Agents of SHIELD: 103 “The Asset” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
One of the criticisms I’ve made of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in my past reviews is that the characters are largely uninteresting, consisting primarily of loosely-formed archetypes and typical Joss Whedon character traits but with very little of the charm that has permeated his previous work. For this reason, I’m quite glad to say that “The Asset” did go some way to rectifying that problem, humanising some of the characters who were previously lacking some soul, and offered up a fun supervillain origin story along the way.
The central plot of the episode concerns the kidnap of a S.H.I.E.L.D. asset named Dr Franklin Hall by a hyper-rich megalomaniac named Ian Quinn, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s attempts to rescue him. However, it is more concerned with setting Skye on her first steps to really becoming a part of the team, rather than the relative outsider she was before. After a genuinely engaging opening set-piece in which some very flashy gadgets are used to abduct Hall from a sixteen-wheeler, the episode proper opens with Ward training a reluctant Skye. After receiving some backchat, Ward tells Skye that every agent has a ‘defining moment’, and that she won’t always be able to rely on her natural skills at hacking, relaying to her the story of how he came to be a combat expert, defending himself and his younger brother from their abusive older brother. When coupled with the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t actually have access to the truth serum supposedly used on Ward in the first episode, it seems fairly unlikely that this story is entirely true, instead being a fabrication used to manipulate Skye into doing what the team needs. But only time will tell on this, and several other issues present in the episode.
Eventually we get to a point where Skye has infiltrated Quinn’s mansion-fortress in order to shut down a bonkers laser-field that is later shown to disintegrate rocks and metal alike instantly, and allow Coulson and Grant into the compound to rescue Dr Hall, who is secreted away in a bunker underneath the mansion to perfect the science on a sciencey thing: unfortunately I can’t be much more specific than that, there was some pseudo-science about a secret element, localised gravitational fields and the potential for unlimited energy, but I zoned out while they were talking. The conversations between Skye and Quinn actually bring up some interesting points about the possession of advanced technology, with Quinn believing it should be in the public domain rather than in the possession of shady organisations like S.H.I.E.L.D., and at a certain point he begins to make a lot of sense. But nevertheless, he has kidnapped a valuable S.H.I.E.L.D. asset and must be stopped!
By the time Coulson gets to Hall, he discovers that the good doctor’s plan all along was to get caught by Quinn so he could destroy the gravity machine (again, can’t be much more specific than that) and take the compound out with it. As the machine starts to malfunction, it does create an interesting set-piece in which gravity in the room that Coulson is confronting Hall in gets messed up, and he has to confront him while standing on the wall. Unfortunately, at times this comes across as a much more low-rent version of the hotel sequence in Inception, and any comparison made with that particular scene is always going to end unfavourably.
So long story short, Hall ends up falling into the gravity machine and being absorbed by the weird energy ball wobbling around in the middle of it, which conveniently stabilizes the machine and stops it from levelling the entire island. After being rescued from Quinn’s goons by Ward, Skye accepts her role on the team and endeavours to start taking her training more seriously, and Melinda May, feeling left out of the combat operation, reports to Coulson for field duty once more. And finally, Coulson orders the gravity machine to be locked up in a S.H.I.E.L.D. base somewhere, never to be removed or mentioned, and once it is behind locked doors, we see a hand emerge from the wobbly gravity gunk, before being quickly sucked back in.
Thus, the show’s first real supervillain is born: not only is this a fairly typical way for a villain to be created in comic book mythology, but when you take into consideration the fact that the Franklin Hall of Marvel Comics is a supervillain named ‘Graviton’ it makes a pretty strong case that Coulson just created a nasty surprise for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in the future.
While this was an interesting twist on the tale, the rest of the episode remained largely unremarkable: the character development is coming too slowly to forge any interesting characters from the host of archetypes present, and the ‘stories of the week’ are not all that interesting so far. Similarly, for all the overarching mysteries set up in the pilot, there is no real sense of a clear story arc for the season, with the team seemingly lurching from one situation to another and reacting to random, sporadic events rather than acting on anything more interesting or far-reaching.
This episode closely followed the news that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been picked up for an entire 22-episode season, but the show needs to get a lot more interesting a lot quicker if it is going to maintain the kind of audiences it needs to be successful. I keep saying things to the effect that ‘time will tell’ with the overall quality of the show, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. team are rapidly running out of time to prove themselves to us.
Some interesting ideas and the first hints of character development are unfortunately let down by a largely uninteresting plot and a feeling of aimlessness. A lot needs to change for the team quickly, otherwise the show will soon run out of the goodwill generated by The Avengers and people will start to turn off. However, if they can pay off some of the more interesting tidbits set up in these early episodes, ABC and Channel 4 may well have a winner on their hands.