First the bad news. If you were on the fence about sticking with this show because you thought it was poorly written and you didn’t care about any of the characters, this isn’t going to be the episode to win you over. And even worse, it’s a two-week break until the next episode, so this is a horrible way to leave those viewers dangling.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a huge drop in the ratings when the show returns next month after leveling off over the last two episodes.
On the other hand, if you were on the fence about sticking with this show because you thought it needed more touchpoints with the Marvel Universe and should start digging into Skye’s double-dealing and the mysterious Centipede organization, then this is the episode for you.
I honestly don’t know what the network or the viewers are really thinking after episode five.
This episode is the poster child for a Mixed Bag. It’s got a strong central concept as the Centipede organization – we’re just calling them Centipede now, apparently – kidnaps/recruits a Chinese muta—um, not a mutant, nope, nobody said mutant here – named Renshu Tseng (Louis Ozawa Changchien) who, thanks to living near the location of a nuclear incident, spontaneously developed the ability to manifest flames from his hands. The titular girl in a flower dress, Raina (the extremely enticing Ruth Negga) christens him Scorch and pumps him full of the Super Soldier Cocktail introduced in the pilot.
But thanks to the platelets in his blood that allow him to create flames without being burnt, the Extremis elements in the cocktail are now controllable, giving Centipede a working Super Soldier Formula without all of the explody parts. It doesn’t look his blood does anything to curb the megalomaniacal side-effects though.
This entire scenario opens up the episode for an exploration of how S.H.I.E.L.D. can get all up in your business, unintentionally ruining your life, and does briefly glance in that direction, but there’s not a lot in this episode that really gets a good shaking out thanks to a script that feels like a first draft. This is not the quality of writing we’re used to with a Joss Whedon production, and I know he’s not reading and editing every episode, but this one needed someone higher up to take a look.
The dialogue is horrible, obvious, and so exposition-laden that you’d think we weren’t dealing with human actors who have the ability to emote and actually act. Even the best lines in the show, moments of banter between Agents Coulson and May, are clunky, although Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen are talented enough to make just about anything work. Ruth Negga was also able to overcome the script problems and play Raina as seductive, charming, and subtly dangerous.
That nice balance that last week’s “Eye Spy” had, where everybody got to shine and didn’t look incompetent was tossed out the window this week as Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are absolutely useless (to the point of having to uncuff the sexy hacker boyfriend so he can help save the day) and bring nothing but technobabble to the show, Ward (Brett Dalton) spends most of the show sulking after being spotted tailing a guy in a record 1.5 seconds, and Skye (Chloe Bennet) is not only revealed to be a potential traitor, but has horrible taste in boyfriends. The only characters untarnished by this amateur-hour script are Coulson and May.
And they only come through unscathed because the final act focuses on action and wisecracks with all the other characters left out completely. It’s an effective sequence, despite clumsy staging, that pushes what I would expect would be the limits of what the 8:00 hour airing would allow as a scientist (the evil lady from the pilot) is graphically incinerated before our eyes. Add that to the scenes of Skye running around in her undies and we had a decidedly less family-friendly outing this week.
Hell, it was less anyone-friendly, if you ask me.
However, if internet chatter is any indication, many viewers thought this was maybe the best episode so far. I really don’t understand.
I almost forgot to mention the end-of-episode bit for this week. Even it dropped the ball thanks to inept scripting. What should have been a mysterious glimpse into the people behind Centipede and their plans, was instead so vague as to be absolutely meaningless. Raina meets with a man in prison to tell him that the Super Soldier Formula is finally stable. Who’s the guy? No clue.
I mean literally. The script gives us no clues or hints about his identity.
“The Clairvoyant” is mentioned as needing to be contacted, but who that is or why they need informed is left out of the conversation. Again, there’s not even a cryptic hint or nod to the wider Marvel Universe. The ball was completely and totally dropped, so what should have enticed viewers to look forward to the show’s return after next week’s break instead just pushed me and my interest away.
Honestly, if Ruth Negga wasn’t so hot, I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of that scene at all. Instead, I at least paid attention. Not that it helped. As it stands, my interest in the show overall hasn’t wavered, but this was easily the worst episode so far and I plan on steering well clear of anything written by Brent Fletcher from this point on.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.