Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield – Part 11

by J.J.Foxe on February 6, 2014


This is the eleventh part in an ongoing series following the Joss Whedon produced series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  If you’ve not read the earlier instalments in this series for writers you probably should.  The links are now at the bottom of the post.


You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first ten episodes.  Now Channel 4 in the UK has decided not to schedule the remaining episodes until March…so it’s taken me a couple of weeks but I had to download Episodes 11 and 12 and 13 so I could catch up.  Currently, Episode 13 just aired in the US so I’ll be aiming to try and get back up to speed in the next week or so.

A Précis Of Episode 11 – The Magical Place

The Magical Place is the follow on episode to The Bridge. And if you don’t remember The Bridge ends with Raina and Po kidnapping Coulson instead of taking Mike Peterson, and then Peterson being engulfed by an explosion as he tried to rescue Coulson.

The Episode kicks off with a ‘Previously On Agents Of Shields’ and then after the Marvel intro we are taken straight to a scene where an unidentified guy is trying to sell someone a Chitari artefact.  This deal is busted by the Shield team – and the sequence shows May and Ward kicking ass, FitzSimmons deploying their scientific gadgets and then Skye displaying her computer prowess by sending the unidentified bad guy up to the roof in an elevator.

On the roof Agent Hand appears – amongst the heavily armed SWAT team – and the bad guy is apprehended.

Back on the Shield plane, we quickly learn that it’s been 36 hours since Coulson went missing, that the unidentified guy is called Van Chat, and that the Chitari artefact is made of the same metal as that used in the Centipede devices.  These revelations are swiftly followed by the news – given at one of Agent Hand’s briefings – that ‘burned remains’ were recovered at the Bridge, and are believed to be Mike Peterson’s.

Skye is then caught trying to hack into the Shield computers– via the tracking device from Episode 5 – and Agent Hand orders her off the team.  Ward stands up for her, but Hand asks May this: “Your professional opinion? Will this girl be of any use to us on this plane?”

And May appears to give Skye up by saying no.

Hand orders Skye to go to debrief and Ward – as her SO – volunteers to take her.  But Ward lets her go before the Agents assigned to escorting her to debrief arrive, and Skye leaves.

We then switch to Coulson. Po is torturing him and using a machine to try to get him to reveal what happened to him after he died.  We get dream sequences of Tahiti, and then Coulson is back in a room with Po. And then when Coulson taunts Po that The Clairvoyant is a fake, Po tells Coulson that he can’t see what happened to Coulson after he died.

Skye then runs an elaborate trace on the funds that were transferred to Van Chat. She cannot simply use a computer, because the tracking bracelet shuts anything down – even smart phones – and so she has to improvise by tricking a financier to his house, and getting him to operate his computers so that the bracelet won’t interfere.  When he demands ID, she uses his smart phone and the Shield bracelet shuts it down.

Raina joins Po at the interrogation.  After a disagreement about the methods Po is using – mostly torture – the Clairvoyant phones.  Po takes the call, passes it to Raina.  Raina says a couple of non-descript replies, then passes the phone back.  Po takes it back, and then the phone zaps Po with some kind of electronic charge and he dies.

Raina takes over the interrogation.  She persuades Coulson to go back under Po’s machine willingly – by using information that the Clairvoyant has shared about the woman Coulson loved, that he believes no-one else can know.

Skye has found a financial lead to the village where Coulson is being held, and arranges to meet her team there.  Agent Hand confronts them, realizes she’s been played, but doesn’t stop them from joining Skye.

There is a confrontation – the Centipede shoulders are neutralized, Skye slugs Raina in the face, and the machine Coulson is using is turned off.  But not before we – and Coulson –  have seen that Tahiti is a sham.  And that some serious shit was being done to Coulson’s brain – his skull cap has been removed and a robotic spider is zapping his brain.  And that Coulson was begging to die.

There’s a stinger to the episode though.  A man wakes up somewhere.  He looks at himself in the mirror – it is Mike Peterson.  Writing appears on his vision – Good morning, Mike. How are you?

He didn’t die. And he’s been fitted with the Eye Technology that the Centipede soldiers had.  Now THAT should have been the cliffhanger episode for the mid season break.

The Continuing Story?

The obvious elements of the continuing story are the tie up of the ‘Tahiti is a magical place’ sub plot.  So we learned that not only did Coulson really die, but that he was dead for days and only lives because of major advanced surgery.

In Coulson’s interactions with Raina though, there was an interesting dialogue exchange. Raina is telling Coulson about the machine and how it works, and says that if you don’t fight it, it will work.  And then she says: it worked for me.

So I wonder if we’ll learn the significance of that remark at a later date.

The Clairvoyant now appears to be assuming the role of the main antagonist.  Coulson specifically mentions The Clairvoyant to Agent Hand as she hands over control of the Shield plane back to Coulson.

