Friday, 16 March 2018

TV Review No. 67 Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Orientation (S5, Ep1&2)

Strong Points:
A reinvention of the classic AoS formula
References to the past seasons
Some classic Mack lines
A life spent, a life earned - for tension
Great CGI
Action sequences
May can take some hits
Daisy's entrance

Weak Points:
Virgil wasn't in it nearly enough to give the depth of emotion they wanted
If people could just get to the point...
A life spent, a life earned - meaning
Some plot twists were given away before and then repeated

Spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
"Is that a release date?" I gasp in awe as I do my periodic check-in with Geektown. "Is it true?" I quickly jump on my phone and message everyone I know. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s back! Finally!" You see, us in the UK have been waiting quite a long time for Season 5. A month longer than usual in fact, judging from my Facebook memories showing we're up to episode 7 from last season. Now, I won't be going political in this review except for this question - why? Why has it been so long?

Anyway, back to the actual review and a scene which is reminiscent of the Season 3 finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. An odd connection I know, but let's go through this. A suburb in a sunny state? Check. Slow, wide shots of the landscape? Check. An odd (but apt) choice of music? Check. An alien who can remove his human skin? Che... OK, that's new.

Now, this is where I'd usually go on to explain this alien and his plans further, but in all honesty, we don't know a lot more. Besides a cool infiltration sequence into the team's favourite diner, there's not a lot else which was explained. Who are they? What's their plan? This episode of AoS seemed to be content with giving us more questions than answers. This includes the dialogue in the actual show with a lot of back and forth between the past and future people - S.H.I.E.L.D. would ask a question, the others would be flummoxed about what they want, ask them not to pursue, and S.H.I.E.L.D. would do so anyway. This is fine, for now, but I'd like some more co-operation between the two groups in future, namely for the team to listen to the future people. They seem to know how to stay alive!

Talking of the future people, AoS has done it again. Seamlessly added new characters to the roster, quickly making it feel like they've been there the entire time. Like Hunter, Bobbi, Mack and Yo-Yo before them, Deke and Tess have appeared to shake up the status quo of the original team. While it's too early to tell if they'll be more like Hunter and Bobbi or Mack and Yo-Yo in terms of longevity, they are worthwhile additions. Deke is similar to Hunter in terms of being more solitary, but also knows what's actually going on, so he can stay. Tess is slightly more naive but no less awesome, someone who's ready to do anything she can to survive.

There's one more 'main' character which was introduced - Virgil. I put 'main' in quotation marks due to him actually dying around a quarter of the way into the first episode. This was normal to be honest - a space worker quickly taken away to establish the threat and danger levels of the new area. However, they then constantly referenced him like he was an old friend. I felt this was odd, given how little of an emotional stake I had invested in him, and after hearing about him from the other characters, I'd have actually liked for him to have been in it a bit more.

So, the Kree are back to their old tricks again. These tricks being taking over the human world of course. I've always had an odd relationship with the Kree in AoS - on the one hand they're these all powerful enemies who are an unknown quantity in the MCU. On the other hand, they are the people who have had dance contests with Star Lord. Anyway, they're back, with two main characters being introduced so far: Kasias; the aristocratic leader of the Kree and Sinara; the muscle. Sinara's an interesting character for sure, as she is basically mute, uttering one line in the entire episode. Instead she conveys her feelings via the music which is played around her and her actions, namely shooting ball bearings into anyone who gets in her way, similar to Yondu. Hopefully we'll keep these two villains for longer than some of the Season 4 ones.

Along with the Kree, there's two more enemies which have appeared - the Salavagers (the general human population) and the Roaches. The Roaches occupy the monster category while the Salvagers occupy the outsider category. Both seem to only be interested in themselves and are used to keep the population in check. This can be done either by the Roaches just attacking the population or via a Purge like ritual - A Life Spent is a Life Earned.

This Purging means that if a human's metric (tracker) lights up in red, someone has to die. It can be either the unlucky victim or anyone else, so a quick scramble for weapons happens, as relationships forgotten and ties cut. The only thing that matters is surviving. While this is a great plot point for many a show and shows just how far humans have regressed since Coulson's time, I'm not sure it works for the spirit of S.H.I.E.L.D. - I ended up having to look away.

At least it did give us some pretty good action sequences. AoS continues the tradition of fast-paced, slightly unrealistic action with this opening two-parter. We had May versus Deke, May versus someone with a red light on their metric, Daisy versus a Roach, Daisy versus a Kree, Mack versus anyone... Overall, some slick action, with just enough variation and spectacle to keep it entertaining. We also had Marvel's brand of comedy sticking through every so often, especially with Mack and his constant disbelief with the entire situation -  'time travel, because we haven't done that today' and 'when we split up, who's the first guy to be taken out' being my favourite, if slightly paraphrased lines.

The team behind the CGI of AoS doesn't seem to have been getting the memo about its low viewer count (which is a disservice to the show in my opinion). They've excelled themselves again, with almost film worthy levels of visual effects. The broken Earth and space are particularly impressive, capturing the vast emptiness of it. Then we have the Roaches, gun shots and more all rendered in equisite detail, rivalling the equally impressive set design and practical effects teams. More like this please!

Conclusion: after the phenomenal finale of last season, AoS needed a bold move to stay ahead. Orientation was certainly bold and taken as the start of a show, really good. However, I don't believe it's quite S.H.I.E.L.D., at least not yet. Hopefully, next episode will have a slower pace, allowing for some reflection on just what is happening. Also, Fitz?

Rating: 72%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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