Agents of SHIELD
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 3: The Asset

Bob Chipman | 9 Oct 2013 12:03
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One of the more interesting things happening under the surface of this otherwise lighter than a Twinkie series is how enthusiastically it jumps at chances to engage the real-world political parallels conjured by its cloak-and-dagger setting, i.e. S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Rising Tide as Earth-199999 stand-ins for The NSA vs. WikiLeaks. The Asset positions Quinn as, essentially, a right-wing/corporatist dark counterpart to Skye's idealistic hacktivism; cross-cutting back to her pained reactions as she watches a guy who might as well be wearing an off the rack "Bond Villain" Halloween costume spout the same basic anti-government/anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. "free information" rhetoric she does... but as a defense of his circumventing U.S. and UN industry regulations and profit-at-any-cost unfettered greed. Later, she even calls back to Ward's story about protecting his younger sibling when Quinn calls the agency Big Brother.

This running theme also ties back in to Dr. Hall, who reveals that he wanted Quinn to find and abduct him... so he could destroy the Gravitonium device. Seems he's got a bit of a mad-on about overly-powerful technology in the hands of mere mortals, an obsession which he directly attributes to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s experiments with The Tesseract indirectly helping bring Loki to Earth. Problematically, he's so obsessed with this goal that he's fully prepared to go ahead with overloading the machine even though doing so will potentially kill a large number of people. (He deploys the classic "To save billions!" argument.)

In the first of these recaps, I called the show "an 'X-Files' for the Age of Obama," and this installment feels like an even more deliberate step in that direction. An attempt to thread the needle of making a show where the government-backed snoops with the ominous black shades (and more ominous black bags) are the nominal good guys work for a media-savvy modern audience.

Skye is the stand-in for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s prospective Millenial/Gen-X youth-audience (i.e. reflexively progressive but also reflexively suspicious of The Man), and her arc of development in The Asset is pitched directly at their frame of reference: Aliens and supervillians as "external threats" (read: terrorism), evil oligarchs like Quinn as, well... Rupert Murdoch? Monsanto? The Koch Brothers? Take your pick. ( "Gee, kids. All that hacker/free-information stuff sounds oddly close to your crazy uncle's Fox News facebook-spams in the right context, huh?" ) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (or this division of it) as the Big Government that can be the good guy - providing that the good guys are in charge of it. It's subtly-edgy stuff (and, from the right angle, also a little creepy) and I want to see where they're going with this.

In any case, Skye's big "defining moment" seems to involve an easily-spotted but amusingly-played fake out at midpoint; pretending to sell S.H.I.E.L.D. out to Quinn but really just taking a long way around to opening the security systems like they'd planned. But the episode's big Hero Moment once more falls to Coulson: Facing down the now quite mad Dr. Hall and realizing he can't be talked out of his "blow everyone up to keep this invention out of the wrong hands" plan, he opts to shut the machine down by dropping the doctor into it. Causing him to be absorbed by the hovering mercury-like liquid Gravitonium at the center. So when he inevitably turns back up as something closer to Gravitron in future episodes, he now has a proper origin story and a nemesis to go after.

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