Heading into the third episode of “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, I’m struck by how many people have already written it off. With any TV series, I consider it amazing if they hit their full stride in the first year. My favorite Joss Whedon show took a full first season before it figured out what it was doing, and until the last few moments in season one of “Buffy,” I don’t think it was “Buffy” yet.
In addition, I think it’s wrong to call this a Joss Whedon show. He’s not managing it week to week, and he’s not the showrunner. That’s fine… he can’t do everything, and so this creative team seems to me to be on a learning curve right now. Will they get “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” working perfectly? Beats me. Will I be willing to give them some time to work it out? Sure.
The opening this week featured a trucker who pretty much looks exactly like what I am afraid every trucker on the road looks like, with dark hollow eyes and a crazy meth stare. His tractor trailer truck is revealed to be part of a team of vehicles, and one of them, code-named “Little Girl,” is suddenly flipped up into the air by something completely unseen. It happens to another SUV, and then to the trailer truck itself, and then after it’s smashed, a small team of soldiers come running out from hiding and open the trailer, which turns out to be a lot more high-tech than it initially appeared. And inside? A prisoner who seems totally unsurprised to be rescued, greeting them with an annoyed “Are we there yet?”
Ward is training Skye, and she’s not terribly happy about it. She’s learning to be a field agent, and she’s still not sure it’s going to work out. Ward explains that every field agent has a defining moment where they either become an agent or they drop out because they can’t do it. She asks him what his was, and he dodges the question. He tells her that the interrogation from the pilot episode was a trick, and that there is no real truth serum. But… is that true?
So who was the guy in the truck? Turns out it was one Dr. Franklin Hall. Fitz/Simmons seem to recognize him immediately. He was one of their instructors, someone they respected greatly, and they feel strongly about getting him back. Turns out that convoy in the opening was a S.H.I.E.L.D. team, with Hall working for them, and the attack freaked them out. They were hit hard, and it looks like it was inside knowledge that allowed them to hit the team while transporting Hall.
Simmons finds the week’s first big clue. She manages to reproduce some of the reaction that created the incident with the trucks, and she finds a small metal ring that seems to be the cause of all this chaos. “What is that?” asks May.
“Something big,” replies Coulson, throwing to the first commercial break and laying out what will obviously be the week’s mysteries. What caused the reaction? Who was behind the attack? And how is Hall involved?
Especially after seeing the second episode, I have to wonder immediately if Hall is who he appears to be. After all, he seemed to be expecting the people who hit the trucks, or was that him thinking that he was talking to S.H.I.E.L.D.? I think it’s fair to suspect that pretty much anyone that Coulson and his team deals with is a double agent of some sort. Ian Hart is one of those guys I have trouble recognizing until a few scenes into things, just because he’s so good at changing himself completely from project to project. Casting him would suggest that he’s more than just a guest star for this week, so audiences would be right to wonder… who is Franklin Hall in the larger Marvel Universe?
He was a scientist who was altered on a molecular level during an experiment that left him able to control gravity itself using only his mind. He dubbed himself Graviton and became a supervillain, and the Avengers went up against him. He was a genuine threat to them, too, and there was a major battle between him, Iron Man, and Thor in the skies over New York. He ended up becoming a giant at one point, and he attacked Los Angeles later. Basically, he was a pretty serious ongoing threat, and his powers are nothing to sneeze at.
In the world of the show, though, obviously none of that has happened yet. We see that Fitz/Simmons is determined to find Hall so that he can be rescued. Coulson is upset because it seems that there must be a mole who gave up the Hall transport plan. Ward seems to be hyper-efficient this week, working to track down the people and equipment used in the attack quickly and decisively. May dumps a metric ton of work on Skye, but that would seem to be the reason to bring a clever hacker onboard. She’s not book-smart the way Fitz/Simmons is, but she’s definitely there for her wits as much as anything else.
Coulson goes to see the guy who sold the excavator to the assault team and the guy draws a rifle on him. Ward gets the guy off the horse and shakes him down until the guy gives up the gold bars that were used to pay him for his machinery. They trace the gold to the mine where it was made, and then before Coulson leaves the room, he knows who he’s supposed to go see. I like this sort of efficiency from the characters. They’re good at this. They zero in right away on Ian Quinn, the owner of the mine, and as we see, he does indeed have Hall at his home in Malta. Hall knows Quinn, and while he’s irritated by being abducted, Quinn tells him that he should consider it a rescue, not a kidnapping. Quinn has renounced his American citizenship so he can hide behind Maltese extradition laws, thrilled to be able to hide from S.H.I.E.L.D.
“More importantly, old friend, they can’t touch you,” Quinn tells Hall, showing him one of the machines we saw on the road. “Gravitonium” turns out to be the fuel, according to Fitz/Simmons. They try to explain how the material and the device caused what happened. These devices can control gravitational forces, and Hall was the person who started the research into Gravitonium in the first place.
Quinn explains to Hall that he found Gravitonium, several mines worth. Hall is afraid because he knows how dangerous this can be, and so Quinn tells him that he’s the only one he trusts to help him finalize the activation of a full-sized gravitational generator, a giant version of that tiny device from the road.
Coulson isn’t sure who to send in. Simmons wants to use a monkey who can disable Quinn’s base with adorable hats, and Ward is ready to go in with deadly force. Skye says she should be the one who goes, though, since she’s not technically a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent yet, so she’s not bound by the same international laws that keep them from going in. Besides, as she shows them, she’s got an eVite to come see Quinn in Malta.
Ward is unsold on using Skye on a covert op. “Are you worried about her safety or her loyalty?” Coulson asks.
