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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.03 "The Asset" Review: It's Time to Commit

            This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Asset,” featured more cool gadgets, great stunts and fights, teambuilding, and humor, and had mad scientists as an added bonus. The episode was written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by Milan Cheylov.

            The episode opens on a trucker movin’ on down the road and we gradually see that he may be carrying some illegal cargo. It’s not long before we learn that he’s actually an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I thought this was an interesting way to draw us into the action and play with our expectations a bit. No doubt agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are highly trained not to take appearances for granted and we would do well to abide by the same philosophy. What makes the ruse most interesting is a theme that’s picked up in the rest of the episode and can be traced to the Ironman movies and The Avengers – and the comics: who is the good guy? Not everyone thinks of S.H.I.E.L.D. the giant conglomerate as the good guy. Hall (Ian Hart) points out that S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as guilty of experimentation without thought of consequences as Quinn (David Conrad) is. Certainly, the multi-national is what The Rising Tide is fighting against just as the Occupy movement is fighting against the one percent.

            Appearances are deceiving as far as Dr Hall is concerned too. It seems that he may have bought into Quinn’s plan. Clark Gregg (Coulson) continues to get all the best lines – and delivers each one flawlessly. When Hall refuses to be rescued, Coulson deadpans that that was the one eventuality they hadn’t planned on. Of course, the episode opens with Coulson holding the tiny version of the device and declaring, “It’s something big.” Hall’s concern is to make things right and he tells Coulson that he is “sworn to protect all mankind.” And of course we hope that includes women-kind too.... Coulson points out that that is all S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to do as well. 

            Skye, (Chloe Bennet) meanwhile, embraces getting out into the field. Ward (Brett Dalton) and the rest of the team – except Coulson – don’t believe she is ready, even though she does impress them by hacking an invitation to Quinn’s exclusive party. Ward doubts her loyalty and tells Coulson that she’s holding back and isn’t fully committed. Of course, this sets us up as the audience to have the same doubts. She seems to have the upper hand with Quinn at first. He makes an offer which she seemingly can’t refuse and when she covertly tells him “S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening” it seems that she may, in fact, be more interested in remaining loyal to the Rising Tide than S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinn’s presentation paints S.H.I.E.L.D. as one of the enemies to free speech, and his description of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s recruiting profile – someone in trouble with the law, no family, and a special skill set – seems to be pretty accurate. In the end, Skye proves her loyalty and ends up defending S.H.I.E.L.D. and fully committing to the team.

            Committing to the team is another theme running throughout the episode. Ward trusts Skye enough to share his own defining moment and then Skye mirrors this trust in a later scene. This is certainly some of the best acting we’ve seen from both Bennet and Dalton to date. We also see the team start to look out for each other and rely on each other more. Ward is definitely concerned for Skye’s safety and this is a big step for him as he is such a loner. Coulson, of course, is brilliant to bring both of these loners together to form a team. 

            There is a great dynamic forming between Coulson and May (Ming-Na Wen). May clearly feels responsible for Coulson. He expertly draws out her commitment by not asking her to go into the field on the mission. By the end of the episode, May fully commits. Coulson’s struggles with the gun are curious and may be a clue. When Coulson insists that he is quite capable of being in the field because he saw lots of action with the Avengers, May replies, “Yeah. You died.” If there is something suspicious about Coulson, he does still appear to be human – he keeps getting beaten up and bleeding, so there’s that! I thought it was hilarious that Coulson went into the field in his usual suit – maybe that’s his secret weapon!

            The scene in the lab was fantastic – great special effects. I loved how carefully Hall poured his drink. The scene between Coulson and Hall is very powerful. Hall finally tells Coulson, “We have to live with the consequences and sometimes die with them.” Gregg was particularly good in this scene as he takes a beat before answering: Coulson is no doubt pondering his own decisions that lead to his “death” in The Avengers. Coulson replies, “I understand. You made a hard call – now I have to live with mine.” Coulson proves himself a very worthy leader throughout the episode. He figures out the organic matter that he can use to stop the machine (Hall’s body), he joins the away team, and he manages each member of his team. Coulson buries the device in every way possible – it’s locked in a bottom vault with no reference number or record – because it’s what Hall would have wanted. 

            The final “after credits” scene with Hall’s (presumably) hand reaching out of the device was chilling and creepy. Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) really didn’t have a lot to do in this episode other than provide a character reference for Dr Hall and provide some tech support. I think they have the potential to be more than comic relief, however. I’m also wondering if their particular skill sets will interact more with Skye’s affinity for computers at some point.

            What did you think of this week’s episode? Do you like how the team dynamic is developing? Quinn’s escape sets up a return for him. Would you like to see him develop into a continuing nemesis for the team? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.