[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 3, "The Asset"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions.
May I remind people, before they get too jumpy about SHIELD not being the most amazing thing ever straight off the bat, that very few shows are. Look at Buffy: the first six episodes featured a body switching witch-mom, giant virgin eating bugs and hyena-possession. Are any of those episodes considered classics of the series? A foundation sure, but it wasn't until the second half of the season that the show began to hit it's stride, to fill in the mythology and develop it's own identity. This is down to Whedon's stance that the first six episodes are the true pilot, the opportunity to introduce new and late viewers to the broad strokes of the series before getting down to the nitty gritty.

So, I'm expecting big things from the show come November sweeps. Until then, inconsistency is to be expected (though, I won't stop pointing to it and saying what needs to be fixed), and the broader range of the series should not be expected to reveal itself just yet. Though, my hope is that we got a glimpse of what the series as a whole could be in this episode, the sort of episode everyone else was hoping for from day one. An episode that felt, for the first time, to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond that, actually. This episode felt like it was ripped from the pages of a Marvel comic itself.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that will only be successful with the aid of a brave little monkey.

First things first, any certainty I had about Coulson's mystery dissipated here. In week one, I guessed that he is Coulson's Life Model Decoy, with the memories of Coulson uploaded. But this week went so hard, with the muscle memory line, in that very direction that now I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't a massive misdirection. I don't have a viable alternative theory beyond "robot duplicate," but this episode makes me think I'll have to start developing one. Which is a shame, because I had worked out a possible origin for the entire premise, one that would not only explain Coulson, but also draw a connection between SHIELD and Whedon's upcoming Age of Ultron.

Tony Stark, being the closest of the Avengers to Coulson, was the most emotionally devastated by Phil's death. As seen in Iron Man 3, in his PTSD induced became obsessed with improving his technology. His improvements to the Iron Man armour resulted in partially autonomous mechanisms. It might stand to reason that, in an attempt to undo the most devastating loss of the Battle of New York, he built a Coulson bot (Tony is the only character to mention Life Model Decoys in the MCU), but one that required a mind to operate it. Enter SHIELD, who was able to make use of some piece of alien tech to transfer the memories of Coulson into the droid. Expand that out to the Avengers sequel, Tony will be continuing to refine this increasingly humanoid tech, but rather than be dependent on deceased human consciousness as the system pilots, he blends the body with the same kind of AI system he had previously invented for Jarvis, thus creating Ultron. Now we get to wait and see how wrong I am.

Back to the episode at hand, this is exactly the sort of plot this series needs to handle. Not every week, the implication there would be that the MCU is a far more volatile place than the movies have yet suggested. But on a regular basis, mad scientists and their wacky toys of global destruction need to play a part. What worked best about Dr. Hall and his goofy sounding "gravitonium" is that none of it was dependent on a previously released MCU film. As I said last week, the threats cannot continue to be gamma or super solider originated. For the series to carve out it's own corner of this universe, the threats have to be new and original to them, with the possibility of the series influencing the films as much as the films have the series.

One thing the films have done reasonably well is the implication of continued duress. Events from one film impact another. The world is still recovering from New York. This kind of serialisation is unusual for films, but par for the course in television. It's only episode three, so we're not expecting anything grand just yet, but establishing the potential continued threat of Dr. Hall is a step in the right direction. And, his new gravitonium infused self also presents a potential failure on Coulson's part. By squirrelling it away in a secret SHIELD facility, completely off the books, when it all goes to hell it'll be Coulson's head on the block. Fury has already put his former right hand man on the edge of operations, and his mysterious recovery from Loki's attack makes him all the more of an outsider. The implication that his decision making has been compromised will hopefully be something that is explored when Hall makes his inevitable reappearance (I expect in the spring).

Three episodes in, and the character to have received the most focus is Skye. We got more build up of Grant's character, but only in relation to how he interacts with Skye. Problem is, this running sub-plot of Skye's allegiance would have more dramatic weight if she had established a stronger relationship with SHIELD first. Right now, she's not playing for a team, and has to choose her side. The mystery of whether she might betray the team would mean more if she were a trusted member of the team (see a similar subplot in Firefly concerning Jayne). Which she isn't. In fact, it still doesn't feel like much of a team at all. There are scant few scenes of everyone together. Everyone tends to interact in pairs: Grant with Coulson, Coulson with Skye, Skye with FitzSimmons, Melinda with... her scowl. They lack the group dynamic that is the trademark of Whedon's previous material. Even Dollhouse had a tighter ensemble.

Part of the problem is that, while personality quirks are beginning to show through, we still know next to nothing about any of the characters beyond Coulson and Skye. Fitz and Simmons are weird, and Fitz is clearly the Xander archetype, but other then a continuous stream of increasingly annoying technobabble, they aren't characters, they are exposition machines. Melinda is even worse, because we know nothing about her except that she doesn't want to get into a fight. We'd care about her obvious emotional trauma if we knew if she prefers classical music or if she ever had a puppy, or anything at all. She's given little dialogue, and little attention, so there aren't any opportunities to fill in any of substantial blanks.

This was a solid episode, the best of the three. I hope that Whedon & Tancharoen take what they've developed here, and run with it in a big way. International intrigue at a scale that doesn't backfire on them, the fewest references to the MCU to date, and Coulson seeing actual action. In two episodes, considering he's the lead, Coulson hasn't actually done much leading. If we're using Whedon characters to illustrate the point, he's been more Giles than Mal. Which, if that's the way this is going to play, then fine. I'm alright with that. But Coulson is a guy who can disable an armed robber with a back of flour and a kick to the throat. He needs to get in the field from time to time. And it was nice to see here.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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