Thursday, October 10, 2013

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

The episode begins with a ordinary looking semi-truck travelling down the highway.  There are two standard S.H.I.E.L.D. black SUVs behind it.  One of them passes and the driver waves to the agent as she passes.  Suddenly, the SUV in front of the semi is tossed into the air like a toy.  This causes the trucker to contact S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters on his CB (apparently he is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as well). Shortly afterwards the other SUV is tossed into the air followed by the semi-truck itself.

After it crashes, several men in camouflage carrying guns approach the back of the truck.  Using a excavator on the side of the road, the men tear through the trailer revealing a secret compartment with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it.  The men cut through the compartment to reveal a somewhat bored man sitting in a chair.  Upon seeing the men breaking in, he adjusts his glasses and asks "Are we there yet?" in a somewhat annoyed tone.

Will this man be the big bad of the season?

Back at the Mobile Command (a.k.a. the bus) Agent Ward is supervising Skye in some basic strength training.  Skye is pretty annoyed at all this physical activity, but Ward insists that if she wants to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she will have a defining moment where she will either commit fully to this training or run.  Skye asks Ward what his "defining moment" was, snidely commenting that if he doesn't tell her she will simply have Coulson pump him up with some truth serum again.  Ward shuts her down by telling her that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have any truth serum-- apparently the scene from the pilot that convinced her to join was just an act.

The training is interrupted by Agent Coulson announcing that a convoy carrying a priority red asset was just attacked.  Coulson reveals that the priority red asset was a man named Dr.Franklin Hall.  Fitz-Simmons express concern as they know Dr. Hall personally.  Coulson then reveals the most unusual aspect of the attack-- the attackers were invisible!

At the scene of the attack, Simmons detects some unusual electro-static activity.  Her scanner accidently activates something which causes the gravel on the side of the road to rise into the air and begin swirling around in a dangerous fashion.  Fitz manages to stop deactivate the effect and the gravel drops down to the ground, leaving just a small glowing sphere that Coulson grabs.

Back on the bus, Coulson expresses concern that in order for the attackers to have known the route the convoy was taking that they either have a mole inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. or they have some way to monitor their communications.  Skye suggests she can analyze the treads they found at the scene, but Ward has already done that.  She then attempts to question Coulson about Ward's earlier comment that S.H.I.E.L.D. does not have a truth serum, but is cut off by Agent May handing her a list of all S.H.I.E.L.D. communications that have been made since the decision to transfer Dr. Hall was made.

Coulson and Ward chase down the man who sold the excavator.  Apparently the man was paid in gold.  Fitz-Simmons track the gold back to Dacey mine in Tanzania, which is owned by Quinn Worldwide. 

In Malta, Ian Quinn pays a visit to Franklin Hall.  The two have a history and Franklin Hall claims that Quinn has made a lot of money stealing his ideas.  He also notes that S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be able to come after him in Malta as they hate outside interference in their affairs.  Quinn shows Hall a sphere identical to the one that Coulson found earlier.  Hall is stunned as he recognizes it as using Gravitonium, a theoretical element which warps local gravity fields when excited by an electrical charge.  A one inch sphere was able to easily toss a semi-truck in the air.  Quinn then shows Hall a massive version of the same device.

Back on the bus, the team tries to figure out a way to liberate Dr. Hall without violating international law.  The compound is too secure for a frontal assault by anything less than a full S.H.I.E.L.D. strike force.  They could get in if they had a man on the inside (or perhaps a brave monkey), but they don't have time to organize that kind of covert operation.  Skye offers to go in.  Ward objects, but Coulson decides it makes sense.  After all, Skye is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and her hacking skills allow her to finagle an invite to the shareholder meeting that is going on.

Fitz-Simmons provide Skye with a compact that will connect wirelessly to the compounds network when placed close enough to a computer.  This will allow Fitz-Simmons to deactivate the force field surrounding the place so a two man extraction team can enter to retrieve Skye and Hall.  Agent May assumes she will be on the team and protests that she has already seen more action than she bargained for, but Coulson surprises her by stating that the two man team will consist of Ward and him.  May tells Coulson that specialist work is different from field work, but Coulson cuts her off saying that he saw plenty of action with the Avengers.  Of course this prompts May to point out that he died in action with the Avengers.

Skye does pretty well at infiltrating the party.  Quinn, who is invited her because she is a member of the Rising Tide, even makes her a job offer.  He then gives a speech to his shareholders that seems almost custom tailored to make Skye question her loyalties.  Regardless, Skye goes looking in the house for a vulnerable computer-- until she gets caught by Quinn.  He is about to call security when she writes him a note warning him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening.

