Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Skye Is Not The New Spike And Hardly “The Asset” To Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Good: Moments of humor, Clues about Coulson
The Bad: Surprisingly banal and predictable plot, Somewhat telegraphed performances, Chloe Bennet fails to impress.
The Basics: In its third episode, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to wow with “The Asset,” which quickly devolves into an origin story for something yet to come.

Joss Whedon’s works, traditionally, have a rogue character who is usually working against the main characters and who evolves into a “love to hate” character that fans gravitate toward. With Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!), it was Spike (though in the larger arc, I’d say Cordelia evolved as much), and in his wildly popular cult-hit Firefly (reviewed here!), it was Jayne. Spike and Jayne pursued their own agendas, often to the detriment of the Scoobies and the crew of Serenity, respectively, though they would eventually come through to be both beloved and an asset to the team they are on. With Whedon’s new production, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., he is playing the same variable card character with Skye and in “The Asset” fans of Whedon’s prior works will see the plays coming, even if the other members of the team do not.

Unfortunately for Whedon, the more Skye appears on screen, the more Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts to remind die-hard geeks of The Lone Gunmen (reviewed here!). Skye fills the exact same niche Eve did on that program; in addition to supplying the sex appeal that the primary male character(s) who sold the show initially did not, both women become the sounding block for massive amounts of exposition and they betray the teams they appear to be a part of while appearing to work with or for them. In fact, “The Asset” starts to drag Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. into all-around troublingly familiar territory. In addition to playing Skye as a familiar Whedon rogue, Whedon and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (the latter two wrote the episode) start to give enough details that genre fans will have figured out who and what Coulson is and they will see the episode’s final shot coming about a mile off. Still, “The Asset” continues the continuity of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. well and the episode picks up where “0-8-4” (reviewed here!) left off.

A S.H.I.E.L.D. transport is attacked by an unseen force, which draws in Coulson and his team. Aboard the transport was a Canadian scientist, Dr. Hall, who was abducted by what appears to be military forces after the attack. While investigating, Simmons and Fitz discover an electromagnetic disturbance coming from a tiny device. Fearing a mole within the agency, Coulson has Skye start looking through the communications logs from when Hall’s transport began. Hall’s abductor is Quinn, a scientist who believed in the element Gravitonium.

Offered the opportunity to develop his theoretical work by Quinn, Hall is held captive in Malta, where the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot go without violating international laws. When Skye manages to get an invitation to Quinn’s compound, she becomes the deniable asset that can be sent in to rescue Hall. But as Skye confronts Quinn, Coulson and Ward overcome the compound’s extensive security system to try to reach Hall. In confronting Hall, Coulson is surprised and the Gravitonium experiments take a turn for the dark and weird.

Unfortunately, “The Asset” is painfully predictable. The moment Hall appears on screen opposite Quinn and Quinn tries to seduce the scientist – who appears to be anything but a mad scientist – viewers have a pretty good idea that Hall is neither a victim nor a villain. Quinn is an obvious villain and for someone who has such a cool security system in an area S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot legally invade, he is surprisingly stupid in a James Bond villain-type way.

As Hall is set up for a grisly and somewhat obvious fate with potential for return (this episode has “origin story” written all over it!), “The Asset” is unfortunately dominated by Skye. Unlike Jayne and Spike, Skye is not very interesting and Chloe Bennet does not have the on-screen x-factor to make the rogue character the breakout. In fact, despite how the episode tries to play down sex appeal (Fitz is chided by Simmons and May for the suggestion she used her breasts to get into Quinn’s presence), that seems to be all Bennet actually has going for her. In fact, her practicing on the punching bag may be some of the worst physical performance ever seen on screen (she pulls her punches and is not exerting nearly enough for someone who is realistically training to be a field agent).

At the other end of the spectrum is Clark Gregg. Clark Gregg, in his stride, is telegraphing the eventual revelation of who (and what) he is. This is unfortunate for those who want to believe S.H.I.E.L.D. technology is viable and superior, but clues like Coulson’s lack of muscle memory and Gregg’s stride in the wide shots suggest that the producers are eager to explain the MacGuffin faster, as opposed to well, and that is unfortunate.

The special effects in “The Asset” are fine and the episode features decent banter, but none of the guest stars shine and unless the result of the episode is carried in a compelling way into the future of the Marvel Universe (like with the appearance of the episode’s end result as a super hero or, more likely, super villain, in one of the forthcoming Marvel Phase Two films), the episode feels like something of a waste of potential and the first real disappointment from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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