Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.03 "The Asset" ReviewA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
Well, ABC ordered a full-season pick-up, so that bother is out of the way. Joss Whedon has his first full-22 episode season show since Angel bowed out in 2004. And with that security comes a reason to relax and let the show breathe. Which seems to be what viewers are doing. After dipping ratings for episode 2 (which was up against MLB, The Voice, and NCIS saying goodbye to one of its characters), this week, while still slipping a bit, still edged out NCIS for second place in its timeslot and swept the night for male viewers.
What does any of that mean?
Well, it means that naysayers who look at ratings as the harbinger of doom will have to look elsewhere. After the biggest network drama debut in four years, the drop-off is dramatic but exaggerated. The show will also no longer be up against The Voice in the 8:00 timeslot (The Biggest Loser returns to the spot next week). It also means that ABC finally has a show that a male audience is interested in watching. It's also the highest rated freshman series on the air.
So basically, while the numbers aren't mind-blowing, they are good where they need to be for ABC, and because of that, they get another 9 episodes on the back end and the opportunity to cash in on the upcoming slate of Marvel movies.
But that's all news stuff. What about the review?
Episode Three, "The Asset" does what I've been hoping Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would do, and engage in a bit of world-building, expanding the range of the Marvel cinematic universe by bringing in elements of the comics universe. The Asset in question is Dr. Franklin Hall, played by English actor Ian Hart, and if you're familiar with the comics, you might recognize his name. Or maybe you'd recognize his alias, Graviton.
Despite the silly, obvious name, Graviton is a pretty threatening character who first appeared in Avengers 158 back in 1977. He was a character who didn't take very well to being granted superpowers, so it's nice to see the character fleshed out here, providing a secret origin of the first S.H.I.E.L.D. super-villain (if you watched the amazing Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes cartoon, you get a good look at how dangerous the character can be). And given Agent Coulson's (Clark Gregg) role in creating him, we are given a solidly conflicted source of future conflict.
Here we have a scientist who thought he was making the hard choice and doing the right thing, only to be "betrayed" by S.H.I.E.L.D., particularly by Coulson, who was also making the hard choice and doing the right thing. It's all about laying groundwork, people. Groundwork that now, with the full season pick-up has an opportunity to play out beyond what built-in limitations the first 13 episodes may have felt restricted by.
But that's the future. In the now, "The Asset" was mainly focused on using the threat posed by Dr. Hall's gravity controlling research to spotlight the newest recruit, Skye (Chloe Bennet). By setting the conflict in an independent country, Malta, where S.H.I.E.L.D. interference would be considered an international incident, writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen establish a scenario where only a non-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent could get in. And she only gets in thanks to "hacking" herself an invite. Is it cheesy? Sure. But it does the trick of allowing the show to spotlight Skye, build up her relationship with Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), and establish her loyalty to the team.
And that red dress made it kind of worth it, too.
We also get another hint regarding the mystery of Coulson's return from the dead with his lack of muscle memory. It was highlighted a couple of times, to make sure nobody could miss it I guess, but raises interesting questions. Were the "magical" references a feint? Is he really a LMD (Life Model Decoy) encoded with Coulson's memories? We'll have to wait and see. And now, maybe we actually will get to see.
Also, in the bit that made me the most borderline giddy since Lola took to flight in the pilot, Agent Melinda May wants in on the action. Prepare for an uptick in Ming-Na Wen kicking ass. That can only bode well for the show.
However, despite the good stuff, it still felt light. There was a definite lack of danger, or at least the feeling that anyone was ever in danger. Even when there was a gun pointed at Skye's face, it was luckily the exact same threat position that she we saw her train against earlier. And our villain of the piece, evil industrialist Ian Quinn, gets away in the end thanks to a convenient helicopter escape, so we can assume he'll be back (at least it was better than how the Kingpin escaped at the end of Trial of the Incredible Hulk, but just barely).
I don't really know what they can do to course correct that without abandoning the family-friendly approach of the show, though. I'm beginning to wonder if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't just going to be a show I am not the main audience for. Don't get me wrong. I'm digging it, but it's not exactly appointment viewing.
But you know what? I didn't think the first season of Buffy was interesting when it was airing. I also didn't watch the first season of Angel for the same reasons. Same with Firefly and Dollhouse. Those were all regrettable choices after the fact (although I think Dollhouse was probably justified). Maybe this is just something inherent in the way Joss Whedon structures his television output, or maybe it's just me. But even though I'm not fully engaged yet, I think this is a show, like Whedon's others, that will only build and build as the mythology is established.
I also think that as we move on and each character gets more spotlight, that sense of needing to see what's next will grow proportionally. I mean, there's got to be an episode coming up where Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) -- who was looking distractingly hot in this episode -- are forced to survive on their own in the field, right? I expect some Iron Man 3 level gadgetry and badassery to ensue.
I can't wait for that.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.