“The Asset” (Season 1, Episode 3)
This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a perfectly fine hour of television — it’s entertaining, it moves (and is a marked improvement over last week), but there’s nothing particularly great about it. “The Asset” gets off to a strong start: S.H.I.E.L.D. is transporting protected scientist Dr. Franklin Hall (Ian Hart) — the asset in question — when the convoy is attacked by an invisible assailant. It’s a pretty cool and well-staged sequence for a television show. It’s soon revealed that Dr. Hall has been kidnapped by his former working partner-slash-billionaire industrialist Ian Quinn (David Conrad). Quinn has discovered a rare element that can power a device to manipulate gravity, and he needs Hall to help control it. S.H.I.E.L.D. is charged with recovering Hall while finding the mole that leaked his location.
This aspect of the episode — manipulating gravity — is only really the MacGuffin and doesn’t come into play except for the cold open and the episode’s climax. The majority of “The Asset” is dedicated to Skye’s further involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. After last week’s action-heavy events, Skye is being taught by Ward to become a field operative, which means that she’ll probably need to be an active agent in the field before she’s ready (spoiler: she does). Since S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t ready to break a number of international laws, Skye, who we’re reminded isn’t technically an agent, is the only one who can get infiltrate Quinn’s operation and help break Hall out. She gets herself invited to Quinn’s annual shareholders’ party in Malta, which just happens to be held at Quinn’s beach-front palatial mansion which just happens to have an underground lair — I liked Quinn’s throwaway line that the underground lab was already there when he bought the place.
I generally like these kinds of stories, where a crack team needs to pull off an elaborate and intricately-planned operation with a number of moving parts. “The Asset” only half-delivers on this, the planning stage feels truncated and there’s not much else to the operation than Skye opening up a wireless channel for Fitz to allow for a three-second gap in the laser fence (!) so Ward and Coulson can get in and help Hall and Skye exit. It plays out well, and it’s nice to see Coulson back in the action. The episode earns a good laugh, too, when Ward and Coulson arrive on the beach: Ward is dressed in black combat gear, Coulson is in a suit.
This is pretty typical territory that adventure shows come across sooner or later. I’m kind of glad S.H.I.E.L.D. is getting this stuff out of the way upfront, though I fear the writers are using these old plot tricks as a shorthand for character development. Through the few short training scenes, we learn more about Skye’s and Ward’s motivations, which are underscored by the show’s overwrought music pinpointing the Big Emotional Moment of the episode. I’m starting to also wonder, too, when we’ll be getting more character work from Fitz, Simmons, and May (I’ve barely even talked about May in my coverage so far) since these people are just getting relegated to the role of plot support.
Yet, this is a solid episode. The twist that Hall leaked his whereabouts is clever. He knew of Quinn’s gravity manipulation device and wanted to destroy it because it’s too powerful a device for any person, organization, or government to control. I also like the direct acknowledgement of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Big Brother-like reach, which is something alluded to in the pilot, but dealt with more directly here; I feel like this an avenue the show is looking to explore. The episode shows the series’ potential, but the show feels like its trying too hard to fit into a comfortable formula.
Last week was Nick Fury, and this week we learn that Dr. Hall didn’t die when he was sucked into the CGI gravity bubble thing (which looks like the Black Oil from The X-Files) — he emerges as what will likely be a returning supervillain. But he needs name… Gravitron? Gravitor? The Heavy Hand? [UPDATE: Turns out my knowledge of Marvel villains isn’t so extensive — Dr. Franklin Hall is an established character and the villain Graviton.]
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Asset.” Directed by Milan Cheylov. Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.