Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield Part 12

by J.J.Foxe on March 1, 2014

This is the twelfth 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 to download the episodes I’ve missed and catch up.

A Précis Of Episode 12 – Seed

Episode 12 Seeds starts with some students letting off steam by going skinny-dipping after they’ve just had a test.  Only things go south when ice starts to freeze the pool over.  One of the students – Seth Dormer – gets his leg trapped by the encroaching ice and is freed by another student who seemed to be there by chance – that student is Donnie Gill.

As Seth is lead away by the two girls he came to the pool with, one of the girls keeps him warm with a dressing gown. On the back of the dressing gown is the S.H.I.E.LD logo.

We cut to the Shield plane and Coulson is fixating on the information that he learned in the previous episode – that he was dead for six days.

It turns out that the device that created the ice in the swimming pool was designed by Fitz and Simmons when they were at Shield’s Science and Technology Academy. And Fitz and Simmons have been asked back to consult on the investigation.  But we quickly learn that Coulson and May have got a different mission to deal with.

When Ward, Skye and FitzSimmons arrive at the science academy they are met by Agent Weaver.  And Fitz and Simmons are treated by the Academy Students as if they are rock stars.  Ward takes Skye to see something at the Academy….that something is The Wall Of Valour.  (More on that in the writing lessons.)

We cut to Coulson and May on the Shield plane.  Coulson is still fixating on the fact that he was dead for days.  May tells Coulson that they are heading to Mexico City.  Coulson asks why.  The Agent who took Skye to the orphanage when she was a baby – Linden Avery – was killed but she had a partner who went off grid at the same time, Richard Lumley, and has been missing for 23 years.  But there’s been a sighting of Lumley in Mexico and they are tracking him down.

We cut back to the Academy…and Agent Weaver is introducing Fitz and Simmons giving a speech on potentiality. But the speech is interrupted when Donny Gill (from the intro scene that kicks the episode off) stands up shouting, and ice starts to engulf him from the ground up.

Fitz breaks ice off Donny and Simmons injects him.  Ward turns up and the device causing the problem is smashed and the ice on Donny Gill breaks and falls off him.

Then we get a cutaway to a character we’ve not seen since Episode 2 – Ian Quinn.  And he is talking to someone – we don’t know who – and he appears to be connected to the device in some way.

Ward tells Fitz to go and keep Donnie company, and he goes to the student’s ‘off limits’ bar, The Boiler Room.  Fitz goes to Donnie’s room and they start talking about some of Donnie’s ideas and inventions.  Fitz tells Donnie that he shouldn’t keep these big ideas to himself.  Donnie says: these aren’t my big ideas.

Back in Mexico, Ward and May manage to track down Lumley by staking out a ‘dress makers’ where they sell forged papers and don’t use computers (off grid). Ludlow makes them and there’s a chase and a fight with May.  He tries to take something, but May kicks it out of his hand. Lumley flees by climbing towards a roof – Coulson engages Lola’s rockets and flies vertically upwards.

When Lumley finds out Coulson is with Shield, he says: “Thank God.  It’s about the baby girl isn’t it?”

We cut back to the plane and Coulson asks Lumley why he was going to take cyanide.  Lumley tells them a story of a village in China slaughtered and a team dispatched to recover an O-8-4.  (Remember from Episode 2 – an O-8-4 is an object of unknown origin.)  It turns out that the 0-8-4 was Skye – and all of the team involved were killed.  Lumley is the last one who knew about Skye when she was a baby still alive.

Lumley warns Coulson and May about the girl – he says death follows her.  May tells Coulson they can’t tell anyone – especially Skye.

Back at the Academy Donnie shows Fitz a battery he has invented – but it doesn’t work properly.  Fitz looks at the designs and suggests something that will work.

In the Boiler Room Ward is playing snooker with one of the girls who was at the pool – Callie Hannigan (see dialogue below in the writing lesson) and he finds out that Seth and Donnie not only know each other, but have been looking forward to meeting Fitz for weeks.  Ward realises there has been a set up.

Simmons phones Fitz to tell him to get out, and Fitz realizes he has helped Donnie solve a power problem. He goes back to Donnie’s room – and Donnie is working on another ice making device, only much larger.  Seth shoots Fitz with a tranquilizer. Seth and Donnie flee with the device.

Fitz, Simmons and Skye go back to the plane – Coulson and May are back from Mexico – and whilst talking through what’s happened Fitz makes the leap that what Donnie and Seth have built is a product.  The parts needed for it are rare and expensive and therefore they must have a backer.  Skye says that that purchases can be traced.

We cut to Donnie and Seth and find out that it is Seth who is talking to Quinn and trying to sell this device. Quinn tells Seth the deal is off because Shield knows about it, and demands a demonstration.  Although Donnie is reluctant, Seth persuades him to fire up the machine.

We cut back to the Shield plane and Skye has traced part deliveries to Seth’s father – who is a lawyer for Quinn Enterprises – and so Shield know it’s Quinn.  Skye confronts Coulson because he won’t look at her – and he tells her the truth about what they found in Mexico.  The whole shebang: the shield team, the Chinese village, all massacred trying to protect her.

Donnie machine works – and a super storm starts brewing.  Hailstones and ice strike their car and crack the windscreen.  Donnie persuades Seth to help turning the machine off and Fitz suggests that they descend in the Shield plane through the eye of the storm (great graphic!).

Whilst Seth and Donnie are trying to disengage the machine it blows up and Seth is hurt.  The Shield plane lands through the eye of the storm and the team take Seth and Donnie into the plane.

Simmons tries to revive Seth, but he dies.

