Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield – Part 7

by J.J.Foxe on November 19, 2013

This is the seventh 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 installments 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

And Part 5:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shield-part-5

And Part 6:

http://jjfoxe.com/lessons-for-writers-from-agents-of-shield-part-6

SPOILERS

You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first six 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 7 – THE HUB

The Hub starts out with an action sequence that is the ending of another story (not shown).  Coulson’s team rescue Agent Shaw from an arctic base and then extract the Intel that Shaw has stored on something that is hidden up his nose (extracted by Simmons!).

When the intel is extracted Coulson tells them that they are going to The Hub to get it decoded because it has a security rating of Level 8 – which none of them have.

The Hub turns out to be a Shield facility – and at this facility when the Intel is developed and analyzed it turns out that some separatists in South Ossetia (Russia) have developed a weapon called The Overkill Device and they plan to use it to signal their independence from Russia and Georgia.

Agent Hand says this device needs to be disabled – and it needs a two-person team to go in and do it.  And the two people who fit her criteria are Ward and Fitz.

Ward and Fitz have to cross undetected into the South Ossetia border and then infiltrate the separatist’s base. They have various adventures along the way – first they are held at gunpoint at a bar where Ward is looking for a contact called Uri from a prior mission.

After they negotiate to be smuggled across the border, separatist guards stop the truck that they are in, and guards pursue them.  They gain entrance using a device called a ‘mag pouch’ (more on this below) and then they proceed to look for the device.

Whilst they have been infiltrating the separatist base, Skye has persuaded Simmons that they need to uncover information to find out what’s happening to Ward and Fitz – Simmons is seriously worried about Fitz.

And Skye comes up with a plan that involves tricking Shield into thinking she is browsing the internet normally (via her bracelet – see Episode 6) and gives her three minutes to access the system.

Simmons is busted by Agent Sitwell and in a great scene (see below) she shoots him with the Night Night gun.  (More on the gun below).  Skye gets three minutes to check out information on Ward and Fitz – and she is caught by Coulson, but not before she discovers that there is no extraction plan for them.

Coulson argues with Hand about this and says that his men should have been able to make the choice to go on a suicide mission. Hand argues back that this would have diminished Fitz’s focus – and therefore his effectiveness.

Back in South Ossetia, Ward signals the extraction team…and realizes that something is wrong and there will be no extraction.  Ward and Fitz proceed anyway – Ward tells Fitz there is no extraction and gives him extra time to leave.  But Fitz won’t leave without Ward.

Skye, May and Simmons decide to go after Ward and Fitz and do the extraction – and Coulson is waiting for them to join them.  Ward and Fitz are rescued by the rest of the team…and this concludes the main spine of the episode.

There are two stingers though…see the next section.

The Continuing Story?

There is not much of what I’ve been describing as ‘the continuing story’ in this episode. There are some references from other Shield agents – principally Agent Hand – to Coulson being ‘back in the big leagues.’

There are two story strands to check out though.

The first is Skye’s history, and the redacted document concerning how she was delivered at the orphanage where she grew up.  When they arrive at The Hub she asks Coulson about it.

And she has a moment to try and look up the information herself – but doesn’t.  Instead she looks up the information needed on Ward and Fitz.

But Coulson does check it out for her.

And he tells her that he found the unredacted file – and that file isn’t directly about Skye.  But is about the woman who dropped Skye off at the Orphanage – and that she was a Shield Agent.  Coulson says that they don’t know if the woman was Skye’s mother or an agent who found her on a doorstep.

Skye is thankful. But there’s more he’s not telling her – he tells May that Skye knows she was dropped off at the orphanage by a Shield Agent.  May says: “But you didn’t tell her why?”

Coulson: “I can’t.  Some secretes are meant to stay secrets.” Then he asks May if she’ll help find out what really happened.  May looks at a photo – presumably from the redacted file – of a woman lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

So this story strand is set to run for more episodes.

The other story strand concerns Coulson. Agent Hand mentions Tahiti – and we get the standard response: It’s a magical place.  But in previous episodes when Coulson has said this he’s had almost a dreamy look on his face.

This time he stumbles over the words and looks puzzled.

This is paid off at the end of the episode when Coulson tries to access his own medical records. And is told that he does not have clearance for that.  So this question is still driving forward.

There’s nothing though about Raina from Episode 5.  And nothing on the ‘Centipede’ people she is either working with or for.

