Along with the Blu-ray and DVD release of Iron Man 3 today, Marvel's already-high profile was raised again with the premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the studio's attempt to bring their cinematic universe (and its massive commercial success) to TV.
So what happened? How did they fare?
The episode begins with the monologue that we've seen variations on in the ads; Skye talking trash to S.H.I.E.L.D. From her “Rising Tide” van.
Cut to Mike Peterson, played by J. August Richards and trying to engage his son at the toy store. The boy keeps rejecting his attention and finally it's revealed that Peterson is having money problems. As he's trying to tell his son it's going to be okay, a massive explosion rocks the top floors of a building across the street. Once he's sure his son is okay, he hands the boy off to an older man named Bernie (apparently a hot dog vendor with whom the pair are familiar?) and runs to see if anyone needs help.
He can hear a woman screaming “help me” from inside and smashes into the building's brick facade with his bare hands, using that method to scale its side and gain entry into the fire-engulfed upper floors. There, he finds the woman and jumps out the window holding her, placing her on the ground—choking but conscious—and being caught on Skye's camera phone before running away. His son looks on from across the street, incredulous, while Peterson removes his hoodie and shows up to take him away—apparently in a different outfit.
In a fancy restaurant, Ward posing as a waiter uses high-tech gizmos to steal a man's fingerprints off his wine glass and then gain entry into the man's safe, where he bypasses money and jewels in favor of a small parcel. He's caught by a beautiful woman in a robe on his way out, and then by her two-man security detail, whom he fights off while the woman quietly gets dressed and leaves.
On the roof of the building, Ward boards a black helicopter via a rope and gets away.
After that, Maria Hill is talking to Ward in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Interrogation room, in which the pair do the whole “what does S.H.I.E.L.D. Mean to you?” scene we've seen a bunch of times in the ads. He tells her that they're the line between “the world and the much weirder world,” and is almost immediately plunged into the weird when Coulson, whom he believes to be dead, appears from the shadows to recruit him to the Level Seven team.
Along the way, he provides Hill with a Chitauri “neural link,” which the man was apparently looking to sell.
“The battle of New York was the end of the world,” Hill says. “This, now, is the new world.”
Back in Los Angeles, Skye is following Peterson while he is out looking for work.
At S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson explains that his heart stopped briefly following his apparent death at the hands of Loki, giving them enough of a plausible cover story to manipulate The Avengers into working together. He recovered in Tahiti, he says.
In the S.H.I.E.L.D. Monitor room, Coulson and Hill show Ward a series of images from Rising Tide, all of which are familiar from both the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One movies and the We Are the Rising Tide website. Ward asks how they're getting the footage, especially after the film of Peterson shows up which is new.
“I want to use” Rising Tide “to get to him,” Coulson says, indicating Peterson. He wants to help the man before his life starts to get very weird.
While Ward is an effective agent, he's apparently got very poor people skills that will hobble him in other units. He doesn't want to join up with Coulson's team, but it's what he's been ordered to do. A doctor comes in, saying that the whole unit is cleared but that he'd rather not have cleared Coulson without more rest. Coulson leaves the room and the doctor says to Hill, “Tahiti. He really doesn't know, does he?” Hill says, “He can never know.”
At Ruthie's restaurant, Peterson is looking for work in the paper when he's approached by Skye. She confronts him, saying that she saw him and that he's a superhero, and that he's in danger. She tells him to stop hiding—that he could be a star. She tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D. will come after him, saying that he should go public before S.H.I.E.L.D. makes him disappear. He tells him that he can come by anytime—that she lives in her van around the corner.
Coulson approaches Melinda May, who is at first resistant to join his team, but he just kind of declares that she will and walks off.
Cut to “The Bus,” the plane on which the group will be headquartered, in its hangar. Ward is walking up the ramp, passing vehicles, plus Fitz and Simmons with their baggage. They bicker over their non-lethal weapon (in a scene that we've also seen before) and they introduce themselves to Ward, who says he'l need his comm receiver encoded.
Lola is pulled up into the Bus. Coulson tells Ward that Lola is as good as anything they're issuing now. Coulson walks Ward to his quarters and tries and fails to tell him a joke. He tells Ward that May is just the pilot when she shows up to tell them to get ready, and Ward doesn't believe him.
