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:
And Part 3 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 4
The story contained within Episode 4 is the pursuit of a rogue Shield Agent who is committing nearly impossible diamond robberies. The agent – called Akela Amador – is a former Protégé of Coulson’s. After pulling off another heist in Sweden, the Shield team track Amador to Belarus. When they neutralize her, they find out that she was captured and wounded on a previous Shield operation that failed and then rescued by an unknown organization.
The unknown organization has planted an electronic eye in place of a wounded one – and controls her via messages to this eye. Any attempt to ignore the messages results in pain being sent to the eye – Amador calls them electronic migraines.
Fitz rigs up a device set into a pair of glasses and Shield hijack the feed that Amador’s controller can see and Agent Ward carried out Amador’s next mission whilst Coulson asks Simmons to remove Amador’s artificial eye.
The Continuing Story?
As always, I’m constantly looking for references to ‘the continuing story.’ And after the truth serum dialogue from Episode 3 I’m also looking for plot events that we’ve already experienced to take on new meaning or resonance.
The instances I picked out from Episode 4 to be of significance were these:
1) When Ward gets into the Research Building wearing the glasses hijacking Amidor’s feed, he has to go to a room on the Delta 5 level. In that room his mission is deemed completed when he looks at some kind of equation on a white board. Coulson references this later in the Episode and says: it might be alien.
So that raises an interesting story question – I’ll be looking to see if that is paid off in another episode.
2) There’s also the question of ‘who’ is directing Amidor? When they discover the technology of her eye Fitz and Simmons declare it to be genius and say it’s 10 years beyond anything that ‘they’ have got. (‘They’ I assume to be Shield.) So who are the people who have retrofitted Amidor with this eye technology – are they related to the people from Episode 1 who were after the Centipede?
This is an ongoing story question…and it will be interesting to see how this is answered/paid off down the line in later episodes? (And interesting to see if the events here have any effect on the rest of the ‘Marvel’ universe e.g. The Avengers Sequel.)
3) At the end of the Episode, May escorts Amidor to waiting Shield Agents who are taking her away for trial. She asks May what has happened to Coulson. May gives a glib answer and she gets in her space and says: No. What have they done to Coulson?”
May doesn’t have an answer and Amidor says: never mind. I’m wondering when the whole Coulson/Tahiti/After Death experience etc will get paid off and how it will impact the story and the characters. They are definitely making a lot of it.
Writing Lessons From Episode 4
The first writing lesson I want to pick up from Episode 4 is about plants and reveals. At the start of Episode 4 Coulson asks Ward Skye’s weapons training
Coulson: She stopped saying bang when she pulls the trigger?
Ward: Mostly. Now if she could just learn the difference between the safety release and the magazine release we’ll be making real progress.
This is played out almost as passing dialogue – but is really paid off in the scene when Skye is in the ‘tech’ van with Fitz and Simmons and Amidor rams them in her own vehicle. Amidor reverses for another go and Skye gets into the front seat and Fitz gives her a gun.
She takes the gun, says: Safety off. And then watches as the magazine drops into her lap. She looks up as Amidor’s vehicle is approaching and says: Bang?
Now to me that was really interesting writing – Skye ISN’T a super Agent like Ward or May and they are training her. And she can’t suddenly pull out a gun and start shooting because she’s still training. So as well as being a great demonstration of set ups and pay offs, it’s also realistic characterisation.
The second writing lesson is especially valid for all of us from our side of the pond. When Amidor has been neutralized and Coulson is interrogating her, she tells him that she thinks of her controller as ‘The Englishman.’ That’s because he uses words like ‘lift’ instead of elevator. Or ‘boot’ instead of ‘trunk.’
Now this has got two applications – one you can tell the audience that your character is English say, and differentiate him from your American characters by having him use ‘English’ words like lift and trunk. And also, if you are an English writer you probably should be using American spellings and American words in preference to English ones…(I’ll post more about why I think this another time here on The Foxe).
And the lesson doesn’t just apply to nationality. It can apply to characters who come from different regions. Or who are from different jobs. For example a cop will have his own unique vocabulary that say a musician wouldn’t use. And a musician would have his own unique vocabulary that a cop wouldn’t use. So the words your characters say can deepen your characterization.
Taking to the nth degree, that’s a cool writing lesson that will make your characters more realistic to the readers.
The third writing lesson to take from Episode 4 – and the Masterclass in this is either Firefly or Serenity – is how the different characters have their own style of speaking and acting. For example when they are arriving in Zloda (in Belarus), Simmons says: How exciting. I’ve dreamed of visiting Zloda since I was a schoolgirl.
Fitz says: Zloda Belarus? A dream come true? Really?
Simmons then says it’s the birthplace of a Nobel peace prize-winning physicist. And expresses her surprise that Fitz doesn’t know that. There are numerous examples of these types of interactions – especially from Fitz and Simmons. Who incidentally are my favourite characters on the show…but being this is Joss Whedon we can expect that somewhere down the line someone might get actually killed…and not get back from Tahiti. Yikes.
But if you watch the episodes carefully you’ll see lots of character moments like this – especially from Fitz and Simmons. This is another great writing lesson…make your characters different and have their actions and dialogue reflect this difference. And cross reference the scene above where Skye says: Safety Off and ejects the magazine. And compare the difference with how she performs ‘in combat’ with Ward or May. Or even Coulson.
Episode 5 – which is called The Girl In The Flower Dress – aired Tuesday night 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.