Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Recap, Episode 4: ‘Face My Enemy’
The fourth season of Agents of SHIELD's second season will probably be remembered mostly for its fightin' -- both because the fightin' was memorable and because the rest of the episode wasn't especially. But that doesn't mean the show's regressed to season one levels, even in spite of so many season one plots stinking up the place.
So what was good, what was bad, and what wonderful new treats from the Marvel Universe did the show throw at us this week? (Prepare to be disappointed on that front.) ComicsAlliance has all the answers in our patent-pending SHLEID recap of 'Face My Enemy', directed by Kevin Tancharoen and written by Drew Z. Greenberg.
We open on priests, a burned-down church, and a miraculously saved painting -- with Kree math on the back! (I'm going to call those mystery sigils "Kree math" until we know any better.) Yes, I did spend a good half minute trying to work out which Marvel characters have painting-based powers, because that's who I am.
May (Ming-Na Wen) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) go undercover at a fancy soiree to try to get to the suspect painting, which is evidently moving up in the world, ditching the priests to hang out with posh folk. The rest of the SHIELD gang hang out on the Wingycarrier. Oh, yay, the wingycarrier is back. More scenes set on that dingy plane. Yaaaay.
With SHIELD-hatin' Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) sniffing around at the painting party, May and Coulson try to grab the mystery art -- but Talbot already nabbed it for his secret masters at... HYDRA. Dun dun duuuun.
May goes to Talbot's hotel to reconnoiter, only to immediately uncover the HYDRA connection -- because those crazy villains can't even keep their logo off their document folders. "Talbot" turns out to be Whitehall's lackey Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) with a fancy camouflage mask. May is taken down, and HYDRA's Agent Q (Maya Stojan, formerly SHIELD's Agent 33) assumes her identity. (Because wearing a mask changes your entire body, duh.)
FakeMay sabotages the Wingycarrer, but it's OK; Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) and Hunter fix it and then go bond over beers. More importantly, FakeMay leads Coulson into a trap at the hotel... but Coulson calls her bluff, and RealMay breaks out to kick her ass. For, like, ten minutes. The last act of the episode is basically May-on-May violence. May wins, Coulson gets the painting. (Blissfully, there is no "which one of you should I shoot' moment. Kudos, Agents of SHIELD; that's exactly the sort of corny cliche you usually run to like a sticky child fired at an ice cream truck.)
To celebrate their victory, Coulson orders May to shoot him in the head of he ever goes Kree-Krazy. He knows how to have a good time, that Coulson.
In the kicker, Kyle MacLachlan's henchscientist Raina (Ruth Negga) gets grabbed by HYDRA senior Nazi Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), who gives her 48 hours to return the Obelisk or else the jewellery he just gave her will kill her. Sorry, kids, but baddy and baddy are fighting now.
So it was a May/Coulson episode. And I liked the May parts. She got to play against character in some amusing ways. She got to fight. Her fake laughter at the party was great, as was the scene where she decides to just walk through a laser grid because, screw it. And she looked sensational in that dress.
And honestly, I'd probably watch a whole hour of May fighting May, even if the need to hide the stunt actors' faces remains the second most egregiously clumsy effect in modern television, after, "I have a fake hand and my arm is mysteriously several inches longer than it should be."
The fight was otherwise excellent -- I watched a string of director Kevin Tancharoen's Mortal Kombat shorts this past weekend, and while they don't have anywhere near enough fighting, Tancharoen clearly knows how to frame a fight, and Wen knows how to deliver the moves, so it's a big step up from this show's usual action sequences.
I was glad to see some banter between the shieldees on the plane. Those scenes helped round out the relationships between the old and new crew, and even gave Mack some small, tiny, teensy sliver of characterisation. I think actor Henry Simmons has tremendous presence, but the script is giving him next to nothing.
Sorry, sorry; this is meant to be the highlights section. I always enjoy seeing spies at glitzy bashes. On SHIELD it comes across more Alias "caper" than Bond suavity, but Agents of SHIELD could benefit from regular injections of either one in its DNA. The show is having a dark season, and it helps enormously, but a touch of glamor doesn't hurt. Glamor can be dark.
This was the weakest episode since the show came back. But, here's the surprise; it wasn't bad. It just lacked a compelling plot -- but made up for it with better-than-usual characterization. I'd still comfortably place this episode above most --- maybe all -- of season one. At this point I could very happily forget season one ever happened, but they keep reminding me with all those dangling plots.
Speaking of which: I was not so excited about the Coulson part of this May/Coulson episode. Because he's a bit of a drag, let's be honest. Coulson is season one incarnate, and all those leaden plot threads are an albatross around his neck. Yes, a leaden albatross. That's how burdensome it is.
And for an episode focused on May and Coulson, it sure seemed to be preoccupied with mainly Coulson and a bit of what May thinks about Coulson. I get that May is the quiet, enigmatic type, but I think a case could be made for saying she deserves an actual plot of her own. Ming-Na Wen is one of the show's best players, and thus far she's had about as much plot as Mack.
Coulson working out that FakeMay is a fake by inviting her for coffee -- omg but May hates coffee omg -- was the weakest part of the episode. You know why? I hate coffee. But if someone invites me out for coffee, and I want to hang out with that person, I just say yes! And then I order tea, because places that serve coffee usually serve tea, and maybe they don't serve good tea, and maybe they don't know that the tea goes in the pot/mug before the water, or what temperature the water should be, but I'm still going to drink that weak Red Rose trash rather than choke down a coffee if we "go out for coffee." Apparently Coulson would punch me in the face because of this. The only people who get to punch me in the face when I go out for coffee is the barista when I tell them how to make my goddamned tea!
There was a mask that changed people's faces. It changed my face into :(
And by "everyone", I mean "me." I am done with that guy. This episode seemed to be the start of his reintegration into the group since his brain damage at the end of last season, but I really want the show to cut him lose. Anything the showw does to resolve his trauma will look glib if it doesn't come at a high price. On the other hand, if the show doesn't resolve his trauma he'll be unfit to serve. In this episode he couldn't get the word "explosion" out before things started exploding! Was that a comedy bit? A man with a brain injury struggling to warn his friends that they're about to blow up is a weird comedy bit, Agents of SHIELD!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the real reason Mack is in this show -- yet being kept largely in the background -- is so he can replace Fitz as the team's mechanical engineer when Ward breaks out and tragically kills Fitz. That would be dramatically satisfying and have consequences for everyone else in the cast!
I guess what I'm saying is, this show needs to fridge Fitz.
Why was this episode about a stupid mask? And not, say, The Eel, or Angar the Screamer?
Are Coulson and Talbot flirting? I'm pretty sure they're flirting. I'm into it.
What did Whitehall put on Raina's hand? The weird jewel thing that's going to maybe kill her; what is it? Is it the Eel? Is it Angar the Screamer? No? Then maybe I don't care.
Is Raina going to wear gloves when she goes back to Kyle MacLachlan's volcano base? Isn't he going to notice that she's wearing gloves? Gloves are pretty conspicuous, especially if you're always wearing breezy floral summer dresses.