Unordered List

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Agents of SHIELD: The Asset.

PREVIOUSLY: Agents of SHIELD, 0-8-4.

This episode was super important because it guest-starred our first Harry Potter crossover actor, future supervillain Professor Quirrell. Definitely a step up from last week, because the science maguffin was way more central to the overall plot. Last week's gamma bomb was kind of embarrassing because they made it out to be this catastrophically big deal, but in the end Fitz just used it to blow a six-foot hole in the side of the plane. Sure, "Gravitonium" is a silly name, but the whole Big Whirring Gadget/evil Tony Stark-alike idea is a classic sci-fi plot, and this show works best when it's playing around with familiar genre cliches. "The Asset" managed a decent balance between sci-fi ridiculousness, heist shenanigans, and character development. Way better than last week's decidedly transparent excuse to get the team to bond during their first mission.
The only problem with the underground bunker/pseudoscience schtick is that I end up comparing Agents of SHIELD to The Middleman... and AoS does not measure up. Which is kind of a bummer, because Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are good writers, and AoS has the whole weight of Marvel behind it. Meanwhile, The Middleman had about a fraction of the audience, no well-known actors in the main cast, and was still snappier, funnier, and more consciously genre-savvy -- while still being goofy and child-friendly. I'm still enjoying AoS, but the backstory development and worldbuilding is disappointingly slow-paced and lacking in detail. Plus, they need to dial back Ward's screentime by about 90% and replace him with more Melinda May, for real.
Skye is becoming more and more likeable with each episode, mostly because they seem to be emphasising how young she is. The one thing I really DON'T want is for her and Ward to end up as a couple, particularly since he's now taking on a mentor role. Wouldn't it be great if Skye was just characterised as the immature teenager of the group, and Ward continued to be her mentor with no sexual tension whatsoever? Of course, it's possible that there's no romantic tension whatsoever, and I'm just reading into this because we're trained to expect ~romance between two characters like Skye and Ward. Sadly, I don't know if this show is smart enough to buck that trend. Unless they make some seriously shocking changes (ie, Ward turning out to be evil; Skye going full-on Rising Tide terrorist halfway through the season), any kind of Skye/Ward romance plotline will be a heteronormative yawnfest.

I was glad to see this episode focusing on one of my favourite topics: the unethical nature of SHIELD itself. It's just too bad that I can't tell which side the writers are trying to get us to support. In the Skye/Quinn scenes, they did the thing where the villain points out a bunch of completely true and accurate criticisms of the "good guys", but we're meant to discredit him because he's evil. A bit of ambiguity is a good thing, but it felt a lot like the scene went slightly too far and ended up characterising SHIELD as the bad guys.
If you look at the events surrounding Quinn, Dr Hall and the gravity device, SHIELD does not come out looking like a force for good. First of all, Dr Hall is functionally a prisoner when he's working for SHIELD: miserable, lonely, and transported around like dangerous cargo. Quinn is amoral and greedy, and frees Dr Hall for his own ends, but all Dr Hall wants is to do the right thing. He wants to destroy the gravity device, and save the world from further screw-ups -- from both Quinn and SHIELD. Dr Hall distrusts SHIELD so much that after years of working for them, he's willing to sacrifice his own life to avoid them getting their hands on dangerous technology.
Dr Hall aimed to sacrifice himself and Quinn's lackeys/shareholders in order to prevent more disastrous consequences. In turn, Coulson sacrificed Dr Hall in order to save his own team and everyone else in the building. The end result is that SHIELD now has another hugely dangerous secret weapon under its control, and has just helped create a new supervillain (even if they don't know abuot it yet). I'm not saying that SHIELD are 100% bad, or that they don't save people's lives... but they're doing some massively unethical stuff, and I don't think the show is working very hard at discussing this in an intelligen way. Plus, everything Quinn said about SHIELD targeting Skye's weaknesses is true. SHIELD is not the nice Big Brother: it's creepy as fuck.

