This review contains spoilers.
2.4 Face My Enemy
At the four episode mark last year, a few people had probably already started getting fed up with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and switching off (even though Eye Spy was one of the strongest from that period).
This year though, the show is in undeniably rude health, with a fourth episode that boasts action, laughs, espionage and links to the MCU – viewers who’ve lasted the distance are being continually rewarded for their faith, it would seem. The show has rarely let up the pace since Captain America: The Winter Soldier rattled the cage, and this week we continue to see the fallout of that film’s revelations playing out in gleefully entertaining fashion.
As with last week, it’s another direct confrontation between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA at the fore in Face My Enemy. However, first-time S.H.I.E.L.D. scribe Drew Greenberg finds cunning ways to freshen up the formula. By tapping into some certified MCU tech, namely the identity-swapping face mask we saw Black Widow don in The Winter Soldier, we were treated to a twisty espionage-heavy thriller of an episode here.
This cinema-standard technology (which looked great, too) opened doors to mixing up the way our core characters interact. The red herring of Talbot’s involvement had a great pay-off, for example, playing on and subverting our expectations for the character.
Also, by pairing a suspicious Coulson with a fake May, Greenberg invoked memories of X-Men’s Joss Whedon-written ‘you’re a dick’ moment, with a smart bit of deduction from our no-longer-sidelined S.H.I.E.L.D. director Coulson. It was great fun to see Phil back in the field – we’ll never get tired of hearing him shout ‘yo!’ before dishing out a knuckle salad. The iris gadget he got play with looked solid visually, too.
Additionally, by pitting May against her other self in a well-shot, thumpingly-scored fight sequence, new-to-S.H.I.E.L.D. director Kevin Tancharoen used his experience from Mortal Kombat: Legacy to highlight how far the action elements of the show have come since the early days. It was a creative sequence combining double vision with knives, poles, electrical cables and May’s always welcome stern attitude. It arguably surpassed Arrow’s ‘Oliver versus The Arrow’ scenes from last week’s Arrow season premiere, which is certainly an achievement.
Away from the main action, there was heaps of character development and team interaction to enjoy this week, too. Although we were slightly disappointed to see so much of imaginary-Simmons after Fitz’s advancement last week, it was nonetheless excellent to see Fitz gradually re-entering the main team dynamic here.
As bad as it sounds, it’s worth reiterating how far brain damage has really helped his character. He’s more multifaceted now, with his usual chatty, monkey-obsessed persona competing for dominance with his new darker, less confident side. The script found ways to integrate this more troubled Fitz into the main action this time, through a wonderful (though brief) pairing with the ‘no technical skills whatsoever’ Lance. Fitz’s attempts at high-fiving, grabbing a cold one and chatting about ex-girlfriends were a heart-warming coda to the main story here, and it’s great to see that the show still finds time to fit these emotional moments into such a packed episode.
Speaking of Lance, Nick Blood seems to be doing a stronger job than pre-HYDRA Ward ever did of playing the younger male lead. A lot of this episodes laughs came from him again (‘demonic hell beast’, his ‘magnetism’ to females, proclaiming his technical genius), without these slices of dialogue ever seeming like a forced or unfunny misfire.
Even though Mack somehow seems more developed than Agent Tripplet (despite having appeared in far less episodes), cast-members old and new have arguably blended together very nicely now. The group chat scenes this week, while May and Coulson were out on assignment, highlighted how strong the cast has become. Even with little to do, we still enjoyed spending time with the whole team. We’d argue that the show finally feels like it has a laugh-laden, emotionally-invested group chemistry to begin rivalling other such properties with Whedon names in the credits.
Villain-wise, the show survived without a super-powered element this week thanks to some excellent menace from the HYDRA foot-soldiers. Doctor Daniel Whitehall, portrayed by an intimidatingly calm Reed Diamond, continues to intrigue and impress too. He certainly has our attention more than Centipede or The Clairvoyant did at this time last year.
On the subject of longer arcs, Coulson’s contingency plan foreshadowing this week has us wondering whether the show will take a turn even further into darkness. We’d certainly welcome a few tough moral dilemmas for the central players, so are looking forward to seeing where this thread leads.
Contrastingly, the reappearance of Raina failed to inspire, as a pre-credits sting teed her up for next week. Despite having turned up in more episodes than most villains, we still feel like we don’t really know much about her character, which makes it difficult to care about her fate or get excited about her return. It looks like she’ll be forced to hand in The Obelisk next week – we’re hoping that she can turn in some character development, too.
Also – after the DoG comment thread of last week, how great was it to see HYDRA finally caught out for having their logos on everything this week? Their marketing department are presumably getting a slap on the wrist as we speak for not making more covert-operations-friendly folders.
Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Making Friends And Influencing People, here.
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