Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield – Part 5

by J.J.Foxe on November 1, 2013

This is the fifth 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.  You can find Part 1 here:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shields-part-1

And Part 2 is here:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shield-part-2

And Part 3 is here:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shield-part-3

And Part 4:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shield-part-4

SPOILERS

You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first five 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 5 – The Girl In The Flower Dress

The Girl In The Flower Dress was the most interesting episode to date…and touches on some story threads from previous episodes as we’ll see in a moment.

The episode centres around Honk Kong street magician Chan Ho Yin – who is an ordinary street magician, except that he has small pyrotechnic ability.

He is approached/seduced by the titular ‘girl in the flower dress’ and is abducted from his apartment by two men in fireproof suits. When he wakes up Raina – the girl in the flower dress – tells him that they have a serum that will magnify his powers and want to test him on it.

It turns out that Raina is in cahoots with the unseen bad guys from Episode 1 – and what they are trying to do is stabilize the serum they’ve been developing to make super soldiers so that it doesn’t blow them up.

The Shield team get involved because Chan is on a list of people/objects with power.  The Honk Kong branch says that they have been hacked by the Rising Tide and that’s how Chan’s details have leaked out.

Having to prove she is nothing to do with this, Skye looks into the hack and pins it onto a well known hacked called Miles Lydon in Austin, Texas.  The team go to Austin – where Miles escapes Ward and Coulson.  And goes back to his apartment – where Skye is waiting for him.

Skye and Miles have obviously been in a relationship.  But unknown to Skye, Coulson asked May to follow her and she and Miles are taken to the Shield Plane as prisoners.

It turns out that Miles sold the information – to Skye’s disgust – for a million dollars. Miles justifies it to Skye – and himself – by saying that he traced the money back and it was from an eco-research company.  “Centipedes….what’s more harmless than that?”

The Doctor from Episode 1 is involved in Chan’s testing – and Raina tells her that something in Chan’s blood (“platelets”) prevent the serum from being unpredictable.  The Doctor tells Raina to ‘drain him’ – and when Chan wakes up he has been drained.

The Shield team is on the way and break into the research complex the Centipede group have been using. Chan no longer wants to do what they tell him – which is basically keep a low profile, don’t use your power – and he injects himself with more of the Extremis serum and starts throwing fireballs at Coulson and May.

The finale of this action sequence is that Chan (aka ‘Scorch’) confronts the Doctor and torches her – but Raina escapes.  And then Coulson distracts him and May injects him with two doses of serum.  And because he no longer has the platelets he explodes like the Centipede guy at the beginning of the pilot episode.

Skye and Miles help with computer stuff in this finale.

Miles is then fitted with some kind of security bracelet and abandoned in Hong Kong.  Skye is given one chance to explain her betrayal to Coulson – and she hands him an SD Card.  On this card are documents that relate to the reason she became a hacker – and the search to find her parents.

And they boil down to one document – with the name of the orphanage she mentions in Episode 3 (St Agnes).  And that document is redacted.  By Shield.

Coulson says he may be able to help….but she gets a bracelet like Miles to wear.

The Continuing Story?

There are two main ‘continuing’ story threads present in this episode.  The first one concerns Skye’s backstory.  The SD card that she pulls out for the climatic scene with Coulson is shown in her love scene with Miles.  And a couple of times Miles has some tangential dialogue that makes sense when we get the reveal of the information on the SD card.  He has dialogue like: you know what you are looking for.

The second continuing story thread is the centipede story line.  The reappearance of the doctor and the testing of Chan with the serum are all part of this. And the fact that the Centipede group (whoever they are) gets something from Chan’s blood that helps them pushes their story forward.

There’s also an intriguing epilogue where Raina goes to see someone in prison to tell him about progress.  We have an intriguing interchange where she mentions moving to Phase 2 and even Phase 3.  And that he’ll have to talk to ‘the clairvoyant’ for information about Phase 3.  Raina also talks about getting the toy soldiers off the shelf.