It will also be interesting to see if any of the other Shield agents resurface in future episodes – whether that’s Hand, Shaw or Sitwell.

Writing Lessons From Episode 7

There are several writing lessons I want to take from Episode 7.

Let’s start by looking at some good stuff.  In Episode 6 I talked about some of Simmons’s dialogue and her character – there’s some more good stuff with her character in Episode 7.

First up, there’s the scene where Skye is trying to persuade Simmons that they need to find out information on Ward and Fitz themselves.  And they have this conversation once Simmons realizes what Skye wants to do:

Simmons: No.  I can’t be part of your bad girl shenanigans.  I like following the rules and doing what’s expected of me.  It makes me feel nice.

Skye: Simmons.  Wake up.  Ward and Fitz went on a top secret two-man operation….and maybe there’s nothing we can do to help.  But what if they’re injured…or being tortured somewhere right now…

Simmons: Fitz?  Tortured?

She looks down, then says: What exactly do you have in mind?

Now what I like about this is that although Skye eventually persuades her to co-operate with her plan – that will involve hacking a Level 8 Shield Facility – the dialogue is totally in character and the scene contains a nice level of conflict.

This is continued when Skye and Simmons actually enact her plan, but then Simmons is stopped by Agent Sitwell.  It would have been so easy for the writers to have come up with some clever ‘geek’ talk to get her way out of it.  Instead they kept Simmons in character and she became really flustered.

Sitwell:  Agent Simmons.

Simmons turns around.

Simmons: Hello. Mr Agent Sitwell. Sir.  May I help you?

Sitwell:  Call me Jasper.

Simmons: What brings you to this restricted hallway so late at night?

Sitwell: I could ask you the same thing.

Simmons leans forward and smile: No. Don’t.

The conversation goes from bad to worse for Simmons, and when Sitwell asks for her authorisation she says it’s in her bag and then pulls out the night night gun and shoots him.  (More on the night night gun below).

Now again, that’s not earth shattering writing…but it’s totally in character and the night night gun has been set up over several episodes.  So it’s totally believable.  And that brings us to the second writing lesson from Episode 7 – and that’s facilitating lazy plotting.

Lazy Plotting

There are two examples of this in Episode 7 – and both involve Fitz and Ward’s mission.

The first is when Fitz uses the ‘localised EMP’ transmitter in the bar on the border to kill all the lights.  And the second is the Mag Pouch used to get into the separatist’s compound via the bottom of a convenient truck.

Now both of these are set up before they are used – Fitz is shown putting the Mag Pouch into his knapsack as he is preparing for the mission.  And he collects the ‘localized EMP’ transmitter from The Hub.

But both seem like lazy plotting to me. Especially the Mag Pouch.

I simply don’t believe that an Agent of the level Ward is supposed to be would rely on a passing track as a way to get into the separatist base on a time sensitive mission.  In my day job I’ve gigged at military bases – and the security at the places I’ve been to usually involve men sweeping the sides of your vehicle using mirrors placed on the end of long sticks.

Plus there’s the suspension of disbelief needed to believe that something the size of a large sleeping bag can have enough magnetic force to somehow attach safely to the underside of a moving truck. Personally I don’t buy it.

And in a fast moving show that contains only 40 minutes of actual on screen time, you can probably get away with one.  But not two.  And for me, the EMP transmitter kind of worked the way it played out on screen, but the Mag Pouch didn’t.

It was a fancy detail that just didn’t wash.

The Prosciutto And Buffalo Mozzarella Sandwich

Talking of detail, watch the episode again for the three instances of the prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with a hint of pesto aioli sandwich.  Now this is a great detail – it’s used three times and notice how it’s used to help characterise.

The first time it’s used, Simmons has made it for Fitz to talk with him on his mission.  And we find out it’s his favourite sandwich. And the first usage really helps show how much Simmons cares for Fitz.

The second time the sandwich is used, Ward and Fitz are in a drainage pipe hiding out from separatist troops.  Fitz offers some to Ward – but Ward takes the entire sandwich and throws it away into an unseen pool/puddle of water.  Fitz is angry – but Ward’s reasoning is that it could help tracker dogs discover them.

The third time the sandwich is mentioned is when Fitz and Ward have been rescued.  Simmons asks how the sandwich was. Fitz doesn’t tell her that Ward threw it away.  He just says it was perfect.

