Pilot (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode
Agent Coulson confronts Mike Peterson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Pilot".jpg
Agent Coulson confronts Mike Peterson at the climax of the episode. J. August Richards received praise for his performance as Peterson, especially in this scene.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by
Produced by
Cinematography by David Boyd
Editing by
  • Paul Trejo
  • Joshua Charson
Original air date September 24, 2013 (2013-09-24)
Running time 45 minutes
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes

"Pilot" is the pilot and first episode of the first season of the American television series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or simply Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., based on the Marvel Comics organization S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), a fictional peacekeeping and spy agency in a world populated with superheroes and numerous supernatural phenomena. It is the first television episode to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), sharing continuity with the films of the franchise. The episode was written by series creators Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, and was directed by Joss Whedon.

The episode revolves around the character of Phil Coulson, with Clark Gregg reprising his role from the film series, and his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, played by regular cast members Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, and Elizabeth Henstridge, as they investigate a super-powered man and the hacktivist group the Rising Tide. It was ordered in 2012, after Joss Whedon wrote and directed Marvel's The Avengers, and was filmed in early 2013 in Los Angeles, California, and Paris, France. Cobie Smulders, reprising her role from The Avengers, guest starred, along with previous Whedon collaborators J. August Richards and Ron Glass. Emphasis was put on consistency and continuity with the MCU films, and some elements are reused from the films throughout the episode, most notably extremis.

"Pilot" originally aired on ABC on September 24, 2013, and according to Nielsen Media Research, was watched by 12.12 million viewers, the highest ratings received by the first episode of a drama series in the United States since the pilot episode of V in 2009. The episode received a mostly positive critical response, with praise going to Richards' performance and Joss Whedon's involvement, but it was also found by many to not meet expectations.


After the events of Iron Man 3,[1] Mike Peterson is out with his son, Ace, when the top floor of a nearby building explodes. Climbing up the outside of the building by punching holes in the brickwork, Peterson saves a trapped woman, and, as a crowd looks on, jumps to the ground whilst carrying her. Watching him is Skye, a member of the hacktivist group the Rising Tide, who films him on her smart phone. Meanwhile, Maria Hill is interviewing Grant Ward for a new S.H.I.E.L.D. team alongside Agent Phil Coulson, who is officially dead. Coulson assigns Ward level 7 security clearance, and reveals the team's first mission is to investigate the Rising Tide. Coulson also recruits the reluctant Agent Melinda May, who had previously retired from field duty.

Skye meets with Peterson and warns him about S.H.I.E.L.D., saying that they cover up superhero based events. She is shortly arrested by Coulson, and placed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. team's plane, their mobile base of operations (nicknamed "The Bus"). Coulson and Ward question her, and she reveals her limited knowledge of the mysterious Project Centipede, something neither of the agents had heard of before. Coulson injects Ward with a truth serum and allows Skye to question him, gaining her trust, and she reveals where she filmed Peterson. Agents Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons are sent to investigate the scene of the explosion.

Peterson returns to the factory he used to work at, and injures his former boss, calling him the "bad guy" and himself the "hero". Peterson then visits the woman he saved in the hospital, who is actually the doctor that gave him his abilities by implanting the Centipede device in his left forearm. He wants to go public with his abilities, but she says that her backers would not like that. Before jumping from the hospital window, he claims this is all his "origin story". Fitz and Simmons investigate a damaged Centipede device found at the explosion scene, and find that it combines several previously known sources of superpowers, including extremis. They also manage to reproduce footage from the crime scene using the flash memory of a video camera and discover that the extremis within a previous Centipede-created superhero was unstable, and had caused the explosion.

Peterson abducts Skye and makes her delete his personal information from the government's systems, though she manages to warn the team at the same time. Peterson and Skye are tracked to a train station by Coulson's team and a gunman sent by Peterson's doctor. May takes out the gunman, and Coulson calms Peterson down long enough for Ward to shoot him with an advanced stun gun developed by Fitz and Simmons. Afterwards, Coulson is offering Skye a place on his team when a call for an "0-8-4" comes in.



In August 2012, ABC ordered a pilot from Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed The Avengers, for a series set within the MCU.[2] Paul Lee, president of ABC, compared the pilot to the series Once Upon a Time, in terms of budgetary and technological ambition, and spoke of his excitement for the crossover potential with the larger film universe.[3] "Pilot" was executive produced by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb.[2]


Joss Whedon said that his previous television shows were based on ensembles, with S.H.I.E.L.D. being based in part on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Zeppo". That episode highlighted a lesser seen character, which was something he wanted to achieve with the character of Agent Phil Coulson. It was written by Whedon, along with his brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen. At the same time, he was writing the script for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which meant that he could use the series to explain the resurrection of Coulson rather than trying to include it in that film. Whedon explained that he received notes from ABC on things to change in the pilot, saying that "there’s been nothing but encouragement and excitement about what exactly you’re trying to do. So you take the notes. You don’t take all of them. But you never walk in expecting not to get any."[4]

