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

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"Pilot"
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode
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 appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"0-8-4"
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 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), revolving around the character of Phil Coulson and his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as they investigate a super-powered man and the hacktivist group the Rising Tide. 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 was ordered in 2012, after Joss Whedon wrote and directed Marvel's The Avengers, and was filmed in early 2013 in Los Angeles, California, with some additional filming in Paris, France. Clark Gregg reprises his role as Coulson from the film series, and is joined by principal cast members Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, and Elizabeth Henstridge. Cobie Smulders guest stars, reprising her role of Maria Hill from The Avengers, with previous Whedon collaborators J. August Richards and Ron Glass also guest starring. 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. The visual effects for the episode were nominated at the Visual Effects Society Awards.

"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 since 2009. The episode received a mostly positive response from critics, who praised Joss Whedon's involvement and Richards' performance, but were disappointed that the episode did not reach the standard of the MCU films. The use of the name 'Rising Tide' received backlash from a real life group of the same name.

Plot[edit]

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. Peterson uses enhanced strength to save a trapped woman from the building, and is filmed doing so by Skye, a member of the hacktivist group the Rising Tide. S.H.I.E.L.D. deputy director Maria Hill interviews Grant Ward for a new team under 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.’s penchant for covering up superhero based events. She is shortly arrested by Coulson, and placed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. team's mobile base of operations (a plane nicknamed "The Bus"). During questioning Coulson slowly begins to gain her trust, and she reveals her limited knowledge of the mysterious Project Centipede and the location of the explosion; Agents Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons go to investigate the scene.

Peterson returns to the factory he was recently fired from, 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 arm. She warns him against revealing his abilities to the public, which would be against the wishes of her backers. Fitz and Simmons discover from a damaged Centipede device, found at the explosion scene, that it combines several previously known sources of superpowers, including extremis, and it was the unstable extremis within a previous Centipede-created superhero that had caused the explosion.

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

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

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]

Writing[edit]

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 revealed that he received notes from ABC on things to change in the pilot, but noted that the network was encouraging and excited about the project, 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, calling it a challenge but noting that the series is "looking at it through a different lens", telling the human stories in the superhuman universe, with Coulson, who was the human, grounded character in the films, leading a team of 'real people', albeit extremely skilled people.[5]

Casting[edit]

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.[13]

In January 2013, actress Cobie Smulders, who portrayed Maria Hill in The Avengers,[14] indicated that she would be open to appearing in the show.[15] That July it was confirmed that she would guest star in the pilot, with Whedon stating that he wanted to include Smulders because "she IS SHIELD. She's cool and commanding and has the dry humor that plays so well with Clark's."[14] Other guest cast members in the episode include two actors that had previously worked with Whedon on other television shows: Ron Glass, who played Shepherd Book in Firefly and the subsequent film Serenity,[16] appears in "Pilot" as a S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor;[17][18] and J. August Richards, who appeared in Whedon's Angel as Charles Gunn, portrays the character Mike Peterson.[19] Additionally, Shannon Lucio and Bob Stephenson guest star as the Centipede doctor Debbie and Mike's former boss Gary, respectively.[13]

Filming[edit]

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 for two days, with Dalton noting that "it lends a kind of authenticity to the show and production value." When the crew was scouting locations, the weather was "almost too perfect", but during shooting it was foggy and raining, which Dalton described as "more authentic" rather than unnecessarily "picaresque".[22] In May 2014, Jed Whedon revealed that on the first day of shooting the pilot, images of vehicles meant to be kept secret during production of the episode had already been leaked online, quickly showing how difficult dealing with secrecy on a Marvel project would be.[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 the idea of using it came up independent of the film, but the crew realized that it would be a good opportunity to tie in with the films, and worked with Marvel [Studios] on the tie-in to ensure that "they didn't feel like we were just ripping off their idea."[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]

Release[edit]

Broadcast[edit]

"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]

Marketing[edit]

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]

Reception[edit]

Ratings[edit]

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 2.71 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]

Critical response[edit]

Much of the critical response to "Pilot" took Joss Whedon's involvement into consideration.[41][42]

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.[43] 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 that the "inspired collaboration" between Joss Whedon and Marvel that began with The Avengers is highly entertaining, and should keep fans wanting more, but noting that viewers wanting the series to have the same scale as the MCU films "will be disappointed – this is a high budget TV series, but it is a TV series".[41] Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave the episode a "B", feeling that the episode had enough "fun and funny moments" to indicate that the series could "settle into a groove with time", but also that there were cautious and predictable moments, and that even at its best, the episode feels like "the product of several hundred cooks."[44]

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."[45] 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."[46]

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".[47] 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.[42]

Accolades[edit]

"Pilot" was nominated for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program at the 12th Visual Effects Society Awards, but lost to the Game of Thrones episode "Valar Dohaeris".[48]

Controversy[edit]

The episode introduced a group called the "Rising Tide", 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.[49]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]