Wed
Jan 15 2014 3:30pm

Ice Storms Are Not a Post-College Plan. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Seeds”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Now here’s the kind of one-two punch we like to see from our superhero TV shows! Just last week we got to find out what’s going on inside Coulson’s should-be-dead head and this week Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped its Big Big Plans For the Future on us. I am...cautiously excited for what comes next.

I find it interesting that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s better episodes have involved exploring the larger apparatus of the organization. I would rank “The Hub” amongst this fledgling show’s best outings, if not the best outright, and aside from the Clunkiest Monologue That Ever Clunked, “Seeds,” which explores how S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are trained and the social structures that appear as a result, stands right up there with it.

Our tale begins with three greasy teens acing a S.H.I.E.L.D. academy test on quantum mechanics and taking a dip in the pool to relax. Then the pool freezes over while some other kid named Donnie Gill watches from the bleachers. But don’t worry, he’s not evil! He’s just scared because it’s not every day you see ice chasing people across the water. He even helps break out Greasy Seth, who doesn’t quite escape the pool in time.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Shenanigans are afoot at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy! And our team is on the case! Because Fitz invented the little doodad that was subsequently used to Ice-9 the pool and he can probably explain how someone retrofitted it to become a weapon. Fitz, Simmons, Ward, and Skye head over to the Academy and Skye finds out just how accurate her Hogwarts joke actually was, since S.H.I.E.L.D. actually sorts its students into Ravenclaw (science & tech), Gryffindor (operations), and Hufflepuff (administration/computing). Fitz and Simmons snerk that Skye is probably bound for Hufflepuff while Gryffindor Ward looks deeply uncomfortable and makes decades-old jokes about how nerds are physically weak and awkward and, god, really? The evidence refuting that is standing right next to you, bro-cicle. Work on those insecurities at some point, okay?

They’re guided around on campus by Cathica from Satellite 5 and everyone gives me pitying looks because I can’t stop making “Three, two, one and...spike!” jokes whenever she’s on screen. She insists her name is Agent Weaver and tells Fitz and Simmons to brief the super-genius student body on the pool attack, the tech involved, and how using tech to these ends is something that S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have to always watch out for. It’s a smart little speech, referencing how not being mindful of the damaging effects of progress results in sinister organizations like Hydra, Centipede, and A.I.M. Simmons is careful not to stymie or put anyone down. It’s not that being too smart is a problem, she says. They all have a responsibility to advance the world around them, but part of doing that is always being mindful that there is a world around you. Progress does not exist in a vacuum. It has causes and effects.

Also someone just froze Donnie in the middle of Simmons’ speech. Rude.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Besides being mindful of the societal and interpersonal concerns regarding scientific research, “Seeds” also does a great job at incorporating its pseudo-science as a plot motivator. Fitz and Simmons mention that the device being used to freeze things promotes constant “nucleation,” which is actually what’s happening when ice forms!

Ice-9 is actually real, although it’s not a catalyst for turning water into ice like it does in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Rather, it’s a descriptor for one of the many possible crystal lattices that ice can form when it changes state from liquid to solid. These lattices are called “nucleation sites,” since they provide a structure for additional lattices to form. (The first site is also often called the “seed crystal.” Appropriately-titled episode FTW!)

But spawning nucleation and creating a cascade of ice in a warm environment takes energy! Which is probably why, when Fitz visits Donnie in his dorm room post-freezing to see if he’s okay, Donnie’s working on completing a terawatt battery (i.e., more energy than he would need for anything not-dangerous).

You see, Donnie’s kind of a genius, according to the students that Ward and Skye are interviewing at The Bronze, er, I mean, the “Boiler Room,” a nightclub that the S.H.I.E.L.D. students built for themselves in the basement of the school. He doesn’t talk a lot, probably because everyone bores him so much. Agent Weaver concurs, telling our agents that he’s so smart he’s probably going to be assigned immediately to the Sandbox, where all the crazy super top secret Item 084 stuff lives. Or he will be if he doesn’t start engaging in class. (Or PARTYING DOWN AMIRITE?)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Donnie keeps to himself and it’s obvious from the variety of gadgets that Fitz oohs and aahs at that he spends most of his time just inventing. He’s got plans for invisibility clothing on the wall and a miniature compression gun on his table, along with the aforementioned battery. (More clues, essentially. Compression is a common way to lower the temperature of air and there’s a mention of lasers, which are used in another cooling method.)

