Very strong, I thought. No problems with any of the regular cast this time. (I was totally OK with Chloe Bennett... Still not completely sold on Brett Dalton.) The guest actress was not too strong, IMO, and had little chemistry with Clark Gregg. Maybe the problem there is not with her, but with him. It's weird that they're playing mystery with him. He seems a little off, and he's meant to ("Tahiti is magic," as Chris noted). He doesn't know his own true status, which is kind of an unfortunate, passive note to be saddled with at the start of a show designed for a strong lead.
The cast dynamics are agreeable. I liked what they did with Melinda May at the end, especially. That hint of a smile. Liked the Ward subplot where he starts to come to terms with being Coulson's lieutenant and takes responsibility for the kids. The "I work alone" stuff was already getting old at the top of this episode so it was good that they moved forward from there right off the bat.
The plot turn from a rescue mission to a hijack situation was handled pretty well - in that I didn't mind that I saw it coming. It was reminiscent of, if not quite in the same league as, some of the more memorable hinges from Firefly. And the format really is very much Firefly - it's a crew on a ship. It's set up to tell the same kinds of stories - Die Hard on "the bus" this week, helping a family in need last week. Surely, a heist episode in the near future. Etc. It's different in some particulars, but only a few - e.g., this crew has unlimited resources and support where the Firefly crew was poor and on its own. (And that circumstance could change.) These guys don't do crime - or do they? They're not outlaws, but they are above the law. They "protect us from the truth" - why is that not just propaganda? That's what Coulson has to prove to Skye - that SHIELD is both necessary and comparatively benign - and what Sky has to prove him wrong about. (At the end, she texts her hacker buddies, "I'm in.") What if she's right? (The pilot hints that she is.) What do they do then? Do they go rogue?
On the Fury cameo - First of all, good for Sam Jackson for doing it. He's a very good guy and clearly cares about rewarding the loyalty of the fans. He did not have to do this - let alone in a way that suggests he'll be back should conditions warrant it. You get the feeling he's jealous of Coulson. Maybe it used to be HIS sexy plane... (Intriguing notion for a flashback subplot!) I like that they used Jackson for a relationship beat, not for anything plotty. They didn't say he was there because the team recovered a Tesseract-device, though they could have. That's Avengers-level stuff. Instead, it was a nice moment between them, re-establishing the importance of that relationship for the TV audience - albeit in a way that lets them reveal down the road that Fury was there to keep tabs on Coulson. Because "He Must Never Know the Truth." Doesn't that make for an interesting opposition to the Coulson/Skye arc, by the way? There, Coulson's justifying SHIELD's secrecy, but how will he react when he learns that HE's been "protected from the truth," too? Presumably not well. (Those two plots are likely not just thematically linked - whatever Skye is looking into may well reveal the truth about Coulson's ontological status, or at least point toward that reveal.)
Last note. That was a location shoot in Mexico early on, right? Those pyramids didn't seem to me to be CGI. Heard they were in Stockholm recently, too. And Paris for the pilot. Will they really be doing complicated action set-ups - not just grabbing quick money shots - on location all over the world on a regular basis? That would be super impressive in the spectacle department, particularly for a broadcast network.
Edited by BklnScott, 01 October 2013 - 11:26 PM.