Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Asset

“We have to live with the choices we make, but sometimes we have to die with them too.”

Sorry, Josie, but I’m afraid it looks like that single flare won’t going up any time soon.

I’m starting to worry about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The ratings have been in steady decline since the pilot. If this downward trend continues the world will have yet another cancelled Joss Whedon show. At this point I'm not exactly certain if that would be a tragedy in this case. If the show keeps churning out episodes like this it is safe to say that I won't be shedding any tears about the show demise. Okay, maybe a few. I do like having my weekly dose of Coulson. This was the series' weakest yet. It wasn’t terrible, but it did highlight some of the problems the series has yet to overcome.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently suffering from what I like to call First Seasonitis. This is a serious condition that often affects shows in their infancy and can lead to some serious issues later in life if left untreated. In some cases it can even prove to be fatal. One of the most common symptoms of First Seasonitis is formulaic plotting, something that has blighted every episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far. The first two episodes at least managed to be entertaining in spite of this. This episode? Not so much.

It started out well enough. The opening heist was a great little sequence (loved the trucker turning out to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent), but it was steadily downhill from there. ‘The Asset’ was a bog standard “newbie agent with little to no training and zero experience in the field has to go undercover in the bad guy’s swanky mansion” story mixed with a dash of “rescue the kidnapped scientist” (something spy shows have been doing since the 60s) and just pinch of “supervillain origin”. Everyone one of these story threads played out exactly how I expected they would. There were no shocks, no surprises. Take out the all the superheroes and alien tech and this could easily be Alias or Nikita. A few more episodes like this and the show will be in serious need of a creative kick up the backside.

When cars weren’t being thrown into the air or Coulson wasn't accidentally creating supervillains, this episode mainly focused on the blossoming relationship between Skye and Ward. It is actually starting to feel like these two, rather than Coulson, are meant to be the main characters of this show. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if Skye and Ward were at least characters I gave a damn about.

Ward, who I found surprisingly likeable in the pilot, mostly because of that possibly faked truth serum scene, has quickly become this show’s version of Paul from Dollhouse. Paul, though, was at least played by an actor I like from a show I love. Ward doesn’t have that luxury. As for Skye, well, she just isn’t working for me. I didn’t much like her in the pilot and the following episodes have done nothing to make me change my mind. The tragic backstory they gave her in this episode was so clich├ęd I’ll be seriously disappointed if doesn't turn out to be made up as part of her cover.

Intel and Assets

--Just after I finished writing this review it was announced that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been picked up for a full season. This is the first time a Joss Whedon show has had a full season order since Angel's final season.

--Love how Ward was all dressed up in his combat gear for the op while Coulson was just wearing his suit. I bet he even sleeps in this suits. Or Captain America PJs.

--May suddenly deciding she wanted to be a field agent again was rather clumsily handled.

--Coulson appears to have no muscle memory. Yet more evidence that he's probably a Replicant.

--Franklin Hall is a villain from the comics known as Graviton (guess what his powers are?). I wonder if he'll be rocking the Rasputin look when he shows up again:

--Names for made up substances just don’t sound right when spoken out loud.

--Phil, did no one ever tell you that unhinged scientist + mad science machine = supervillain?

Henchman: "Kid's got balls."
Skye: "Thanks, but yuck."

Dr. Hall: "S.H.I.E.L.D.? Your search for an unlimited power source brought an alien invasion."
Coulson: "Fair point."

Ward: "I know Director Fury felt he owes you after you scarified yourself."
Coulson: "And my card collection."

Two and a half out of four well trained monkeys with adorable little hands.


Anonymous said...

Don't mean to be the contrarian Anonymous commenter yet again when I cannot even quite explain why, but I actually enjoyed this episode the most so far. Definitely the least bad of the three for me.

And I dislike every single character other than Coulson, to various degrees. Skye finally started to grow on me a bit, except of course for any scene she shared with Ward, who I would rather ceased to exist.

sunbunny said...

Coulson DEFINITELY sleeps in Captain America PJs.

This show just had too much (to use a Whedon word) flobatnum. Plus, the character beats were formulaic and predictable. I'm definitely beginning to see why Joss keeps getting called in for last minute rewrites. I feel like the show doesn't have any soul. Like they're trying too hard to appeal to the Marvel fanbase AND Whedon's typical audience with the result that they'll probably end up losing both.