“Both,” answers Ward. The thing is, Coulson knows she’s a hacker, and he knows her shadowy connections are exactly what they are using her for. Coulson advises him to view her as a person and to help her.
Ward ends up revealing what his defining moment was to her, and it turns out he had an abusive older brother who he had to protect his younger brother from. Skye is briefed by the rest of the team and equipped for her mission by Fitz/Simmons, who give her a way to reach them electronically even inside Quinn’s most sophisticated electronic security perimeter.
May really doesn’t want to go into combat, and Coulson tells her that he’s not sending her. Ward is the primary agent, and Coulson will be the back up.
“You forget… I saw plenty of action with the Avengers.”
“And you died.”
Skye at the party. She starts attracting attention, and she’s got the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in her ear. Quinn introduces her around and discusses the Rising Tide and their work. Quinn offers her a job, and it’s obvious that Skye is affected by the offer.
Quinn is considered a good guy by the press around the world, and he ends up giving a fairly strong speech about how the US, the EU, SHIELD, and other similar groups are retarding progress through regulation and competition. Quinn introduces the discovery of Gravitonium, and we see Hall working to finish the large-scale device and activate it.
Coulson and Ward talk about Hall as a prisoner as they approach, but that’s not what he looks like when we see him. Quinn catches Skye as she’s sneaking around his facility looking for Hall. He’s about ready to call security when she stops him. In order to get herself off the hook, she tells him via note that “SHIELD is listening.” So is it a tactic or is she really looking to jump onto the other side of things, having used S.H.I.E.L.D. for her own purposes?
“She must have used her… her… her… boobs.” Nice one, Fitz.
Skye tells Quinn everything. She says that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been trying to recruit her, and she really does seem to give up every detail to him. She’s far more honest with Quinn than she has been with Coulson and the others so far. Ward and Coulson are still trying to cross the perimeter of Quinn’s property. Quinn is pretty harsh in his assessment of why S.H.I.E.L.D. might have contacted her, and what he says seems to really bother her. She’s got no poker face, evidently.
As Coulson and Ward kick some ass and put down some guards, Skye ends up activating the hacking device that Fitz/Simmons gave her, and suddenly Fitz is able to take control of the security system, giving them just enough time to get Ward and Coulson inside. Quinn doesn’t believe she’s the only way they’re going to be attacking, and when he learns that there’s been a security breach, he ends up pulling a gun on Quinn.
Hall reveals that he intentionally leaked his own movements to Quinn so that he would be brought in, and he tells Coulson that he wants to destroy the device that Quinn built. Instead of turning it off, though, he cranks it up, and as Coulson is yanked offscreen by a magnetic impulse, he says, “I assume that was not the off switch.”
They’re definitely using this show each week to pack in big movie ads. Makes sense. ABC has to assume they’ve got the exact demo tuning in that would be interested in “Thor: The Dark World” or “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug.” And they’re right. My kids go berserk for the ads.
When Coulson comes to, he and the team catch up. Twelve feet across. Gravity has gone completely haywire in the building. Coulson and Hall are both upside, on the ceiling, and it looks like gravity is continuing to shift as the thing accelerates.
Meanwhile Skye and Quinn are arguing the ethics, and now it seems that Skye’s true allegiance is with S.H.I.E.L.D. She ends up in the exact situation that Ward trained her for, and she manages to disarm Quinn long enough to be able to run, jump out the window, and land in his pool. When the entire building shakes, Quinn realizes what’s going on, and he orders his own team to get ready to evacuate.
Hall has no love for either Quinn or S.H.I.E.L.D., and he explains that no one should be given the power that Gravitonium would provide them, that neither side is morally responsible enough to be trusted.
There’s no way they can talk him out of it. Ward, Coulson, Skye… they’re all right there. They’re all going to die. Hall believes he’s doing the right thing.
“I understand. You made a hard call. And now I have to make mine.”
Coulson blasts open the floor of the lab, and Hall falls directly into the device. I have no doubt we’ve just seen the birth of a supervillain. He appears to be completely annihilated.
“Deepest level of The Fridge.” This thing is gone. It’s all the way buried. Coulson explains that no one is allowed to know where it is or what it is.
“You’re making a habit of these close calls.”
May is ready for combat. She’s not sitting on the sidelines anymore. She is fully onboard now.
And so, it appears, is Skye. She’s had her moment. She opens up to Ward. She was a foster kid. She had one house when she was nine, and she was sent back after a month. That was her third placement, and the first time she really wanted to stay. She was told it “wasn’t a good fit,” and she talks about how much she wanted it. She called the woman, Mrs. Brody, “Mom” one time and she knew it was a mistake right away.
Skye says she’s spent her life rejecting others before they can reject her, and now she’s willing to put herself out there on the line. She wants this. She is willing to get hurt.
“And there is such a thing as a truth serum,” she adds.
“Whatever you say, rookie,” Ward replies.
If last week was the beginning of some chemistry coming together, then this week is a huge confident step forward. I like that this is a very real and direct introduction of a character I have to assume is going to be an ongoing presence in the Marvel Universe, and that that at the same time, the team appears to genuinely be a team now. Sure, there are still some adjustments being made, but during the actual mission to get Hall out of Quinn’s compound, and during the investigation leading up to it, they aren’t fumbling or unsure at all. They are shown to be very good at what they do this time, and it’s starting to feel like the show is settling down as well, finding a rhythm, an identity. This still may not be the best possible “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, but it’s growing from week to week, and that’s encouraging.
We see that the remnants of the accident have indeed been locked away, and once everyone is gone, even the identifying badge is taken off the door. Inside, we see a hand emerge from the magnetic goop. This is definitely not over.
You can read our recap of each episode of “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D” right here each Tuesday night.