In Los Angeles, Skye is delivering her “you cannot stop us” monologue when Coulson and Ward show up and throw a bag over her head. They bring her aboard the Bus and put her in interrogation. They basically accuse her of setting the bomb that took out the building, and ask her what the team is likely to find there. She mentions Project Centipede, something that at least Ward and perhaps Coulson can't identify. He asks her what it is, while Coulson pressures her to give them Peterson. He apparently gets his powers from a device on his wrist that a doctor uses to control him.
In the building that exploded, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Team sees that they're in the remnants of a secret lab. Fitz and Simmons begin using both hands-on and high-tech means of examining every inch of the room.
In the interrogation room, Skye says that Centipede was what was in that building, that she was following up on leads when the building went up. She won't give up Peterson, and Ward accuses her of being a superhero “groupie.”
Back at the site of the bomb, the team finds damaged surveillance cameras, and something “not of this earth.”
In the interrogation room, Coulson threatens Skye with a potent truth serum, then when Ward comes around to the other side of the table, he sticks Ward with it instead. Ward gets verbal diarrhea, including referring to Skye as a beautiful woman. Coulson leaves the two in a room together, telling Skye to ask whatever she wants. She immediately goes into dominant mode, taking off her jacket and moving around the table to start bullying Ward.
Back at the factory that had fired him, Peterson is looking for work and his old boss starts yelling at him and abusing him. Peterson starts using his powers to bully his boss and throw around furniture, before slamming his ex-boss, apparently to death, secure in the conviction that the boss is a bad guy and he's a hero.
Back at the Bus, Ward is passed out and Skye is talking to Coulson. Coulson shows her evidence that Peterson attacked the foreman, and she sells him out to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Footage from before the explosion can't seem to sync with the time code, and they're not sure they can do anything about it, due to the damaged security cameras. Skye says that she doesn't have video but has audio and they tell her that using her audio, they could make the timecode problem go away. S.H.I.E.L.D. Has been unable to decrypt her work, and she tells them it's because everything is tied to GPS and they have to be in the alleyway where her van was parked in LA in order to work.
In the hospital, Peterson visits the woman he saved, bringing flowers. It's the doctor who's controlling him, and when the nurse leaves her for a moment, she freaks out, calling the program a disaster and telling him that he needs to disappear before he loses it like the last guy—the one who set the bomb in the lab.
While Simmons is working with the alien metal, Fitz recreates the video using Skye's audio. They figure out that the stuff in the mechanism attached to the arm of the nameless doctor's subjects is alien metal infused with gamma radiation and traces of super soldier-like chemicals.
At the van, Peterson jumps Melinda May and throws her against a building, rendering her unconscious, and asks for Skye's help saving him and his son, whom he has with him (presumably kidnapped).
The source of the explosion was Extremis—which was in the body of the previous guy and now is also in Mike. They say Peterson will detonate in the next few hours if he's not killed. Coulson wants them to come up with another option.
Skye is working on her computer, removing records of Mike Peterson's existence, and says she's done it before. While Fitz and Simmons are working, they get a message from her that gives their geographical location to meet up with her. Coulson and Ward go to take him in, and Peterson takes his son and Skye and, throwing the van door at the agents to buy himself time, moves into a train station to make an escape. Skye, by way of creating her own diversion, kicks a passing gang member in the groin. When he hits the floor, she tells Peterson, “You're right! He is a little b—ch!” And so his buddies rush Peterson and Skye.
As the battle gets heated, Ward tries to talk sense into Peterson but he's too far gone. Meanwhile, the Doctor sends a hitman in to take Ward out (the reaction inside him will stop if he's killed).
The hitman's first shot misses and while Coulson gets Peterson's son, Peterson takes Skye. She tries to encourage him to accept S.H.I.E.L.D.'s help, and ultimately gets shot by the hitter while he's looking for his son. Skye is still recovering from being thrown clear of the shooter when Melinda may shows up to take him out in turn. On the ground level, where he's fallen, Coulson puts his gun down and approaches Peterson, telling him he can help. Ward has a shot, but Coulson doesn't want him to take it while Peterson talks about the way humanity is diminished by the existence of metahumans. Coulson tells him that the good ones aren't heroes because of what they have but what they do with it. Someone takes a shot at Peterson, putting him down and apparently killing him, but everyone is relieved to realize that it was with Fitz and Simmons's non-lethal gun and they bring him into custody in stable condition.
Out in the suburbs, Coulson and Skye take Lola back toward the city from having given Richardon's son the news that he's okay and will be back.
When a call comes in that Coulson has to help the team with their next case, he gives Skye ten minutes to decide whether she wants to join and then Lola goes all Back to the Future II and flies toward the airfield where the Bus is waiting.