Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shields – Part 9

by J.J.Foxe on December 4, 2013

This is the ninth 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:


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:



You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first eight 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 9 – Repairs

Episode 9 starts off with not one bang, but two.

First we have the start of the story for this episode – we find out that there’s been an explosion at a plant in Batesville, Utah, which has killed four workers.  And apparently a young woman is to blame.  That woman – Hannah Hutchings – is buying groceries at a store when the store manager starts asking her questions about the accident in a way that clearly makes her uncomfortable.

She tries to leaves – but the manager comes from behind his counter.  He was a friend of one of the guys.

Before he can confront her he is hit by cans of groceries from the shelves.  And then the shelves are pushed on him.  The store manager runs away – outside he finds petrol pumps spilling petrol onto the tarmac and a stand of newspapers set on fire.  Petrol plus fire always leads to a band.

The second bang is quieter – but more dramatic if you’ve been watching the show since Episode 1.   May is shown dressing and gets a message on her mobile device that they have a mission.  Ward then steps out of the shower with just a towel on.

No intimacy is shown between them – but we can add up 1 and 1 to get 2 from this shot and the open bedroom door at the end of Episode 8.  And then Ward’s dialogue tells us that this certainly isn’t the first time!

The team deploy to Utah – and arrive as the townsfolk are gathered outside Hannah’s house demanding that she leaves.   Things escalate – eggs are thrown – and then a police car starts up and drives at the people gathered outside her house.  Coulson saves a man who is too slow to react and the police car crashes into the picket fence around Hannah’s house.

The policeman guarding Hannah pulls his weapon and points it at her.  May decides that enough is enough and sedates Hannah by shooting her with the night-night gun.

At this point the team are dealing with the possibility that something to do with the accident – the equipment that blew up was a particle accelerator – has given Hannah telekinetic powers.

They place Hannah in a cell on the plane – the cage – a cell that is heavily shielded.  May and Coulson go into the cell to interrogate Hannah – and when they tell her their thesis she says that she is being punished by God and being haunted by demons.

It turns out over the course of the next 15-minute or so that she’s not entirely wrong – the explosion was caused by one of the workers at the plant, Tobias.  And Tobias was there when the plant blew up, and Simmons finds out using the Holodeck (plus info that Fitz and Simmons find with their remote gadgets) that when this happened a hole was created between dimensions.

And what’s happening is that Tobias is moving between dimensions.  He is a simple soul and is just trying to protect Hannah.  Tobias cuts the power to the plane and May has to put the plane down in a field.  Tobias then tries to neutralize the team so he can try and get to Hannah.

Tobias knocks out Ward and locks him in a cupboard with Fitz and Simmons.  And then traps Skye and Coulson in a different room.  May takes Hannah out of the cage, and away from the plane.  And uses her as bait to draw Tobias out.

In a final confrontation between Tobias and May, Hannah recognizes Tobias, and May gets Hannah to tell Tobias that she’s a friend. And that he’s hurting Hannah.  And has to let go.  She uses the phrase: you have to let the girl go several times.  Eventually Tobias holds Hannah’s hand – and then dematerializes…presumably for the last time.

The Continuing Story?

This episode doesn’t relate to any of the other episodes – there is a moment when discussing how Tobias is moving through different dimensions that something like this happened when the spaceship landed at the end of Thor.

There’s a lot of background on May’s nickname of ‘The Cavalry’ though – we’ll talk about that in a moment.

And the little scene at the start with May and Ward is really interesting.  And later in the episode Skye is bitching about May to Ward and says: her problem is she needs to get laid.  Ward pauses what he’s doing for a moment….and then carries on.

Skye doesn’t notice.  But we do.

The only other nod to the continuing story is that Skye is talking with Coulson at the start of the episode and says: I was the one who found Mike Peterson, remember.  And as Peterson is appearing in Episode 10 it’s possible that this was planted to remind the audience about him.

Writing Lessons From Episode 9

Borrowing From The Horror Genre

Although Agents Of Shields is a science fiction superhero spinoff, this episode borrows heavily from the horror genre.

First we have the scenes were Hannah is accosted by the shop manager who is then attacked by tins.  That scene is very Stephen King-esque.  It reminded me of Carrie.

Then there are lots of shots where Tobias is shown as a dark, indistinct figure who materializes and dematerializes.  Plus Hannah is a character who believes in God and demons – and she is the one who says she is being haunted by demons.

And until they work out that the figure haunting Hannah is Tobias – and that he is materializing from another world (and therefore they have a scientific explanation)  they refer to him as a ghost.

So they even use the terminology of horror.  And there are lots of shot in the ‘ghost phase’ of the story where they are running up and down the narrow corridors of the plane – perhaps a nod to Alien?

And if you’ve watched any bad slasher films you’ll remember the false alarms?  Where the sudden appearance of a menacing figure is one of the good guys with a mask on?  Or something that is totally harmless is mistaken for something bad?  Well both of those ‘false alarm’ beats are hit.  Fitz is the man in the (gas) mask – and Fitz also uses a mop in a way that appears to be a person that then falls out on all of them when they are not expecting it.

So the lesson here is that irrespective of what ‘genre’ you’re writing in, you need to be aware of techniques and tropes of other genres.  And be able to use them effectively in your genre.  (So read voraciously outside your chosen genre – and watch films across genres too.)

