Last night, Agents of SHIELD brought the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen. The over-arching theme of the SHIELD pilot? Phil Coulson is cool. And quirky. We watched him assemble his team of misfits, but we were left with a bunch of huge unanswered questions.
First, a brief synopsis of last night's pilot, which had a pretty simple plot. Phil Coulson (from all the Marvel movies) is back from the dead, and he's bringing together a special team to deal with the aftermath of The Avengers — in which everybody learned about aliens and superheroes, and the world changed forever.
Trouble is, Phil Coulson's new team is made up of loners who don't play well with others. Grant Ward is a super-badass whose people skills are either a porcupine or a turd with knives sticking out of it. Melinda May is a super-badass who hides behind a desk. Fitz and Simmons, collectively known as Fitzsimmons, are really nerdy. And Skye is a rogue hacker, whose trust Phil Coulson has to work hard to earn. But can he trust her? (I'm guessing in the short term, no. In the long term, yes.)
In the middle of assembling the Coulson squad, our heroes also have to deal with the case of a laid-off factory worker (J. August Richards) who's gotten superpowers he can't handle. His illicit powers are making him crazy and might make him explode. Like a living bomb. (Like a mini-Peter Petrelli, basically.)
Mostly, the pilot was notable for a hefty dose of Joss Whedon's trademark humor and quips, including an interrogation scene like you've never seen before — in which Coulson gives the truth drug to the interrogator, rather than the asset.
But we were left with huge burning questions:
1) Is Rising Tide really just this one person in a van?
The first half of the pilot builds up Rising Tide as this huge, unstoppable group of super-hackers, who have figured out all of SHIELD's secrets — Rising Tide even gives away the location of a Chitauri artifact in Paris before Grant Ward can get to it, causing him to have to kick some French butt. And then we discover that Rising Tide is apparently just one person — Skye, who lives in her van. But is that really it? Or are there other members out there somewhere, ready to cause trouble?
How did Coulson really come back from the dead?
This is the big question, which is highlighted with a big yellow highlighter. We saw him die in Avengers, and now he's alive again. Coulson believes that he died for eight seconds, and then got resuscitated and patched up, and spent some time convalescing in Tahiti — but apparently Maria Hill and Shepherd Book from Firefly know a secret about Coulson's resurrection that "he can never know." (Smart money is, he's a Life Model Decoy. Notice how well he dodges when Michael throws a van door at him towards the end of the episode.)
What's Grant's family background?
We're told that Grant Ward has problems playing nice with others due to his "family background" — which seems like a pretty big hint for future storylines. But whatever that background is, apparently it doesn't involve his grandmother, or Grammsy, given the way he talks about her after being injected with super-truth serum.
Can SHIELD really contain all of the alien tech on Earth at this point?
This is more of a "suspension of disbelief" issue. Given that an entire alien army invaded New York, and there have been tons of other incursions already, shouldn't there just be alien tech and weird science on every street corner at this point? Bear in mind this is a universe where you can synthesize a new element in an afternoon.
Why is Melinda May so damaged?
Again, like Grant Ward, she seems to have some kind of tortured past, which we will no doubt learn about in future episodes. Melinda May and Grant Ward both have the "plays badly with others" thing, but Melinda is more sullen and laconic, and seems not to want to get into combat. But when we see her actually fight someone, she takes him out in like 30 seconds.
What's going on with Project PEGASUS?
This seems like a pretty big easter egg thrown into the episode. When Skye is being interrogated, she mentions the coverup of Project PEGASUS, and Coulson and Ward exchange a series of looks and mouth stuff at each other. It seems like at least Ward doesn't know what this project is. (Update: People in comments point out that actually, Coulson and Ward are confused by Centipede, not PEGASUS.)
Pegasus has been mentioned in the Marvel movies before, and it included the project to try and turn the tesseract into a weapon in The Avengers. So it's some kind of secret SHIELD weapons project? Is this a setup for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or something we'll be dealing with on the TV show? Or both?
Why does a superhacker have to steal someone's driver's license?
Skye seems both amazingly good at hacking, and kind of inept at times. I guess she's meant to be inconsistent — she lapse into fangirlishness at odd moments, like when she's talking to Michael in the diner and when she's confessing she cosplayed at Stark Tower one time. But she's also incredibly good at hacking everything in the universe — except that sometimes, her hacking skills fall short. Like when she needs to swipe someone's ID to figure out who he is, instead of just hacking into databases with facial recognition or fingerprints.
What did Skye hide in her bra when she went back to her van?
We're obviously supposed to think Skye still has secrets — see above about Rising Tide maybe not being just one person — and when she's grabbing stuff at her van, she sticks something that looks like a microchip into her bra. She's hiding something. Something devious and hacktastic.
Who's behind Project Centipede?
I guess these people are being set up as the "big bad" for now. They gave tech to the nice doctor lady, that includes Extremis, a variant of the super-soldier serum, Gamma radiation, and some alien tech. She was experimenting on Mike and that other guy, to try and turn them into supersoldiers or whatnot — but presumably this is just one part of a much larger plan, that will take 20-odd episodes to unravel. So who's behind this? Is it AIM or HYDRA?
Are all superheroes essentially psychotic?
This seems to be one major theme of the episode — Michael gets superpowers and uses them to help people, just like the Avengers. But he resists doing the whole "costumed hero" thing when Skye suggests it... until he starts to go insane due to the tech in his arm. Then he suddenly starts talking about being a hero, and his mean factory foreman being "the bad guy." And he tells the nice doctor lady that this is his origin story. So... is the whole idea of being called to heroism just a form of psychosis? Is it essentially sociopathic? At the end of the episode, though, Michael says "it matters who I am," and Agent Coulson turns that around into a thing where Michael's real chance for heroism is self-sacrifice — saving the people in the train station from his own spontaneous combustion. (And then luckily, it doesn't come to that, thanks to Fitzsimmons.)
Is Agent Coulson the 1 percent?
That's the other theme here — SHIELD are the faceless men and women in black suits, who work for the establishment and keep the little people down. They keep the secrets that the powerful don't want the rest of us to know, etc. etc. But do we need to be protected from knowledge and powers we're not ready for yet? Or are we just being kept in the dark so we can be manipulated? At the end of the episode, when Michael gives his big speech about how he's been lied to, it gets political, in a somewhat heavy-handed way. Bill Clinton told Michael that if he worked hard and played by the rules, he would get ahead. It used to be enough just to be a man. But now, everybody's being downsized, jobs are being outsourced, the 99 percent are suffering, and meanwhile there are gods and monsters wandering around stepping on the little guy. Michael's speech comes this close to turning into a pastiche of that African American guy in the first issue of Dennis O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow run. Luckily, Agent Coulson has an answer to this, too — he's not an evil oppressor, he's really totally here to help. Michael says he knows how this ends, and Coulson says that he doesn't — because Coulson is keeping an open mind. That sense of spontaneity and willingness to stay loose appears to be Coulson's main superpower, judging from this pilot.
And yes, Coulson is incredibly cool. For now, that's the main reason we're watching.