TV REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Asset

After last week's fairly run of the mill episode in which the team were established and Skye feels a little more at home, The Asset focuses on watching the team work and sees them taking on multi-billionaire Ian Quinn to rescue one of their own.

The Asset opens with one of the best set pieces of the short series so far with a SHIELD agent trucker transporting precious cargo across country before it is hijacked by a mysterious shooty-uppy-in-the-air thing which later turns out to be gravitonium (a name marginally better than vibranium and whole worlds ahead of unobtainium). The truck reveal was a great switch and a nice reminder of SHIELD's reach across the world and the wide variety of agents they must have in their employ. It works to demonstrate that, although May and Ward's fears in the previous episode about the quality of the young agents on Coulson's team, their hiring isn't so out of place with SHIELD's overall make-up.

The previous cargo is one Dr. Franklin Hall (played by special guest star Ian Hart), a name familiar to those with an extensive knowledge of Marvel comics. I've had to research it a bit, which is quite honestly, endless fun for me. In the comics, Hall is a physicist working with gravitonium who accidentally becomes fused with molecules of the element, developing the ability to manipulate gravity and taking the rather impressive Graviton as his new identity. Now we don't see too much of that here until the final sting of the episode, a rewrite of the character's history but one that ties Hall inextricably with Coulson. Fury's appearance may have been funny, but that hand reaching out to the screen was positively spine-tingling.

The climactic confrontation between Coulson and Hall was the first scene where SHIELD really hit a high note with both Gregg and Hart excelling their respective roles. A particular highlight was their initial exchange in which Coulson went to outline the exit strategy only for Hall to respond that he's already in the right place. Gregg's brilliantly dry delivery of 'I'll be honest. Our strategy did not take into consideration you saying that" was a real laugh out loud moment. And then there was the scene in the rotating room, the characters clambering over furniture, walls and ceilings as the gravitonium shifted the gravity in the room. 

It was an impressive scene not only in visual terms, but also in the themes that it brought to the fore. Rather than the outright villain straight away, Hall was trying to prevent his work from falling into the wrong hands, including SHIELD's. I commented in the review of the pilot that a common theme of Whedon's work was dealing with shady corporations handling technology that they didn't know how to control and it once again crops up here. SHIELD have already brought an alien invasion, as Hall rightly points out, and they are an organisation famous for going after technology they don't understand. Coulson's decision to shoot away the glass, killing Hall in the process, is another tally for SHIELD being the bad guys and something that Coulson will have to deal with. The re-working of Graviton's origin will have massive implications now not only for SHIELD but for Coulson himself.

The episode is not without its low points; Ward is still a fairly dull prospect with a lame back story, Ian Quinn was a suitably bland villain and if he appears more, they're going to have to make him more interesting. If he's going to be a TV bad guy version of Tony Stark then they need to run with that rather than just making him a charisma vacuum in a suit. However, there was also lots to love; Skye getting caught almost immediately in her first mission, Coulson in his suit in the attack on the compound, Fitz's monkey, the glare that Fitz got after his suggestion that Skye was using her 'assets' on Quinn, the lack of references to the MCU and Melinda May promising to get back into the action.

The Asset is the first episode that has really gelled for me; a blend of origin story, heist movie and character piece all rolled into one that hints at big things for the series. That final post-credits scene had me sold. Do we have a Big Bad?

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode here.

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