Fitz is impressed and Donnie is impressed that Fitz is impressed. Fitz was the Too Smart Guy once, he relates, but you can be that and not shut yourself off from the people around you. Because then you don’t have teammates that can point out to you that Donnie and an air cannon-toting Seth just tricked you into completing their super-energetic battery that they need to power the HUGE version of the freezing device they made. And that they basically froze themselves to lure our agents to the academy. For theirs is an evil laugh.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Coulson would probably be mad about this, but he and May are busy in Mexico City, having pinned down one of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who dropped Skye off at an orphanage lo those many years ago. During the stake-out, Coulson and May get chatty, dropping feelings off left and right. Coulson is confused about having two sets of memories for one event, and is so, so tired of secrets, which goads May into revealing that she’s sleeping with Ward. Coulson’s all, “Who isn’t? That guy is very emotionally needy.” and May is all, “I know. He’s really into crying during sex.” and I should really be paying attention to the TV because what actually happened is Coulson ran off and cornered the agent they were hunting down.

The agent has some impressive anti-May’s-kicks defenses and manages to fight his way past her, but he’s no match for Casual Friday Coulson and Lola.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Which is fine, because the agent thought he was actually being cornered by The Mysterious People Who Have Been Hunting Him All His Life. On the Bus, the agent spills everything he knows about Skye. It gets a little meander-y, but what it ultimately boils down to is this: Skye herself is an 084 that S.H.I.E.L.D. nabbed out of the Hunan Province in China. The woman who dropped her off wasn’t her mother, and it’s doubtful that Skye even has parents.

Coulson tries not telling Skye for about two seconds before Skye corners him. We don’t actually hear the explanation, we just see Skye crying as the soundtrack swells. Later on in the episode Coulson explains to May that even though Skye is devastated by the news, she’s looking at the silver lining: S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been the family she lost. It’s an excellent sentiment, and we’re obviously meant to see how Skye’s actions affect how Coulson feels about S.H.I.E.L.D., but the whole thing is dumped on us in a long, awkward monologue that breaks the fourth wall a little tooooo much and makes it all difficult to sympathize with. It’s even more distracting in that it’s supposed to be a hugely defining moment but ends up being the only wooden scene in an otherwise solid episode.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it turns out that Seth and Donnie want to make it big on their own, so they’re selling the device to Quinn. You remember Quinn, right? Yeah, me neither. It took me a while to recall that he’s the jerk from episode three who was trying to make a gravity-altering device with the help of a former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist. This guy just loves scientists! And drinking. Seriously, every time he shows up on screen he has a new drink, and just before the episode ends he asks his stewardess for another one.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Smug Drinklots is willing to buy the device from Donnie and Seth, but he wants a demonstration that it actually works first. Seth stupidly agrees, over Donnie’s objections, but the device is all “Remember how you guys are STUDENTS?” and doesn’t work correctly, exploding in Seth’s face, seeding the clouds, and creating an ice hurricane.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

Once the storm passes the damage is assessed. Seth is dead despite Simmons’ best efforts to revive him. The school is wrecked. Quinn Boozefood is long since gone in his own jet, taunting Coulson that “the Clairvoyant says hi.” Skye is staring dazedly at a wall commemorating dead S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including her Not-Mom. And Donnie is being turned over to the Sandbox to be imprisoned...with new ice powers that only he knows about.

Had Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not been picked up for a full season, we’d probably be in for a rock ’em sock ’em season finale next week involving all the various things locked up in the Sandbox. As it is, we’re only about halfway through, and now that the show has time to build up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the reveal of Donnie Gill’s ice powers, the Sandbox, and Quinn’s machinations on behalf of Centipede really really make it look like this season will conclude with debut of the Thunderbolts.

For those unfamiliar, the Thunderbolts are a team of supervillains posing as superheroes, conceived and led by an old enemy of Captain America. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t quite following that origin story, they’re definitely putting the pieces in place for something big. Centipede now has super-soldier Mike Peterson under their control, and it’s not hard to imagine them using him (as Deathlok?) to break into the Sandbox to free Graviton and Donnie “Blizzard” Gill.

