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Agents of SHIELD Recap: “The Asset”


If I had to guess from the title of this episode, we’ll be picking up right were last episode left off, with a teasing reveal about Skye’s checkered past and how it may affect her present. Let’s see how that assumption pans out.

Skye seems to be a sore spot among many fans of the show, and some of the criticism (everything from “her clothes look too expensive” to “she’s a total Mary Sue”) has my bullshit radar going off. I do think Skye’s personality is very dominant in the show so far (because she is the most outgoing and honest character in a group of withdrawn, not-sharer spies and scientists). She’s certainly not my favorite, so I can understand how that can be annoying, but the show has done its fair share to lampshade that many of the characters think it’s unusual or even dangerous that she’s along, and has now spent two episodes that emphasize how her skill set means that she struggles to find ways to help. This is not a case of a Mary Sue who is the best at everything; that every character likes immediately and if they don’t then the audience is meant to hate them. Skye is very good at one thing: hacktivism, which, as we have seen, has limited applications for her team. Ward and May both strongly disagree with her presence on the Bus, and we are not being encouraged to despise them for not seeing her true perfectness.

SHIELD, as a show about a highly trained group of spy/soldiers, needs an everyman character, a civilian, somebody for the experienced characters to state exposition to so that the audience can understand what they are talking about. You can’t have Ward or Fitz or Simmons ask what an 0-8-4 is, or why SHIELD can’t interfere in certain countries, that’s information they should have already known for years. But you also can’t just throw an random civilian in there, or use a rookie SHIELD agent, because this is Coulson’s hand-picked strike force of badasses. So you need a civilian with a single talent so great that it makes them an asset, or at least an asset as far as Coulson is concerned.

That’s what Skye is. And if you’re a regular reader of The Mary Sue, you should realize how interesting it is that Agents of SHIELD decided to make its “everyman” a woman. You’re free to not like her, but she is no more poorly constructed than any other character on the show. Do I wish that the show would ease off a bit on her and give us some episodes about other characters? Yes. But we’re three episodes in. There’s time.

And as for her clothes, it’s television. Everybody dresses expensive on television. And now, a recap.

Somewhere in Colorado an office supply company-branded semi truck is in a discrete convoy transporting secure cargo, and is disrupted by a mysterious force that throws all of the vehicles, one by one, into the air and drops them. Once the Semi is down, men in camouflage use an excavator to open the disguised semi trailer, move all the disguising boxes, and then find a disguised safe.

I’m joking, after all that misdirection, they find a safe that has a MASSIVE SHIELD LOGO ON IT, and now I just have to say something. SHIELD. You are a semi-clandestine organization. Stop. Putting. Your logo. On everything. Find Jerry in design, whose cousin has a vinyl decal business, and fire him.

Our heroes are diverted from their merry way to investigate this paranormal occurrence and kidnapping. But before they do that, Ward and Skye share some quality superior officer/trainee time at the punching bag. He’s pushing her hard because she said she wanted to be a field agent. He tells her every agent has a defining moment, where they either persevere and decide that this is the life for them, or realize that it’s absolutely not and panic. His job is to keep her alive until then. When he declines to share his own defining moment, she needles him about the truth serum moment and he says “ha ha, joke’s on you, we don’t even have truth serum.”

Then Coulson call a halt to everything to explain their new assignment, locating and recovering a Priority Red Asset, a person who works for and is protected by SHIELD because too many dangerous people would want them otherwise, namely Doctor Franklin Hall. At the mention of his name the Science Siblings get adorably sad, because he was a favorite old teacher. Then we cut to all the characters walking abreast in a line down the highway towards the totaled convoy, you know, like actual people walk when they’re holding a conversation, ever. Oh, television. I will admit it is very dramatically staged.

