“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Recap: The Asset

Bookended by impressive action sequences, episode three of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fumbles through clichéd character development while exploring the origin story of one of The Avengers’ great villains. 

The Asset starts off with its foot on the ignition. What appears to be an inconspicuous big rig barreling down an empty road is cleverly revealed as a S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle transporting precious cargo. One by one, the S.H.I.E.L.D. convoy is picked off by an invisible force. The cars are lifted into the sky and dropped like discarded toys. Masked men invade the big rig to reveal the twist— the precious cargo is actually a person, a man who cavalierly asks his captors, “Are we there yet?” This well-paced teaser combines comic book violence with the right amount of mystery, hooking the viewer before they’ve even seen our heroes.

Back on “The Bus,” agent Ward is fulfilling the promise he made last week of being a mentor to Skye. He’s teaching her to throw a punch and how to disarm an attacker, but it’s a struggle. Skye’s not too keen on the whole physical combat thing. She quips, “I thought I was joining S.H.I.E.L.D., not 24-hour Fitness.” Ward tries to be tough, he tries to be nice, but nothing seems to work. Eventually Agent Coulson advises Ward to try to be a person without an agenda. Unfortunately, these forced moments of character development have felt trite, making them one of the show’s weaknesses.

The agents catch wind that their “precious cargo” has gone missing and it is revealed that the man in question is Canadian physicist Franklin Hall, a college professor of Fitz/Simmons. Comic book fans will recognize Frank Hall as the doctor who becomes Graviton (one of Marvel’s more powerful bad guys) and TV fans might recognize the actor that who plays him (Ian Hart) as Lonnie on HBO’s Luck.

The agents are deployed to investigate Dr. Hall’s abduction and it doesn’t take long for them to pinpoint his kidnapper as mining tycoon Ian Quinn (Ghost Whisperer’s David Conrad). Quinn has discovered a once theoretical element called gravitonium and he has locked Dr. Hall in his secret Malta lab to help implement this new, powerful technology.

Thankfully, the subsequent mission to extract Dr. Hall finally gives Skye something to do. For some loosely explained reason, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are not allowed in Malta, but Skye is not technically an agent. She uses some back channel to get herself an invitation to a gala on the same compound that Dr. Hall is being held. There, Skye’s loyalties continue to be called into question. Is she committed to S.H.I.E.L.D., or is she working for whomever can offer her the best deal?

In the end Skye charms Ian Quinn long enough to help Agent Ward and Agent Coulson enter the compound, hopefully putting an end to her wavering allegiance. Now, with a gun pointed at her head, Skye needs to implement what she learned from Agent Ward (just a few hours before) in order to disarm her attacker and save her own life. It’s a bit silly, yes, but if teenage boys weren’t already crushing on Skye, then they will certainly be in love after seeing her kick butt in her pink party dress.

The final battle between Agent Coulson and Dr. Hall might be the show’s best action set piece thus far. Reminiscent of one of Inception’s dreamlike fight scenes, Coulson and Hall walk on walls and get tossed around the lab as the energy emitted from the gravitonium shifts the rules of gravity. Dr. Hall is now committed to destroying the machine to keep it out of Quinn’s hands. He knows that everyone around him will need to die with the machine. Coulson has other plans. With the help of Fitz/Simmons he is able to stop the reactor by initiating a chemical reaction caused by sacrificing Dr. Hall to the gravitonium.

In the aftermath, Skye reconfirms her commitment to S.H.I.E.L.D. and opens up to Agent Ward with a sob story about growing up an orphan. The tearjerker is almost as contrived and ridiculous as Ward’s earlier childhood story about protecting his little brother. The dialog and plot lines during these moments feel geared to a very young audience, making it seem like the show would be more at home on ABC’s Family Channel.

This episode utilizes the show’s now compulsory tag scene to great effect. After the last act we come back to see the gravitonium get locked up behind heavy security in the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound. Just before cutting to black we see the hand of Dr. Hall emerge from the ball of energy. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see the return of Graviton.

Other Thoughts:

– Agent May was again useless in this episode, confined to an ancillary and unnecessary job because (as she keeps reminding us) she doesn’t want to see combat. Later May inexplicably tells Coulson that next time (as in next episode) she wants to be back in the field. Frankly, I don’t care if the writers ever explain May’s reasons for not wanting, then wanting to be in the field. I’m just glad she’s going to get to do something.

–  I really enjoy this show’s surprising, seamless implementation of digital technology into otherwise analog objects. For instance, the interactive windshield display on the old 18-wheeler was super cool.

– This episode had a lot of very funny lines and aside from the orphan monologue, it was written particularly well for Skye. Chloe Bennett is growing on me and it seems she’ll be the breakout star of this show.

– The writers are really committed to calling attention to Agent Coulson’s death. This time Coulson mentions, “I saw plenty of action with the Avengers” and agent May reminds us, “And you died.” If the writers insist on continually mentioning it, I just hope they eventually pay off this whole “he has risen” plot.

 

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J.T. Saroufim Joseph Tony Saroufim is a screenwriter and reviewer of film and television. He has worked as a staff writer in Vh1’s creative lab and in 2011 he won the best writing award at the New York Television Festival. Most recently he produced and co-wrote D-TEC, a television pilot that won Samsung’s Second Screen Storytellers competition. His favorite TV shows include Soap, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Veep. His favorite film is Holiday, starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.