Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield – Part 3

by J.J.Foxe on October 16, 2013

This is the third 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 first two instalments in this series for writers you probably should.  You can find Part 1 here:


And Part 2 is here:



You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first three episodes.  If you haven’t, I recommend finding them on the Interwebz and watching them.  In the UK you can find them on the Channel 4 website.  In the US you can find them on the ABC website.

A Précis Of Episode 3

The story contained within Episode 3 concerns the kidnapping and attempted retrieval of a Shield Agent/Asset  – a physicist called Franklin Hall. Hall is captured by Quinn – a former colleague – who has discovered a substance called Gravitonium which has the power to distort gravity.

Shield have to break into Quinn’s compound – and to do this Skye uses her computer geekery to get an invite and become their ‘man’ on the inside.

When Skye helps disable the security system Coulson and Ward go into the compound – and Coulson discovers that Hall wanted to get kidnapped and is trying to destroy the gravity machine that Quinn has built because it is too dangerous for anyone to possess.

The Continuing Story?

Although the episode was self contained there were several glimpses into the story arc that I’m hoping will unravel as the full season goes on.

(Sidebar: and I read this week that the full season of 22 episodes was officially given the green light this week – so only another 19 posts to go in this series!)

Firstly there was an ongoing reference to Coulson being ‘rusty.’ This leads to May volunteering to take part in combat situations in future.  But there’s a great little scene where Coulson gives May the opportunity to volunteer for the extraction mission and she doesn’t. Coulson says:

“You forget, I saw plenty of action with The Avengers.”  And then he walks off.

And the camera zooms in on May and she says, sotto voce: “And you died.”

So I’m hoping this plot strand is going somewhere…as it’s getting a lot of mentions and it would be poor writing if it doesn’t lead anywhere.

We also got to see a bit of Sky’s back story and a bit of Ward’s too.  In one of her scenes with Quinn we find out that she has no family. Then in the gym scene at the end we hear that she was an orphan and several attempts at being fostered failed.

There are also several nods to the connection that Agents of Shield has with The Avengers and the Marvel universe. There’s a scene where Coulson and Hall are arguing about power and who should wield it – and Hall says: “Your search for an ultimate power source….brought an alien invasion.”

And there’s a scene where Ward says: “I know Director Furey feels he owes you and gave you some autonomy after your sacrifice-“

Coulson interrupts with a snappy one liner: “And my card collection.”

And for real Marvelheads who will pick up the reference – I had it pointed it out to me by someone who is – the stinger at the end of the episode where Hall’s machine is locked away after it has been made safer by introducing a catalyst, which turned out to be Hall himself, and we see a hand come out of the rotating black substance in the centre of the machine points to the birth of a Marvel character – Graviton.

So although Episode 3 is definitely a self-contained story, we get connections to story threads outside of the episode itself.

Writing Lessons From Episode 3

There are two writing lessons I’ve picked out from Episode 3.

Firstly there’s a sub-plot in the Episode about Skye and her training to become an operative. Early on in the episode Ward is taking her through strength training – bunch presses, punch bags, that kind of work – and she is late for training and half hearted about doing it.

Ward speaks to Coulson about it – in the scene where Coulson says:  ‘and my card collection’ scene – and is worried that she has not truly committed to becoming an Agent.

During Skye’s confrontation with Quinn, Quinn pulls a gun on her. And asks her why she is working for Shield.  The answer she gives him is words that she took from Ward – and then she disarms him using a combat technique that Ward taught her.

And escapes by leaping from a veranda into a pool.

At the end of Episode Ward turns up to the gym on the plane to continue training with Skye.  But she is already there. And we see her striking the punch bag with purpose.  That image is the lesson….the change in her attitude and determination is concrete for us.

When you can, use an action to symbolize character change.

The second writing lesson is about the perception of story details and what they mean.  If you go back to Episode 1 there’s a scene where Coulson is trying to get Skye to tell them where the hooded hero is – and he comes back with a nasty looking injection which he tells her is a truth serum.

And then he injects Ward.

Now that was kind of cool.  And helped characterise Coulson as someone who operates in a very different way than might be expected.

But it crops again in Episode 3.  When Ward is training Skye, and she is being half assed, he tells her that every field agent has a defining moment.  She asks him what his was.  He doesn’t answer.  She says:

“I could get Coulson to give you some of that truth serum. And you could spill your little heart out to me.”

Ward says: “You mean my level one overshare that miraculously got you to co-operate?”  As Skye is looking puzzled he continues: “I hate to tell you this rookie, but we don’t have a truth serum.”

Skye then tells Coulson that Ward said that.  And Coulson says: “Ward said that? Interesting.”  And walks off.

In the final scene, where Skye is hitting the punch bag, she says: “And I know there’s a truth serum.”  Ward replies: “Whatever you say rookie.”

So now we’re not sure if there WAS a truth serum and Ward is saying there wasn’t to cover something from Skye, or if there wasn’t a truth serum and Ward and Coulson pulled a fast one on Skye.  Either way, it will be interesting to see if this crops up again.  And shows the importance of plants, reveals and decoys.

Which is a great writing lesson.


Episode 4 – which is called Eye Spy – aired tonight in the US and airs on Friday in the UK.  There will be a fourth episode in this series of articles to follow.

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