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The third episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Asset” introduced us to one of the major villains of the season in the form of Ian Quinn, a billionaire investor whose company is involved with a lot of mining operations around the world. However, the more interesting villain introduced in this episode is the one who has only made 2 appearances over the course of the series: Dr. Franklin Hall. Along the way, it also teases one of the longstanding mysteries for the first half of the season.
Reminder: “Retro-Reviews” contain spoilers for everything to date.
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Dr. Hall is a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist and researcher who has done pioneering research on a hypothetical substance called “gravitonium.” Gravitonium’s gravitational field is in a constant state of flux, but when it is acted on by an electrical current, gravitonium can alter the properties of gravity around itself. Ian Quinn discovered a large deposit of gravitonium in one of his mines, removed it from the ground, and brought it to his lab on Malta. He used a prototype machine Hall had designed to harness the power of gravitonium, and then used his devices to take out a S.H.I.E.L.D. convoy transporting Dr. Hall so he could capture Hall and persuade him to perfect the design and teach Quinn how to control the gravitational properties of the gravitonium.
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The S.H.I.E.L.D. team is called in to investigate and rescue Hall if possible. Because Quinn’s Maltese compound is so heavily protected, they realize that the only way in is through Skye, since she is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent—Malta is extremely suspicious of outsiders, and S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular. Skye uses her Rising Tide contacts and hacking ability to request and receive an invitation to the upcoming shareholders meeting for Quinn Worldwide at Quinn’s mansion. However, Ward is exceptionally protective—now that he is her S.O. he is trying to get close to her and train her to become a good S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He puts her through the paces of learning to disarm an armed assailant, and pushes her to commit to S.H.I.E.L.D. as he does so. He tells her about his past: his older brother abused him and his little brother, and he had to learn to protect himself and his brother. The dynamic between these two over the course of this episode is very cool. She is really holding back at the beginning of the episode, but when Quinn threatens her with a gun, she finally commits to S.H.I.E.L.D. based on Ward’s story about being the “big brother” protecting his “little brother.” When she is recaptured by Quinn’s men and Ward rescues her, Skye understandably clings to him in gratitude. His protectiveness and her renewed commitment to the cause are the clearest results of this episode with regards to those two characters.
While Skye is snooping in Quinn’s house, Quinn discovers her and nearly calls security on her. However, she talks her way into his office by telling him that “S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening” to gain his trust. After destroying her earpiece, he tries to talk her into leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. and going to work for him. He tells her that she “fits the profile” as someone S.H.I.E.L.D. would be interested in recruiting because she has special talents, a rough past, and no family or friends to miss her. At the mention of her lack of family, Skye looks visibly upset—and I suspect she was, considering that her search for her parents is one of her driving motivators for the first 2 seasons. However, Skye succeeds in carrying out her part of the plan by giving Fitz wireless access to the compound’s computer system while stalling for time with Quinn. I enjoyed this initial look into Skye’s unorthodox methods, and I think this might be when she started coming into her own as a character. Before now she was little more than a hacker and hanger-on with the team; in this mission, she is shown to be capable of pulling off seemingly-impossible missions when all the odds are stacked against her. And at the same time this is when she first displays a commitment to S.H.I.E.L.D. Of all the characters we met, I think she’s the first one to really be fleshed out.
While Skye is talking her way into the compound, Ward and Coulson act as her extraction team and prepare to infiltrate the base. However, while waiting for Skye and Fitz to disarm the laser fence so they can enter, Coulson and Ward come under fire from Quinn’s security team. They dispatch the security team quickly, but then Coulson tries to disassemble one man’s handgun and fails on the first try. I think this is the first time in the series that Coulson realizes that there is something different about him: his muscle memory of how to disassemble a handgun is not there anymore. After the mission he tries to regain that muscle memory, but he is still shaken up by the experience. Looking back on the episode with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for us to complain that they should not have drawn out the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection as long as they did and with as many subtle—or not-so-subtle—hints, but if they had not drawn it out as much, I don’t think the final reveal of T.A.H.I.T.I. would have been as satisfying. As I said in my article about [Spoiler] from Avengers: Age of Ultron (do I still need to do that? It’s been over a month), a character being brought back to life has to mean something; it has to have consequences. If they had breezed past Coulson’s resurrection in the first couple episodes, would his death have been as meaningful? If they had shown us T.A.H.I.T.I. right off the bat, would we have been as invested in the characters or the process? I don’t think so. I think saving that reveal for the midseason premiere was a smart move. Plus, this scene gave us an amusing moment when Ward casually tossed the handgun into the laser fence and it disintegrated.
Once Coulson and Ward got into the compound, Coulson immediately went to find Dr. Hall, who was in the lab underneath the compound. However, Hall was unwilling to leave with him. Instead, Hall insisted on staying and completing his work on the gravity generator. He turned it on full-blast and allows it to start altering the gravity all over the compound—and especially in the lab. I found the shots of Hall and Coulson standing on the walls and ceiling to be funny and cool, though I thought it was a little arbitrary which pieces of furniture were bolted to the floor and which fell around the room as gravity shifted. Hall pouring himself a glass of alcohol (scotch?) while the gravitonium messed with his aim was a nice touch. When Hall explained his reasoning for doing what he was doing—to keep the gravitonium out of Quinn’s hands so he could not use it to hurt people and destroy the world—we really had to empathize with his plight. He planted the seeds for Quinn to capture him because he did not think he had any choices. When Coulson suggests that S.H.I.E.L.D. could have helped him stop Quinn, Hall scoffs; S.H.I.E.L.D.’s efforts at unlimited, sustainable power brought an alien invasion, after all. In the end, Coulson recognizes and understands the nobility of Hall’s choice, but he cannot allow Hall to bury Malta on the off-chance that Quinn will also be killed by it, and he needs to save his team. Coulson shoots the glass under their feet and allows Hall to fall into the ball of gravitonium, causing a chain reaction in its core and shutting it down. S.H.I.E.L.D. then takes the gravitonium into custody, and Coulson insists that it be kept in a secret vault under the Fridge without any records to prevent it from ever falling into the wrong hands. The last sight we have of the gravitonium is of a hand reaching out of it. Gravitonium—and Franklin Hall, aka Graviton—are not gone; his story has just started. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get any references to gravitonium (or Graviton) in season 2, but I suppose they didn’t have anyone capable of taking him out if he did resurface; perhaps he will show up as one of the first villains that Skye’s “Secret Warriors” must face. He is a powerful-enough villain that even the Avengers struggle against him in the comics, but the MCU version may be toned down enough that a group of Inhumans and enhanced humans (not the Avengers) would be able to handle him, but not without great difficulty.
I like the way that this episode introduces us to a major comic book villain in Graviton, and then turns around and surprises us by revealing that the businessman is the actual villain. And I like that Quinn is a little deeper as a villain than the prototypical Obadiah Stane- or Justin Hammer-type greedy businessman. Quinn is introduced as someone whose views on the freedom of information align very closely with Skye’s, but who uses that information to turn a profit. He just wants to be left in peace, but he wants to be left alone so he can do unscrupulous things. He is not nearly as compelling a villain as Jiaying was in season 2, but few villains will ever top her!
Ultimately, “The Asset” continues the string of fun episodes which lay a foundation by introducing the team, building the relationships between them, and bringing us into different aspects of the show’s universe. It’s not the best episode ever, but it’s still a fun watch.
What did you think of “The Asset” when you first saw it? What is your opinion now after seeing the first 2 seasons? Do you want to see Graviton come back as a villain during season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Let me know in the comments!
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