28th Oct2013

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

by Mark Allen

Written by Brent Fletcher | Directed by Jesse Bochco | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen


This week’s episode sees a welcome and significant progression in the season’s main arc, a superpower plot more in keeping with the MCU and a couple of decent steps forward in some characters’ development. ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’ may not have as interesting a story as last week’s ‘Eye-Spy’, but there’s enough juicy teases, new characters and concepts introduced to more than make up for its failings.

Opening in Hong Kong, we meet amateur magician Chan performing street magic to an unimpressed crowd only to break out his true talent: he can produce small bursts of fire from his hands. Seemingly impressed by his display, American Raina (the titular ‘girl’, and an enigmatic, compelling screen presence) gushes over him and they both go back to his place, only to have goons in flame-proof suits accost and kidnap Chan. He wakes up in a Centipede base of operations, and Raina promises him a life of worldwide fame (and the not-so-catchy handle ‘Scorch’) if he submits to their testing program.

Chan, who had previously been under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s thumb but is seduced by the prospect of greater recognition, uses weird Americanisms like “not even a little” that flatten his personality somewhat and don’t really set him apart culturally from any other character, which is probably to be expected for a show whose characters can get from Texas to China in a bout half an hour. On the other hand, it’s disappointing for a series with as much diversity in its cast and crew to reduce dialects and unique character backgrounds to ‘occasionally speaking Cantonese’, especially in a Whedon show.

[Yes, I realise the irony in using an example of a gimmick which involved Chinese-speaking characters. I have seen Firefly. But my point still stands: all of the Serenity’s crew had distinctly different voices, as did much of the supporting cast. And anyway, they swore in Mandarin, so there.]

Back at the ranch – or, rather, 30,000 feet in the air – Ward and Skye bond over ‘Battleship’ while Coulson and Melinda May watch and, um, flirt? I’m not sure what the subtext of their conversation was but I hope May’s offer to “spar” with Coulson was that and that alone. It’s bad enough everyone’s shipping everyone else on the plane, including the writers.

At least we get a little more confirmation on the theory that Coulson’s running on batteries (his “I had a little extra energy”) from the exchange, but Melinda May shows such a drastically different side than the one we’re used to that the whole thing was kind of icky for me.

I know I’ve complained about Ming-Na Wen’s performance being somewhat one-note (not unlike The Walking Dead‘s Michonne, in fact) in the past, but this is a pretty drastic u-turn for her. I know she’s resigned herself to combat duty by now, but the fact that she actually wnats to fight? I don’t buy it.

Anyway, upon discovering that Chan’s missing and that his data was leaked by a member of the Rising Tide, the gang – after glaring at Skye for a few minutes because SHE’S ONE OF THEM FILTHY HACKERS – heads to Austin, Texas (nobody ever just says “Austin”, presumably because of the ensuing confusion with all those Austins in Africa and the Middle East) to get the jump on waxwork dickhead Miles, head of the info-terrorist group and owner of a sexy beard but sadly no discernible acting ability.

Ward is put in charge of tailing him and cocks up within the first ten seconds, getting seen after staring at Miles’ face and therefore bypassing the need for a tense following sequence so we can get straight to Phil chasing after him in a 4×4. I thought Ward was supposed to be a goddamn spy?

Miles makes it to his car and activates a doohickey on his phone that turns all traffic lights in the vicinity to green and gets Coulson stuck in gridlock. My favourite thing about this scene is when we see the master hacker press the button labeled “gridlock protocol” and then say, out loud to no-one in particular, “GRIDLOCK PROTOCOL”. I hate Miles already, and that’s only his first line.

Miles arrives home safe and unfollowed, except for an unexpected visitor in Skye. They yell at each other about Skye’s potentially compromised position with S.H.I.E.L.D., but that doesn’t last too long before they start ripping each other’s clothes off – in Miles’ case, the same t-shirt twice – and doing the horizontal cha-cha. The classic line that gets Skye too hot and bothered to contain her insatiable lust for beard sex?

“I’ve been missing you like crazy.”

Fuck you, Miles.

After copulating in about as sexless manner as only a network owned by Disney can do, Skye reminds us of the secret chip she took from her van in the pilot by taking it out of her bra…as she’s putting it back on. I might not be an expert on the mechanics of women’s underwear (insert sleazy “Or am I?” joke here), I kind of doubt the chip would stay exactly in place after being torn off and thrown across the room in what I can only imagine was a frenzy of vanilla sex.

