So if the S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot was all about assembling the team and the second episode about teaching said team how to play nice together, Episode 3, "The Asset," is really the first business as usual outing in the show’s young history, with Coulson’s squad tackling a straightforward mission-of-the-week case as a (mostly) functioning unit. It’s more or less like what The Avengers sequel will probably be like since they took care of the assembling/infighting stuff in the first movie. Only, you know, with more money and better actors.
This case of the week involves the kidnapping of a S.H.I.E.L.D.-affiliated scientist by the name of Dr. Franklin Hall -- not to be confused with the hawkish Carter Hall, who flies the friendly skies for Marvel’s Distinguished Competition -- retrieved from a disguised Mack Truck in a pretty great cold open that features lots of gravity-defying car flipping. Hall is than transported to the exotic European locale of Malta, where he comes face-to-face with former pal, Ian Quinn, a Rand Paul-meets-Steve Jobs entrepreneur with a taste for creating cutting edge technology and a firm belief in limited (or, better yet, no) government oversight.
Hall is none too pleased to see his old "friend," due to the fact that Quinn basically built his empire on Franklin’s work, but his interest is piqued when Ian reveals he’s finally harnessed an element that they had spent their previous collaboration looking for: Gravitonium, which apparently hails from the James Cameron Periodic Table of Elements. According to the crack Fitz/Simmons double act o’ exposition, this particular bit of phlebotinum "distorts gravity fields within itself creating an undulating amorphous shape," that solidifies when it meets an electric current and results in explosions that "change the rules of gravity." Got all that? No? Don’t worry, here’s the important part: stuff goes boom, down becomes up.
Our heroes’ mission, which they have no real choice but to accept: infiltrate Quinn’s compound (acting independently as S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently isn’t welcome in Malta) and rescue Hall, whom Fitz/Simmons hold in very high regard. The plan they hit upon requires Skye to do her best Sydney Bristow impression -- complete with the cleavage-baring outfit -- and invite herself to a big Quinn-hosted party and distracting the host by pretending to be a Rising Tide follower as opposed to a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. (Though after last week’s text message, it’s still an open question whether that’s her correct job description anyway.) For a brief moment, she appears to go off book, blowing her cover and contemplating switching over to Quinn’s team, but that impulse quickly passes and she opts to run away instead. Clearly, her Sydney Bristow impression needs a lot of work. In everything but the wardrobe department.
Meanwhile, Ward and Coulson sneak onto the grounds and split up, with Ward coming to Skye’s rescue and Coulson confronting Hall, who has decided he doesn’t want to leave Malta without seeing the lovely beaches up close and personal -- by using Quinn’s Gravitanium device to sink the dude’s house and lab in the ocean, thus sparing the world the havoc it might wreak. Hall wreaks a little havoc himself, setting off an explosion that knocks Coulson to the
floor ceiling and, in general, talking like the kind of mad scientist who, it turns out, would set his own kidnapping in motion. Coulson’s having none of it, though, opting to shoot out the window floor, causing Hall to plunge directly into the whirling, crackling Stargate-looking contraption below, from which he’ll probably emerge as Graviton just in time for sweeps. Or a lot sooner if the ratings don’t get a Gravitanium-assisted bounce.
On the personal front, Ward and Skye continue their chemistry-free foreplay by indulging in a little game of "getting to know you" in between punching bag sessions (He used to get beat up by his brother! She was an unwanted foster kid! They fight crime! No really, they do…); Fitz inadvertently reveals his favorite two things about Skye; Simmons continues her search for a personality; Melinda finally gets tired of having to stay on the plane all the time (and only having one facial expression) and volunteers for field duty; and Coulson talks a lot about being "rusty," which has nothing to do with the fact that he’s almost certainly a robot AT ALL. -- Ethan Alter
We open on a commercial truck speeding along a road somewhere in the Rockies, if its markings of "Rocky Mountain Office Supply: Colorado's Office Supply Superstore" are an indication. Kind of shocking that this show, with its budget, isn't courting promotional considerations from one of the Goliath triumvirate of Staples/Office Depot/OfficeMax, but as it turns out they have reasons to go generic here. The driver, who I'll say looks the part, sings along to a country song on the radio as he sips a Big Gulp equivalent. Then we get our first indication that all might not be as it seems when "Little Boy" gets a call on the CB from "Big Boy" requesting a status update, and the driver reports that they got through the weigh station and "the cargo" is secure; the reference sounds a little careful and important to be dealing solely with goldenrod paper and erasable pens. Two expected escorts in black SUVs move into positions to the truck's front and rear, but no sooner has that happened than does something cause the lead vehicle to shoot a rather spectacular distance up into the air with the result that it crashes upside-down with enough impact that one of the wheels falls off.
The truck driver mutters "Bitch" (I assume he's not talking about the possibly-dead woman in the SUV) as he tries to swerve around the wreckage and still maintain control; successful in that effort, he (Agent Mack is his name, which haha for a truck driver) then pulls up a computer display on his windshield and reports to S.H.I.E.L.D. that they're under attack -- at which point the other SUV, having moved to the front, also flies into the air as if suddenly caught in an impossibly powerful wind stream. The driver, understandably unable to comprehend what he's up against, doesn't come up with any sort of defense, which is just as well since it's only moments before the truck itself is pulled up into the air and then summarily dropped. Soon after, the cab is a smoking mess but the cargo hold seems relatively undamaged -- that is, until a forklift flanked by several men in camo gear, appears from off-road and quickly rips the thing open. The men toss aside the concealing office-supply boxes to get to the S.H.I.E.L.D. safe within, and after a quick shot of someone working with a blowtorch and welding gear, they cut through to reveal a bald, bespectacled man who wonders, "Are we there yet?" That is frankly silly no matter how you slice it, but it's still a pretty solid cold open with which to kick us off. Title card.