The episode is almost over.  Coulson and May talk in the bar on the plane…May asks Coulson if he told Skye.  And when he tells her he did, she says: It must have destroyed her.  Coulson gives us a speech – and yeah it’s a touch melodramatic – where he tells May that Skye had been searching for family her whole life, every family who took her in only kept her for a few months (because of the Shield protocol that Avery set up to protect her), and that Shield had been protecting her all that time, looking after her.  That Shield was the family she’s always had, looking after her.

We get part of this in voiceover as Skye goes to the Wall Of Valour, and traces her finger across the nameplate for Agent Avery.

There are a couple of stingers to the episode.  The first is that Donnie is being taken to the Sandbox for observation, and we get a shot of him through a car window.  He draws his finger across the window pane….and leaves a streak of ice on the window.

The second one is when Coulson phones Ian Quinn.  And tells him that he has a message for him.  If he ever flies over territory allied with Shield his plane will be shot down.  Quinn does not seem over bothered, and says to Coulson: I have a message for you.  The clairvoyant says hello.

The Continuing Story?

There are quite a few threads of the Continuing Story in this episode.

First there is Coulson trying to come to terms with the truth that he learned in the previous episode about his death and the fake memories of Tahiti.  (We’re not done with Tahiti either….Episode 14 is called T.A.H.I.T.I.)

Secondly there is the story of Skye and her origins.  It turns out that she seems to be an O-8-4 – an object of unknown origin.  So it will be really interesting to see what happens with this thread – is Skye a superhero?  What truly are her origins?  It’s also interesting that in the ‘Previously on Agents Of Shields’ clip at the start of the episode there’s a section from Episode 2 where Coulson says to Skye: “An O-8-4 is an object of unknown origin.  Kind of like you.”  I never picked that up at the time….great plant though.

Thirdly we get insight into Fitz and Simmons.  And that they are brilliant – the youngest ever scientists to graduate from the Shield science academy.  And so on. Plus in the scenes where Fitz is talking to Donnie he identifies with him – a shy, lonely kid who geeks out on science. And it’s also obvious (again) that Fitz really cares for Simmons.

Fourth we have the reappearance of Ian Quinn….and he’s linked to the Clairvoyant.  So although this episode is a bit of a standalone in some respects, the single mention at the end of the episode gives the stinger a healthy sting.

And fifth, we have Donnie and his newly discovered cryogenic powers. And in the speech about potentiality – and in Fitz’s defences of Donnie’s – we are left to wonder if Donnie truly will develop into a bad seed or not.

The Writing Lessons From Episode 12

There are three

The Wall Of Valour

The Wall Of Valour was a great piece of writing. It serves two purposes – the direct story purpose is for Skye to touch Agent Avery’s name whilst Coulson is doing his monologue.  That action shows Skye’s commitment to the Shield cause.

The secondary story purpose of the Wall of Valour is more subtle – and in some ways more powerful. It’s a piece of world building in the Shield universe,  but it’s a really powerful piece of world building.  It really helps with the belief – at least for the duration of the show – that Shield is a real, law enforcement entity.

How organizations and institutions honour their dead is part of that organization’s mythology and story – and the Wall Of Valour helps fleshes Shield out as a real organization just a bit more.

Plus it could be used again in future episodes – if a Shield agent dies in the course of an episode, maybe their name tag can be seen being engraved on the Wall at a Shield facility.

A great piece of world building


I want to look at three small dialogue exchanges in this episode that I really liked.  Joss Whedon’s TV shows tend to have great dialogue…and these exchanges are great examples of showing character through dialogue.

The first exchange I want to look at occurs when Agent Weaver tells Ward they are worried they have a bad seed, Ward turns to Skye and says something about Shield being careful about how people use the tools they are given.

Skye stops him and says: “Bad seed is not a Shield term, Ward. It’s just a term.”

And the way she says it reminds you that there’s been lots of talk about going through the various Shield academies, but Skye didn’t go through them.  She’s an outsider in some ways.  And in some ways we see Shield through her eyes.

The second exchange I want to look at is when Ward is playing Callie Hannigan at pool in the Boiler Room, digging for information.  She breaks, and he says: “Not a bad shot.”

She says: “You mean for a girl?

Ward: “For anybody.”

Callie: “Elastic collision equations. Contact point geometry.  And practice.”

Now that’s actually a really neat piece of dialogue that tells you a lot about who Callie is.  Smart and focused.  Delivered in 8 words. And delivered with a track of flirt too.  Very cool.

The third exchange I want to look at is when Coulson tells Skye about her past.

Coulson says: “When we started this I warned you that you might not like what you found.”

Skye: “And I told you it can’t be worse than I’ve imagined.”

Coulson looks at Skye, says: “It is.”

Now in truth there are several more exchanges I could have pointed out – May and Coulson waiting for Lumley to make a move, Ward and Fitz talking about the differences between the Science Academy and the Operations Academy, and more.

Good dialogue should move the story forward and reveal character.  And there’s lots of good dialogue to study in these episodes.  (If you want great dialogue to study…check out Firefly.  Look out for a post about that shortly.)

Time And Scene Shifting

TV (and film) has an advantage over written fiction in what it can do with scene and time shifting.

For example, in the scene at the end of the episode where Coulson is telling May how Skye took the news about her past goes from a view of Coulson and May, to a cutaway of Skye at the Wall Of Valour – without interrupting Coulson’s monologue – and then back to Coulson.

I’m not sure how to do this in writing….but I’m interested in experimenting and seeing if it’s possible.  If anyone has any thoughts on this – or can point to any examples – please post in the comments!


Episode 14 is set to air next Tuesday in the US now that the Olympics are finished….so I’ll get caught up on Episode 13 before 14 airs.

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:


And Part 11:


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