Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 3 review: The Asset

Review James Hunt 10 Oct 2013 - 06:42

By its third episode, the direction of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s is becoming clearer. Here's James' review of The Asset...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 The Asset

This week, Agents of SHIELD finally did something I'd been hoping it would do from the start and introduced a character from the Marvel Universe into MCU canon. Admittedly, it did so in a way that meant he shared almost no characteristics or qualities with his comics counterpart, but hey, they re-used the name and vaguely themed the episode around his powers. That's a step in the right direction, isn't it?

For those unaware, that character was Franklin Hall, a villain known as Graviton in Marvel's comics universe. The character had a fairly major role in this episode as the scientist Coulson's team were attempting to recover, but unfortunately that meant he didn't get much time to be the super-villain we all know and love, even if the stinger did suggest that this might be his origin story.

While this sort of cameo does arguably confirm the criticisms people have levelled against SHIELD as the series where you could see a superhero or supervillain (but usually don't) it is, at the very least, promising something tangible in that direction. Is it too optimistic to suggest that they're saving up their budget for the later episodes?

Even ignoring the disappointment at Graviton's non-appearance appearance, this episode was fairly by-the-numbers for a show that's supposed to be about the fantastic. By now it's clear that even though SHIELD is an ensemble piece, they're focusing on Skye as the audience entry-point character for the long haul. This episode advanced the subplots surrounding her usefulness and loyalties, while simultaneously developing her friendship with Ward.

It's still too early to say that they've actually found an angle that works for the character (does anyone believe she might actually turn out to be evil?) but I'll say this: at least Agent Ward wasn't completely tedious this week, and considering his previous form that's a big step up. If they could just find a way to make Fitz and Simmons more likeable then they might actually have a workable set of characters to play with.

Plot-wise, things were generic with a capital G. It was basically an episode of Secret Agent Television with a large dose of Whedon trope-undermining thrown in to make it seem unique: a hostage who doesn't want to be rescued and a double-agent who might be a single-agent, but in the opposite direction. Infiltration under cover of party isn't the most original story device, but at least this one didn't over-stretch credulity too badly: the first time Skye encountered a locked door she was stumped and then immediately caught. Finally, some realism!

Unfortunately, the episode's real star was only found in the opening scenes. I'd watch an entire series about a secret agent trucker and his futuristic rig, but sadly he was only there so that the episode could demonstrate the gravity powers that a far less colourful character was planning to abuse. A note to the writers: if you're going to invent new characters, please make them as much fun as the trucker and not as off-the-shelf tedious as evil businessman Quinn, who I sincerely hope we never encounter again.

It's fair to say that Agents of SHIELD isn't exactly subtle with its underlying material, and while we only got one reference to a Marvel movie this week (in the UK broadcast, Coulson will presumably be redubbed to say "I fought with Marvel's Avengers Assemble")  the development of Coulson's subplot was kind of exciting. We basically got it thrown in our face that Coulson has lost his "muscle memory". Is it a red herring? Is he a clone? Either's possible, but since this is a SHIELD TV series, I think we'd all be a little disappointed if he doesn't turn out to be a Life Model Decoy, even if that is everyone's first guess.

Whatever's happened, this is one subplot I can't wait to see the resolution to, so it's also the one I suspect they'll string out the longest.

Still, three episodes in we can start to draw some conclusions about the series' overall approach, and right now we seem to be getting very little in the way of arc-based material and a high reliance on self-contained single-episode stories. There's a distinct feeling of treading water which is highly reminiscent of the early (and by far the worst) episodes of Dollhouse. If it follows the same trend as that series, we have maybe three-four episodes to go before big things start happening.

That's soon enough that it doesn't feel foolish to stick around hoping for more, even if the show isn't as good as it could be right now. That feeling won't last forever, though, so let's hope things pick up before it evaporates...

Read James' review of the previous episode, 0-8-4, here.

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