Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review 1.03 - 'The Asset'
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 10.16.2013
After an up-and-down first two episodes, do Coulson and company finally deliver in episode three? Who exactly is Dr. Franklin Hall and why should we care? 411's Wyatt Beougher answers these questions and more in his review!
If you’ve been keeping up with me this past week, I’ve reviewed the first two episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I thought Pilot got things off to a good start, but that 0-8-4 was a minor misstep for the show. With the benefit of a week since the third episode aired, I know two things - that the ratings rebounded from the second episode, at least in the show’s targeted demographic (males, 18-49), and that ABC has ordered an additional nine episodes of the show for a complete 22-episode season. I’m torn on that front, as I think shows like The Following and Sons of Anarchy have really shown that a more compact season can actually improve storytelling, but at least ABC (or parent company Disney) has shown faith in this property and I’m not going to be stuck wondering what was supposed to happen, like I was with Terra Nova and The River. So does The Asset show that this faith is well-founded? Let’s have a look...
Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Coulson put together a team of agents (and on consultant) with diverse backgrounds and unique skill sets, but they couldn’t seem to get along. They were able to stop an Extremis patient from exploding, though, and they also managed to overcome their differences to prevent their mobile base from being hijacked by a group of Peruvian military police officers, so there’s that.
Season 01, Episode 03: The Asset
We open on a big rig with some appropriate truckin’ music and a suitably trucker-looking driver. The driver is communicating with someone via CB, and we see that he’s being escorted by a pair of black SUVs, at least until one of them hits something invisible and goes flying into the air. The driver hits a hidden button on his windshield and a heads-up display pops up. He calls for help as his second escort is also launched in the air, but before he can finish his distress call, he too is launched into the air. An excavator appears and rips his trailer open, only for some thugs to throw all the empty paper boxes out of the way and find a sealed door with a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it. They cut it open with torches and there’s...a nerdy-looking man inside.
Cut to the Bus, where Ward is hitting the heavy bag and trying to train Skye, who isn’t feeling it. Ward plays gruff disciplinarian and Skye is contrarian and wants no part of the exercising. Ward tells her that she can join Fitz and Simmons, but their training was purely intellectual and Skye wants no part of that. Ward tells Skye that every field agent has their defining moment where they have to make the hard calls (hmmm...could it be...FORESHADOWING?). Skye probes Ward for information, but he tells her that the whole “truth serum” bit from the first episode was all staged for her benefit. May announces that they’re changing couse and heading to Colorado. Coulson briefs the team about the opening scene, including that the nerdy-looking man is Canadian physicist Franklin Hall (Ian Hart), who was an advisor for Fitz and Simmons. Coulson says they’re going to try to get him back and explains to the team that they have assets that they keep moving and keep hidden to keep them out of enemies’ hands.
Agent Mack (cause he’s a trucker...get it?) informs Coulson that they knew where to be and when to be there, and Coulson asks if he thinks they were working with someone on the inside. Mack says that it had to be. Simmons finds something invisible floating in the air that keeps flinging all the surrounding particles in every direction. They deactivate it and it becomes visible, but when Skye questions what it is, Coulson will only reply with “something big”.
Back in the lab, Fitz works with the mysterious object while May and Coulson discuss how the information about the route got out. Skye offers to upload tread marks from the asphalt to find the matching model, but Ward says it’s already been done, and that it matches up with a 2010 backhoe. Coulson puts him on the case of finding people in the area who may’ve sold their equipment to the kidnappers, while May tasks Skye with reading all the communications from S.H.I.E.L.D. since the orders came to transport Hall. A rancher on a horse rides up to Coulson and Lola, who questions him about selling the excavator. The rancher pulls a shotgun on Coulson, but Ward disarms him and yanks him off his horse. He talks, but says he doesn’t know anything. Ward shakes down his saddlebags and finds a bunch of gold bars, which get taken back to the lab and analyzed by Fitz/Simmons, who narrow it down to a mind in Tanzania. Coulson says the CEO of the mine is Ian Quinn.
