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Pilot/References

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This is an attempt to collate the many shout-outs and asides which connect to other points in the Marvel universe, and out into the real world.


  • Ward's observation to Agent Maria Hill that "someone really wanted our initials to spell out 'shield'" tracks back to the organization's first appearance in Strange Tales #135 (August 1965), created by Lee and Kirby, when it was the 'Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division'. In 1991, for the comics, it was changed to 'Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate'. The onscreen Marvel universe uses 'Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division'.
  • Agent Hill's comment that "the death of a common ally is a particularly effective team builder" could be said to be a Whedon staple, as in most of his series, often several times, a character is built up to the stage where the audience is invested emotionally, then slain by a 'Big Bad'. Examples include Doyle in 'Angel' and Tara in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. and perhaps an 'inverse form' can be seen in Jesse McNally in the two-part pilot of the latter, who appears to be a major character, but is turned into a vampire, and dies.
  • The use of the term "shanked" when describing his own death by Agent Coulson is presumably intended to evoke a mugging or a prison yard stabbing. The "Asgardian Mussolini" image is arguably inflammatory too.
  • The recuperation period for Coulson included Travis McGee novels, an unusual crime fiction protagonist, being neither a private detective nor a police officer.
  • Agent Hill's statement of "an unregistered gifted" is the first, albeit oblique, reference to the Index. The whole question of superpowered registration is a sensitive one in the comics in light of the Marvel Civil War of 2006-7.
  • Ward makes the first use of the concept of a 'welcoming committee', an idea repeated in "Repairs" when Coulson suggests this could be Skye's gift and function.
  • Hill assessed Ward as the best spy 'since Romanoff' a.k.a. Black Widow.
  • Coulson's ability to defuse situations with odd but generally inoffensive remarks is demonstrated here. His capacity to not take serious situations too seriously is often vital to the team retaining its collective balance.
  • Ward's unhappy childhood is brought up, a theme developed in "The Asset" and "The Well".
  • Dr. Streiten does not feel the standard institutional need for formality, calling Coulson "Phil".
  • "It's a magical place", as a description of Tahiti, becomes a refrain for Coulson.
  • The exchange which ends with "He can never know." sets up Coulson's ongoing dreams and memories, as well as his inability to access S.H.I.E.L.D. medical records concerning his rehabilitation.
  • The 'hooded hero' seems to tap into a TV tradition of heroes who do good without seeking acknowledgement which goes back at least as far as ABC first big hit as a TV channel, The Lone Ranger in the early 1950s, which almost invariably ended with someone saying "Who was that masked man, anyway?" as our heroes rode off into the sunset.
  • In the cafe, Skye's "by day" conjures up the tradition dichotomy of the superhero with a secret identity.
  • As with numerous superheroes from the 1970s onwards, including the famous Heroes for Hire, Skye sees the opportunity for Mike to also benefit from his gift, along with a fee-paying public.
  • Marvel's iconic Captain America is, of course, the primary shield-carrying figure in modern comics.
  • Skye's advice contains a lot of elements of spin doctoring, like "getting ahead of this".
  • Perhaps to emphasize the 'reality' of life around them, the mention of masks is too much for Michael, who presumably equates them with nutjobs who think they're Captain America and so on.
  • "With great power comes" will be finished by any comic book fan with the rest of spider-Man's mantra "great responsibility" and so "a ton of weird crap that you're not prepared to deal with" asserts at least a degree of independence from the comic book canon, and established standards.
  • Agent May's defensive fortifications of files and cubicle walls do appear to make "adding a moat" not entirely implausible.
  • Coulson's people skills are on display once more, as he clearly knows how to present and package his offer to May, down to the lack of red tape. She's the first person in the episode he calls by their first name. His "I'm not asking" establishes that technically he is her superior.
  • Jemma Simmons is quick to distance herself from "Hermione", and perhaps also make it clear that her field is science, not the occult.
  • Simmons and Fitz's mutual introduction has a rhythm and polish suggesting long practice and frequent repetition.
