So far, beyond the pilot, Agents of SHIELD has been pretty creatively sparse, but once the mission du jour gets moving, the show is an entertaining peek into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The Asset” begins with a pretty cool set piece that involves a mysterious force throwing SUVs and a big rig around like confetti. Fans get a glimpse of SHIELD tech in action, as a seemingly slovenly trucker puts down his Big Gulp and gets into superspy mode with his awesome spy truck. It was a nice way to show fans that SHIELD often hides their tech and skills under mundane cover. It reminds one of the old barber shop bit in the old comics, where the fantastic lies just underneath the everyday.
It turns out the mysterious force that took out the 18 wheeler was used to kidnap one Dr. Franklin Hall, who old time fans will remember as the villain Graviton. The addition of such an established and classic Marvel villain is intriguing, but more on that in a bit. First, the first act must be dissected because it was alarmingly weak. Coulson, Ward, and Skye are able to track the kidnapped doctor to Malta, and a facility held by corrupt philanthropist, Ian Quinn. How did SHIELD track down Hall to Quinn? By finding the evil cowboy that sold him a backhoe. Yeah, the excavator used to rip open a truck was instrumental in bringing down Quinn. Now forget that Quinn had access to little anti-gravity pellets that can flip a truck, forget he was a billionaire that could buy a construction company, the dude had to buy a backhoe to commit his crime which led SHIELD to his door.
In fairness, after this loose and clumsy bit of fluffery occurs, the show picks up considerably with Skye hacking herself an invite and going into Quinn’s mansion solo to plant a device that will bring down an electro-fence so Ward and Coulson can rescue Hall. It’s a cool spy bit worthy of the name SHIELD. Each mission, so far, has been a well thought out action sequence that served as character advancement. This week, Skye learns the value of martial arts training, Coulson realizes he is rusty after his stay in Tahiti (it’s a magical place), and Agent May realizes that standing on the sidelines is not for her, but the juiciest piece of awesome was the creation of Marvel’s first TV villain.
Restraint has been the most impressive part of this show so far. The restraint not to throw every villain and hero on screen in order to get fans in a lather and instead, finding story reasons to bring in some familiar Marvel names. Introducing Dr. Hall, giving him a motivation to turn against SHIELD, and then turning him into Graviton as a logical extension of his character arc will give the character meaning when he pops up again. It’s cool to watch the world of SHIELD slowly transforming into the complex, anything goes setting of the Marvel Universe as more fantastic tech and super beings begin vying for power. The hook of the show is to see what or who pops up next, let’s just hope the writers can come up with better story beats than a questionable backhoe lease. I don’t want to watch SHIELD tracking down Klaw because of a moped rental gone bad.