S01E03 “The Asset”
Written by Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by Milan Cheylov
This is what I have been waiting for! Three episodes in an we hit the sweet spot! It is safe to say I am now on board for the long term. (As if I wasn’t already!)
“The Asset” uses the show’s format to tell a brilliant story that can both be viewed on its own and works towards building the greater whole for the series. While there are still a few lingering problems with the episode itself, it is a solid effort that sets a new high bar for the fledgling series.
The plot for this episode sees the gang having to recover an asset from a rich and powerful businessman (read as: evil and corrupt), Ian Quinn, based in Malta with the asset in question being a scientist, Dr. Franklin Hall who has uncovered the secret of the mysterious and powerful element, Gravitonium. Skye is put on point as she can be a deniable operative if caught in Malta where S.H.I.E.L.D are not allowed to operate. (Why? Because of reasons!) While Fitz and Simmons have history with Dr. Hall adding more to their backstory. Oh and something might be wrong with Agent Coulson! Dun, dun dunn!
WARNING THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Straight from the opening we are treated to the show finally giving us the kind of action adventure TV I have been wanting. The twist with the truck being part of a S.H.I.E.L.D convoy complete with fancy swishy computer interface is a Doctor Who level, take the familiar and make it strange idea, that remains plausible within the rules of the show. Anyone can be a S.H.I.E.L.D agent even a haggard and overweight truck driver.
The rest of the episode plays out in a predictable manner with the Skye heading into Quinn’s compound during a fancy party to provide a distraction for Coulson and Ward to slip in the back door to attempt to save Dr. Hall. The twist to this is that Hall leaked his own transportation info to be captured by Quinn so that he could stop him himself. This is because Quinn has built a huge and highly unstable Gravitonium Generator in true comic book bad guy style, that only Dr. Hall can control. Hall’s plan is to destroy it, Quinn’s compound, Quinn and kill himself in the process because his knowledge is to dangerous. The end result is Coulson showing his darker side and making a call that results in Dr. Hall falling into the generator to his apparent death.
There are two quite interesting sub-plots for the episode, one involving Agent Coulson and the other around Agent Ward starting to train Skye as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent. Coulson’s focuses on him not being ready to go back into the field, “He’s rusty.” (More on this in the references section!) While the Ward training Skye plot is were the action is this week. Agent Ward reveals a bit more about himself: abusive brother, having to protect himself and all that kind of stuff, while trying to play off his truth serum moment in the Pilot as a ploy to gain Skye’s cooperation. All of which culminates in Ward swooping in to help Skye just at the right moment.
Fitz and Simmons use their history with Dr. Hall to help track him down and we see some out there style thinking from Fitz with his suggestion to use a monkey to infiltrate Quinn’s compound. While sadly for this episode, Agent May sits squarely on the sidelines as she struggles with not wanting to do field work. Thankfully by the end of the episode she signs herself up for active duty when needed so we should see her kicking more ass on a regular basis.
While overall the episode is great, it still has some issues. Despite the global reach of the show it seems the writers and producers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D have a very narrow world view. In episode 2 Peru was painted as a country rife with civil war and in “The Asset” Malta is depicted as a country were anyone can do what they wish, for the right price. Ian Quinn’s stronghold is actually the Prime Minister’s old mansion that’s how corrupt they are in Malta! The show could have played to the country’s strengths and history as a tactical focal point of importance but sadly it seems that the writer’s room had a game of darts with a map of Europe to choose the episode’s setting.
There were also two distinct moments were I was taken right out of the action of the episode:
- When Coulson and Ward are waiting for the high tech laser grid to be deactivated by Skye they have a brief scuffle with some henchmen which is great but then spend the rest of the scene shooting at people off screen, that we never see.
- During the episode’s big set piece, the gravity going all wibbly in the Gravitonium Generator room while Coulson and Hall have an epic level stand off. Every time the gravity shifted they showed some crappy low grade B-Reel footage of plastic bottles and paper flying all over the place. It stood out from the rest of the cinematography for that particular set.
Thankfully, Skye manages to play it cool and gives the episode its through-line once again. Playing on both the audience and the other character’s mistrust over her Rising Tide connection to worm her way into Quinn’s office to deactivate the perimeter defences to let Coulson and Ward in. She also has her first major Something for the Dads moment running about in a wet dress after taking a “tactical” dive into a pool towards the end of the episode.
Which was nice.
- Very light or heavy on the comic book references this week (depending on how you look at it) Franklin Hall and his whole Graviton thing are actually in the comics. He is a very low tier Avengers villain with gravity powers called Graviton. Him coming back as said villainous character is teased at the end of the episode with the ominous post credits scene of a hand reaching out of the Graviton Generator while it is in S.H.I.E.L.D lockdown.
- The other major comic book related reference is more of an implication. Coulson’s rustiness in not being able to deftly disable a gun, talk of him not being himself after dying and resting up in Tahiti and him lacking muscle memory give a lot of weight to the Life Model Decoy Theory.
- Life Model Decoy’s are a favourite trick of notable Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury. Essentially they are remote controlled, life like decoys that can be used in place of yourself. Which in the comics essentially boils down to Nick Fury appearing and revealing something important then “dying” horribly only to appear on a conveniently near by computer or TV screen declaring that it was a LMD that died and not the real Nick Fury who is safe elsewhere being a bad ass. Different LMDs have varying abilities and powers (self repair, super strength, etc.) but what gives the Coulson is an LMD theory some substance is Max Fury, a sentient LMD who thought it was the real Nick Fury, one that is driven mad when the truth is revealed to him.
- Movie references this week are also a bit lighter with only two notable shout out to the Avengers. One when Coulson references loosing his card collection when he died which is a nod to his mint condition Captain America Trading Cards. The other is more in your face when Coulson mentions seeing plenty of action with the Avengers when talking about his skill level.
“The Asset” is a great standalone episode that leaves room for further development, you have the possible return of both Dr. Hall as Graviton and Quinn as the scheming business man that he is. (He manages to quickly make his exit via helicopter when the shit hits the fan) If the show continues at this level it will be great but I have a sneaking suspicion that things can only get better from here.
More like this please!