At San Diego Comic-Con 2013, Tancharoen talked about telling a Marvel story on a television budget: "It's a challenge, but what we are doing is just looking at it through a different lens. We are telling more human stories within that extraordinary universe. Coulson was – is the human face in all of the movies you've seen, and now he has a team of real people who don't have super powers, but they are skilled in their own way and they're dealing with this extraordinary world."[5]


In October 2012, a casting sheet for five lead roles was sent out.[6] Later that month, at the New York Comic Con, Joss Whedon, Kevin Feige and Clark Gregg announced that Gregg, who previously portrayed the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Marvel's The Avengers, as well as the Marvel One-Shots short films The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer,[7] would be reprising his role as agent Phil Coulson in the pilot.[8] Toward the end of the month, actress Ming-Na Wen was cast as agent Melinda May.[9] In November 2012, Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker were cast as agents Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz, respectively.[10] Later in November, newcomer Brett Dalton was cast as agent Grant Ward,[11] while in December 2012, Chloe Bennet was cast as Skye, the sixth and final main cast member.[12]

J. August Richards and Cobie Smulders were two of the guest stars in the pilot.

In January 2013, actress Cobie Smulders, who portrayed Maria Hill in The Avengers,[13] indicated that she would be open to appearing in the show, saying "Joss Whedon is a genius, and any opportunity that I have to say words that he has written, I will take ... I love Clark and want to be a part of it, but we'll see."[14] In July it was confirmed that she would guest star in the pilot, with Whedon stating that he wanted "to have Cobie in the pilot because as much as anyone else, she IS SHIELD. She's cool and commanding and has the dry humor that plays so well with Clark's."[13] Other guest cast members in the episode include two actors that had previously worked with Whedon on other television shows: Ron Glass, who had played Shepherd Book in Firefly, and the subsequent film Serenity,[15] appeared in "Pilot" as a S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor;[16][17] J. August Richards, who had previously appeared in Whedon's Angel as Charles Gunn, played the character Mike Peterson, of whom he said "This is a role I've been preparing for since I was nine years old. It’s literally a dream come true. Because as a boy my favorite show was Superman and my favorite movie was Star Wars – along with other science fiction shows and movies."[18] Additionally, Shannon Lucio and Bob Stephenson guest star as Debbie, the Centipede doctor, and Gary, Mike's former boss, respectively.[19]


Production on the pilot, under the name of S.H.I.E.L.D., took place from January 23[20] to February 12, 2013[21] in Los Angeles, to accommodate Joss Whedon's busy schedule.[3] Additional filming also took place on location in Paris, with Dalton stating that they shot for "Two days. It was awesome. We have this big international airplane, we might as well use it, so I’m glad that we got to do that. It was a very quick trip, but we got a lot done and I think it lends a kind of authenticity to the show and production value. When we were doing all the scouting and all that stuff, the day before, it was almost too perfect. Then the next day it was rainy and foggy and whatever. In some ways that was a gift because it’s more authentic in a way. We’d have days like that in Paris, a lot of days like that, and we happened to shoot on one. We didn’t even have to be picaresque about it. We were just in Paris. I thought it was great and I hope we continue to do it."[22]

On the project's security issues, Jed Whedon revealed that "We heard all about the secrecy. We jumped through a lot of hoops to get in the door at Marvel. We had to be careful with our scripts, we had our special laptops, and blah blah blah. Our first day on the pilot, we arrived on our location, which was just a half-day shoot, at an empty hanger, and Jeph Loeb walked up to us with an iPad; already on the internet was a leaked vehicle from that morning ... The wind had blown the tarp up and revealed a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on a truck, and someone snapped it and it was online before we even got to set. We were very aware of how quickly the wildfire can spread if you drop the match."[23]

Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-ins[edit]

The episode uses the extremis virus from Iron Man 3 as one source of power for the character of Mike Peterson. Executive producer Jeffrey Bell explained that "It came up independently, and then we realized that there was a link between what was happening to our character ... and what was happening in the Iron Man movie; there was an opportunity for us to tie it together ... We talked with the movie guys, so they didn't feel like we were just ripping off their idea ... we worked with Marvel [Studios] on that."[1] Additional sources of power for the character include: Chitauri technology, from The Avengers and Item 47; and super-soldier serum, from Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk.[24] The events of The Avengers are referenced numerous times throughout the episode, and archive footage from the film is briefly used in an opening montage. Also, Coulson's flying car is a working model of the prototype seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.[25]



"Pilot" was first aired in the United States on ABC on September 24, 2013.[26] It was aired alongside the US broadcast in Canada on CTV,[27] while it was first aired in the United Kingdom on Channel 4 on September 27, 2013.[28] It premiered on the Seven Network in Australia on October 2, 2013,[29] and on TV2 in New Zealand on February 16, 2014.[30]


