Before we talk about the narrative failings in this week’s new, still mediocre episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, I have to ask what’s going on with the show’s sound mixing? It just sounds awful on broadcast. At first, I thought this must be a local affiliate issue, but a reader commented on last week’s recap about experiencing the same problem. Sound quality is often underrated and misunderstood as to how much it can affect a viewer’s enjoyment of a movie or TV show. I’ve often noticed that ABC programs tend to have muddy, fatiguing audio, but this particular soundtrack (including the generic, droning musical score) is worse than most and does the series no favors at all.
Last week, I complained about the show’s crappy CGI visual effects. Amazingly, episode ‘The Asset’ opens with a pretty decent set-piece involving S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs getting picked up and flung through the air by an invisible force. For a moment, I thought this might mark a notable improvement in the show’s production values. But then a similar effect involving a tractor trailer rig looked cheesy as hell, and my hopes deflated again. Ah well…
The hijacking of the tractor trailer was to facilitate the kidnapping of brilliant scientist Dr. Franklin Hall (Ian Hart from ‘Luck’). The perpetrator is super-rich villain Ian Quinn (David Conrad from ‘Ghost Whisperer’), who needs Hall’s expertise to work with an exceedingly rare, completely bullshit element called gravitonium, which can – you guessed it – disrupt and manipulate gravity. (Get it? It’s got “gravit…” right in the name!) Yeah, it’s a stupid comic book thing. Whatever. Quinn wants to use it to, I don’t know, rule the world. Or something. The specifics of what use the gravitonium could possibly have are either vague, or I just tuned out and stopped caring. There’s an equal chance of either of those possibilities.
Quinn operates out of Malta, which is apparently the only country on Earth where S.H.I.E.L.D. has no jurisdiction. As a result, Coulson and his team hem and haw about whether they can stage a rescue operation, until Skye, who technically isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent yet, volunteers to go in undercover. Using her Rising Tide creds and amazing computer skills, Skye hacks all the internets (all of them, I tell you!) and connives her way into getting an invitation to a party that Quinn is conveniently holding for no other purpose than to give Skye an excuse to slip into his mansion, and eventually fall into a swimming pool and run around soaking wet in a skin-tight red dress. Not that I objected to that last part, mind you, but it’s awfully gratuitous.
I think I skipped a few steps there. Eh, they’re not important. Anyway, Quinn offers Skye a job working for him, and the episode would like us to believe that she seriously considers it (since she’s still pretty ambivalent about the whole working-with-the-good-guys thing), but it’s all a ruse to lower Quinn’s defenses. Literally, lower his defenses, by turning off the laser fence (yes, another stupid comic book thing) around his compound so that Coulson and Ward can get in and try to rescue Dr. Hall.
Plot twist! It turns out that Dr. Hall doesn’t want to be rescued. No, not because he’s turned evil. Hall has played along with Quinn in order to get to the gravitonium, so that he can destroy it and prevent Quinn (or anyone else) from harnessing its dangerous potential. He’s willing to sacrifice his own life to do this, and the lives of any innocents who happen to be in the vicinity as well. He considers that to be collateral damage for the greater good.
Needless to say, Coulson isn’t down with this plan. After Hall pumps some electricity into a big floating sphere of gravitonium goo, gravity goes all wonky, and the two men walk around on the walls and ceiling, re-enacting scenes from ‘Inception’. The visual effects in this part of the episode are… not too embarrassing, I guess. So, that’s good.
On the radio, techie nerds Fitz and Simmons warn Coulson that the gravitonium will explode or something unless he can find a catalyst to neutralize it. And by “catalyst,” they apparently mean “anything at all.” Really, anything. Just chuck something at the undulating blob of oily, explosive gook, and that will neutralize it. Because that’s how science works.
Coulson and Hall argue some more until Coulson, lacking any other handy catalysts, decides to shoot out a window that Hall is standing on, causing Hall to fall into the gravitonium (conveniently, gravity happens to be working in that direction at the moment, so that he’ll fall into it, rather than get pushed away from it), turning Hall into the catalyst that neutralizes the gravitonium.
Coulson feels a little bad about having to murder the guy, but, you know, collateral damage… greater good… yadda yadda… all the stuff Hall had yapped about.
He needn’t beat himself up about it. After the gravitonium is locked away out of sight in a secure S.H.I.E.L.D. vault, we see a hand reach out of it. Ooooooohhhhhh….. Thus, we have the origin story for minor league, totally forgettable super-villain Graviton, who will probably never be seen again before the show is canceled, which may not be too long from now.
All things considered, the show’s third episode is somewhat less awful than the second, but it’s still boring and predictable and pretty lame. This one puts a lot of focus on Skye, who’s starting to realize the value of being part of a team, and self-sacrifice, and doing the right thing, and other terribly important life lessons that I just can’t give a crap about because I don’t care at all about the character.
I don’t want to hate the show. I swear, I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt that it’ll get better, but thus far, it’s just not very good, and my patience is wearing thin.