  • When Simmons first meets Agent Ward she asks him if he's ready for their "journey into mystery", the title of the Atlas Comics line continued by Marvel which, in issue #83, introduced Thor as a comic book character, developed by Lee and Lieber, art by Kirby. Journey into Mystery #69 (June 1961) was one of the first two comic books to have the "MC" box, and be labeled as "Marvel Comics".
  • Coulson explains that these mobile bases fell out of favor with the arrival of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers.
  • Yet again, as with Fitz, an attempt to break the ice crashes and burns when Ward fails to register the linguistic markers in Coulson's build-up which denote a joke.
  • Ward's reaction to May's arrival suggests they've never met before - though her place in modern S.H.I.E.L.D. lore is clear.
  • The hangar shot may be designed to evoke 1983's "The Right Stuff", blurring the line between sky and space.
  • Skye's lines, "How will you silence us this time? How can you? The truth is in the wind. It's everywhere. You cannot stop . . . the Rising Tide" echo the comment of Mr. Universe in the Whedon 2005 film of the Firefly series, Serenity, in which he declares "You can't stop the signal, Mal. Everything goes somewhere, and I go everywhere".
  • Again as in the film, Skye's declaration of independence is met (from her perspective) with the full force of totalitarianism.
  • In the traditional 'cut-and-thrust' of interrogation, Skye attempts to obtain the psychological upper hand by predicting the path of the conversation, and is somewhat nonplussed by the absence of an "easy way".
  • Having failed with the opening gambit, she tries once more, portraying her capture as part of her plan to see "your secret headquarters".
  • "S.H.I.E.L.D. covered up New Mexico" references the origin story of the Incredible Hulk, whose gamma bomb site birth took place here, as well as, possibly, since this is Whedon, drawing on the TV arrival of Walter White from Breaking Bad. "Project Pegasus" was a 1970s/80s comic book secret underground lab which was used to hold beings possessed of enormous raw power, in the hope of finding a way to utilize them as a source of electricity, etc.. Skye finally does have a trump to play with the mention of Centipede.
  • The doctor (as yet unseen) doesn't share Michael's desire to go public, a hint that she is part of the shadowy 'Centipede'.
  • Michael's "workmen's comp", which the factory will not pay him, is the Workers' compensation to which he feels entitled, having been involved in an industrial accident.
  • To disguise its true purpose, the 'Centipede' lab was leased as a "self-empowerment center".
  • Fitz makes his own 'declaration of independence' from the notion that, as a field agent, "you have to get your hands dirty". He instead deploys his miniaturized robots, named for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as per the 1937 Disney film. He goes so far as to half-chant the first lines of their work song.
  • Ward indicates his complete lack of desire to genuinely communicate with Skye by giving the 'Miss World' rote answer to "What are you after?" "World peace."
  • As with the 'Buffy' pilot, our intrepid young heroine finds herself drawn to the tall, darkly handsome slab of muscle who may just be the enforcer for the bad guys. She compares him to Robert Patrick's unstoppable villain in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - the 'T-1000'.
  • Ward sees Skye as "one of those sweaty cosplay girls crowding around Stark Tower", a charge she refutes, until her innate honesty trips her up.
  • The differences in how the two agents view Skye is distilled in Coulson's simple statement, "She's an asset". This may also be designed to evoke Charles "Chuck" Bartowski, who began his eponymous series with the same status.
  • Coulson's love of a good puzzle, which will resurface when the 0-8-4 comes in, is on display here, along with his determination to get to the bottom of things.
  • Fitz rather sets out his stall with the line, "And by 'luck' I mean 'unappreciated genius'."
  • Coulson's "It's the top-shelf martini of sodium pentothal derivates" would seem to be a Bond reference.
  • As Skye did earlier, Ward shows that, to a degree at least, he buys into gender stereotypes.
  • The pet name "Gramzy?" suggests Ward may be accessing memories long suppressed.
  • Michael's "Men - not parts you replace when they break" is a constant motif of the Whedonverse. Unfortunately, Michael takes it further, into the overly simplistic 'comic book' portrayal that makes Gary the bad guy, and thus Mike the hero by definition.
