Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 3. The Asset
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 3. The Asset sees me watching with patience already paper thin as our heavy truck lumbers down a suspiciously empty country road only to be highjacked in a novel way. It seems someone has developed one of these superforce weapons that can brush escort vehicles off the road, and pick up and drop a truck like it’s a Tonka toy. At just the right spot, armed men now stream out of the conveniently adjacent woods and dismantle the truck. On first impressions, it seems more interesting in plot and visual terms. OK so what’s actually happening? We learn the truck was carrying Dr Franklin Hall (Ian Hart). Well interest just evaporated. This is a top-level S.H.I.E.L.D. boffin (the titular “Asset”) and these security-minded agents are trying to sneak him around the countryside inside a giant truck? What’s wrong with an anonymous car or a helicopter? Ah wait. He’s thought to be safer inside a giants truck being escorted by two black SUVs because bad guys won’t notice this convoy on empty country roads. Anyway, all this is irrelevant because the truck driver opines the route must have been leaked by a mole — the bad guys were waiting for them. To try maintaining interest, our team scientists, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), find a gizmo buried in the road. It does something to gravity. No-one knows how it’s controlled nor how dangerous it may be but they take it on board the Bus anyway (I can’t think why the kidnappers left it behind if it wasn’t to blow up the Bus).
Skip to Malta where we meet Ian Quinn (David Conrad), the week’s random rich megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, discussing terms of co-operation with the kidnapped “Asset”. They knew each other at university and now Quinn has found the theoretical rare earth appropriately called Gravitonium just in case we might forget what it does. With it powering a giant generator, they can takeover the world. I’m sure it will be news to international law agencies that Malta has been declared closed to all outside interference. Instead of requiring a suspension of disbelief over the radical change in Malta, the scriptwriters could have invented a small country where our megalomaniac could have his secret underground base. Anyway, under this version of Maltese law, any foreign agents captured on Maltese soil can be executed by firing squad. So Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) sends Skye (Chloe Bennet) to infiltrate — she’s the expendable one. At this point, the show rapidly devolves into a routine and boring plot where Skye has to active a widget inside the firewalled estate so the scientist types can hack the security perimeter and our two male agents can break in to rescue the kidnapped Asset. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is left on the bench and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) gets to fight for at least ten seconds. As a final thought on the plot, Malta is an island so where did they land the Bus for people to disembark? More to the point, how did they remove the 12 foot gizmo if Malta has a shoot-to-kill policy?
This is all being done with cardboard sets and token outdoor shoots. In other words, the show is being run on a shoestring. I know it’s unfair to expect the same level of SFX and CGI that we’ve seen in the Marvel films. That would be unrealistic. But even allowing for the scenes at the end of the episode, what we’re now being offered is no better than the shows made in the 1980s. I’m completely baffled at the strategy here. If Marvel wants to build up the strength of its franchise, why penny-pinch and produce a show that’s worse than average when a few more dollars and a little more care in the scripts could have produced something genuinely interesting? I can only assume the show’s producers were not that confident and therefore chose not to risk more dollars than necessary to test whether there was a market. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you don’t spend on producing decent scrips with WOW-factor effects, your shows die.
What makes the show’s demise all the more likely has been the lack of any real development within the Marvel universe. There’s a massive array of plot lines and characters available for exploitation in the television version of the universe. Yet, making allowances for this only being the third episode, we’ve had two dire efforts and then this. The only redeeming feature in this episode is our introduction to Franklin Hall. Comic fans know him better as Graviton, a supervillain able to control gravity just by thinking about it. This is the first and only sign we may be going to move beyond the increasingly mawkish sentimentality of the team-building and develop a more real Marvel comic storyline. The only problem is that Graviton’s powers are superior to anything the prospective team can bring to the table. When he first starts to wield his powers in the Avenger comic series, it takes Thor to stop him. The idea our British science geeks could switch him off and dump him in an alternate dimension is laughable.
So Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Asset continues to scrape along the bottom of the barrel. I think I’ve just enough patience to watch one more. If it’s no better, I’ll quit.
For a review of other episodes, see:
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 1. Pilot
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 2. 0-8-4
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 4. Eye-Spy
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 5. Girl in the Flower Dress
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 6. FZZT
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) Season 1, episode 7. The Hub.