Seems like we’re heading for a massive showdown. One that S.H.I.E.L.D. has inadvertently created.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episode 12: Seeds

 

Tidbits:

  • The S.H.I.E.L.D. Wall of Valor lists casualties up to 2015. Production error or...?
  • There’s also the question of why Centipede wants tech that can bring people back to life. Do they have someone on ice? Is it Baron Zemo, the leader of the Thunderbolts in the comics?
  • This whole talk of academies and seeds makes me think of Final Fantasy VIII. Skye is totally Rinoa, Ward is Zell (and not Ward!), May is Quistis, The Bus is Balamb Garden, and Simmons is Selphie. No Irving or Squall, though. Maybe this show needs an Irving.

Chris Lough is the resident Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recapper and once tried to build a giant freezing machine but then gave up and just bought a fridge.

30 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
They’re guided around on campus by Cathica from Satellite 5 and everyone gives me pitying looks because I can’t stop making “Three, two, one and...spike!” jokes whenever she’s on screen.

She is Emerson Cod's dog training girlfriend, what is wrong with you! So I kept going "click click".

Also this:

Smug Drinklots is willing to buy the device from Donnie and Seth, but he wants a demonstration that it actually works first. Seth stupidly
agrees, over Donnie’s objections, but the device is all “Remember how
you guys are STUDENTS?” and doesn’t work correctly, exploding in Seth’s face, seeding the clouds, and creating an ice hurricane.

No. Quinn was going to buy the device, provided no one knew about it. Since SHIELD knows about it, he's not interested. But, to start shit, he implies that he'll still buy it with a demonstration. But he's lying, he just wants them to set it off.

So no mention that Skye has superpowers? Or did you miss that? I think it's really interesting that the person who may have those powers they are convinced don't exist has been with them this whole time.

Also, neat little tie into Winter Soldier, mentioning Bucky and tying SHIELD's history back to the SSR.
Alan Brown
2. AlanBrown
This was a pretty good episode, but the way the young man almost killed himself with his own freeze machine just to get some attention from his hero just felt too much like an unrealistic comic book twist.
And also, the speech where Coulson described how Skye found the silver lining in her story was just a wee bit too mawkish for my taste. Not to mention not realistic. Skye is a hacker after all, who spends lots of time on the internet. And as anyone knows who reads internet discussions about sci fi TV shows, people who spend lots of time on the internet tend not only to not see silver linings, they tend to see dark clouds everywhere, about which they complain at great length...
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
I don't agree, as someone who spends lots of time on the internet finding silver linings. Skye, while being a hacker, never struck me as the "cynical about the world" hacker type, but instead the "idealistic change the world" hacker type. And that type is ALL ABOUT making the best of a bad situation.

Now, the discussion about it sucked. It would have worked better, if she'd been talking with someone else about what she learned, with Coulson unobtrusively listening in the background, accepting what she was saying and applying it to himself.
Brian Haughwout
4. bhaughwout
I also liked the Barnes & SSR mentions. Nothing glaring, but a nice priming-the-pump for THE WINTER SOLDIER, given the role that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be playing there.

In terms of Skye: it was mentioned that she COULD have powers, but none were seen if she had them - being an 0-8-4 could mean a lot of things, from being gifted to being artificial to somehow having important data imprinted in her that someone wants back (an interesting idea for a hacker into "information is free").

I liked the way the two groups broke down, because it played well into the group dynamics. Coulson & May always play well together, so that was no surprise. Having FitzSimmons, Skye, and Ward as a team was a nice surprise though. The Brits & Skye have had a nice bit of playful Science Rivalry going on for a while now, but having Ward playing their brother (given all the brother issues he's been involved with) outside of the more 'operations' stuff he goes through around May & Coulson was fun -- it was the most relaxed we've seen him AND a great example of the more complex high-end agent introduced in the first episode as being on the caliber of Romanov/Barton.

In general, the point about the full-season pick-up in sound. A lot seems to have gelled, both in the mythos and in the characters -- as well as in how the actors are playing the characters. It should be interesting to see how the rest of the season develops, with all the pieces lined up, the inevitable Whedon Swerve, and the dove-tailed with WINTER SOLDIER and its involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D.

