[This is a review of AoS Episode 3. There Will Be SPOILERS.]

This week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD, “The Asset”, takes a welcomed step away from any sky tales and trips to Peru. Instead, Malta is this episodes setting – perhaps its most important – as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  attempts to tell the origin story of how Franklin Hall (Ian Hart), a brilliant physicist, becomes the super villain comic book fans know as Graviton.

As with the previous two episodes, a lofty and ambitious tale is weaved on what (still) appears to be a poorly-utilized shoestring budget. All the dressings of a technologically advanced, global adventure are there in theory – and are, at times, extremely compelling. What still undermines the series, however, is its foundation (or lack thereof).

In the three weeks that Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  has been on the air, the series has yet to truly provide a foundation for these tales to exist. Coulson (Clark Gregg), the beloved icon from the movie franchise, is somehow alive and is surrounded by a team of experts who don’t really do all that much, are not really different from any other fictional secretive team, and are largely unknown.

Mysteries are great for evolving characters and keeping viewers anticipating what’s next; unfortunately, with S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s almost impossible to tell what’s next – or what’s currently happening for that matter – because the only thing that really connects the episodes is Coulson’s mysterious rebirth, which, at this point, has become a bit of a moot subject (it’s pretty much one of these theories, right?).

Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  still feels weak in its third week (ha…) and still very much like a pantomime, one could make a strong argument that the series, in its current form, would make a terrific radio play. Yes, the musical accompaniments are over-the-top; and yes, the visuals are more of what Fringe would have been if WB put it on The CW instead of Fox; and yes, the dialogue is campy and often unnecessary. Yet still, in audible form, with a bit of imagination replacing the visuals of ABC, S.H.I.E.L.D. could be great. As it currently stands, the series is much like Coulson’s mystery: unnecessarily confusing and underwhelming.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been any evolution to the series – it’s just been in all the wrong places. Seeing Ian Hart on S.H.I.E.L.D.  after his fantastic work on FX’s Dirt is always enjoyable, even if his character – and acting talents – are wholly underutilized in this episode. In what may be a surprise to many, Ghost Whisperer’s David Conrad steps in as Ian Quinn, one the (many?) nemeses of S.H.I.E.L.D. , and really helps to sell the story at hand. As for S.H.I.E.L.D. , it may very well be Ming Nah’s character, Melinda May, who turns out to be the saving grace of this series.

Though Coulson is put front and center in almost every situation, May is literally – but also emotionally – held back. Her silent-but-deadly persona may have been a bit off-putting at first, but in this episode, May’s slight comments to Coulson and her largely cautious demeanor helps to pull viewers in to the overall story that’s attempting to be told – which is what should have happened in the pilot.

Now three weeks in, the future and direction of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  still remains uncertain – and for a good reason: it hasn’t yet earned the season 2 pickup it will likely receive anyway. Still, somewhere in there, outside of Disney’s need for the show to work, there’s a glimmer of hope that a beautiful tale of technology, superheroes and Coulson will emerge. And if it does, it’ll be through Melinda May – so keep an eye on her.

_____
Agents of SHIELD returns next Tuesday with “Eye-Spy” @8pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: