In the previous series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson, May and Co, fought alongside a demon with a flaming skull driving a muscle car, and got caught in a dangerously real, computer simulated world created by a super-hot, super-genius A.I. woman. So where does AOS go from there if it wants to top that? Easy. Into space. Because, as Coulson points out with one of his trademark wry one-liners, “We’ve never done that before.” Which seems as good a reason as any for a show that has gone out of its way to provide delirious fantasy, sci-fi and action thrills to its loyal fans.
Cleverly, this opening episode begins just a little before the conclusion of Season 4. Set to the music of Talking Heads, a quirky prologue gives us the briefest hint of the unearthly forces involved in capturing Coulson and his crew, before carting them away in suspended animation. It also sets up the beginning of a mystery that permeates the episode.
After a brief glimpse of a black monolith, the team find themselves on a space-station, surrounded by well-preserved human husks, and the big skittering beasts, known as roaches, that made them that way. Pulling on well-known sci-fi tropes, the episode suddenly feels like one of the better entries in the Alien franchise, as the agents make their way gingerly down dark corridors, unsure whether it’s better to be at the front or the back. More unusually, the episode also recalls Vincenzo Natali’s influential sci-fi horror Cube. The agents don’t know where they are, when they are, or what they have to do, and there’s the sense that they’ve been put in the middle of some kind of deadly game to which they don’t know the rules.
More than any other show this critic can think of, AOS knows how to use its heroes, showing off each member’s power and personality as they work together and individually. Everyone is given ample opportunity to do their thing and it never feels forced. Daisy, or Quake if you prefer, gets to stand at the front of the group, ready to literally blow away the first sign of approaching danger; Mac gets to be big and brave and strong; Coulson gets to be funny in a stoic laughing-in-the-face-of-danger kind of way; Simmons gets to be smart, in a totally winning way; and of course Agent May, played by the ever watchable Ming-Na Wen, gets to be feisty and hard as nails, but with a soft centre, as she kicks face, ass and everything in between. There’s also a new character called Deke, who appears looking like Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, and turns out to be a Han Solo style loveable rogue, by way of Bradley Cooper, which is no bad thing, if a bit too familiar.
This is all great fun of course, but the big reveal, when it finally comes, doesn’t at first seem equal to the carefully built set up. Fortunately the episode isn’t quite done, and in its closing moments shows off some truly epic special effects and then pulls out an intriguing twist that will surely have viewers moving straight to episode 2, wondering where this audacious new series of AOS is going to take us.