Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent May flew the bus and wore her aviators and took of her aviators and glowered. Skye joined the team as a consultant because she’s not qualified to be an agent, but she didn’t care about being an agent because she was doing double-duty as a Rising Tide spy anyway. Simmons continued to dress like just another day in Spencer and/or Melissa Hastings’ closet, while saying nothing significant (but not-saying it in her glorious English accent). Ward decided to train Skye to be an agent/bone her. And Fitz did some science stuff with his dwarven drones.
We all know the pilot episode of a network TV show is about introducing your cast, and the follow-up episode is about reintroducing your cast, so honestly it’s all about episode three if you want to know if you should stick around. Last week I said I hope S.H.I.E.L.D. sidesteps the monster-of-the-week formula and actually starts to showcase the lives of these characters, fully and real-y, and “The Asset” makes me think they can learn to balance the many elements that could take this thing from a well-funded procedural to a lush and captivating storytelling world. The action sequences are still tight, the visuals (for a TV show) are still slick, and there are flashes of trademark Whedon hidden everywhere. (Although it’s important to note that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have taken over the reigns now.) S.H.I.E.L.D. reminds me of Chuck more than anything else I can think of, but by episode three of Chuck, my heart and my head were all in, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m still standing with my feet in the water, jonesing for them to give me a reason to dive in.
A tractor-trailer is barreling down a two-lane highway when both of the SUVs in its secret service-y looking escort are plucked from the road by an invisible power source and called back to the ground by gravity. The truck itself is also upended, which is a problem because: a) It’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. transport vehicle, and b) It’s transporting a human being. The human being is a scientist named Dr. Franklin Hall, a mentor of Fitz and Simmons, and he’s the brains behind Gravitonium. His old colleague, Ian Quinn, has decided to “rescue” him from the government to allow him to complete his life’s work. FitzSimmons, explain to us his life’s work, will you? “Gravitonium distorts gravity fields within itself creating an undulating amorphous shape.” Basically, it flips stuff upside-down.
The problem with infiltrating Quinn’s compound and reclaiming Dr. Hall is two-fold. Fold the first: S.H.I.E.L.D. is a United States government-run agency and so interfering in another country’s political hijinks is a violation of international law and something an American government agency would never do. (Ha!)
Fold the second: Skye is the only one who can carry out the covert op because she’s the only one who’s not really on the payroll but she’s so damn sore from the boxing training she did with Ward this morning. Her brain, I mean. Her brain is sore. Because she had to exercise so much self-control to not pummel Ward for patronizing her in the most brooding-vanilla-Whedon-guy way possible. What’s his tragic backstory? Does he have to live eternally with a replanted soul, remembering the countless people he brutally mauled to death over the centuries? Does he live in social isolation for fear that he will transform into a rampaging monster when he gets frustrated because of the time he was exposed to gamma radiation? No, no. Ward became an agent because his brother used to beat him up and steal his cake.
ANYWAY. Skye decides to rise to the challenge and go undercover in Quinn’s compound at a bad guy party, and even though she’s a skilled and elusive hacker who conjures up an e-vite quicker than most people can compose a tweet, she’s not savvy enough to use a code name. She swaggers into Malta wearing a very revealing dress, name-dropping her actual name, charming Quinn with her infamous exploits and bravado and breasts, and then flips the script and tells Quinn S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening in on their conversation. She ditches her earpiece and lets him woo her with talk of unlimited resources and international anarchy, but then decides she’d really rather keep her options open instead of going to work for him. She pulls a gun on Quinn — and then does the most ready-made Tumblr “NOPE” in the history of television and hurls herself out of a window and into a pool.
Elsewhere, Coulson and Ward infiltrate Quinn’s lair via like a ‘copter drop on the beach. Coulson, of course, is still wearing his suit and the calmest face you’ve ever seen. He keeps his serenity intact even when he finds Dr. Hall firing up the Gravitanium machine and laughing manically about how he’s going to sink Quinn’s palace and maybe the country of Malta or even the entire European Union right the heck into the ocean. It’s a plan he’s been working on a long time, actually; orchestrating his own kidnapping was just part of the process. From the bus, Fitz and Simmons tell Coulson the only way to stop Hall is to neutralize the Gravitanium by tossing, say, a 160-pound mad scientist into it. (They don’t say that; they just say he has to throw something in there.) Coulson calmly analyzes the situation and decides Hall himself is the best candidate for neutralizing the Gravitanium. He shoots the floor from underneath him, causing him to plummet right into the center of his own machine. It kills him. (No, it doesn’t. If you’ve ever read a comic book in your life, you know this guy is coming back as the super-villain Gravitron.)
After the mission is complete: Ward tries to canoodle with Skye, but she made it clear when talking to Quinn that balls just aren’t her thing. May says she’s ready to go back in the field, and thank God, because I could watch Ming-Na scowl at stuff all day, but she and Clark Gregg are the most talented members of this cast and they’re very under-using her. And Fitz and Simmons gear up for what will hopefully be their exposition episode next week.
Oh, and one more thing: S.H.I.E.L.D. shelves the Gravitanium machine, and as soon as they close the vault door on it, a hand reaches out from the darkness. I’ll be honest: I hope it’s Alison DiLaurentis.
How are you feeling about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after episode three?