'Agents of SHIELD' Recap: 5 Things We Learned From 'The Asset'

The third episode of Joss Whedon's 'Avengers' spinoff is on its way to finding its footing, but it's still a bit clumsy. Plus comics legend Jim Steranko shares his take.

There's a moment early on in Agents of SHIELD's third episode, "The Asset," when Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) is running a boxing workout with Skye (Chloe Bennet) -- who's apparently never seen anyone punch anything in her life -- when he tells her, “Every field agent has a defining moment.” Every show needs to have one, too, and we are butting up against the time when SHIELD needs to go from mildly disappointing to legitimately entertaining.

How Long is too Long?

The reluctant hero is a tough one to make work on television. He, or in this case, she, has to be a necessary part of the drama even though they clearly don’t want to be. And, at some point, they need to stop being reluctant and just get on board. The longer the span between reluctance and acceptance, the more exasperated the audience gets. And we are approaching Dangerous Exasperation Levels with Skye. She wants in, but she doesn't. She volunteers for a dangerous mission because ...? No idea. She doesn't betray SHIELD or accept the bad guy's job offer because ... she's still in deep cover for the Rising Tide? Because she really digs that SHIELD has its own bottled water? Because Ward looks good in an Urban Outfitters T-shirt?

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Why is This Not Clark Gregg’s Show?

This is the third Skye-centric show out of three. Clearly, the executive producers want us to care about her -- even if she only just barely cares about being in SHIELD. But let’s all take a moment and be honest about why we’re showing up to Agents of SHIELD: Because Coulson Lives. (Maybe. I’m still going with the LMD theory.) He is our way into this series, not Skye. He is the one we care about. So why is Coulson sitting on the periphery of his own show? Why is the creative team ignoring the audience’s bond with him? I understand that they want us to like everyone -- even if they’re bland, like Agent Ward, or lightweight, like FitzSimmons -- but get us on board or risk us getting bored.

SHIELD Has a Villain Problem.

Ian Quinn (David Conrad). Brilliant scientist. Philanthropist. Scotch aficionado. Basically, Tony Stark without the armor. And this "genius" pays for his Giant Crime Equipment with gold bars that could be traced directly back to him. Really? Why not unmarked bills, like any criminal who’s watched a television show? I understand completely that Franklin Hall (Ian Hart) will, one day, escape from his unmarked safe and want revenge on Coulson for turning him into a special effect. And that guy would be cool. But until then, SHIELD needs to up its adversarial game.

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Meanwhile, Hall Had it Right.

I found it curious that the climax of the episode had Coulson arguing with someone who was 100 percent in the right. The gravitonium absolutely should’ve been destroyed. Giving it to Ian “Bonehead” Quinn would’ve been a mistake, but SHIELD isn’t a much better option. All Hall had to do was point out that the Chitauri invasion was the result of SHIELD tampering with things they had no business tampering with -- trying to make weapons out of the Tesseract -- and even Coulson had to reply with a shrug. “Yeah, our bad.” Clearly, it’s better for all parties concerned if this gravitonium muck was dropped into the bottom of the world, so Coulson’s decision to sacrifice Hall to shut it down was meant to introduce some moral ambiguity. But there is, actually, a difference between doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

That First Sequence, Though.

Was pretty badass. Vans in the air like you just don’t care.

RECAP: 5 Things We Learned from 'Agents of SHIELD's' Second Episode

So what does the Wise and Munificent Jim Steranko (@iamsteranko) think?

Well, Steranko Says ...

Quicker than you can say Mission: Impossible, this week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD uncorked its kidnap-and-rescue premise with a promise to play at a pace faster and cleaner than previous entries. Bull’s-eye!

The reason Mission comes to mind is because the Fury gang hit all the beats firmly established by the vintage cathode thriller, almost paraphrasing their trademark, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it …” and explaining the highly-sensitive covert operation to come. About all that was missing was the warning, "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds!” and Lalo Schifrin’s unforgettable 5/4 theme.

The typical IMF formula unfolded with the team penetrating an impenetrable fortress, locating the kidnapped super-scientist and engaging a tangle of surprises before spiriting the MacGuffin to a safe place. And FYI: the gravitronium and its creator, Dr. Franklin Hall, were straight from the pages of good ol’ Marvel comics. 'Nuff said!

RECAP: Jim Steranko Says 'Agents of SHIELD's' Second Episode Was Smoother, But 'Too Unfocused to Be Satisfying'

The slam-bang special-effects prelude eye-washed viewers into a plotline rippling with high-tech devices neatly aligning with the AOS infrastructure -- and not yet a cinematic cliché. Again, Fitz and Simmons collected their checks for doing what Q did for Bond, delivering scientific jabberwocky, which would be fun if it wasn't so bloody unintelligible due to their ponderous foreign accents.

Agent Grant Ward was reasonably underplayed -- or perhaps just seemed that way in comparison to Skye’s itchy, over-the-top oratory. Her raison d’etre in the series is shakier than Don Knotts with Parkinson’s. Couldn’t/shouldn/t/wouldn’t AOS be tighter if she was, for example, an electronic Einstein being coerced (possibly under the threat of an IRS audit) by SHIELD to play ball (without being so damned cute about it) until her triple-agent status is revealed to the world? Yeah, until then, let’s give her the key to the men’s room!

At least she’s a quick study: awkwardly learning self-defense against an attacker in one scene and two minutes later, disarming slithery Ian Quinn like he was Mother Teresa and she was Lee Ermey! Unfortunately, neither Agent Ward nor the show’s producers could teach her how to hit the heavy bag with even an ounce of conviction. Skye (nobody knows her full name; perhaps she’ll turn out to be Fury’s love child in the feature film!) may just not have the grit of a SHIELD agent, especially if she’d rather jump out a three-story building than pull the trigger on an enemy wanksta.

Overall, the plot’s twists and turns clicked, even though it’s kind of embarrassing when the commercials are more engrossing than the show.

E-mail: Marc.Bernardin@THR.com
Twitter: @marcbernardin