The first television spot for the episode was released on May 12, 2013, during the season 2 finale of Once Upon a Time. It featured footage from The Avengers, along with new footage for the pilot episode, and was noted as having high production values, which were compared to those of the Marvel One-Shots.[31] Two days later an extended trailer was released, "devoted to expository dialogue, setting up the characters and establishing the pecking order".[32] "Pilot" was then screened at San Diego Comic-Con on July 19, 2013, and was met with a very positive reaction from the crowd.[33] Prior to the airing of the episode in the UK, a viral marketing campaign was underway to promote the show. Posters asking for witnesses of "Suspected Extraordinary Activity" were placed around London.[34]

Home media[edit]

The episode, along with the rest of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. '​s first season, was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 9, 2014. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.[35] It was released in Region 2 on October 20,[36] and in Region 4 on November 11, 2014.[37] On November 20, 2014, the episode became available for streaming on Netflix.[38]



In the United States the episode received a 4.7/14 percent share among adults between the ages of 18 and 49, meaning that it was seen by 4.7 percent of all households, and 14 percent of all of those watching television at the time of the broadcast. It was watched by 12.12 million viewers.[26] This was the highest ratings received by the first episode of a drama series in the United States for almost four years since the pilot episode of ABC's V,[39] however NCIS was the most viewed show in the time slot with more than 20 million viewers.[40] "Pilot" was watched by 2.706 million viewers during its Canadian premiere, earning the third highest viewership for the week on the network.[27] It was watched by 14.2 percent of all viewers in the UK watching television at the time of the broadcast, an average of 3.1 million. The broadcast had a 27 percent share of those aged between 16 and 34. It was the most viewed new drama on Channel 4 in 2013.[28] The Seven Network premiere in Australia was watched by 1.3 million viewers, the top show of the night.[29] In New Zealand, the first episode premiered to 326,790 viewers, the fourth highest show of the night, and the most watched show on TV2.[30]

In response to the US ratings success of the series, Joss Whedon said, "I want it to be a hit because people who I work for have invested in it, and people I work with are in it, and writing it, and I want it to continue. We have the opportunity to do something special. If it’s not special, hopefully it will go away. I think we’ll be okay there. But I can’t measure it in those terms. It doesn’t seem useful to me."[4]

Critical response[edit]

Much of the critical response to "Pilot" took Joss Whedon's involvement into consideration.

Jason Hughes of The Huffington Post said that "Everything about this premiere worked". He felt that the show was a cross between Fringe and Heroes with elements of The X-Files included. He thought that there was a potential for the series to be a success and thought that it would attract both Marvel fans and new viewers alike.[41] Dave Bradley gave the episode four and a half out of five for SFX magazine, saying that the show was going to become a phenomenon alongside Doctor Who, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. He felt that using the Skye character to introduce the viewer to the series was cheesy, but effective. He praised J August Richards' performance but did not enjoy some of the characterizations of the main characters, which made him think the team was similar to that seen in Torchwood.[25] Eric Goldman at IGN rated "Pilot" 8.5 out of 10, stating "Joss Whedon and Marvel were obviously a perfect match in The Avengers and that inspired collaboration continues here in a highly entertaining way that should keep fans coming back for more", but noting that "Those looking for the scale of the Marvel movies will be disappointed – this is a high budget TV series, but it is a TV series".[42] Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave the episode a "B", feeling that "The idea of a superhero procedural is a good one, and there are enough fun and funny moments in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot to suggest the kind of show that will settle into a groove with time. Yet there are also moments that seem boring, cautious, and predictable ... Even in its best moments, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels like the product of several hundred cooks."[43]

Brian Lowry, writing for Variety, found the episode to be "OK", finding some dialogue to be "a little precious and clunky" and feeling the plot to be "yet another twist on a procedural, albeit with a few mythological elements to sweeten the experience", summing that "with great boxoffice and ostentatious synergy come super-sized expectations."[44] Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter was not sure from the pilot whether the series would go on to be good or not. He thought that having Joss Whedon's name attached the project would lead to positive reviews for at least a month. Goodman said that "It's a fun hour and calling it 'good but not great' has more to do with expectations in the wake of the Marvel movies than anything else."[45] Jim Steranko, known for his work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., felt the episode was unfocused and "had no menace, no tension". He lamented the absence of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, and felt the episode needed "to be much tougher, much stranger, much edgier to reach its potential".[46] James Hunt of Den of Geek, thought that the episode struggled to meet expectations. He thought that the CGI was worse than that seen on Smallville and that the sets seemed small. However, he praised the script and in particular the speech given by Richards' character at the end of the episode. He thought that the start was better than Whedon's Dollhouse, but was not perfect.[47]


The episode introduced a group called the "Rising Tide", which is also the name of a real-life volunteer group who work on climate change issues. The group issued a statement saying that they were concerned with the use of the name for the fictional group which appeared to be similar to Anonymous. They have since been mistakenly contacted on Twitter by fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and have created a petition against The Walt Disney Company to stop using the name.[48]


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External links[edit]