The crime scene gives them two clues: the bad guys knew the route, indicating that either very high level SHIELD communications were tapped, or there’s a mole in the organization. They also find a tiny device that appears to warp gravity around it when electrically stimulated. Back on the bus, the SSibs do science to it, Ward figures out what kind of excavator tore the trailer apart, and Melinda gives Skye the most boring job of all: combing through SHIELD communications to see if she can find the mole.

(Skye confronts Coulson about Ward saying there was no truth serum, and his reaction is to say that that’s “interesting.”)

Next, Coulson and Ward talk to a cowboy, who even draws a gun on them. He’s a local who was paid in gold bricks by the bad guys to borrow his excavator. According to the SSibs the bars were made in a mine, not a refinery, and are therefore traceable. They’re from a mine in Tanzania that’s owned by a by CEO, philanthropist, and former classmate of Dr. Hall, Ian Quinn.

And Quinn does indeed have Hall, in his country of naturalized citizenship, Malta. That means that SHIELD and the American government can’t touch him. Curiously he implies that his new citizenship only works on getting stopped by the USA, not by SHIELD. I swear, someday SHIELD’s actual jurisdictional boundaries will become clear, I refuse to believe the show is just making them up as they go along. Quinn has found a place where he and Hall can break international regulations to create a theoretical machine powered by a theoretical substance.

The businessman’s intense, environmentally unstable mining of various areas has borne the ultimate fruit: enough of the theoretical element Gravitonium to build machines that warp gravity around them, including one twelve foot model that could mess with several acres of space. Knowing that Hall is a scientist in the purest sense, Quinn dangles the ability to complete his life’s work with his long theorized Gravitonium, says that he’d do it without Hall, but he knows Hall would want to get it right. This appears to be convincing.

Back on the Bus, the SHIELD team discusses how to extract Hall from a country they are not legally allowed to set foot in and in which they may be shot on sight. If not for international law, they would call in a large strike force. But if they go in, they’re a small enough team that SHIELD could disallow their behavior if necessary. Fitz suggests a monkey. Arguing goes back and forth until Melinda mentions that this would be easy if they had a man on the inside and Skye volunteers, to much dissent from all the combat ready characters, until she emphasizes her resolve by using her reputation as a member of the Rising Tide to score an invitation to Quinn’s imminent shareholder party.

So it’s decided. On the way to Malta, Coulson and Ward discuss Skye’s involvement in the operation as Coulson adorably chooses a suit for his first combat mission since the Battle of New York. Ward is worried both about her safety and her loyalty. He’s having trouble being a good SO to her, and Coulson suggests that he just be himself, basically. So in his next training session with Skye, where he teaches her to disarm someone pointing a gun at her (getting the gun isn’t the hard part “pulling the trigger” is), he confesses that his defining moment was when he decided to stand up to his abusive older brother to protect himself and his little brother.

When they arrive, Coulson and the SSibs explain what Skye needs to do: take their clever spy equipment disguised as a compact and get it close to a computer on Quinn’s compound. Once it’s in place, they can use it to reboot the futuristic forcefield he has around it, which will give a two-person combat team time to get into the grounds and extract Hall.

Privately, Melinda brings up how she’s not supposed to be on call for combat anymore and he agrees, which is why he’s going with Ward to the compound. She points out that this is his first time purposefully walking into a combat mission since he died, but he’s fine with that, or at least seems that way.

Skye arrives at the shareholder part equipped with a wire so that Fitz, Simmons, and Melinda can give her all the info she needs to hobnob with the mucketymucks. Fitz has brought popcorn. Skye introduces herself to Quinn and he turns on the charm, he agreed to her request for an invitation because he was impressed by her ability to get inside his system to ask for it, and he has a habit of turning black hat hackers into white hats. She is surprised, and he replies “I didn’t invite you here for your pretty face. I didn’t know you had a pretty face.”