We cut to a suited man and his assistant walking outside of a sizable house. He walking into a lab and sees Hall tied up, which upsets him, and he has his men release Hall. After the cronies leave, Quinn (as Hall reveals him to be) is extremely excited to have Hall there. They bicker back and forth, but Quinn (David Conrad) says it was a rescue mission and not a kidnapping. Quinn says S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t come after him because he’s now a naturalized citizen of Malta and he’s basically untouchable. Quinn shows Hall a duplicate of the object that wrecked the two SUVs and S.H.I.E.L.D. semi, and he says that he’s found it.
Back in the lab, Fitz briefs the team on gravitonium, which powers the device. Fitz and Simmons talk about the device, but Skye stops them to point out that she’s a high school dropout. Gravitonium distorts gravity, and when combined with an electric current, the gravitonium solidifies and distorts gravity all around it. Quinn was a student of Hall’s when Hall did all of his theoretical research on gravitonium. Back in Malta, Hall warns Quinn about the dangers of gravitonium before showing him the full-size graviton generator. Quinn says he’s going to do it with or without Hall, but he knows Hall will want to do it right. On the Bus, Ward says there’s no way to enter Quinn’s compound without a strikeforce or a man inside, because he’s got a fancy laser fence. The strikeforce is out because they’ll never allow an air strike in Malta, so Fitz suggest a small monkey who could slip through the sensors and disable the field. Ward wants dropped off in the hills outside the compound, where he’ll spend weeks...but Coulson cuts him off because Hall doesn’t have weeks. Simmons points out that any agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be legally shot dead in Malta. Skye says she can get inside, but the entire team is doubtful, so Skye just shows them the invitation that she just got to the Quinn festivities.
Coulson reassures Ward that they have no other chance than to use Skye, but Ward is worried about both her safety and her loyalty. Ward says Skye is holding back and he needs a new strategy to get inside her head, but Coulson says stop thinking like an operative and start thinking like a person and see if she’ll let that person inside. Ward shows Skye how to take a pistol off of an assailant, which I’m guessing will come in handy later in this episode, but Skye makes a joke instead. Ward says Skye needs tools, muscle memory, to go in there and get the job done, but Skye says computers came naturally to her, not the physicality that comes naturally to Ward. Ward finally opens up and reveals that he had to learn to protect himself because he had an older brother who beat the crap of him and their even younger brother for nothing, even for trying to eat a piece of his birthday cake. He says he’s trying to protect Skye, and she apologizes, but shows Ward that she took his gun. Coulson briefs the team on their plan (Skye gets inside, uses a secret compact to give Fitz/Simmons access to his computer system, they shut down the fence, and a two-man extraction team gets inside to get Skye and Hall out). May says she wants no part of the two-man extraction team, but Coulson says he and Ward are the extraction team.
Skye, looking fetching in a bright pink dress, arrives at the Quinn compound. She grabs champagne and an hors d'oeuvre before being accosted by a pair of Middle Eastern gentlemen. May feeds Skye details about them and she charms them. Skye approaches Quinn and they strike up a conversation that leads to Quinn looking to hire Skye. Quinn gives a pro-capitalism speech (because he’s a bad guy), while Ward and Coulson pull an inflatable boat onto the shore of the island. As Quinn speaks, the graviton generator begins working in the underground compound, which is Hall’s doing. Skye looks for a way to shut down the fence, but Quinn finds her and wants to know what she’s really doing. Skye says she was trying to get a look at how things actually operate, which causes Quinn to try to get security to show her out. Skye sweet talks him and shows him a piece of paper that says “S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening”.
