ET: There’s only so much SHIELD could do to get better.
It could eject from a “monster of the week” procedural template as fast as it can, or try to come up with such interesting one-offs that it doesn’t matter. It could seriously re-work some characters, maybe introducing new ones and ditching others entirely. It could try and lean heaviest on the few things that are working and less on the things that aren’t.
Knowing the production of this show: knowing Marvel and ABC and the way first seasons often are, I’m having trouble seeing it take any of those risks. SHIELD doesn’t feel like a show where a risk is even on the horizon. That might be its biggest liability.
This week’s episode, “The Asset,” is both a blessing and a curse. I think it’s probably the best of the show’s run, but what makes it the best is troubling. I don’t think it goes to any lengths to repair what I dislike (although, I’ll give them this: the fight choreography came together pretty nicely), but it sure does give me a lot of what I’m already on board with.
First and foremost is Chloe Bennet as Skye, who’s rapidly becoming the only character on the plane worth giving a shit about. Her scenes with Ward are my least favorite in the episode, by a long shot, but it’s never her fault. She can handle the ebb and flow of the dialogue in a way the others, excepting Gregg, can’t, and that’s going to go a long way.
We also get the first decidedly “fun” action scene in the episode’s last twenty minutes, as Skye plays double/triple-agent and Coulson fights on the ceiling above a giant spinny gravity machine. It’s here where I think the improved choreography shines through the best. Skye’s disarming of generic baddie Quinn, her jump off of the balcony, and especially Coulson’s perspective shifting all flow with a confidence that wasn’t on display back in “0-8-4.”
And yet, and yet. We’re still trapped in uncomfortable side character limbo. May’s stoicism continues to do nothing for me. Fitz and Simmons are still caricatures. Ward is offensively uninteresting, especially when he drags down the modicum of interest I have right now in Skye.
Why can’t I wave a magic wand and make eighty percent of SHIELD disappear, Matthew?
MM: It’s because too much is riding on SHIELD. I think, unfortunately, that Marvel is plenty content to have a successful, banal show on their hands than try and make something risky and interesting, and it doesn’t look like Joss Whedon is involved enough with the show to really turn it around. This episode gave me a sliver of hope that it can turn things around, but the future of SHIELD remains largely uncertain to me.
“The Asset” is the best episode of SHIELD so far, largely for the reasons you note. By putting the attention solely on Skye, I was able to remain a lot more invested in the events. I figured her turn mid-episode as a traitor would be a red herring, but it was maintained surprisingly well.
Skye’s character work has been sitting a lot better with me because she has an intriguing sense of mystery around her. Her motives are sort of unclear right now, and that’s a refreshing contrast to bland tropes like Ward and May. It helps even more that Chloe Bennet can deliver her lines with skill (her reaction to the line “But can you pull the trigger?” is pretty great).
I think “The Asset” gives some signs that the show is moving in a positive direction overall. Giving Melinda May some things to do as a ground soldier could be a potential move in the right direction for the character, and I hope SHIELD breaks Agent Coulson out of his parental role more often like they did here. And I think Dr. Hall’s transformation into some sort of gravity-based monster is at least a step towards building some mythology.
Nothing’s for certain though; while I’ve outlined a lot of the positive stuff in “The Asset”, there’s plenty of plodding material too. Ward is still a killjoy in every scene he appears in, and Fitz and Simmons are quickly reaching aggravating levels of quirk. But I guess I feel a notch better about SHIELD after this week.