So we’re left with a string of story questions to be resolved in future episodes:

  • How will Skye’s betrayal of the team (by warning Miles) affect her working with them?
  • Who were Skye’s parents? And why did Shield try and hide their identity?
  • Ward and Skye were getting closer….how will their relationship develop from here?
  • Who is Raina? Where does she fit in?
  • What is the significance of ‘flower dresses?’ The episode is called ‘Girl In The Flower Dress.’  Miles talks about selling the information to a girl in a flower dress.  The guy she goes to see in prison says he likes her dress.
  • Who or what is The Clairvoyant?
  • Who is the guy in the jail?
  • What are Phase 2 and Phase 3?

This was my favourite episode so far.

Writing Lessons From Episode 5

The first writing lesson from Episode 5 that I want to talk about is something that I think the writers could have done better. And it concerns the SD Card that Skye carries tucked into her bra.

Firstly, I think this should have been planted earlier in the series. For example there’s a scene in the pilot episode where she takes some kind of figurine from her van and transfers it to her bunk on the Shield plane.  Now if she had revealed the SD card from the figurine that would have paid off that scene where she lay on her bunk staring at the figurine.

Instead the writers had to have a clumsy scene where she’s getting dressed after having sex and has to tuck it into her bra.

Now I also think that this is poor characterization. Skye is a super hacker…so why would she carry what appear to be her only copies of documents that are of vital importance to her on an easily damaged or lost SD card tucked into her bra?  Could she not store it in some fashion in the cloud so it can’t be lost?  And where she can retrieve it whenever she has internet access?

That just came across as lazy writing to me – all of the folks I’ve ever met who were serious computer geeks (and ‘geek’ is used in a complimentary sense, not a negative one) were also deadly serious about back ups.  And they did back ups of their back ups.  And had them in different physical locations in case of floods or fire. And so on.

So when you have a character with certain character traits don’t reach for lazy plot solutions like crappy SD cards hidden in a bra.  Instead find the solution from a proper extension of your character’s backstory and unique abilities.

 

The second writing lesson I want to talk about concerns Raina.  Unlike the Doctor – who in Episode 1 came across as a bit of a ‘cardboard’ baddie – Raina comes across as a really interesting character.  Firstly there’s the flower dresses that she wears.  I noted the question above about what the significance of that was.

So being as we’re in a ‘Marvel’ universe where people can have superpowers it makes me wonder if she has some kind of power…and has to wear a flower dress to trigger it?  (Weird, I know).

The other thing that’s interesting about her is her modus operandi – she gets Chan to go along with the testing by talking about his dreams of being recognized for his power, his gift.

And when Miles is being interviewed we find out that she used similar wording to persuade him to do the hack.  And told him that the million dollars would help him spread his gift.

This is really interesting psychological characterization IMO.  It reminds me of Black Widow in The Avengers movie, and her method of getting people to give her information.

She also seems to be ruthless – witness how she closes the lift door so that The Doctor has to confront ‘Scorch – and totally committed to whatever it is she is trying to achieve.

I’ve often seen it written that ‘heroes’ are only as good as the strength of the opposition they have to go up against.  And prior to this Episode there was no recognizable antagonist.  Now it may be that Raina won’t play a big part in future episodes…but that would be a shame.  As the writers have the start of a compelling antagonist here.

The third writing lesson for today is about characterization again.  Simmons doesn’t have much of a role in this episode but there’s a couple of lines of dialogue that almost go unnoticed – they are very low key – but are really deft at characterizing who she is.

First up, when Skye has been busted by May in Miles apartment, Fitz says to Simmons: Why would Skye do this to us. For him.  I thought she was our friend.

Simmons: I think she is Fitz. But he’s obviously more than that.

Fitz: But we’ve been through so much together…and she didn’t even tell us she had a guy?

Simmons: Who knows what they’ve been through together?

And then moments later, Skye is led away after Ward handcuffs her.  And as she passes Simons, Simmons says in a low voice: You missed a button.

Now Skye was looking for her top when she was getting dressed – and May had it. And obviously she has put it on in a hurry. But those low key lines of dialogue – and especially the way they are delivered by the actress playing Skye (Elisabeth Henstridge) really help delineated Simmons’s character.  It will be interesting to see if this continues in future episodes.

Summary

Episode 6 – which is called  – airs next Tuesday night in the US .  I’ll post an article after that episode once it’s aired here next Friday  –  the trailer looked good.

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

 

 

 

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