AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.3: “The Asset”

DAVID CONRAD, CHLOE BENNETFrom all appearances, this episode of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. was meant to be a run-of-the-mill, this-is-how-we-do-it story of a regular SHIELD (it’s too much trouble to type all those periods) mission — and thus, it was a bit on the dull side. Solving a kidnapping was just the McGuffin to push Skye into fieldwork before she’s ready — and before anybody, including SHIELD, knows she can be trusted.

It also served to start sketching in a background for Mr. Stuffed Shirt, aka Agent Ward, and pushing the two most conventionally attractive people in the cast together, just as everybody watching expects. But where “The Asset” worked best was in laying the groundwork for SHIELD’s first super-powered adversary.

Things got off to an action-packed start in the cold opening, with the kidnapping of a SHIELD-affiliated physicist, Dr. Franklin Hall (Ian Hart), by bad guys with the ability to flip cars and levitate a tractor-trailer by unseen means. Turns out the thugs are working for industrialist Ian Quinn (David Conrad), who specializes in bleeding-edge technology and wants his old buddy Hall to help him perfect a gravity-controlling device. While Hall is furious that Quinn built his empire by stealing his work, Hall can’t resist the offer to work with the new element Gravitonium.

Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Co. are assigned to retrieve Dr. Hall, and when they discover he’s been taken to Malta — where SHIELD is forbidden to operate — the only choice is covert infiltration. Which naturally means sending in Skye (Chloe Bennet), the amateur who’s been a member of the club for two weeks. They think she can bat her eyes and sashay her way into the playboy’s mansion and find the doctor and the Gravitonium. All goes well until it doesn’t — Skye is busted and appears to switch sides, telling Quinn she’s with Rising Tide and has infiltrated SHIELD. But Quinn doesn’t buy it, so she legs it, and is saved by Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), who, along with Coulson, has infiltrated the compound the old-fashioned way: via raft and killing guards.

shield2Coulson tries to rescue Hall from the lab, but Hall wants to stop Quinn by sinking the entire island into the sea using the giant gravity machine he’s built. Coulson is against that, and as the machine overloads and turns the lab upside down and sideways, Coulson shoots out a window and Hall is sucked into the gravity machine, shutting it down. Later, SHIELD takes possession of the ball of Gravitonium and locks it away in The Fridge. We see Dr. Hall’s arm emerge from the bubbling Gravitonium, but get sucked back in.

Now, everyone who has read Marvel comic books instantly recognized the birth of a supervillain here: specifically Graviton, a man who can control gravity and fought the Avengers several times in the comics. He’s even named Dr. Franklin Hall in Avengers No. 158. Kudos to the producers for deciding to make SHIELD’s first super-powered baddie a home-grown one; blaming Coulson for turning him into a monster will give Graviton solid motivation for taking on SHIELD and not battling the Avengers instead. So stay tuned for the return of Dr. Hall. And, no doubt, the debonair Ian Quinn.

The ostensible reason for the episode was to get Skye’s feet wet as a field operative, and suggest she may serve as SHIELD’s version of Sydney Bristow — the one who infiltrates the bad guy’s organization with the power of her cleavage — so it doesn’t really matter that she bungled it. What does matter is whose side she’s on. I still think it would be neat twist if Skye really does turn out to be evil and a dyed-in-the-wool Rising Tide operative. Who would expect the pretty one with all the audience sympathy to be a double agent? But what I don’t want to see is the “Is she or isn’t she?” question dragged out all the way to the season finale. Make the reveal during November sweeps.

shield4For now, we have to make do with a glimpse of her more distant past, her childhood, when she opened up to Ward during combat training, because, yeah. Skye wasn’t taking the training seriously anyway. She was a foster child shunted from one home to another because nobody wanted her. Ward’s tough-guy persona cracks enough for him to reveal that he was regularly beaten up by his big brother and tried to protect his even younger brother. Is either of those stories true? They are both practiced liars. But at least Skye learned the value of combat training after she needed Ward to rescue her from Quinn’s thugs.

A little bit of spotlight was pried away from Skye to shine on Melinda (Ming-Na Wen), who finally got so restless watching the others in the group screw up operations that she asked Coulson to put her back on active field duty — the one thing she had insisted on avoiding in the pilot episode. I think we all get the feeling that Coulson knew the action bug would bite eventually.

We also got another clue that Coulson is a robot — or, more specifically, an LMD, a Life Model Decoy — with all that talk about him being “rusty.” The word rusty was recited a bit too often to be casual.

Is Gravitonuim related to Avatar’s Unobtanium, or did the producers just ask James Cameron to come up with a name for them?

Hands-down the worst part of the episode was Ward suggesting that SHIELD doesn’t have truth serum, so he was only faking being under its influence back in the pilot. (Remember “Gramsy”?) That undoes a trademark Joss-ism — doing exactly the opposite of what the viewer expects. Coulson using the truth serum on Ward was a brilliant gambit to gain Skye’s trust, and I don’t like the idea that it was faked. Not one bit.

QUOTABLE

“If we had a monkey we could get in. If we had a small monkey he could slip through the sensors and disable the fence’s power source with his adorable little hands.” — Fitz

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One thought on “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.3: “The Asset”

  1. I’m enjoying SHIELD. Unlike many, I came in expecting some good, light-hearted, cartoonish fun, and that’s what I’m getting. And the thought of seeing Coulson’s team facing off against Graviton somewhere down the line – I’m thinking February sweeps – is a mouth-watering one. For now, although the character development could be a bit faster, I’m happily along for the ride.

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