As Quinn begins his big villain presentation on Gravitonium, Skye slips into his mansion to seek proximity to a computer, but I guess it was over sooner than she anticipated because he finds and confronts her, and in order to keep from getting kicked out by security she dun dun dunnn silently tells him that she’s been bugged by SHIELD operatives and wants to betray them. From this I guess we’re supposed to be worried that she’s actually betraying SHIELD, after last episode implied that her motivations in joining the team aren’t entirely genuine, but I mean, come on, Agents of SHIELD. She’s a main cast member. You’re clever, but I don’t think you’re smart enough to manage her defection and keeping her in the main cast. Especially in your third episode. But I’ll humor you anyway.

As Quinn takes her directly to his office to chat more about their assumed mutual dislike of SHIELD, Coulson and Ward arrive on the island, and I love how Ward is decked out in combat gear and Coulson is just wearing a suit, like always. They make it to the forcefield, but since Skye hasn’t managed to get to a computer yet, they’re forced to hold position.

Here’s my favorite part of the episode: Since Skye nonverbally told Quinn about SHIELD, FitzSimmons and Melinda have no idea why he just U-turned from calling security to inviting her into his office. Fitz suggests that she did it with feminine wiles and gets HUGE STINKEYE from both Simmons AND Melinda, “Of COURSE, that’s the ONLY way,” Simmons says, sarcasm dripping from her voice, until she is interrupted by Skye ditching her wire in a glass of champagne so she and Quinn can speak freely. Ok, SHIELD, remember when I said I was getting a little nervous about your repeated use of female characters attempting to use sex appeal to get things (albeit subverted)? I take it back. You’ve won me over on your ability to subvert that ancient trope for good.

Anyway, Skye explains that she’s here as part of a rescue mission for Hall, but that she’s just using SHIELD for their resources. Quinn warns her to be wary, as she fits a certain SHIELD pattern. The organization is targeting her as an asset, a virtually unconnected individual with a significant useful talent and “no family.” His guess that she has no family hits a nerve. He continues, saying that SHIELD offers “a home to those who have no one else to turn to,” and that he can offer her better. That’s when Skye lays down the compact and the SSibs get the connection they need to go to work on his computer system.

Ward and Coulson have had to take out one guard patrol as they wait for the fence to restart, which I mention only because Coulson appears to have trouble stripping a gun and a callback is made to it later. As the fence goes down, they make it across and split up, Coulson going for Hall, since he knows the guy, and Ward to rescue Skye.

Everybody’s favorite Agent arrives in Hall’s lab, but Hall refuses to go with him so that he can complete his work on the Gravitonium device, a variable that the team did not plan for. It turns out that Hall was the person who leaked his whereabouts to Quinn, making it look, to Quinn, like he just had good connections. Hall knew Quinn had the means to harness Gravitonium’s unique properties, and that it was too dangerous to let anybody use it, whether SHIELD or Quinn. He wants to be here, to destroy the device, the Gravitonium, and everybody on the island who knows about it, including himself. Hundreds of innocent lives, to save millions. And that’s all real dark but he keeps calling Coulson “Mr. Coulson” and it’s really cute.

Then Hall turns on the device, inverting gravity in his laboratory, and pulls a gun on Coulson. By his own design, it isn’t stable, however, and will result in a reaction that buries the island. As the room rotates randomly, Coulson and Hall trading words about experimentation without regard to consequences (Hall blames SHIELD’s experiments on the Tesseract for the attack on New York), Melinda becomes worried and frustrated, clearly annoyed that she isn’t somewhere that she can be more productive than as a coordinator.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the island is shaken by “earthquakes,” Skye’s betrayal (of Quinn) has come clear, and he pulls a gun on her. That doesn’t keep him from lecturing her about how SHIELD is bad and doesn’t love her and she’s expendable and doomed, so she disarms him, just as Ward taught her. One of the guards says “kid’s got balls” and it’s just a little too much. Skye takes the moment of confusion to admit that she can’t pull the trigger and dives out of the window into the pool below. Quinn realizes the “quakes” are an imminent Gravitonium collapse, and orders the island evacuated.