  • The agent that Coulson speaks to at the end of the episode was in The Avengers! Agent Tyler.
  • But why, in a show where half the main castmembers are white men, are they airing episodes where all the main guest actors (Quinn; Dr Hall; the SHIELD agent trucker) are also white men?
  • We're three episodes in, and Melinda May has still not really been given anything to do??
  • More scenes where Coulson picks out suits, please.
  • Agent Fitz eating popcorn! Luv FitzSimmons. LUV THEM.
  • IDK about you guys, but I was totally fine with the line where Fitz suggests that Skye distracted Quinn with her boobs? I don't really feel like it devalued her, particularly since one of the main reasons she probably blended into the Malta party was because she's a hot girl, and hot girls are essentially invisible in a lot of situations because people assume they're just there for decorative purposes.
  • Skye's hair and makeup are gorgeous, but I'd feel happier if we actually saw her working on them, rather than her just being another effortlessly gorgeous TV beauty queen.
  • Ward has got to be one of the blandest characters I have ever seen. He's so bland I don't even dislike him as much as I did last week. I can't muster the energy. (Commentary from @queerly_it_is: "I can't decide if it's a sad accident or some kind of meta statement about white male hero characters." WORD.)
  • Coulson continues to be the main highlight. The whole ~muscle memory~ thing was about 30 miles away from subtlety, but I don't really give ashit. Clark Gregg is awesome in this role, and right now his performance is saving the show from tipping over into sheer stupidity.
  • I really enjoyed the opening scene. The trucker-guy agent gave us a fun look into the variety of jobs SHIELD has to offer.
  • Let's watch Chloe Bennet's music video from when she was a minor pop star in China, and still went by Chloe Wang!


  1. I was also really wondering which side the writers wanted us to approve of. I mean, the scientist was willing to sacrifice himself and the bad guy/bad guy's friends to prevent anyone from getting this weapon ("to save millions", I think he said). So Coulson's response of sacrificing just the scientist to save the people at the party (while gaining the weapon for SHIELD) seemed actively shady.
    I want to believe that the show wants that sort of ambiguity--we got the FitzSimmons background with the guy, Quinn had a lot of time to talk, etc. But the show also seems like it's geared to a happier, family-friendly vibe sometimes.

    Also, I completely agree with you on Agent Ward. They tried to give him a backstory, and it seemed really forced. I love the idea of him as Skye's big brother! But the "my brother beat up my little brother over cake" seemed really unnecessary.

    My fiancé also pointed out that in the trailer for next week, it seems like the villain is a black woman (being controlled by someone else, but she's the one fighting them). Apparently we only get guest stars of color when they're violent--evil scientists and evil rich guys are white.

  2. The whole disconnect between the knotty ethical and moral dilemmas inherent to the premise of SHIELD as an organization and the family-friendly tone of the show is to me a real foundational type of problem with M's AoS, with the showrunners settling for waving their arms and insisting that these guys are good guys so it's all okay. Super-skeptical hacker Skye is okay with it, so we should be too. Coulson, we know Coulson, he's a good guy, so it must be all right. Except Coulson's probably not actually Original Recipe Coulson, so whatever prior opinions we had about Coulson don't really count, do they?

    And, I don't know. If I could, I'd scrap pretty much the entire cast and start over, not just with new actors but with a new team configuration. Maybe they can sort it out, but, wow, this is a bunch of blandly attractive actors in vaguely defined roles right now.

    And, yeah, as LizbethAnne says, the fact that 75% of the episodes have had Villains of the Week that are POC when the only obviously non-white member of the team is Ming-Na Wen is pretty problematic. The whole Marvel universe has a huge diversity problem, to be honest.

  3. You're absolutely right about what Quinn telling Skye being true, remember the line about freedom of information and less government intrusion. The way I'm reading it is that Skye will remember what Quinn told her an eventually turn on shield, whether or not it stays that way Idk. Shield as an organization is in no way good guys, although they can end up at times doing good. As far as the quality of the show "the asset" is the best episode so far, less bickering more intrigue and more serious. The show still has a long way to go but it took a step in the right direction of being really good. The young and pretty cast is still a problem for me in teens of believability, if the show keeps improving I'll keep watching.

  4. Yeah the political and racial messages this show is sending are shaky at best, they can't afford to make the stories bad to. Ill admit this episode was an improvement over episode 2 so I'll keep watching, but overall this show is on thin ice.

  5. Awesome show with awesome ladies with awesome dress.They are looking really powerful and fearless in this dress.

  6. Trucker SHIELD agent was my favourite character of the whole series within 2 seconds. This is the kind of guy I thought this show was going to be about. Not TV pretty, seemingly normal but can pull up SHIELD tech and still look competent at his job immediately.

    ...Even if his verbal delivery was clunky as hell

  7. Mostly I agree, except I feel that Skye is actually getting more and more irritating as the series goes on. I don't understand how this team of supposedly high-level agents is letting her get away with the shit she gets away with. SHE PUT HER FINGER TO HER EAR WHEN SHE WAS TALKING TO THEM ON HER SECRET COMM. Any time a tv show does that I get ragey.