SHIELD is kind of a weird case in that it was never going to matter if it wasn’t very good. As long as it wasn’t outright terrible, Joss Whedon were still gonna be on board, Marvel people were still gonna be on board, a metric fuckton of people were still gonna tune in. Nobody’s waiting for anyone else’s opinion on SHIELD to decide if it’s worth watching or not! If you were expecting to like SHIELD, you’re gonna like SHIELD!
If you weren’t expecting to like SHIELD or weren’t sure what to expect: I didn’t like SHIELD!
So it’s some unspecified/maybe-they-specified-IDK period of time after the events of The Avengers, and the WORLD IS CHANGING. There’s some group of hackers called Rising Tide who are basically Anonymous-style opposed to SHIELD’s “men in black who cover things up” existence. Rising Tide is represented primarily by Skye, who is SUPER HOT for a hacker who spends most of her time in a van parked in an alley.
Some building blows up, and J. August Richards, A Normal-Looking Out-Of-Work Single Dad, scales the side of the building by punching bricks into dust to make handholds, saves Lindsay from The OC from the flames, and then disappears, but not before Skye gets a good look at him and decides to start following him around asking him why he doesn’t go public as a superhero now that superheroes are a thing. He’s not into that plan, he just wants to get a job and provide for his kid. WHICH IS WHY HE GOT SUPERHERO IMPLANTS, only they’re Extremis…based? Related? Whatever. He’s got the glowy exploding rage monster thing from Iron Man 3 going on and is sort of fucked in the head by the idea that he’s a good person, so the strength makes him a hero no matter how he uses it, even if he uses it to beat up his old boss for refusing to rehire him.
MEANWHILE, back at SHIELD, some guy is a spy. His name is Mark or something. I looked it up, his name’s not Mark, but we’re going with it. MARK IS A SPY! He goes undercover as a waiter to get some guy’s handprint to get into a safe and steal a little pouch, but Rising Tide tweeted the location of the pouch or whatever because why not, so there are GOONS to fight, but he gets away, SPIES SPIES SPIES. Anyway then he goes to SHIELD and it turns out the pouch was alien something something, and Cobie Smulders is there and works in a bunch of exposition for the ONE PERSON watching this pilot who hasn’t seen The Avengers, and then Coulson’s there and WOW WHAT A SURPRISE HE’S NOT DEAD, and…like, I don’t want to say Cobie Smulders and Clark Gregg phoned these scenes in? Because they both clearly love these roles and neither one of them would be there if they didn’t want to be, but SOMETHING about this whole thing was not working for me, although it’s possible that’s just the overall blandness of the pilot seeming more pronounced when scenes focus on characters from the movies. WHO KNOWS.
[Also I'm STILL mad about "someone really wanted our initials to spell SHIELD" because have we seen Iron Man. HAVE. WE. SEEN. IRON. MAN. Like whatever about your meta jokes because obviously whichever writer came up with the name really wanted the initials to spell SHIELD, but in-universe it's coincidental. SHUT UP, MARK.]
Anyway, Coulson’s alive, and apparently post-Loki he was only dead for like a minute and then Fury sent him to Tahiti to chillax while the Avengers avenged him. The Avengers don’t have the clearance to know Coulson’s alive, and…DUN DUN DUN, Coulson apparently doesn’t have the clearance to know that HE’S A FUCKING ROBOT or a clone or he came back wrong and chipped vampires can hurt him or maybe he’s legit just alive and when Hill was all “HE CAN NEVER KNOW” she was talking about the fact that Fury bloodied up his insanely rare Cap trading cards. I don’t know. That is for other nerds to care about.
Coulson’s making a team of people, and he wants Mark. MARK WORKS ALONE! Well, okay, sucks to be Mark because Mark works for Coulson now. Coulson wants Ming Na on his team. NO THANKS says Ming Na. Well, okay, sucks to be Ming Na because she works for Coulson now. Science nerds, Fitz and Simmons. Energy. Awkwardness. Accents. Fast talking. EVERYONE IS A TEAM NOW! For stuff.
Coulson and Mark kidnap Skye out of her alley van because reasons. They take her to the SHIELD plane and stick her in an interrogation room before pulling the black bag off her head and THEN Coulson gets around to the part where he’d like her to trust them. Great tactics. To gain her trust, he shoots Mark up with a truth serum and is like “ask him whatever you want!” and then leaves. Everyone is supposed to ignore that she would never actually take Coulson’s word for it that it was an actual truth serum.
Skye believes that SHIELD are the good guys now. She wants to help. Something called Centipede is out there and it’s bad news and she’s scoffing because they don’t even know about it. Man, remember on Alias when they started out with names like SD-6 and The Alliance and then by like S4 it was The Shed? Anyway, CENTIPEDE. Skye goes back to her alley van and J. August Richards kidnaps her so they can go on the run and hide from the men in suits together. Run run run. Panic panic panic. Skye signals SHIELD so they can find her. SHIELD figures out that J. August Richards is gonna BLOW THE FUCK UP because of Extremis. [They figure this out by creating a fully-detailed holographic representation of another Extremis dude blowing up. First, Fitz or Simmons was like "the security footage is too crappy, we can't even figure out what's going on in it" and then Skye was like "I might also have shitty audio that I recorded from my van" and then through THE MAGIC OF SCIENCE this combines to make a perfect life-size replica of everything that happened.]
Union Station! J. August Richards is gonna BLOW THE FUCK UP but Coulson talks to him about being a hero and Mark is like CAN I TAKE THE SHOT? I’M A LONE WOLF but Coulson keeps talking about being a hero and then someone shoots J. August Richards in the head and you’re like OH NO but then it turns out he just got shot with the Extremis antidote and everyone’s okay and you’re just like OH.
Then Skye and Coulson are in the countryside for some reason and they get a call from the others about a new case and Coulson’s car can fly. If you noticed that I didn’t say a damn thing about character moments, in a show about a new team learning how to work together, spun off from a movie franchise whose consistent success (versus, say, DC’s inability to make anything other than Batman work) has been partly attributed to great characters, I WAS AS SURPRISED AS YOU ARE.