May, Fitz, and Simmons are listening in on Skye and Quinn and wondering how she was able to get Quinn to show her into his office, which Skye describes the location of. They lose the audio feed and Simmons blames Fitz, but he says it wasn’t him, so it must’ve been Skye...who dropped her earpiece into a glass of champagne. Skye says S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to recruit her, but she’s inside, collecting information and waiting until she can become useful. Quinn wants to know why they’d trust her on a covert op and Skye points out that they had no other options, whereas she likes to keep her options open. Coulson throws some sand at the laser fence, a patrol is coming, and Skye is offline. Coulson and Ward hide from the patrol, while Quinn says Skye fits S.H.I.E.L.D.’s profile - a criminal record, no home, and no family, which touches a nerve with Skye. Coulson and Ward take out the patrol, but Coulson struggled to disarm one of the guards, chalking it up to rust. Back inside, Skye pulls out the compact, gets the green signal, and tries to convince Quinn that she was just supposed to get inside, bat her eyes, and get him talking. Fitz works to lower the laser fence while the newly-alerted guards shoot at Coulson and Ward. Ward and Coulson just make it inside the perimeter before the fence reboots, and Coulson goes after Hall while Ward goes after Skye.
Quinn figures that S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t just send in a pretty face, just as one of his men informs him of a security breach. He figures out the deal with compact, trashes it, and pulls a gun on Skye. Coulson finds Hall and says he has an exit strategy, but Hall says he’s right where he’s supposed to be, just as May realizes that it was Hall who leaked his transportation route. Hall says the graviton generator is too dangerous to let anyone have, so he’s going to bury it in the bottom of the ocean. Hall says no embargoes or petitions could stop Quinn, so he had to make a choice before pressing a button to fully power up the graviton generator, which sends everything going crazy. Coulson informs Fitz/Simmons of the size and potential power of the generator, and says he’ll pull the plug before things get crazy, only to realize that he’s walking on the ceiling of the room. Hall says that they’re sworn to protect all mankind, which is what he’s doing as he pours a glass of scotch sideways.
Upstairs, Quinn holds Skye at gunpoint and says S.H.I.E.L.D. is against everything that Skye stands for, but she rebuts that he kidnapped a person, but Quinn says he set Hall free, and he could’ve set Skye free too. Ward searches for Skye as May gets increasingly irate. Quinn says Skye has to talk and that she’s expendable, that they sent her in with nothing...and she disarms him using the trick Ward showed her earlier (Chekhov’s disarm?). Quinn asks if Skye has what it takes to pull the trigger, she replies “nope”, and jumps off of the balcony into a pool. Quinn tries to go after her, but the graviton shakes things up and he instead opts to have his men get the helicopter ready for their escape. Hall, holding Coulson at gunpoint, says that he had to let Quinn feel smart so that he could set up the whole plan to prevent him from using the graviton generator for evil purposes. Coulson tries to talk Hall down, but Hall says S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as guilty of “experimentation without thought for consequence”.
Gravity continues to go wonky, with its effects spreading to the lawn, where Skye, now dripping wet and running wearing a clinging dress (they know their audience, don’t they?), is attempting to make her escape. She gets captured by Quinn’s men, but Ward takes them out pretty handily and Skye runs up to him. He tells her to follow his orders and he’ll get them out. Coulson cuts the power, but nothing happens, so Fitz/Simmons tell him that he has to find a catalyst to create a reaction in the core. Coulson tries to get Hall to help him as Ward and Skye arrive outside the door, but Hall says they have to live with the choices that they make (in this case, die with them), but Coulson says he has to make a hard call and shoots the glass floor, sending Hall hurtling down into the core of the machine, where he is enveloped by a black goo as gravity returns to normal. The graviton generator shuts down, and Coulson tasks another agent with locking up the graviton where no one will find it or move it.
Coulson tries to pull the slide off of a pistol, but he has no luck (and no muscle memory…hmmm). May says he’s making a habit of close calls, and that she doesn’t like running back end. Coulson asks if she wants off of the plane, but May says she wants in and she’s reporting for combat. Coulson asks if she’s committed to the cause or just watching his back. She says “same thing” and walks away, chiding him with “You are a little rusty”. Skye is hitting the heavy bag, taking it seriously, and she and Ward have a heart-to-heart about her life growing up in the foster system. She was sent back to an orphanage at age nine because she called her foster mother “mom”. She says “hoping for something and losing it hurts worse than not hoping for anything at all”. Ward assures her that they won’t turn their backs, and she says she’s made her choice and she wants it, bad. In the Fridge (one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s storage facilities), the graviton generator is getting locked up (with the black goo now moving wildly about inside it). The agent Coulson talked to earlier removes the name plate from the door and walks away, and the last shot is of a black-coated human hand reaching out of the churning main mass.