Great news about the pick up! Whedon shows typically improve with time. Hopefully Agents of SHIELD will find its voice.

Great review, as per usual. :)

Josie Kafka said...

Thanks for the un-signal-flaring, Mark!

I actually watched this episode by mistake. I was so sleepy yesterday that I forgot I wasn't going to watch the show...until I watched the show. Then I said, "Oh, right. Not the show for me," for all the reasons your review mentions.

I'll resume my unwatching next week.

Michal Dvorak said...

I actually liked this episode more than the first two. This one felt like an actual story and not just obligatory setup. Too bad the story was so formulaic it hurt.

All the characters (with the exception of May and possibly Coulson) have been bland to unlikable so far, which is seriously disappointing in a Joss Whedon show.

I'll keep watching because it is a Joss Whedon show after all, and one I really, really want to like. But so far it's been seriously underwhelming.

But I'm not losing hope yet. The first season of Buffy also sucked.

Billie Doux said...

I was about to post something similar to what Michal just said, so -- what Michal said. I'm pretty much in for the duration, no matter what. I'll add that I nearly groaned out loud when they mentioned the "gravitonium" or whatever it was, though. Shades of unobtainium. Maybe the normal clothes are a problem. Would we be groaning if everyone were in primary colors and tights?

sunbunny said...

Ditto for me. I'd be out if it was anyone but Joss. I'd watch a miniseries about paint drying if he so much as walked through the set one day.

lisam said...

Everyone needs to stop assuming that just because Joss is connected to a show, that means it's good.

Billie Doux said...

lisam, Whedon is 4 and 0. One of those four is my favorite show, ever. And it just started. I'm not ready to throw in the towel.

Jess Lynde said...

I'm in the "liked this one better than the last two" camp. I just felt like it had better flow, since it wasn't such an obvious team/show "set up" episode, as someone else noted above. It felt more like an actual episode, had some fun Whedon-style beats, and some good action sequences. It didn't blow me away or anything, but I definitely finished the hour feeling like I enjoyed it. But I'm not nearly as steeped in comic book lore as you, so perhaps that's why it didn't feel like a tired retread to me.

And I'm still liking Skye, except for the very forced stuff with Ward. Ward is still rather flat for me, but they've toned down the scientists a lot, so I'm liking them better now.

I disagree, Mark, re: the turn with May now wanting to go back into the field. I actually found that turnaround fairly organic. I like that she resisted at first, sticking with not wanting to be in the action. But when she was in command and obviously stressed about not being able to do anything from there, it just made sense to me that she would then decide to want back in. I felt like a natural progression, and not nearly as forced as the bits with Skye and Ward.

So, overall, I'm still in.

Patrick said...

Billie, I'd have to say he's 3 and 1, myself. I thought Dollhouse had some intriguing ideas, but ultimately wasn't able to keep me engaged. I will however be forever grateful to that show for introducing me to Dichen Lachman and Enver Gjokaj. :)

I enjoyed this episode overall, but I do think this show has yet to show what it's truly capable of. The end showing Skye beginning to take this secret agent stuff more seriously is an encouraging sign though. She needed a good smack upside the head with the reality of what they were facing and what she'd have to commit to if she wanted to be a part of the fight.

The bits about Coulson being rusty and not having muscle memory were obviously hints that maybe he's not really him. Perhaps too obvious? The Life-Model Decoy theory was floating around almost as soon as it was announced that Coulson would return, so maybe they're just adding fuel to that theory as a misdirect? Or maybe I'm overthinking. :)

Vero said...

I'm actually enjoying this series much more than I've anticipated. I pretty much only tuned in because it's a Joss Whedon show. I liked his Avengers movie, but I was not as excited about it as most people. I found it a bit too over the top, which is not the case for SHIELD so far, in my opinion.

I like the characters, I'm enjoying the witty dialog, so I'm in for now. I guess since I started watching it with no expectations, there was less chance that I could be disappointed. I actually thought I would enjoy Sleepy Hollow way more than SHIELD, and so far, it's the other way around.

"Names for made up substances just don’t sound right when spoken out loud"

I work in a lab and real substances also often don't sound right when spoken aloud. ;-)

sunbunny said...

