Anghus Houvouras reviews the third episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…
Spoilers ahead, obviously…
Coulson’s a robot. The world’s hottest hacker finally does something interesting. And the seeds are planted for the potential reveal of the first season’s ‘Big Bad’.
So there was a lot going on in Episode 3.
The third episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. settled in nicely after a solid pilot and a shaky second episode. ‘The Asset’ is a good indicator of what the series will be like going forward: heavy on momentum, extremely talky, and painfully obvious in it’s plotting.
There was a level of subtlety in ‘The Asset’ that had eluded the series in its first two installments. Everyone is still a carbon copy of a character from another Whedon show, but they’ve reigned everything in. Coulson is still wise cracking but he’s smiling a lot less. The nerdy characters are still cracking wise but it’s not as grating as it’s been. Even hacktivist Skye, arguably the show’s weakest link, is slowly finding her footing and is starting not to stick out like a sore thumb.
Long story short, things are starting to gel.
‘The Asset’ takes the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to Malta in pursuit of a scientist who has been abducted by a wealthy billionaire looking to exploit new science and technology outside the watchful eye of International law. After a convoy of S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles are mysteriously hurled off the highway, the team must figure out how this mysterious new villain is manipulating gravity and recover the kidnapped scientist.
The third episode felt like a reveal of the potential for what the show could eventually become: a healthy blend of Firefly (Wayward souls and square pegs on a ship) and Fringe (investigating the strange and unexplainable) set in the Marvel Universe. If the show can maintain that kind of balance and avoid devolving into camp, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be something truly excellent. There were hints of that excellence in this episode because they did a few things right.
The first two episodes erred in a very simple way: Coulson is not cocky. Coulson is confident. Coulson is cool. But Coulson isn’t Spider-Man. He’s not the guy cracking jokes. He’s the straight man. And Clark Gregg is a fantastic straight man. I’m all for giving the guy some levels, but the writers need to take note from ‘The Asset’ as it’s the first episode that felt like it got the character right. He’s confident but concerned. Stern but occasionally awkward. The first two episodes made Coulson seem more like Maxwell Smart than the calm collected Agent we’ve gotten to know in the Marvel movies. To me, Coulson is the glue that holds it all together, even when things get freaky. He’s not the guy with the perfectly timed joke or snarky comment. He’s the guy who gets the job done and is smart enough to play all the angles.
My other nagging concern over the show is how much it telegraphs. After an entire segment dedicated to muscle memory, and the phrase “You’re rusty” used twice with Coulson, it seems pretty obvious to anyone even remotely paying attention that the once dead Coulson’s resurrection scenario is cybernetically based.
That’s a fancy way of declaring the obvious – Coulson’s a robot.
While there’s part of me that wonders if these clues are just meant to throw people off the trail with the ongoing mystery of just how he survived being impaled. Then I remember this is a show aimed at ages 8 to 88 and that the writing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might not be anything other than one dimensional. The part of me that craves that depth and nuance is in conflict with the part of me that realizes this is a show that is trying to be all inclusive to both kids and adults.
In it’s attempts to be all things to all people, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may never achieve greatness. The potential is still there for it to be very good, and I think fans should be content with that. ‘The Asset’ was a solid, entertaining episode. This is the consistency the rest of the episodes should be trying to achieve.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.