“Aw, hell, I can’t explain.”
“How could I run away if I was curled up into a ball?”
“Ward said you guys don’t have a truth serum.” “Did he?” “Yeah.” “Interesting” “Hey, wai…”
“I know Director Fury feels like he owes you because you sacrificed yourself..” “And my card collection.”
“You forget, I saw plenty of action with the Avengers.” “And you died.”
“I could get used to this, people; it’s like Siri, if she worked.”
“I didn’t invite you here for your pretty face. I didn’t know you had a pretty face.”
“Probably just used her...ummm...uhhh...ummm...ehhhh...boobs.”
“Saying his name repeatedly does. NOT. increase productivity.” “Okay, go.” “...Or maybe it does.”
“Kid’s got balls.” “Thanks, but yuck.”
“Your search for an unlimited power source? Brought an alien invasion.” “Fair point.”
This is more like the show that I was waiting for. Sure, the big bad in the episode was just a corrupt businessman looking to turn a profit, but we had some nice effects at the beginning and end of the episode that looked much better than the first episode, the team actually acted like they could stand one another for more than a few seconds at a time, we finally got some backstory on Ward, Skye, and even Fitz and Simmons, and the groundwork was lain for an actual supervillain (there will be some spoilery stuff later, so be warned). Was it as good as the MCU feature films? Not yet, but I daresay that after watching this episode, I think it could get there.
I do still have one major problem with the show, though - between Skye’s “I’m a high school drop out” this episode and Ward’s “English, guys” at the end of episode two, the showrunners are doing an awfully good job of making their smart people (one’s a super-spy fluent in five or six languages, the other a renowned hacker who invaded S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mainframe) look dumb rather than their super-smart people (Fitz and Simmons) look smarter than said regular smart people. And while we did finally get some background on the non-Coulson/May members of the team, it was still pretty cliched - Ward came from an abusive home, which made him super protective and overly hard on himself, Skye came from a broken home and dropped out of high school and is just looking for family, and Fitz and Simmons just coincidentally happen to have a connection to the scientist who was captured at the beginning of the episode, conveniently giving them a personal stake in the outcome of the mission. Even May’s character development (realizing she doesn’t like sitting on the sidelines and wanting to get back into combat) isn’t anything a viewer hasn’t seen multiple times before, but again, Ming-Na Wen does such a great job with the character that it’s more acceptable in her case.
Still, though, I think the good in this episode far outweighed the bad (and really, most of my complaints fall more into the “average” category than outright “bad”), and I’m genuinely excited to see what happens next week (well, actually, shortly after I finish this write-up, though I’ll be watching the fourth episode tonight without writing anything about it). And if anyone has an issue with two-thirds of the photos featuring Skye for this episode, blame it on ABC - apparently, an attractive young woman wearing a very flattering dress is more photo-worthy than stuff that actually has to do with the plot. Last but not least, if you want the spoiler stuff I mentioned above, just highlight the white text after the colon: in the comics, Hall is the supervillain Graviton who has control over gravitational fields, so I doubt this is the last we’ll see of him. If that means they’re going to build to a big season-ending confrontation with Graviton that guest stars an actual superhero, I’m in.
The 411: Finally it feels like this show is going to have a stride, although I don’t think it’s even remotely hit it yet. This episode featured some great effects, consistent performances from stars and guests alike, and a MAJOR hanging thread that should lead to some very good stuff in the near future. After a pretty minor step back with episode two, this show takes a major step forward with The Asset, and I hope that they can maintain that momentum going forward.