I wasn’t left wondering about that for long though, as Agent May shows up outside Miles’ bedroom door, proving that there is at least one agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who can tail somebody without getting made within the first five seconds. It’s a little creepy that May, who Coulson told to follow Skye, waited until she and Miles had finished having sex to make her presence known, don’t you think?

Turns out Miles isn’t as ethical or idealistic as Skye thought, as evidenced by his online bank fraud and propensity for selling secrets to the highest bidder, including giving Raina the information on Chan. The rest of the team show up so they can shame their new teammate for both lying to them and having sex with such a douchebag, which Fitz seems particularly upset about for no clear reason: “I thought she was our friend,” he mewls like a ten-year old who’s just been bitten by his rabid hamster Fluffy.

I don’t know why he thought they were great pals; they’ve known one another about a month and it’s only been a few weeks since Fitzsimmons were acting like Skye moving in was the ultimate act of Cramping Their Style. I really do hope they fix the problems with F/S, as when they’re not simply set dressing in important scenes (they’re even sidelined as the tech heroes later on by MILES, of all people) they’re given totally inconsistent characterisation. It’s a shame, because I really do think they showed promise in the pilot.

Back in the secret lab, Chan’s power escalates and he’s drawn further into the story Raina’s spun for him. Unfortunately, it’s all lies, as becomes apparent (and was already pretty obvious) when Debbie – the evil scientist who gave Mike Peterson his powers in the first episode – shows up and tells her subordinate to drain “Scorch” of his fire-resistant platelets so they can add the element to all future serums and stop their home-grown super-soldiers from exploding. Which is pretty neat, although it’s uncertain why Debbie tells Raina to “drain him” when she’s prepping the procedure herself in the following scene. Those wacky scientists.

It’s not long before Coulson’s team and a few of Hong Kong S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest storm the facility and try to free Chan, but it’s too late; without his fireproofing, his flames burn at his flesh and he goes mad with pain and lust for the power he was promised. May and Coulson are trapped in the lab with Scorch (who, initially sceptical of the name, really gets into it, as amusingly bemoaned by Phil and Melinda) and, through a set of contrivances too silly to go into, Ward and Skye have to enter the building to open the doors while Miles is taken out of his cuffs so that he can work some techno-voodoo on some other doors.

It’s unfortunate that Fitz’s facial expressions and gesticulations might be the most consistently enjoyable part of the show, but his reaction to Miles taking control among other instances almost make up for the writers’ inability to know what to do with either him or Simmons. Almost.

The climactic confrontation is actually pretty satisfying, finally letting May throw herself into some meaty action, passing the villainous torch from Debbie to Raina in suitably traitorous fashion and actually giving fans a conflict that feels decidedly comic-book in origin. It’s not quite good enough for me to not notice the flaws, but delving deeper into the mythos of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s world definitely has me more invested than before.

Once the main story’s still wrapped up, there’s still Miles and Skye to deal with. Coulson elects to abandon him in Hong Kong with little chance of escape or even survival, which is fine by me. His last conversation with a rueful Skye involves such gems of dialogue as “you’ve changed,” “you’re not who you used to be” (which are pretty much exactly the same thing, no?) and the kicker of kickers: “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” Me too, Miles, and I’m glad it wasn’t you.

What Skye is looking for, it turns out, is her parents:  under duress from Coulson, she takes out her secret chip and reveals that she’s an orphan who joined the Rising Tide to track down her long-lost folks, all record of whom seem to have been wiped off the face of the earth. Phil warns her that the path she wants to walk might not be decorated in roses, but she’s determined to follow through, even if it means staying with a team who can’t entirely trust her in what is essentially house-arrest. Okay, plane-arrest.

Clark Gregg in no-bullshit mode is utterly sobering and the extra background on Skye vastly helps in re-grounding her emotionally, contributing to a incredibly solid ending that has me looking forward to finding out more about both Skye and Coulson. The final tag introduces what looks to be the Big Bad, locked up but likely not for long, although what we’ve seen of Raina already suggests that she may well eventually usurp him, which I’m just fine with.

Overall, this certainly wasn’t a bad episode, but I wonder if I’d feel any different if most of the leads were replaced by different characters, which is problematic to say the least. Right now I’m much more invested in seeing where Raina turns up next and who she ices than whether or not Melinda May feels bad when she kicks a guy in the neck.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is skipping next week and coming back in November, so you get an extra seven days without my rambling commentary. I think it’ll be worth the wait, though, because the trailer for episode 6, “FZZT”, has me all kinds of excited:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.Dairs Tuesdays on ABC in the U.S. and Fridays on Channel 4 in the U.K.