Only You Can Prevent Boring Fires. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “The Girl in the Flower Dress”

Goodbye, Scorch. We hardly knew ye. Not that we were supposed to know ye, considering that ye were just a plot device designed to give the Woman in the Flower Dress something to be Delightfully Evil towards. Isn’t that weird, though? How the guy with fire powers was by far the most boring part of the episode?

The story of how Hong Kong street magician Chan Ho Yin is kidnapped by Centipede is a familiar one. Boy meets girl. Boy immediately reveals innate fire powers to girl. Girl kidnaps him. Roll credits. I’m only half-joking by calling this a familiar situation. While it sounds kind of quirky and fun when you write it out like that, seeing it play out was a slow, dim experience. The saccharine creepiness of the girl, Raina, already tells you how this will end, so you’re left waiting for the episode to catch up.

The entire framing plot of Chan Ho Yin/Scorch plays out like this. You know the beats already. He’ll accept their offer to max out his powers. He’ll revel in it, they’ll betray him, then there will be a fight. “Scorch” is given all of two seconds to develop a character that can make this progression believable, which they eventually ditch anyway in favor of a retread of the “Extremis makes you crazy!” business. Although Ruth Negga’s potrayal of Raina enlivens these proceedings a little bit (enough that I’m glad she survives the episode) on the whole this was a flat and uninteresting affair, made worse by the fact that it kept taking time away from the genuinely interesting aspects of the episode.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Girl in the Flower Dress

Interesting Thing #1: Skye gets found out. Hooray! I was hoping that this would happen sooner rather than later. Coulson and the agents would seem dumb otherwise, and even if you don’t like her character this development at least gives the team something to interact with that isn’t just another guy with superpowers or another alien artifact.

The reveal was nicely handled (Agent May is not impressed with your sexyhackertimes), strengthened Skye’s character, and re-focused us on the questions that, in retrospect, we should have been asking in the first place. Namely, if Skye genuinely believes in her work with both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Rising Tide, then what is her ultimate objective?

I found the answer to that question a little rote. Skye wants to know who her parents are and apparently Skye’s parents are notorious to S.H.I.E.L.D., enough that they needed to be erased from society. So now we’re on a scavenger hunt, but the possibilities that this hunt opens up are exciting. My first, super-geeky thought was to think that Skye is somehow related to the Red Skull. That makes no sense whatsoever, but it underscores the opportunity Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has here to fold some of the forgotten elements from the Marvel movie universe, or the comics, into its narrative.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Girl in the Flower Dress

So as long as Skye doesn’t turn out to be Coulson’s kid (they’re both the right age for it…) I’m happy about this new ongoing mystery.

Interesting Thing #2: How Coulson reacts to Skye’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. Aside from Skye’s objective, this is what made the final scene in the episode so charged. Was Coulson going to let her continue on the team? Or was he going to lock Skye up? As we’ve seen in past episodes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is less than kind to those who leave the fold. But this was a main character so obviously she would still be in the show…would Coulson let her off with a stern warning? I hoped not. Coulson’s the reason we watch this show and this would deflate his effectiveness.

The solution was appropriately devious, I thought. Skye gets to stay with them…as their prisoner. It’s a fittingly bleak punishment for her betrayal. What she does with her day is no longer her choice, and she’ll receive no support from those whose trust she violated. Skye has been playing a more serious game than she perhaps realized, despite her protestations earlier in the episode that what S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing is more real than “liberating information.” Now she’s bearing out that cost. Sure, she’ll get the answers she’s been searching for…but she could have had that and more.

For Coulson’s part, Skye’s betrayal has brought to light something that’s been bugging him for a while: he’s not as good at his job as he used to be. Specifically, Coulson is troubled by the bad calls he’s made ever since “that alien staff went through my heart.”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Girl in the Flower Dress

It’s an interesting emotional angle to add to the mystery of just how Coulson survived Loki’s attack and even though we’re only five episodes in to this new series, it definitely bears out in regards to the haphazard manner that he and his team have dealt with situations. (I mean, Coulson’s thwarted by a traffic jam earlier in the episode. He’s definitely not on his A-game here.) It also raises the question: Is Coulson suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Considering all of the insane things Coulson has had to deal with in the past few years, and the generally violent life of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, it actually seems weird that he wouldn’t be displaying some signs of PTSD. What if this was the larger mystery behind his seeming resurrection? What if it’s not how he survived, but how he’s dealing with the trauma of supporting a world full of superheroes?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. purports to be about how normal people, the support staff, and so on, continue their lives in the shadow of huge world-shattering heroes and villains, so it’s not entirely out of the question that the person closest to all of this would be suffering in ways that we haven’t yet realized. And hell, if Tony Stark can be rattled by the Battle of New York, so can Coulson.

Interesting Thing #3: The index. S.H.I.E.L.D. has a list of superpowered people they’re keeping tabs on. It’s a short list. We’ve probably seen quite a few of them already but still OOOH, A LIST. LET ME SEE IT.

Interesting Thing #4: The “girl” in the flower dress. The cast of the show we’re live-tweeting and instagramming last night’s episode, inadvertently revealing that Raina, “the girl in the flower dress” is coming back in a future episode. Since she’s by far the most interesting adversary that has yet cropped up in the show, I am all for it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Girl in the Flower Dress

From the episode and the post-credits sequence, it’s clear that she works for an organization that’s trying to create its own super-soldiers by stabilizing Extremis. This organization is ruthless about covering their tracks and wants to stay far away from S.H.I.E.L.D., but now that S.H.I.E.L.D. has ostensibly found a way to neutralize Extremis, will we see Raina attempt to form, or perhaps force, an alliance? I’d love to see that character as an uneasy ally to the team.

Further, is Centipede the remnants of A.I.M., from Iron Man 3? Were we supposed to recognize that guy in the post-credits scene? Who or what is the “clairvoyant” and why doesn’t it like to be touched? Is Raina telepathic?

And does any of this dovetail with the recent news that Ben Kingsley has filmed a mysterious new scene (or scenes) as his fake-Mandarin character?


Stolen Platelets of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“The Girl in the Flower Dress” is the fifth episode in the series and the fifth episode written by Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell, and considering how this brings Skye’s plotline full circle I suspect that these episodes were all of a block written before the show began filming, before the pilot was officially picked up, and before anyone knew what the actors would bring to the table.

Considering that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show gets more varied (and hopefully more subtle) as it evolves over the winter. With the notable exception of “Eye Spy,” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been sticking to a fairly stock formula: a dramatic cold-open with this week’s threat, the screen on The Bus goes BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP, the team heads off to tackle it, something goes wrong, someone makes a speech, and everything works out in the end anyhow.

Time to stretch those legs, agents! Get off The Bus and be proactive. Stop trying to dig up people with superpowers. (At least the folks in the first four episodes had explanations for their abilities, goofy as they were. Poor Scotch Scorch didn’t even get that.) Get Coulson off the back-bench and flesh out your other characters! It’s a credit to the show that the most interesting aspects of this episode were the ones dealing with Skye and her affect on the rest of the cast. Now let’s feel that way about everybody! Go team!

But mayyybe keep an eye on how you represent the various peoples of the world and how they’re handled by the hyper-controlling secret service agency that our heroes represent. Since there’s only been five episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it seems far too early to judge whether their depictions of race, gender, and authority will be the same going forward. But they’re not off to the best start.

Chris Lough is the resident recapper of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and had a hard time not replacing Scorch with Gob Bluth when thinking about the episode.


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