In the pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we saw the origin of a potential superhero, Mike Henderson. But the Marvel Universe is not all rainbows and capes. In the third episode of the new series, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are on a mission to prevent the origin of a super-villain.
The episode opens as S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Franklin Hall is kidnapped by a stealth team that uses a tiny device with the power to lift a semi truck into the air and bring it crashing down.
The device is powered by gravitonium, a newly discovered element that can alter the forces of gravity — and it turns out Dr. Hall is the world’s leading expert on the stuff. Are your Spidey-senses tingling? You’re not the only one.
That someone, it would seem, is billionaire playboy bachelor Ian Quinn, whom Coulson and the gang track down as Dr. Hall’s captor given the easily traceable gold bars Quinn used to pay off a minor player in his heist (that’s what you get for showing off). Quinn and Hall studied at Cambridge together, where Hall first developed his theories on gravitonium. After graduation Hall joined S.H.I.E.L.D. and became a highly guarded government scientist; meanwhile Quinn developed a global mining empire and purchased a compound on the island of Malta, a haven from international law (don’t get your hopes up libertarians; real life Malta is a member of the European Union and thoroughly ensconced in international law).
Coulson and the gang must devise a plan to save Hall without sending in a strike team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (prohibited by Malta law). Fitz proposes a super solid plan involving a monkey that could slip through the pulse laser emitting fences and disable the censor’s power sources with his adorable little hands (please let this become a running gag; I loved how seriously Coulson almost took this!).
Sky suggests pulling an inside job, using her Rising Tide hacker cred to score an e-vite to Quinn’s conveniently-timed investor’s gala. Fitz-Simmons equip Skye with a Bond-ish compact mirror that can disable the fences and get Agents Ward and Coulson access to the compound secretly.
Shortly after Skye arrives at the party Quinn attempts to lure her to his freedom of information, anti-government side, which seems pretty much straight up older hacker Skye’s alley. Skye’s loyalties are still shaky, especially since she’s kept up communications with Rising Tide behind S.H.I.E.L.D.’s back. When Skye destroys her S.H.I.E.L.D. earpiece it looks like all hope is lost but she ends up activating her Bond gadget in the nick of time.
So mission success right? Dr. Hall is saved, the day is over? Wrong.
Coulson finds Hall in Quinn’s underground lab but soon learns that Hall has no intention of being saved. It turns out he leaked the information about his transportation in hopes of being kidnapped by Quinn. After Hall learned Quinn got a hold of gravitonium, he developed a plan to send Quinn and his new super-powered weapon to the bottom of the ocean.
Hall says Quinn is “addicted to exploiting opportunities … never giv[ing] a thought to the friends, ecosystems, future generations ruined in his wake” (snaps for the scathing anti-capitalist rant). Coulson points out that Hall could’ve worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. on this, but Hall rightly points out that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own blind quest for a limitless energy source (the Tessaract) make it just as guilty of the same thing.
Oh, those super-villains always seem so vindicated! But to avert the entire island’s immersion into the ocean, Coulson has no choice but to use Dr. Hall’s body as a catalyst to interrupt the energy of the gravatonium device. Coulson orders S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to store the device deep in the org's underground vaults, but in the post-credit sequence we see Dr. Hall’s molten hand emerge from the elemental core.
This is the origin of Graviton.
What works: In a huge improvement from last episode, the writers have begun to drop some pretty compelling character back story. This episode we learn that Skye is a high school drop-out who grew up in foster homes and learned early that if you never really want anything, you won’t get disappointed when you don’t get it. We also learn about Ward’s abusive older brother, and how protecting his younger siblings turned him into an agent.
While May took to the sidelines this episode, hopefully for the last time, we learned a tantalizing tidbit about one of the side effects of Coulson’s near death experience: he’s lost his reflexes. He’s a clone, you guys. I’m calling it. Or a cyborg. Or a Life Model Decoy.
Even Fitz and Simmons are working (I’m as shocked to hear me say it as you are). Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen use Skye’s earpiece to perfectly incorporate FitzSimmons into the action for comic effect without turning them into token bumbling geeks.
What doesn’t: Now’s the time for the writers to develop arcs that last longer than a single episode (you know, besides the romance between Skye and Ward).
They dropped the ball on Skye’s mysterious texts to the Rising Tide, making this episode seem a bit disjointed form the last.