Entertainment Magazine

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

Posted on the 09 October 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

What kind of TV show is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  It’s a comic book show, but what does that mean? Lois & Clark was basically the romance novel version of the Superman story.  Smallville began as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-clone that used a teenager’s developing superpowers as metaphors for puberty (instead of awkward wet dreams our hero floats above his bed whilst sleeping).  It told its stories via the much-maligned monster-of-the-week formula.  Arrow is basically Batman Begins: The TV Show, charting the early days of a vigilante crimefighter.  It tells its immediate stories via criminals-of-the-week and a liberal usage of flashbacks dripping with slightly improbable thematic resonance.  Secondary to that, it establishes season-long arcs through its methodic examination of the complicated lives of the main character’s family.  So, comic book shows do not necessarily come in the same size.

In the case of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, I would be most tempted to say it fits the mold of a spy show, with sexy field agents equipped with cool gadgets and support from the “stay behind on the plane”-types.  However, last week’s episode didn’t quite fit the mold as they were investigating and negotiating with locals as opposed to truly sleuthing incognito.  The show isn’t quite as easy to peg yet as prior Joss Whedon shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer=high school show; Angel=film noir with a vampire private investigator; Firefly=western in space; Dollhouse=creepy, creepy, creepy).

Perhaps that is why I enjoyed the latest episode (“The Asset”) far more than the prior two, i.e., it had a more definite structure and story trajectory.  Heck, just throw in the words “Intersect” and “Subway” a couple of times and this could have been an episode of Chuck, with Skye being Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Grant being Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski).  The big difference, though, is that Chuck never had a budget which could allow them to toss semi-trucks and SUV’s around a deserted highway and create believable special effects for a cool comic book weapon of doom.

Here’s what happened in “The Asset”:

A coffee-drinking, blues music loving semi-truck driver hauling a load across a deserted highway is revealed to actually be a SHIELD agent with cool ass video game-like technology at his disposal in his car:

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His two black SUV guards are lifted in the air and forcefully thrown from the highway by an unseen force before the same thing happens to the semi-truck.  He somewhat surprisingly survives, but military fatigue-wearing soldier guys swoop in and steal the truck’s cargo, which turns out to be a nebbish-looking science guy revealed after the title card to be Dr. Franklin Hall (Ian Hart).  Comic book pop quiz: does the name Dr. Fanklin Hall immediately mean anything to you?  Well, it should – that it is the alter ego of Graviton, a villain who can manipulate and control gravity and has tangled with The Avengers on multiple occasions.  Honestly, the episode plays better if you don’t already know that at first.

Cue title card and Fitz and Simmons put on their best sad faces when they learn from Coulson that Hall has been captured since Hall was a professor of their’s.  The team goes to Colorado to check out the wreckage.

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If you can think of a better way to enter a crime scene than emerging from shadow and holding a line like an America’s Next Top Model cast photo I’d like to hear it.

The truck driver tells Coulson that it had to have been an inside job because whoever took them out knew their route exactly, and Simmons displays her apparent worth to the team by wearing Fitz’ Google Glass-like eyewear to pick up a science-y thing, throws dirt at it, and scrambles to stop the dirt from flying right back at them.  Oh, Fitz and Simmons, you’re just so…well, honestly, blah.

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 Simmons discover one tiny device is responsible for the “invisible attack” in that it was capable of manipulating gravity thus giving the appearance of an invisible attack.  They track down the only man who could have such technology, finding him hiding out after having sold his technology to an unknown buyer who paid in gold:

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An examination of the gold points to billionaire philanthropist Ian Quinn (David Conrad) as the most likely suspect for the kidnapping of Hall, whom he has a prior connection to from their shared childhood.  One problem: Quinn lives in the Republic of Malta (which is a real place, by the way), which SHIELD cannot officially attack without causing an international incident.  Oh yeah, also, our heroes are completely wrong about what they think Quinn is doing to Dr. Hall.  There is no torture involved here.  Instead, Quinn views what he did as rescuing Dr. Hall from SHIELD, and giving him an opportunity to finish work on a full-scale creation of the tiny device which caused the disturbance on the highway from the episode’s cold open.  That technology is actually based on Dr. Hall’s work in theoretical physics, and Quinn proposes the two partner together to make sure they get it right:

