In case you haven’t seen it yet, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is on Tuesday nights at 8:00 on ABC. They have fun, rollicking adventures in plots that mostly hold together. (The 11/26 episode wasn’t that great, but oh well.) Agent Coulson survived his death scene in The Avengers (or did he?), and he’s gathered a unique team to fight the good fight. But is it unique? Haven’t we seen these characters over and over again, starting with an old children’s story?
In order to write, you have to learn to take apart stories to see what makes them tick, at least in terms of plot and characters. (Don’t do this with a story that you love. That would be akin to dissecting a pet.) As I once did to the movie Inception (see my entry here), I can take apart Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and see the characters are based on Alice in Wonderland.
The main character is Skye (Chloe Bennet). She’s the new member of the team, and she was forced to join against her will at first. She tries to be the conscience of the team, and she constantly questions whether things should be done the way they always have, and even takes matters into her own hands to change things.
Skye is obviously Alice, the girl who fell down a rabbit hole and found herself in Wonderland against her will. She often disapproves of the wild behavior she sees around her and tries to correct things based on her proper schoolgirl upbringing.
Next is Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). He is eminently wise and often enigmatic. He is definitely in charge and will often put Skye in her place when she asks too many questions. (He also has a heart of gold, but that’s not part of the Alice character.)
Coulson is the caterpillar. The caterpillar knows much more than Alice, as he looks down on her from the height of the mushroom. His famous saying about the left side and the right are not explained because he doesn’t see the need to.
Then we have Grant Ward. The other members of the team regard him as crazy. Whether he casually plans to break into a secure installation or dives out of a plane to save a teammate, he acts without hesitation and without a lot of forethought.
Ward’s comparison is easy. He is the mad hatter. Of course, Ward’s craziness is in terms of his actions while the hatter’s is in terms of his speech, but this is the obligatory crazy person.
Melinda May (Ming-Na) does not even start as a member of the team. She’s hidden herself down in the part of SHIELD where the files are. She is even more enigmatic than Coulson is. She often communicates by giving a sideways look, or in one scene when Coulson is pouring out his uncertainties to her, by not changing expression.
May is the Cheshire cat. The cat can often vanish, just as May hid herself in the filing area. And the cat’s famous smile morphs into May’s unchanging expression. As long as the character is known for a facial cue, it doesn’t matter if it’s a broad expression or a lack of one.
Fitz and Simmons are the science team. They are so inseparable, they are sometimes called “FitzSimmons.” They often agree with each other on the necessary course of action, leaving the rest of the team trying to catch up with their tech talk.
Fitz and Simmons are obviously Tweedledee and Tweedledum. (Although they are from Through the Looking Glass, not Wonderland.) Twins, they are inseparable and known for their combative attitude. They also give a mathematical riddle.
What about the white queen demanding “Off with their heads,” some will ask. So far, the show has had a couple of evil women working for Centipede, and we’ll see if the second one becomes a continuing character.
Still unconvinced? Rent Resident Evil sometime and listen to the commentary track. Michelle Rodriguez tells how each of their characters corresponded to ones in Alice in Wonderland.
As I explained to a middle grade teacher of English and literature, the characters used by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland are archetypes. She asked me where Lewis Carroll got them from. I shrugged.