  • Again, a Whedonverse staple - Mike is basically a good guy, but events are conspiring against him, taking him past his breaking point.
  • Skye was thorough in her surveillance, as shown by her use of a "shotgun mike".
  • The 'gestalt' nature of "FitzSimmons" is clearly on display for the first time here.
  • If, as Ward later claims in The Asset, the QNB-T16 Truth Serum is a placebo, it shows Coulson runs an op to the end that he bothers to tell May to "wake up Ward".
  • Mike's statement that he "volunteered" for the program is perhaps the first clear and absolute indicator that, originally, his motives were not entirely selfish and power-hungry.
  • His descent into the oversimplified world of comics is marked again by his observation "No,  it's an origin story".
  • Gamma radiation, in the Marvel Universe, is associated with the Hulk and other super-powered beings who were exposed to it.
  • Fitz's comment that "It's like magic. But it's - it's science." may refer to Clarke's Three Laws, and the statement that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  • "Dr. Erskine" and his "super soldiers" "serum" are the origin of Captain America.
  • The "alien metal" in question may be Uru, the substance of Thor's hammer, or similar. The Centipede Group are thus trying an amalgam of almost every known way to artificially induce super-powers.
  • Mike assertion that he's "Saving you. From the scary men in dark suits." may be a 'Men in Black' shout-out, or may be designed to call to mind the 'hands of blue' Alliance agents/assassins in Firefly.
  • "Extremis" was developed by Aldrich Killian, the villain of Iron Man 3. It's instability is well known.
  • Coulson's command style is established with "Don't ever tell me there's no way! It's on you. Get it done."
  • Skye's "I've done it before" concerning deleting a person's online existence would seem to be talking about herself.
  • Jemma suggests a more familiar alternative scenario to Leo - "Pretend we're taking an exam."
  • "Nobody's nobody, Ward" is again a frequent refrain of the Whedonverse. It is reflected in Michael's line a couple of minutes later, "Who's gonna miss us?".
  • "The men in suits" suggests another Whedon commonality, the distrust of absolute authority, embodied by the "men in blue" of Firefly.
  • The speed and relatively limited number of blows with which May takes down the Centipede 'cop' suggest that he is not enhanced.
  • The "poison in your system" would appear to refer to both the serum and the justifiable pent-up rage at his circumstances which both affect Mike.
  • Mike's speech echoes many of the themes of the civil rights movement, about 'the man' needing to keep people down.
  • The mural on the wall also makes it seem as if Mike speaks for more than just himself.
  • "We're what they step on" is the same mentality as Loki's line in The Avengers, "An ant has no quarrel with a boot.".
  • Captain America is the epitome of Coulson's philosophy that "They're not heroes because of what they have that we don't. It's what they do with it".
  • Another Whedon hallmark is a dialogue-free section for the heavy emotion of the piece.
  • Presumably, the woman in the powder blue shirt with her back to camera as we move in on Ace's new home is his Aunt Mindy.
  • In an inversion of their later dynamic, Coulson is the one with the accepting attitude and it's Skye whose mind is blown by the explosive potential of what they have just been through.
  • "Cut off the head of the Centipede" may well be why some fans thought that it would prove to be an offshoot or version of H.Y.D.R.A..
  • As the entrant into the unknown, and the audience's PoV character, Skye invokes (probably without conscious choice) Shakespeare's Miranda, "Oh, brave new world, that hath such people in't!", although as so often with Whedon she instantly deflates any possible pretention with "and a really old car".
  • The 'gang of misfits' motif is also a central pillar of the Whedonverse.
  • "The strangest show on Earth" evokes but doesn't quite promise "the greatest show on Earth".
  • The 0-8-4 term is first heard.
  • This is the first of several times when Ward visibly winces at being slapped (companionably) by Fitz.
  • Skye's incessant curiosity is piqued, something of an irony since the first season's greatest 0-8-4 will be the girl herself.
  • Skye's doubts appear to be very much like those of Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future, although Coulson's response, "The tide is rising.", references her own history, rather than any "we don't need roads" statement. Lola says that for him.
  • This is the only episode without a 'stinger'.

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