P.S. For the record, I was excited to see Ian Quinn returning. I actually liked the character the first time around, seeing the idea of the a powerful extragovernmental spy network versus libertarian business interests being a nice shades-of-gray question (which bad guy had the moral vs ethical high ground). I'm hoping that he doesn't just become another cog in the Centipede web, as I was actually rooting for him a bit in the Graviton episode! ;)
Brian Haughwout
5. bhaughwout
(So, with the propensity of Stan Lee playing bumbling joke cameos in all the various Marvel properties, what are the chances now that he ends up being revealed as The Clairvoyant and spends the rest of the season shocking us all by being a complete dark badass?)
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
I've heard that theory, and it amuses me. His presence in every MCU film certainly explains why he knows EVERYTHING!
Jeff R.
7. Jeff R.
Me, I figure that all of the Stan Lee lookalikes are Space Phantoms.
Alan Dionne
8. amdionne
I am now prepared to reveal that the Clairvoyant is actually ... MODOK!

Or not. I've been wrong before. Nineteen-and-aught-eighty-five, that was.
Jeff R.
9. KenH
Smug Drinklots, heh.

Sinister McHighball. Scotch Gulfstream. Nefarious Glenlivet.
Brian Haughwout
10. bhaughwout
SCOTCH GULFSTREAM!!!

Must find use for alias...
Kimani Rogers
11. KiManiak
Thanks for the recap, Chris.

I appreciated the Final Fantasy VIII reference, although that would probably make Nick Fury Headmaster Cid (and Maria Hill the Sorceress?).

I also appreciated the captions under your stills. But after seeing your dislike for anything lemon-and-vodka, I would strongly encourage you to check out limoncello (or even make some yourself; if done right, it's totally worth the trouble).

And how could you not mention the Bucky reference?
Alan Brown
12. AlanBrown
Skye is the Clairvoyant. She just doesn't know it because it is an alternate personality that she only enters while in a fugue state.
Michael Ikeda
13. mikeda
Note the name of one of the students: Callie Hannigan.

A little shoutout to BtVS perhaps...
Jeff R.
14. Bytowner
Did they explicitly state that the campus was a loss? The building with the Wall of Valour is still standing at the end of the episode, so I have my doubts.

Certainly, fixing whatever damage happened off-camera is going to be costly, and Fury and the World Security Council aren't going to be happy about that.

Quinn and the Clairvoyant, though?
Chris Meadows
15. Robotech_Master
As an aside, isn't it interesting that Ward seems totally back to normal now, just a few episodes after the Asgardian staff screwed with his head and the Asgardian said it might take fifty years or so for him to get over it?
Tom Smith
16. phuzz
So, I thought this was the last episode of the series. How many more episodes are we getting and when?
Chris Nelly
17. Aeryl
@15, I think that's where the importance of his and May's intimate relationship comes from. He knows he's not alone in living with that burden, and by watching how she's dealt with it, it's helped him.
Jeff R.
18. Ragnarredbeard
@15, I took the whole staff effects speech not as it will take 50 years to get over it, but as you'll get over it when you die. Remember, the Asgardian guy is several thousand years old and he still is affected by the staff. The only way out is to die.
Jeff R.
19. TM
I stopped watching the show early on but I still read your play-by-plays as they're far more entertaining! I only wish the show had more of the same kind of classic Whedon tongue-in-cheek as your descriptions do...
Jeff R.
20. James Moar
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Wall of Valor lists casualties up to 2015. Production error or...?
A terrible tragedy involving a time machine?
Jenny Thrash
21. Sihaya
What struck me most about this episode is that it really exposed the many psychological and social consequences of being a SHIELD redshirt. Suited guys die all the time as the backup in comic books, and the only time they don't remain anonymous is when mourning their deaths, briefly, will help the hero's character development. This isn't a new topic of exploration, I admit, but I like how it was handled this time.

In this story we learn that the suits care for each other, have rivalries with each other, and have a social structure. They also remember each other, because nobody else will. Donnie feels isolated because he's only noticed or cultivated by these faceless margin dwellers, and he doesn't seem to notice that they care about how he's doing. Skye, on the other hand, feels exactly the opposite, because she realizes that she's been noticed, cultivated and cared for by these same people, and that the reason they're not really faceless is because they matter to each other. As a matter of fact, they matter desperately to each other; that desperation is acted out in the FUBAR that has led to a live, angry Coulson. Skye feels anchored; Donnie feels limited; Coulson feels betrayed. Life as a redshirt is more complicated than it seems.
Chris Lough
22. TorChris
One of the drawbacks of doing the recaps and working for the site is that I rarely get time to read the comments here. Apologies for my late (or non-existent?) replies!