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So, at this point we know that Hall and Quinn are working on a big round shiny thing that looks like the device Jodie Foster uses in the movie Contact, and that SHIELD wants to rescue Hall, assuming he has been tortured while never pausing to investigate who exactly could have been the inside source that leaked the information which lead to Hall’s capture in the first place.  How do they rescue him though since SHIELD can’t technically interfere in Malta?  Well, send in Skye, of course, because you used “back channels” to finagle an invitation to a dinner of some sort.

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Agent Grant is not cool with this plan at all – Skye isn’t ready, she’s undisciplined, and they don’t know if they can trust her.  He’s so upset he doesn’t even stop to comment on the fact that Agent Coulson’s entire closet consist of nothing but suits.  Somewhat, Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother is smiling as a sign of his appreciation of Coulson’s sartorial choices.

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Grant shows Skye some field agent tricks, such as how to disarm a man pointing a gun at you.  Plus, she gives him a “we’re going to be doing it pretty soon, right?” stare which he greets back with a “I’m too concerned and serious to pick up on such invitations”:

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Skye shows up in Malta in a form-fitting, clevage-displaying little black dress that just happens to actually be pink instead of black.  Frankly, I wanted to see a Pretty Woman-style montage of her trying on outfits with Melinda May and Simmons as her judges, Melinda beyond annoyed with the whole affair, before arriving at the perfect dress before going to Malta.  Oh, well.  Skye handles herself well, cozying up to Quinn almost immediately and being stunned when he reveals himself to be a fan of Rising Tide, having allowed her to attend his party for the purpose of offering her a job.

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Meanwhile…Fitz, Simmons, and May stick behind in the plane, communicating with Skye through an earpiece and awaiting their big moment to knock down Quinn’s electric fence around his mansion once Skye gets in position.  This will allow Coulson and Grant to enter as a two-man team to track down Dr. Hill on a rescue mission.

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Quinn catches Skye in the middle of talking to her support team back on the plane, and Skye improvises by telling Quinn almost everything but leaving out the part where she is actually a decoy to distract from Grant and Coulson.  This sequence could have very easily veered toward standard “hot girl attempting to seduce guy” machinations, but admirably stays away from that, instead positioning Quinn as a potentially sympathetic antagonist whose logic makes way more sense than Skye anticipated.

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Dr. Hall turns out not to have been corrupted by Quinn nor was he technically even captured by him.  Remember the “inside source” part?  That turns out to have been Dr. Hall himself, who orchestrated his own capture just so that he could get inside of Quinn’s compound and destroy the gravity-controlling machine he’d heard Quinn had in the works.  Coulson comically acknowledges they did not at all account for any of this in their rescue plan, and finds himself walking on the ceiling (oh what a feeling) once Hall’s manipulations have caused to the gravity machine to malfunction thus altering gravity in the near vicinity.

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Meanwhile…Skye uses the one trick Grant taught her to disarm Quinn, who had pretty quickly pulled a gun on her when he realized she was just playing him.  Frankly, because pokes at genre conventions have become so synonymous with Joss Whedon I expected Skye to fail in her effort to disarm Quinn.  Both she and Quinn would react to this failure in a puzzled manner, her unsure what she did wrong and Quinn not entirely sure what she just tried to do.  As the moment lingered into awkwardness, Agent Grant would then enter the room and go all action hero-y on the bad guys.  However, the more straight-forward version they went with empowers Skye.  Plus, her “Nope” in response to Quinn’s question of whether she could actually go through with shooting him was effectively comedic, as she thereafter turns and runs, jumping over a ledge into a pool.

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Meanwhile…Hall’s plan to destroy the device to prevent it from being used for nefarious purposes by Quinn or those like him is working.  However, if Coulson can’t stop the malfunctioning machine it will mean not only his life but all of his agents and everyone at Quinn’s mansion.  So, at Fitz and Simmons recommendation through his earpiece he sacrifices Hall, whose fall into the heart of the machine stabilizes the gravity field.

