation of pyrokinesis as his natural talent. With that, men in heat proof suits barged in, and Chan was hauled off.
The problem for me, at that point: this was to be a post-Avengers world, and the word was out that there were exceptional beings among us. Someone like Chan would be more mindful of his gifts, how/ when he used them, and who he shared them with. The fact that he had already been under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s thumb should have made him more cautious than he was; but I suppose this could have also left him stir crazy, with a false sense of security. I can see where a wannabe rock star, placed under witness protection, would jump at the chance to entertain a groupie, particularly if he didn’t know why he was under lock-and-key.
It turned out that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been maintaining an index of gifted individuals, and that index had been hacked. S.H.I.E.L.D. would not just have to save Chan, but also protect the others on the list. Skye (Chloe Bennet) is reassured that it is a short list but this presented me with another problem. A short list of super beings would mean: 1) the Marvel world that both the films and this series inhabit is much smaller than the source material (also, no mutants- damn you FOX); 2) there is a sizable super powered population that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been in the dark about (unacceptable!); 3) that revelation was an outright lie of a “need to know” nature. I am holding out for scenario 3, but I’ve come to dislike the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps handicapping itself.
Speaking of handicaps, Skye was again given the spotlight this week but for more than just quips and eye-candy (although, this actually meant more eye-candy than usual but it was integral the plot… sort of). With Rising Tide as the chief suspect, Skye had to make clear she was in no way responsible. For an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D., anyone who could be subject to such automatic suspicion should not be in the fold in the first place. The actual culprit turned out to be someone with whom Skye had been professionally and biblically acquainted with as a Rising Tide operative. Although her plan seemed clear and honest enough, Skye compromised herself – and the team – on said culprit’s behalf but was caught with her pants down. Literally.
With that turn of events, the series finally came to grips with the Skye / Caulson dynamic. Caulson (Clark Gregg) took Skye’s double dealings personally, finally forcing her to come clean about her motives concerning Rising Tide and S.H.I.E.L.D.. The answer was satisfactory enough to vindicate Skye but not Caulson. Maybe I have been giving Agent Caulson too much credit but my take on his character was someone always on top of every situation, and prepared for any contingency. This episode made it disappointingly clear that his recruitment of Skye was a leap of faith. Worse, any real vetting of Skye by Caulson should have brought the reason for her interest in S.H.I.E.L.D. out into the open. Either Caulson failed to fully vet Skye (unacceptable!) or the subject of her interest had been above his pay grade. I am holding out for the latter.
“Girl in the Flower Dress” carried on the Project Centipede plot thread from the pilot episode. Chan’s natural gift provided a fix to the Extremis component of the project but it was important to get him on-board. Raina’s manipulation of his ambitions and resentment towards S.H.I.E.L.D. (for suppressing them) made him a willing subject. Enter Scorch. Scorch went off the rails, somewhat. Either he took his new identity across the line between ambition and ego or his new identity took him. It didn’t matter. Once Raina and returning baddy Debbie (Shannon Lucio) stripped him of what they needed (a key coping mechanism for his ability), that ego took over, and everyone was going to pay – including S.H.I.E.L.D..
Frankly, I was hoping Chan would turn out to be the comic book character “Sunfire,” and a loop-hole in the legal lock down on all things mutant. Given the outcome of the episode, it was just as well they stuck with Scorch. Chan’s wild turn, from soft spoken indie-performer purist, to catch-phrase dropping megalomaniac, could have just been the drug talking; otherwise, it was as clumsy a character transition as Anakin Skywalker’s whiny tantrum to Sith Lordship. On the up side: the episode’s fatalities and Caulson again demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice the very people he set out to save, meant that Agents still had an edge to it.
Raina got away with the goods and the bad guys were clearly keeping ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the identity of this rival organization could amount to a major pay-off for this series or one of its biggest let downs. Reminding us of the shoes Agents has to fill through mentions of Caulson’s “death” and Steve Rogers seemed counter productive. With confirmation of the use of Extremis in Project Centipede, however, Agents may stand to inherit a truly worthy foe from Iron Man 3 of all places (and I don’t mean Ben Kingsley). The closing scene, a prison visit by Raina to inform an inmate named Po (Cullen Douglas) of events, did little to clarify. I have no idea who Po is supposed to be.
The title of the episode referred to Raina’s fashion sense for its duration. A signature sense that allowed our heroes to pick up her trail. Yes, it lent itself to the title but why would a savvy secret operative wear such distinctive dress when recruiting or contracting? I would understand if her character was/ will turn out to be some villain with a floral motif (we all know the psychology of comic villains suspends practicality in favor of trademark themes), but again, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has not been playing by comic book rules. Still, there was at least some consistency to it- Po’s complimentary remark about her dress and her retort about it serving a purpose as such (so maybe there was actually something there).
A shake up may be necessary to take Agents to a satisfactory season finale and I hope this rival outfit will be the ones to do it and do it drastically. There has been a degree of complacency to this team. Ward (Brett Dalton) blew his tailing duty with amateurish eye contact (really, are all spec ops muscle that bad at subtle surveillance?); his reaction, along with Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge)’, to Skye’s betrayal made the team seem more like a clique than a den of super spies. Caulson calling Skye to his office made him seem more like a headmaster than a master spy and I could not help but wonder if Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) was the only one taking the job seriously.
The show either needs more Joss to hold the team together or a real badass organization to blow it apart (helping to get their priorities straight by culling the herd). “Girl in the Flower Dress” may have been a step towards the latter, giving me a reason to be optimistic about the show’s prospects; but a real reason to stick around may be the lingering element of Caulson’s resurrection. There have been quite a few theories on that subject. If it turns out to be what I think it is, Agents may have a resurrection trick of its own – however bad it might get along the way.