Skye disposes of her earpiece in a champagne flute and explains to Quinn that she was picked up in LA and has been gathering Intel on S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since.  It soon becomes obvious that Skye is just playing for time until she can get the magic computer hacking compact to work though.

Which it does just in the nick of time as Coulson and Ward have found themselves trapped between a force field and a gunfight.  Back at base Fitz-Simmons deactivate the force field just long enough for the two agents to get into the compound.  Ward goes to rescue Skye while Coulson goes to find Dr. Hall.

Skye uses the skills Ward taught her to avoid capture just long enough for Ward to save the day.  Coulson has a harder time of it though as he finds out that Dr. Hall doesn't intend escape.  Instead it is revealed that he orchestrated his own capture so he would have a chance to destroy the Gravitonium.  Unfortunately, doing this will destroy the entire island nation of Malta. 

Dr. Hall begins to overload the device, which causes local gravity to go haywire.  When it becomes obvious to Coulson that he cannot reason with Hall, he shoots the window, which is now the floor that they are standing on, and Dr. Hall falls into the Gravitonium sphere.  Somehow this stabilizes the reaction.

Cutting ahead a couple of days, Coulson has S.H.I.E.L.D. place the Gravitonium sphere in "Deep Freeze" and specifically asks that it not be shot into space.  On a personal level, Skye begins to take her field training more seriously, May decides that she would rather be in the field than sit on the sidelines while others take risks, and Coulson expresses concern over how his muscle memory seems a bit on the rusty side.

In the ending tag, the viewers get to see a shape in the form of a human hand attempt to escape the sphere but get sucked back in.

Stray Thoughts

Gravitonium is Atomic Number 123 and Atomic Mass 308.  Atomic Number 123 is currently an empty spot on the Periodic Table in between Unbibium (122) and Unbiquadium (124).

Extra points if they put him in a costume next time!Comic book fans will recognize Dr. Franklin Hall as the supervillain Graviton.  While he is immensely powerful, Graviton has never really been an A-List villain like Magneto or Doctor Doom.  Nevertheless, he has always had a special place in my heart as my first exposure too him was as the surprise big bad at the end of the West Coast Avengers limited series.  I am happy to see him get some live action exposure.

This episode seems to retcon the truth serum scene from the pilot.  Since I was not a big fan of that scene I can’t really complain.

Apparently Coulson only owns suits.

Man does Malta get a bad rap in this episode.  What the heck has S.H.I.E.L.D. been up to that it is legal to shoot them on sight there?  Of course, after the way they treated the Peruvian government last episode, maybe this is typical of S.H.I.E.L.D. relations.

Didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. just cause a major international incident?  They specifically talked about how attacking during the shareholder meeting would cause international outrage, but that is exactly what they did!  Skye had mentioned that Ian Quinn had a reputation as a huge philanthropist.  He had gathered his shareholders and just announced a major scientific breakthrough.  Then S.H.I.E.L.D. attacks, destroys his lab and steals his research.  I wonder if other countries will adopt the “shoot S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on sight” policy after this.

It made me laugh that three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on a hostile island absconded with the Gravitonium during a convenient cut scene.  It reminds me of how in King Kong they never made any attempt to explain how they managed to transport a thirty foot tall ape from Skull Island to New York on a boat that was not much larger than he was.

I wish that a better reason was given for not using the Slingshot to shoot the Gravitonium into the sun than “Coulson said so”.  After all, this stuff seems ten times more dangerous than the super laser from last episode.  A single line of dialogue saying “With the gravity fluctuations this produces it would never make it to the sun” or “We don’t know how the sun’s intense gravitational field would interact with this substance” would work.  As it stands, the real reason seems to be “We need to be able to bring back Graviton later”.

I get that Agent May was frustrated sitting on the sidelines, but it seemed like she decided to become a field agent again way too easily.  I have to assume something major caused her to quit, so I would expect it would take something equally major to bring her back.  All and all this episode seemed way too pedestrian to spark that kind of change.

In Conclusion

This episode moved at a faster pace than the previous episodes and the threat of the Gravitonium seemed much more worthy of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s time than the super laser from last episode.  On the downside the ending seemed rushed and I never quite bought the “will Skye betray them” plot line despite the fact that Skye will obviously betray them at some point (probably during sweeps).

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (I feel like a broken record).