This is a great mini lesson on how to use a prop – and the fact that Fitz looks something as precise as prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with a hint of pesto aioli also serves to further characterise Fitz as well.

The Night Night Gun

Talking of props, the night night gun also worked really well in this episode.  Fitz has been developing this weapon for what?  3 episodes? 4 episodes? And that development has helped characterise some of the characters.

There was the episode where Fitz suggested calling it the Night Night gun – and Ward said we’re not calling it that.

There was episode 6 where Ward said it was an ounce too heavy.  And then Fitz and Simmons did impressions of Ward when he was not there.  And Simmons lied to Ward and told him that there had been a bullet in the chamber and now it was perfect.

So this ‘prop’ has been developed over several episodes.  And I don’t know if the writers had been setting it up for the moment when Simmons shoots Sitwell with it in this episode, or whether it’s for use in another episode.  Or whether it’s something that they were using to help develop character and they found that it just fit perfectly for this episode.  But it’s use was excellent in this episode.

Transitions

The final writing lesson I want to talk about again is something straight forward, but something that the writers used well in Episode 7.

Remember above I said that the on screen time for each episode is only about 40 minutes?  Well to fit in scenes like the scene where Simmons gives Fitz the sandwich, or the scene where Coulson talks to May whilst she’s doing tai chi, the writers have to find economy elsewhere.

And they do that with some great transitions.  I’ve got three examples I pulled form Episode 7 for you.

First at the start of the Episode, when Coulson tells them they can’t know about the intel that they got from Agent Shaw’s nose, May tells Skye that the Hub is different.

Skye says: The Hub? What’s the Hub?

And the next shot is of the Shield plane parked at the Hub and then there’s a zoom out to the rest of the location.  The ‘text’ that types in and tells us that we’re at The Hub is redundant.  The transition is so good we don’t need that.

The second transition is the scene above where Skye is trying to persuade Simmons to help her hack the Hub’s computer.  And she says that Fitz and Ward might be tortured.

Simmons says: Fitz ?  Tortured.

And then we transition back to Fitz and Ward’s storyline. And Fitz does indeed appear to be tortured. He is hung upside down in a narrow underground chamber…only seconds later we find out that he’s fixing the electricity that he shorted with the localized EMP.

And the third transition I want to point out is after Fitz has fixed the electricity and has a drink with the Russians.  And then he says: Let’s get down to business.

The business implied is how to get over the border and the next shot has Fitz and Ward in the back of a beer truck going over the border and Ward is criticizing the amount Fitz paid.

All of those transitions do a professional job of moving the story from location to location without extraneous exposition.  The challenge for fiction writers is how to do that with prose.

The Clone Wars Theory

In Column 32 of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot’s great series over at Wordplayer they discuss Plot Devices.  Now one of the plot devices that Elliot and Rossio describe is ‘The Clone Wars Theory.’

Here’s what they say:

It’s that line from STAR WARS where Obi-Wan tells Luke, “He fought with your father in the Clone Wars.” In the whole rest of the movie, there isn’t another reference to the Clone Wars. Does it really have to be there? Not really. But it’s that kind of touch that made the Star Wars universe so real, to so many people. For years afterwards, fans speculated and wrote stories on what might have gone on in the Clone Wars — all from just that one throwaway line.

And there’s a line when Hand and Coulson are arguing over whether there should be an extraction for Ward and Fitz.  Or whether they should have been told there was no planned extraction.  And Hand says:

“Barton. Romanoff.  They never have an extraction plan.”

Coulson replies: “They know that going in.”

Now we never get to hear anymore about Barton or Romanoff.  And I’m not a Marvel buff but I’m guessing they don’t feature in the Marvel Universe.  But this is The Clone Wars Theory.  And it helps make the story world feel more real, feel that there is a past that informs the present.  Even if we never get to find out those details.

Summary

I really enjoyed Episode 7 – even with the Mag Pouch!  And maybe it’s because I’m starting to get into these weekly analysis posts and I’ve found a lot to learn from in this lesson.

Episode 8 – which is called The Well – airs tonight in the US and airs Friday on our side of the pond.  I’ll post an article after that episode once it’s aired in the UK – the trailer looks good.  I’ll try and see ‘Thor 2’ before then as well – as this episode seems to be linked to the new Thor film.

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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