How big was the long-awaited premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

The first episode was a great start to an action show that may start to worry NCIS, or at least show Mark Harmon he isn’t the only crime fighter who looks great in a suit. The story was also very good, and it shows that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tanchareon learned a lot from Joss. And already, FOX is planning a TV show about Gotham City Commissioner Gordon and what he did before Batman began.

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The time is shortly after The Avengers, and a woman speaks: “The secret is out. For decades, your organization has stayed in the shadows, hiding the truth, and now we know. They’re among us. Heroes and Monsters. The world is full of wonders.”

They’re only called “Heroes of New York,” but they have the interest of a young kid and his dad (J. August Richards). He’s unemployed, but he tries to keep his son’s spirits up. Then a building blows up, and the dad decides he has to help. So, he climbs the wall by poking holes in the bricks, finding a woman trapped in the flames, then leaping out four stories and landing without a scratch. This is recorded by a young woman with a smartphone.

Then we hear the woman again: “We can’t explain everything we see, but our eyes are open. So what now? There are no more shadows for you to hide in. Something impossible just happened. What are you going to do about it?”

Wait. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s a bunch of high-tech soldiers. They’re not a political fundraising scam.

Cut to Paris, where Agent Ward of S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to get a “package” before the Rising Tide does. He succeeds, thanks to a magic tray and wine glass, taking care of some guys, while a blonde wisely sneaks away. He’s debriefed by Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and makes it clear he knows they’re “the line between the world and the much weirder world.” At least they’ve stopped someone from abusing a Chitauri Neural Link. This leads to a quick recap of every Marvel movie so far, while both agents wonder who these Rising Tide guys are. Hill says the Battle of New York was “the end of the world,” followed by a new one where certain people have access to secrets they’re not ready for (like Item 47).

Now Ward has to talk to Agent Phil Coulson, but isn’t he dead?

Welcome to Level 7. Coulson isn’t dead, and he doesn’t like standing in the dark. He thinks he had to fake his death and hide out in Tahiti for a while. However, Hill and the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor (Ron Glass) know the real truth, which Coulson must never know. Want to bet that when he does, he’ll be stunned, but then wonder if he’ll have to hide from Iron Man for the next 30 years… or Avengers 3? They do know about Hooded Hero, and they want to use the Tide to find him.

Ward is a specialist but his people skills are like a lump of manure with knives. Coulson will give him a chance, and a few others, too.

Meanwhile, Hooded Hero is found by that voice-over woman, named Skye. It leads to a discussion that reminds me of “Opportunities” by Pet Shop Boys (“I got the brains, you got the look, let’s make lots of money”). Meanwhile, he should hide from S.H.I.E.L.D., which she calls evil guys in suits who “clean up” strange events like what happened in New York. She’s worried they’ll grab him, too. Skye takes his driver’s license, which shows he’s Mike Peterson, who needs a job.

Cut to an office where Melinda May would prefer pushing pencils than being in combat. She’s convinced to drive “the Bus”, a big high-tech plane, for the team. Ward arrives and meets Fitz and Simmons. They have good chemistry as workers and comic relief. Coulson shows up with Lola (“Don’t touch Lola”) and gives Ward a tour of the place.

They soon find a member of the Rising Tide… none other than Skye. Back to her manifesto, which is starting to sound trite:

“How will you come at us? From the air? From the ground? How will you silence us this time? How can you? The truth is in the wind. It’s everywhere. You cannot stop the Rising Tide. You will not find us. You will never see our faces, but rest assured we will rise against those who shield us from the truth, and nothing, nothing can stop us in the…”

Van door opens.

“What up?”

Skye is taken to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, and accuses them of being evil because they covered up Project Pegasus in New Mexico (aka Thor) and Project Centipede, which surprises Coulson and Ward. How’d she know that, and what’s in her laptop? Ward accuses her of a few things too, such as being a hacker who likes to stir up trouble then hide from the fallout. Their bickering may suggest some future attraction, but it may be too soon for that.

Meanwhile, Mike is facing eviction and calling a doctor who apparently knew how super he was. May, Fitz and Simmons start investigating at the burned-out building with the help of tiny drones called The Seven Dwarfs. It’s a lab where they did some interesting experiments.

Back at the base ,Coulson thinks Skye can be helpful and maybe valuable. Coulson decides to use some truth serum—on Ward, because he needs it more.

Mike tries to convince his factory boss to take him back because he’s stronger. He starts to demonstrate it, severely. While the boss says he’s not the bad guy, Mike says he is, while Mike is the hero.  S.H.I.E.L.D. gets word of this very quickly, and Skye is worried. She reveals Mike’s name and they find out he was part of an experiment. She has info that may help find this guy and leads May to her van.

Mike visits the woman who was in the fire. Seems she’s the doc who helped him become super. She also works for people who don’t want to be revealed. He’s got a “centipede” on his arm, which suggests Iron Man 3. She tells Mike he’s got to disappear, which he does. However, he heads to Skye’s van and takes off. He tells Skye to erase his identity. She says she can because she’s done it before. Turns out she was actually signaling S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fitz and Simmons find out Mike has Extremis, a chemical that makes people stronger… and prone to explode. So, will they kill him or stop him? Coulson wants a third option, period.  Clark Gregg’s authoritive manner is to show Coulson is a different kind of hero. The final showdown happens at Los Angeles Union Station, which also involves a fake cop apparently sent by the Hidden Enemy. He’s taken out by May.

The scene ends with Mike frustrated by what has happened to him: how the world has changed after the Battle of New York, the Chitauri, and everything else. Richards does a wonderful job as an ordinary man trying to make sense of how the world changed:

“You said if we worked hard, if we did right, we have a place. You said it was enough to be a man, but there’s better than Man. There’s gods and the rest of us, what are we? They’re giants; we’re what they step on.”

That may be true for Browncoats, but this isn’t Ariel, and there’s no Blue Sun. As Coulson says:

“I’ve seen giants, up close, and that privilege cost me nearly everything. But the good ones, the real deal, they’re not heroes for what they have and what we don’t, it’s what they do with it. You’re right, Mike, it matters who you are.”

Jed and Maurissa came up with some good speeches, just as well as Joss’ best ones.

And in the end, Mike is shot in the head, only to stun him and then heal him. After all, he still has the Extemis in him.

Skye is offered a job and a seat “front row center to the strangest show on earth.” Then, a report of a 0-8-4 comes in. They gotta fly, and they do— in Lola!

The pilot fulfilled its mission. It gave us a good introduction of the cast, and set up a bigger mystery in trying to uncover who was behind the Extremis experiments. There’s also the mystery of Skye. What’s her real story and why does she live in a van? Can Coulson be prevented from finding out what really happened to him, or will he find out and keep it to himself? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be more than “the next mission,” it should be about the people, like all Whedon shows. We should learn more once the first six episodes are presented.

Ratings report: The premiere attracted 12.1 million viewers and tied for first in the 18-49 demo with NBC’s The Voice. That’s still the biggest rating for a new ABC drama since 2009.  Since Tuesday 8 PM will be a very competitive time slot this year, that is very impressive. If S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains that level, it will do fine.  It was also announced it will be aired again Thursday at 8 PM, which is against the season premiere of Big Bang Theory.

[Editor’s notes: During the live tweeting by the cast and fans, the hash-tag #moreJAugustOnSHIELD kept popping up. Something to keep an eye on?  And the “etc.” on the Mutant Enemy card at the end stands for Maurissa & Jed]

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