Skye books it across the party with security guards in tow and eventually runs into Ward, who takes care of them non-lethally. I don’t want to sound creepy or negative but I have to mention this. SHIELD. You make a handkerchief that can reproduce a handprint, a serving tray that sees through walls, and a makeup compact that can hack a computer system. Can you make a sports bra that fits under a cocktail dress? I’m certain that Hill and Romanoff have discussed this with your R&D team. Maybe Gravitonium could be involved? Seriously, think about it. A SHIELD issued invisible, intangible bra would go a long way to explaining some of the costumes in the Marvel universe.

Anyway, back in the still spinning lab, Hall has fumbled his gun and Coulson grabs it. He’s cut the power to the machine, but in order to stop it in time he needs to interrupt the chemical reaction at its center with a catalyst. He and Hall are both standing on the observation window, with a straight drop to the whirling Gravitonium device, so you can guess what happens next. Especially when Coulson says to Hall: “We have to live with the choices we make, but sometimes we have to die with them too.” Coulson shoots out the window and grabs a cable above himself, sending Hall plummeting into the device. It looks like a real bad way to go, or a real nice way to become a super villain.

We pick up with our team back on the Bus, where Coulson is instructing a SHIELD underling to case up the recovered Gravitonium blob that Hall died in and lose it. He doesn’t want anyone else to find it, so it’s being placed in a secure vault, but he tells the guy to lose the records on where it’s kept so that it’ll be very unlikely that SHIELD will be able to get their hands on it either. He says it’s what Hall would have wanted. In the meantime, he’s still trying to get that gun thing right, which should be in his muscle memory. Melinda May catches him doing it and says she’s reporting for combat the next time there’s an opportunity, because he’s a little rusty and she doesn’t enjoy running the back end. Is Coulson just rusty? Or is this some kind of symptom of whatever process brought him back to life? DID THEY FORGET TO TEACH HIS LIFE-MODEL DECOY TO RELOAD GUNS?

Our episode closes with Skye and Ward at the punching bag. Skye confesses the reason why Quinn’s needling about her family got to her: she’s a product of the foster system who never managed to find a solid foster home. But now, the episode implies, she’s making SHIELD her home. “I made my choice, and I want this, bad.” We’ll just have to wait for the show to get around to talking about her status as a possible mole for the Rising Tide. But we don’t have to wait for the show to follow up on Dr. Hall’s death/supervillain origin, because our post-credits stinger is his silvery-goopy hand stretching out of the roiling ball of Gravitonium.

I’ll leave the speculation on which Marvel supervillain he could possibly be to our commenters, since I’m not well versed in obscure Marvel supervillainy.

All in all, a solid episode. We got a bunch of team building last week, and now we’ve gotten some character history on Ward and Skye. Here’s hoping a Melinda episode is next. If there was something that I wanted more of but didn’t get in this episode, it would be to see SHIELD start to acknowledge its faults at times other when they are forced to by the antagonist. There’s a legitimate argument for SHIELD having a pretty morally dubious mission statement as the one organization in the world who decides who gets to use advanced technology. They seem to use a lot of it themselves, after all. It’s now pretty obvious why they were reluctant to work with Tony Stark. It’s one thing when SHIELD’s job is to recover alien tech left over from the Battle of New York, but this episode was about a completely human developed new technology. Was Quinn considered to be “cheating” because he wasn’t nice to the environment?

Okay, to be fair, SHIELD didn’t walk in there to shut down Quinn’s operation, just to get Hall out, but Coulson did take Hall’s opinions to heart and “buried” the device anyway. But there’s only so long that the show can trade on its “nobody is really right or wrong” set dressing (take last week’s discussions about the Peruvian military vs. anti-mining rebels that went basically nowhere) before it will have to actually confront and say something about the ideas it’s nodding at. In my wildest dreams these issues would come to a head and get an entire episode devoted to them, but I’m perfectly aware that an entire episode about moral complications, international law, and ethics is not what everybody wants.

But a Melinda May episode? Bring it on.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.