After the success of its first two episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to quell any doubts I possessed in regard to its quality and bolster my already avid Marvel fandom with its sincerity and sense of fun. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was super stoked for last night’s episode if for no greater reason than Professor Quirrell from Harry Potter (Ian Hart) would be playing Dr. Franklin Hall, aka the alter-ego of super-villain Graviton. I was BEYOND stoked but after seeing this mixed bag of an episode called The Asset, I must admit a certain muted level of enthusiasm for next week’s installment.
After an explosive hard opening involving an enemy attack on a S.H.I.E.L.D. convoy, our heroes discover the convoy’s main charge (a high-priority scientist turning out to be Dr. Franklin Hall) has been kidnapped utilizing mysterious gravity-manipulation technology. Tracking the technology’s origin to a Malta compound owned by a sleazy billionaire named Ian Quinn (David Conrad of The Ghost Whisperer), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his crew are forced into a precarious position as they cannot launch an open rescue attempt for fear of creating an international incident. So the team is forced to send their duplicitous hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet) on an infiltration mission to rescue Hall with only a little field training and a dangerously sparse level of back-up should things misfire.
Right from the get-go this episode had a lot of promise: bolstering its intense opening kidnapping of Dr. Hall and following that with a nice little training scene between Ward (Brett Dalton) and Skye. I also have to admit that while the special effects aren’t that stellar (especially compared to the pilot), the gravity-bending device itself (fueled by a lovingly not-so-subtle substance called gravitonium) is very intriguing and lends itself to some solid action in the climax. And of course, though this goes without saying, I’ll take the space to reiterate how engaging Clark Gregg is and especially how entertaining the brainy buddies Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) continue to be.
All of those compliments aside however, things fall apart rather quickly in the second half; particularly once Skye infiltrates a party that Quinn hosts on his compound. First off, Dr. Hall and Ian Quinn (as both victim and villain respectively) are merely cardboard cut-out throwaway characters that are sadly underdeveloped. Dr. Hall is especially egregious in this regard as the story’s last minute attempt to provide him with moral complexity after giving bare bones insight into his character is saddled with the one-note performance from actor Ian Hart himself. On top of that, a lot of the humor has changed from being lovably awkward to becoming just plain awkward, resulting in a lot of clunky scenes that diminish the grounded tongue-in-cheek approach that makes an inherently escapist show with outlandish aspects an extremely enjoyable one.
But my biggest beef unfortunately has to do with a character I’ve really enjoyed prior to “The Asset”: Melinda May (Mulan‘s Ming-Na Wen). Previous a stern bad@$$ (especially in “0-8-4”), her reluctance to enter into combat despite her aptitude has gotten increasingly annoying and downright detrimental for the team itself. I understand that they have “alluded” to her having internal issues about combat, but they don’t seem to physically hinder her MUCH-used fighting prowess in any noticeable way or believably justify the idea that she would allow a recently dead and rusty Agent Coulson to thrust himself into a dangerous field mission because SHE HAS AN UNEXPLAINED PROBLEM WITH PUNCHING PEOPLE. Plus, are they seriously expecting me to swallow her truly believing and insisting that Coulson (whose entire team has been previously thrust into combat situations regardless of specialty and been expected to succeed) only meant to include her as a damn pilot DESPITE her being essentially the Asian Black Widow? That’s like bringing Hawkeye along officially as a doctor and not expecting him to pick up a bow and start sniping people if a mission gets complicated. Sorry Jedd Whedon, but I’m not buying it.
Now after all that rage, you’re probably thinking I hated this episode, but honestly I didn’t. Sure a lot of it was clunky and poorly conceived, but it was still entertaining and I like the development of Ward and Skye’s relationship through their training and progressing trust in one another. Plus, the on-field rustiness of Agent Coulson intrigues me by providing a possible clue towards the mystery of Coulson’s return in the form of his diminished muscle-memory. So at the end of the day, it’s a mixed episode of a good show. It happens, but hopefully it won’t next week.