I didn't mention the Barnes reference because the last time I did it actually spoiled Winter Soldier for someone. It never occurred to me that this was a "reveal" at all, but after watching the Cap 2 trailers and synop for the movie I noticed Marvel Studios is actually being careful not to let that reveal slip, so I'm taking my cue from that.

That said, it's pretty common knowledge to comics readers so I figured ya'll would bring it up anyway!

@phuzz. I think we're getting a 20 episode season total, maybe 22. The original pick-up was for 13. The ratings are consistent enough for a second season renewal, as well, which would bring the show all the way up to the debut of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

@KiManiak. Our staff writer Leah brought some limoncello to us from Italy in December, actually! We drank heartily. (Actually, cautiously because that mess is stronnnng.)

@amdionne. I am now prepared to reveal that the Clairvoyant is actually ... MODOK!

That was the first thing I thought, too! It makes no sense but I want it anyway, just to see if they can pull it off.
Jeff R.
23. Bytowner
No, James. Probably just SHIELD planning ahead.

Mildly surprised at how few the numbers are on this particular Wall of Valor. Just the graduates of the Sci-Tech branch of the Academy, perhaps?
Jenny Thrash
24. Sihaya
#23 - I was surprised there were names with all the stars. Also, I was looking for the spot where they had to chisel out "Coulson" (realizing it was probably never there, but wondering).

And It's Drinky McMoneyPants. This guy looks so bored. You can tell that he pays a minion just to laugh maniacally for him. James Earl Jones turned down the chance to audition for the job.
Sky Thibedeau
25. SkylarkThibedeau
Episode kills my theory that may is Skye's Mom. I think we are getting ready for a Super Villains vs. Shield Throw Down about the Time the Winter Soldier comes out. It will be interesting how they handle the reveals of what Shield has done with Robert Redford's character in charge.
Chris Meadows
26. Robotech_Master
@24: The odd thing is, if they wanted to keep Coulson's revival a secret from the Avengers, they kind of should have put his name on there and it should still be on there. Sooner or later one of them (probably Captain America, he's the most on board with the whole we're-a-team thing) is going to look for his name on one of those walls to pay his respects (as Skye did for Agent Not-Her-Mother) and wonder why his name isn't on it.
Jeff R.
28. mirana
Just want to say I definitely remembered Quinn because his episode is the one where he randomly changes suit jackets in the middle of his party. One minute he's talking to Skye in one, and then a mostly off-screen hand gives him what must be a new jacket because in the next cut he's wearing a different one on the stage that was a few feet away. It's like wardrobe messed up and they were all, "Uhhhh, we'll just sorta make it look like he changes. While walking two feet. He's just vain. I guess."

There do seem to be a lot of silly costume changes in this show, though. ;)
Liz J
29. Ellisande
@26 Well, of course, if SHIELD really wanted that, they shouldn't have had Coulson walking around in public in the middle of Los Angeles. Besides, Centipede knows he's back from the dead, and somehow Tony Stark is still in the dark about it? uh huh. Not to say they won't try to pull that, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Coulson's hardly been low-profile the entire series.

And for those wondering about the wall - I was able to pause it on my tv at HD. There are four symbols for the names, representing the three divisions and the older group that Bucky is under (and disappears from the lists). One of those symbols next to the names is the one that's above for the Sci-Tech Division, so it's definitely for all three.

I don't think it can be up to 'present' (or 2015 as it says lol) though because the name Skye points at, who died in the 90's, is a third down the right-hand panel. That doesn't leave a lot of room for ~20 years of agent losses, and seems unlikely to include any of the SHIELD personnel who died when the tesseract facility collapsed in Avengers.
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
@29, We never actually got a body count on that. There were a few people still in the tunnel behind Hill, and everyone Coulson was with got out, so although the entire facility collapsed, I don't think the count was on the hundreds. Dozens maybe.

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