Patrick - In defense of Dollhouse. While I do believe it is (by far) the worst of Joss's completed series, I like to think this was largely due to network interference. The last episode of the first season, which wasn't aired and had ZERO network involvement, was amazing. Fox loves to meddle with its shows more than any other network. I'd wager if they demanded less formula and fewer skimpy outfits on Eliza Dushku, the show would've been much, much better.

Suzanne said...

I am underwhelmed by the show so far, but I will probably keep watching since my husband and son like it a lot so far. The thing that concerns me is that I don't care about any of the characters besides Coulson so far. Even though everyone always puts down Buffy's first season (which I actually like in many ways), the one thing you can't take away from it is that the characters made a strong, positive impression right away. I adored Willow, Xander, Giles, and even Buffy from the beginning. I can't say that about this show. However, I didn't feel strongly for anynofnthe Dollhouse characters right away, yet I grew to love them by the middle to the end of the first season. I am hoping that will happen here, too.

Patrick said...

sunbunny, while I think it's entirely possible that meddling from some Fox suits may have played a role, I still believe there were enough flaws in the show all by itself to keep it from becoming a real hit. I think the concept of the "Dollhouse" and what it's "Actives" did was interesting, I just don't think the narrative they hung on it was good enough. The idea that the tech might lead to the apocalypse we saw in the Epilogues was interesting, but in Season 2 I think the writers tried to get there too fast, probably because they knew there wasn't going to be a Season 3.

Yane said...

Maybe the reason why some of you feel some extent of disappointment about that show is expecting too much? By which I mean wanting it to be like Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse or some combination of the above. And it's just something different.

Despite loving all 4 of them, I tried not to anticipate too much of SHIELD, mostly because I'm not too familiar with its background (I've only seen Thor and The Avengers, both of which I liked, but not loved). So I was not very disappointed when I watched episodes 1 and 2 and thought they were just ok. And then I watched episode 3 and thought is was great, especially for such an early one. Ok, it might have been formulaic, but it didn't make me enjoy it less; as a matter of fact, I haven't even noticed it while watching.

Oh, and I like Skye. And Ward. Coulson is fine - I know that he's the most important one but I haven't seen enough movies with him to automatically fall in love with the character. I'm not sure about May neither, yet. Fitz-Simmons are just science geeks for now (likeable ones, but still), and all these weird terms they use start to really bother me. I don't know if native English speakers have a clue what they talk about for the most of time, but I don't.

Except for SHIELD, I've recently watched only the beginnings of new seasons of Revenge and Haven and found them terribly disappointing... In comparison, SHIELD is faring pretty well.

JimGfromWI said...

I thought this one was a pretty decent episode - again, the last scene, like last week, was pretty great - Graviton! - but I also agree that so far, the plots have been really predictable and cliched. I also agree, however, that this is pretty typical for any 1st season show. I'll stick with it, because as I've mentioned before, I'm a Marvel fan, and like others, because it's Joss. Yes, that doesn't automatically mean it's good, like someone mentioned, and I really did not like Dollhouse, but after the Avengers, Joss is my hero and he can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. I also agree (I'm very agreeable today!) that maybe our expectations were too high. This show had unbelievable hype surrounding it since the day it was announced - that's pretty tough to live up to. Coulson is by far my favorite character, and the rest seem blah by comparison, but it's Joss - I'm sure they'll get more fleshed out and more development as we go. I, for one, cannot wait to see where Joss takes us, and I was very happy it got a full season pick-up.

migmit said...

Well, for me it was better than a pilot, but not as good as the second ep. And no, it's not a mistake: I strongly disliked the pilot.

The problem I have with this episode is not that it's predictable, it's the amount of talking. Less talking, guys, and more working.

Juliette said...

Like a lot of others, my main problem with this show is that I only like Coulson, and everyone else annoys me, especially Skye. Skye and Coulson are also the only two with much of a personality.

Cesare said...

Actually, I loved "Dolhouse", and Firefly", liked "Angel" but it took me a while to learn to appreciate "Buffy": so I guess I am in a minority.

This said, "Agents of SHIELD" is not bad, but too similar to others we have already seen, the characters are not really new or interesting, and so fare the plots have been too formulaic.
And I cold not help noticng the lack of attention to detail: Malta is part of the EU, not outside it, so EU rules and laws apply there; and the sign on the beach was part in Italian and part in Maltese (which could happen, as Malta is very close to Italy) but with a major misspelling in Italian ("Radiazioni" has only one "z".