And the stinger at the end of the episode – where Mike Peterson is alive and has been fitted with the Eye Control technology – raises the question: when will he appear again?  Will the Team have to face and defeat him at some stage soon? And how did the Raina and Po manage to somehow smuggle him away – presumably seriously wounded as he’s lost half of his right leg?

Writing Lessons From Episode 11

There are three writing lessons from Episode 11 that I want to share with you.

Setting Things Up Too Subtly?

This involves the Mike Petersen stinger.

At the end of Episode 10, Peterson is apparently blown up trying to rescue Coulson.  And Agent Hand seems to confirm this in the briefing at the start of the Episode.  Coulson also mentions it during his interrogation with Raina.

The interesting part is when Raina arrives half way through Coulson’s interrogation.  Po says:  “It’s about time you were here.”  Raina replies: “I was taking care of our other charge.”

And obviously she means Mike.

But when he sits up at the end of the episode it comes as a massive shock.  And I wonder if this was set up too subtly.  I know that I missed Raina’s dialogue the first time I watched the episode, it’s only when I watched the episode back in preparation for writing this article that I picked it up.

So I wonder if this foreshadowing was done too subtly.

Also tied in with this is Raina’s dialogue about how the machine worked on her.  Will that ever pay off? If the machine was used on her – presumably to discover deeply buried memories – what were they?

Using Foreshadowing In Episodic Work

Now part of the reason I’ve been doing this series is to see what I can learn and apply to my own ongoing series.  (Now my series is fiction rather than TV…but the principle remains the same).

And there’s a couple of interesting uses of foreshadowing going on.  In an earlier episode Ward and Coulson were talking about girlfriends and Coulson mentioned he used to date a Cello Player.  At the time that dialogue exchange was driven by Ward asking questions we assumed because of his clandestine relationship with May.

But that dialogue pays off in Episode 11.  Because Raina talks about the cello player and Raina’s understanding of this relationship that Coulson had is part of how she persuades him to voluntarily submit to Po’s machine to find out what happened in Tahiti.

And she says to Coulson something like: don’t you want to know what secrets Shield kept from you?

Now this is a great scene that pays off that line of dialogue.  But it doesn’t end there….I watched Episode 12 before I prepped this.  And in Episode 12, Coulson tells May he’s tired of secrets.  And it causes two revelations….we’ll deal with those in the next argument.

But it’s a really subtle use of foreshadowing that is cleverly set up and even more cleverly paid off.  And I’m not sure it would work quite so well in a longer work of fiction, or a non-episodic work.  But check it out; it’s an excellent piece of writing.

Characters Being ‘True’ To Themselves

Nothing bugs me more about a TV show or movie where one of the good guys gets involved in a scrape and suddenly revealing hitherto undiscovered fighting skills that get them out of said scrape.

So one of the things that’s great about the writing on S.H.I.E.L.D is the characters of the main team – and how although they are growing and learning, they don’t develop new skills.

This is shown all the way through this episode.  Right at the top of the show when the Team are helping capture the dealer in Chitari artefacts Van Chat, May and Ward go in fighting.  When Van Chat escapes, FitzSimmons deploy their flying robots.  When Van Chat escapes to a lift, Skye overrides the computer system of the building and sends him to the roof of the building where Agent Hand is waiting.

And this consistent characterisation is carried through to their dialogue as well as their actions. After watching 11 episodes we have a really good sense of who each character is and what they can do. And we are never ‘thrown out’ of the characterisations by anyone doing anything that is out of character.

From a writing perspective this is a great lesson because when you have set parameters like this up, you have to find ways to solve story problems that are in character.  So when Skye gets off the plane and has to try and track the Centipede money trail, she finds she can’t use a computer directly because of the security bracelet.

So she has to come up and execute a plan that involves her target typing on the computer.

Now they do this really, really well in Shield and if you watch the show carefully there are plenty of examples to learn from. There was one scene in this episode where they lost track of this and messed this up.

An Action Scene Too Far?

At the end of Episode 11 as the Shield team discover the location where Coulson is being kept, they have to deal with the surviving Centipede soldiers.  And Ward ends up fighting me.

And hello? In the episode were the Centipede soldiers broke Po out of jail they fought ordinary prison wardens….and their punches threw the wardens twenty feet across the room.  Plus they had increased speed.

Ward may be trained…but he can’t compete with a Centipede soldier.  The writers of the Episode got rid of one of the Centipede soldiers by having him run down…for me, they need to do something similar with the second soldier.


Episode 13 aired two nights ago in the US….I’ve downloaded that and decided NOT to watch it until I’ve done the writing lessons from Episode 12 article.  But I’ll try to get to that at the weekend.

If you’ve got any writing lessons – whether story oriented or otherwise – from this series, don’t hesitate to share by dropping a comment.

Links To Previous Articles

You can find Part 1 here:


And Part 2 is here:


And Part 3 is here:


And Part 4:


And Part 5:


And Part 6:


And Part 7:


And Part 8:


And Part 9:


And Part 10:



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