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And, yes, this did look very similar to the same slow-motion shot of Astrid falling to the fire pit in Doctor Who’s “Voyage of the Damned”

Meanwhile…we get probably as tasteful and non-exploitive a sequence of a heads-to-toe wet Chloe Bennet in a cleavage-bearing dress running toward the camera as realistically possible.  She gets caught, musters up a frazzled “No, don’t..” before Grant goes all commando on her brief captors.  In this moment, Skye appears intent on rewarding Grant’s heroics by agreeing to bear his children on the spot (let the copulating commence immediately!), charging toward him in a manner which would normally end with passionate, romantic embrace.  Then she stops short, and weirdly lightly beats her fists on his chest.  They exchange “let’s get the hell out of here!” greetings before, well, getting out of there.

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Hall dead, Quinn escaped, Skye barely survived.  All according to plan, right?  Back at base, Melinda May officially reports for combat duty, acknowledging how much she hated staying behind and merely watching/listening in.  Plus, she thinks Coulson is a bit rusty as a field agent.  Our big hint of the “how is Agent Coulson still alive?” mystery is a recurring element where he finds himself unable to handle a weapon with the same ease he used to, concluding that he thought he’d be able to do it just through muscle memory.  What does that mean, exactly?  It probably means that the body Coulson occupies now is not the same as the one which was killed by Loki in The Avengers.

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And we close by finding out that Skye never had a family, in and out of foster homes her whole life. She claims to have no regrets for not taking Quinn up on his job offer, and has been humbled by the mission and is finally truly committed to her training with Grant on becoming a field agent.

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Oh, yeah, Hall didn’t actually die but merged with substance at the center of the machine, with a last second shot of his hand emerging from the center of the machine which is now hidden in an unmarked storage chamber in SHIELD’s storage facility.  This, it turns out, was a new origin story for Graviton, who in the comics was a standard scientist-whose-experiment-went-wrong creation and not an altruistic scientist with a working relationship with SHIELD as depicted here.

NOTES:

-A common target of early criticism of Agents of SHIELD has been the character of Skye.  She’s distractingly  gorgeous, can’t act, appears to serve no obvious function on the show other than operate as a horribly inadequate audience surrogate figure, etc..  As such, for some this new episode might have been a chore to watch considering it is a Skye-heavy hour, highlighting her at her most arrogant before effectively humbling her.

I have to admit there were more than a few times where I found myself rolling my eyes in response to her or her interactions with Grant.  I didn’t really buy her ability to be anything resembling remotely competent as a field agent this early, but we did finally get to see new shades of her character in that final drama-heavy sequence with Grant.  Plus, after having teased her as being a potential spy for Rising Tide it was a clever choice to structure a story in which her loyalty to her team is immediately put to the test, especially in the form of an antagonist who made a lot of sense.

-Lots of Avengers references this episode, circling around Coulson’s return to the field (him lamenting his lost playing cards, May accurately observing that he died the last time he was in the field).

-I am not entirely sure why, but at one point toward the end when Fitz and Simmons are debating how much damage will be caused if they can’t stop Dr. Hall’s machine I had a Robin-Patrice from How I Met Your Mother moment where I involuntarily yelled out “Shut up, Simmons!”  Is it possible that I am biased against her just as I am Chloe Bennet because she’s so ridiculously pretty?  Actually, with her I find her perkiness and constant smile just as annoying as I would if she were a real person I encountered in real life.

-I want there to be an episode where either Fitz or Simmons are captured.  I want to them isolated so we can learn more about them, and after only 3 episodes have already tired of the whole “they’re so similar they’re practically the same person” bit.  After all, aren’t the Wonder Twins DC, not Marvel?

-In the form of Quinn, we are presented with an anti-establishment mouthpiece which argues against SHIELD as being a symbol of big government overreach, further developing a narrative thread the writers are clearly planning to run with where our heroes are often “the man” and the bad guys “the little guy”

“Next Week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.“:

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.


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