So we all know the pilot of any show is at best a glorified pitch meeting, and the second episode is just an exercise in repetition that can be ignored. It’s the third episode where you really have to start paying attention. For S.H.I.E.L.D., that’s especially true, since the show can’t lean on Avengers references and Samuel L. Jackson cameos forever. We have to see what this is going to look like as a show, and “The Asset” did a pretty nice job selling me on this show’s future. Like the last two episodes, the plotting was nothing spectacular, and the general breeziness was the most memorable thing about it. But the show’s characters are slowly filling out and that’s usually where Joss Whedon’s shows start to gain traction.
What’s happening in “The Asset”? We have Ian Hart as a top-secret doctor man who is kidnapped by a handsome industrialist, Ian Quinn (David Conrad) who has set up shop in Malta because it’s apparently a crime paradise where S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot go (it helps that sunny California makes for a very convincing Malta without much work). The doc has the know-how to harness Gravitonium, a shiny black goop that can control gravity, but secretly he wants to destroy his life’s work and not become another Doctor Oppenheimer.
It’s all well and good. Comics nerds will note that “Dr. Franklin Hall” is the name of minor Avengers villain Graviton, and that Ian Hart is a notable enough name that he’ll probably come back some day to terrorize our heroes. The episode’s one out-and-out badass moment sees Coulson shooting out the floor beneath him and Hall to send the scientist to his death and neutralize the Gravitonium; but the scientist is far from dead, we see in the episode-ending clip, and hey, just like that, S.H.I.E.L.D. made itself a pretty cool bad guy.
I like it! I’m less intrigued by Quinn, who’s barely a step above a generic Miami Vice villain and whose motives would be totally uninteresting if they were ever made clear to us. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still struggling with the fact that it’s set in the world of superheroes but has a lot of set-pieces that, while nicely shot and put together, are more reminiscent of an episode of Chuck than Iron Man 3. It’s presenting itself as a globe-trotting secret agent show, and it’s getting all the clichés that come with that formula.
But! That character work! It’s coming along very nicely indeed! Coulson’s backstory remains a mystery, and his function is largely to corral the youngsters, dispense sarcastic quips and generally come across as a steady hand. Clark Gregg continues to kill it. But I like how nicely he underplays his big badass moment at the end of the episode. That would be easy to milk for cheese, but Gregg has long understood that the charm of Coulson lies in his easygoing demeanor. Shooting out the floor beneath him isn’t something he does callously, and he doesn’t showboat while doing it. Makes him all the cooler.
“The Asset” spends most of its time showing off Skye (Chloe Bennet) and further integrating her into the group by having her take point on the mission (an undercover op, although a pretty half-hearted one). It also lends further shading to her status as a potential traitor/mole. Last week’s cliffhanger showed her communicating with Rising Tide, but this week showed her attitude as remaining pretty generally shifty. As far as we can tell, she’s on board with S.H.I.E.L.D. (which makes sense, since she’s the star of a show called S.H.I.E.L.D.), but she’s also quite the opportunist.
Bennet is a fun actress. Outside of Gregg, she’s doing the best with the snarky Whedony dialogue, which can sound very clunky coming out of the wrong actor (one must note that the writing has now shifted to the showrunners, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen). She’s funny, she undersells the dramatic lines in the right way, and she’s doing her best to spark up some chemistry with Grant (Brett Dalton), even though right now it is not working.
Dalton, to me, is the latest in a line of dull Whedon hunks with just a glimmer of personality. He’s another Marc Blucas. That’s not to say there’s not a ton of room for him to improve. It’s just going to take a little while. Grant’s internal issues are uninteresting (he talks about being bullied by his brother, prompting a hearty “WHO CARES” from my couch). His patronizing relationship with Skye will get tired quickly. His cautious bromance with Coulson is a little better, though. Those two jump around and sync up their gunplay very gamely.
“The Asset” sees S.H.I.E.L.D. still playing by the rules. It’s a procedural, it’s set on a plane, they fly around the world, there’s some special effects and some action set-pieces, but nothing too crazy or original. Yet. But this was the first episode to show some potential for originality around the corner. It remains to be seen whether S.H.I.E.L.D. will turn into a Fringe type show with a complicated mythology, or if it will just be Burn Notice with superheroes jetting around sunny locations. On paper, it should be the former. This is the first episode that went along with that.
- The cute scientists remain cute, and that’s it. Do something else, guys!
- Coulson is great with the underwhelmed reaction. “I’ll be honest. Our strategy didn’t take into consideration you saying that.”
- Oh, Ming-Na wants to be in on the action now! You’re sure you don’t want to just fly the plane and glower at everyone, Ming-Na? Fantastic! Great to have you on board!