In the Whedonverse the ultimate example of this to cross reference is the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode called “Once More With Feeling.” This episode of the show was filmed as a sung through musical! Now you don’t have to be capable of using tropes from musicals in your writing…but whatever your genre is you need to read in other genres and use the techniques of other genres when it’s appropriate.

Humour Linked To Character Development

Although this is a ‘dark’ episode using a lot of story techniques from the horror genre there is a thread of humour through the episode that helps to strengthen the characterization of the team.  This humour isn’t gratuitous though – it’s directly tied into May’s characterization.

It starts when Fitz and Simmons are using their remote control science thingies to scan the site of the particle accelerator.  They are talking about a prank that was done on Simmons – linked to their conversation about telekinesis – and Fitz says it was a shame that they graduated three years early and never got to play any pranks on Freshmen at the Academy.

Simmons says: Skye is a freshman.  And they convince themselves that it is part of the ‘training’ that they prank Skye.

So the first time this happens is when Skye asks about why May is called The Cavalry.  And Fitz and Simmons tell her that May rescued a group of agents and killed over 100 mercenaries single-handed AND on horseback.

Now we know May did something from earlier episodes.  But we don’t know what. So this is the first indication of what it was.

This is further developed when Skye says something in passing about this to Ward – this is the scene where she tells Ward that May needs to get laid or something.  And Ward says that’s not how it happened.  There were only 20 enemies.  And no horses.  And only one gun.

Then it gets developed more when Skye and Coulson are trapped together – Coulson was there.  There were no guns involved.  It was a ‘welcome wagon mission’ – going to speak to someone who had discovered new powers.  Only this someone had followers/believers.  And May got them out.

Coulson doesn’t say what she did.  Only that it changed her.  And it turns out that the words May uses with Tobias – “let the girl go” – are what Coulson used with her at the end of the situation in Bahrain.

Skye intuits that one of the reasons Coulson has May on the plane – apart from the fact that she is kick ass personified – is that he feels responsible for this change in May.  And wants her to get better.

So there’s a nice stinger at the end.  Skye, Simmons, Coulson and Ward are playing scrabble when Fitz staggers in with some kind of white paste all over his face.  And he was asleep.  He blames them each in turn – they all deny doing it.  As the episode closes out we see May flying the plane and listening in on their conversation.  And smiling.  So we know that she did it….and we know that if she can lower her guard to play a prank she may be softening up.

One Thing That Irked Me

Although I enjoyed this episode – and really liked the use of both the humour and the horror – there was one thing that irked me.  And there’s a writing lesson here for us all – especially if we use action scenes and fight scenes.

Tobias is shown as a big guy, he’s taller than Ward and well built.  And in one scene he gives Ward a hefty smack with a hefty looking wrench that’s the size of a small axe.

When Ward recovers a few minutes later not only does there not appear to be any blood, but he’s also able to make a deduction based on something that Simmons says.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been hit on the hit by anything hard – by hard I mean hard enough to knock you out – but firstly if the skin of your head is split it bleeds like a bastard.  Blood loss is a problem.  And you almost always need stitches.

And that’s not to mention concussion and effects like this.

And I know this is entertainment and not meant to be hyper realistic.  But the probabilities are that anyone hit by a big guy with a hefty wrench like that (it’s got to be two and a half to three feet long) won’t wake up for a long time.  If ever.

So there’s another writing lesson there…when your guys or girls get slugged, have them go down.  Have them bleed.  Have them feel pain.  Make your readers feel that.  And have your solutions to fights be cleverer than just who can hit the hardest or who’s got the biggest dick or the biggest gun.

This is replicated in some of the other fight scenes too – when May confronts Tobias (and we know May is ultra bad ass) she hits him full on the chest whilst he is prone on the ground.  And she thinks she has disabled him – most of us would be severely injured by such a blow with broken or cracked ribs at the very least.

Yet Tobias attacks her only moments later – he doesn’t even seem winded.  Now it’s possible that he is more immune to blows due to the inter-dimensional shifting he is undergoing….but if so it wouldn’t take more than a line of dialogue to convincingly explain that away.

And it still wouldn’t explain away how Ward was able to recover from such a potentially fatal blow so quickly.

Whilst we’re talking about fight scenes I just want to mention the scene where May is alone and Tobias materializes behind her and raises the wrench to strike.  And he strikes – but May is gone.  And he can’t find her.  Now in some ways that is just as unbelievable as Ward recovering from the blow to the head – only it’s been set up in the prior episodes whenever May has been in conflict situations.

So the writing lesson here is to make your fights more realistic by having blows hurt.  For example if you hit someone it hurts you! When I was at college one of my friends came in with his arm immobilized to the shoulder in a big, ugly plaster cast.  The injury he had was sustained punching someone in a street fight.

Important lesson I think.


I enjoyed Episode 9.  It was a welcome return to form after being disappointed with Episode 9.  I’m really looking forward to Episode 10 – which is called The Bridge and features Mike Peterson from Episode 1 – airs next Tuesday in the US and airs the following Friday night on our side of the pond.  I’ll post an article after that episode once it’s aired in the UK .

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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