‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: “The Asset”
Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its third episode “The Asset,” as the kidnapping of scientist Dr. Franklin Hall (Ian Hart) by villainous magnate Peter Quinn (David Conrad) sends an inexperienced Skye into the field on her first mission, while Coulson experiences an unusual problem in the field.
Last week’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode "0-8-4" saw the team’s constant bickering become a problem when a mission to examine a mysterious artifact in Peru quickly took an unexpected turn, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series keep us marveling at its inaugural season?
Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s third episode, “The Asset!”
Out on a country road, a S.H.I.E.L.D. trucker named Mack drives his sensitive cargo flanked by two SUVs, giving the all-clear to headquarters, when suddenly the lead SUV flies upward through the air, crashing back to the ground. Mack radios for help before the followup car is similarly dispatched, and the truck’s cab itself is violently lifted off the road. Moments later, a group of armed men break into the trailer, cracking open a S.H.I.E.L.D. vault to reveal dapper scientist Dr. Franklin Hall, who seems to have been expecting them.
Back on the newly-restored “bus,” Skye grumbles about having to strength train with Agent Ward, even as the agent insists that all trainees will experience a defining moment that shapes them as an agent. Skye presses Ward for his, threatening to inject him with truth serum again, though Ward reveals they never had any, and that he faked his previous "confession.". Upstairs, Coulson informs the team that protected asset Dr. Hall has gone missing, distressing Fitz and Simmons for their familiarity with the man, and the apparent “invisible” attackers that crippled the convoy.
At the site of the crash, Mack explains that someone from within must have alerted the enemy to Hall’s location, while Simmons finds an apparent gravity distortion that throws around several ambient rocks, and leaves behind a small device. Later, Coulson and Ward track down the man who sold the armed crew his equipment to raid the truck, tracing his payment back to wealthy mining philanthropist Ian Quinn, whose Maltese diplomatic immunity prevents S.H.I.E.L.D. from reaching him.
In Malta, Quinn shows his former partner Dr. Hall the miniaturized gravity device secured through his vast fortune, which Fitz and Simmons investigate on their own to find manipulates the rare substance “gravitonium.” Quinn explains to Hall that he liberated him to continue Hall’s life’s work with a full-scale version of the device, something Hall seems eager to continue. Meanwhile, Coulson briefs the others that a high-security laser fence prevents anyone from infiltrating the facility, to which Skye offers to attend an upcoming function with a hacked invite.
Ward discusses with Coulson his reluctance to allow Skye on her own mission without training, to which Coulson suggests she might progress more if he treated her as a person, rather than an operative. Ward attempts to teach Skye to take an enemy’s gun, revealing that his own “defining moment” came from training rigorously to defend his family from his violent older brother. Fitz and Simmons provide Skye with a compact mirror that will allow wireless access within the compound to disable the surrounding fence, getting Ward and Coulson in to extract Dr. Hall.
With May, and with Fitz and Simmons piping intel through an earpiece, Skye enters the party and makes her way to find Ian Quinn, who quickly reveals that he allowed her access to the party in order to recruit her impressive talents as a member of the Rising Tide. Quinn next gives a speech announcing to dignitaries that his new invention will allow them to circumvent governments and S.H.I.E.L.D. alike, during which Skye slips away to find Quinn’s office. Quinn catches her in the act however, for which she silently writes on a pad that S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening, and suggests they find somewhere to talk.
Ditching her earpiece, Skye explains to Quinn how she managed to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D., as Quinn corroborates that they tend to prey on those with records, providing a false sense of family in recruitment. Meanwhile, Ward and Coulson arrive on the beach, stationing themselves outside the fence and taking down the surrounding guards. Skye finally activates the mirror, enabling Fitz to remotely disable the fence and allow Coulson and Ward access, though Coulson curiously fumbles with his gun in the ensuing firefight. Quinn is quickly alerted to the security breach, as Coulson enters Dr. Franklin’s lab, only to find the man has no intention of leaving.
Hall explains that he purposefully leaked information about his whereabouts to have Quinn bring him to the device, hoping to destroy it to keep out of the hands of either Quinn, or S.H.I.E.L.D. The gravity of the room quickly goes haywire, as Coulson pleads with Hall not to kill all those in the compound by overloading the machine. Upstairs, Quinn holds a gun to Skye, though she quickly manages to snatch it away, and flees out the window rather than pull the trigger.
Having landed in the pool, Skye attempts to leave the party as Ward comes to her rescue, while downstairs Coulson struggles to find a way to shut off the gravity device. Hall pleads that he must live with his choice in order to protect millions more from being hurt by the technology, before Coulson destroys the window surrounding the device, the gravity of which pulls Hall into the chemical reaction, envelops him, and ultimately powers down the device.
After Coulson orders the remaining gravitonium matter sealed away in an unmarked S.H.I.E.L.D. vault, May expresses her desire to return to combat, rather than allow a rusty Coulson to put himself in danger again. Back on the plane, Ward observes Skye training on her own, before listening to her backstory of being rejected from foster homes at a young age, and wanting to belong to something like S.H.I.E.L.D.
Meanwhile, deep in the S.H.I.E.L.D. vault, the hand of Dr. Hall appears to reach out from the sealed gravitonium, before sinking back into the matter.
We were a bit surprised by the mixed reaction to last week's episode, especially by those who jumped the gun in assesing that slightly diminished viewership from the premiere spelled doom and waning interest in the series at large. Admittedly, we found it just as difficult as anyone else might to adjust to 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.''s smaller, more youthful dynamic than its cinematic brethren, though any series worth its weight needs a number of episodes -- if not a full season -- to find its footing.
Thankfully, we were relieved to see that "The Asset" once again managed to change up the procedural format and incorporate some impressive action along the way, without necessarily needing the promise of a super-secret guest star this time around. Rather, the inclusion of a strong character actor like Ian Hart ('Luck,' 'Bates Motel') proved a wise choice in bringing lesser-known characters like Dr. Franklin Hall to life, allowing a bit of freedom and foreshadowing of his ultimate role as the villain Graviton, even if the setup felt occasionally messy.
If anything, we'd only fault tonight's installment for once again laying things on a bit too thick thematically, with Ward and Skye's interactions about family and belonging whacking us in the nose with Quinn's later words on the subject, or the defensive maneuvers lacking finesse as a call and response plot. We get that Skye and Ward have more in common than we initially realized, whether by their troubled backgrounds, or complimenting one another's style of fieldwork, but 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' as a whole would do well to employ a bit more subtlety in getting the message across.
On the plus side, we liked that Hall's reasoning for ultimately destroying the device felt very much in line with the post-'Avengers' tone established by the pilot, in which ordinary people have difficulty adapting to the reality of their new world. Like Mike Peterson struggling to find his place among gods and monsters, Franklin Hall knows that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s benevolent agenda for the "gravitonium" tech would inevitably lead to disaster, much as the Tesseract plans attracted the Chitauri invasion. It provides a much more organic means to connect with the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the literal and figurative name-drop hammerings of the previous episode, giving us hope the series will strike the balance more effectively in the future.
Still no real movement on Coulson's resurrection, though we'd bet a flying car that his "muscle memory" echo of Ward's earlier words suggests either a cloned body, or the infamous LMD theory, so we can at least appreciate the hint. Elsewhere, Skye's loyalties still seem a bit tetchy, though she clearly chose not to take the out that Quinn had offered her away from S.H.I.E.L.D., unless she has a longer con in mind.
Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “The Asset” sell you on the series? What did you think about the closing Graviton tease? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next week for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest episode “Eye-Spy” on ABC!