Agents of SHIELD: 203 “Making Friends and Influencing People” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
As the second season of Agents continues through the early stages, it is becoming clearer and clearer that in the ongoing war between the steadily reforming S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, the sides are far from even. Hydra have decades of growth, development and resources behind them, and the current Hydra-less incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a handful of agents, a couple of planes and not a whole lot else to play with. Not only that, but as “Making Friends and Influencing People” shows, Hydra has a massive advantage in their recruitment department.
The main thrust of the episode concerns Coulson’s ongoing struggles to recruit new agents to S.H.I.E.L.D., and the fact that Hydra seems to be grabbing agents from right under their noses. We first see the sinister truth behind Hydra’s recruitment drive as Whitehall, the immortal Hydra-Nazi from episode one, starts the brainwashing process on ‘Agent 33’; a process which involves pinning the subject’s eyes open and forcing them to watch a trippy moving magic eye picture in a very Clockwork Orange-esque style, all the while making lots of mentions of ‘compliance’. As seen at the episode’s close, this technique proves pretty effective, as Agent 33 ends up with a preference for all things Hydra.
However, the bigger news is that Simmons is now apparently working in one of Hydra’s labs doing unspecified biochemical research for an apparently indifferent supervisor. As it is obvious from the beginning that the mild-mannered Simmons would never really be working for Hydra, it is revealed early on in the episode that she is acting as a mole within the organization on Coulson’s behalf, but is stuck in a low-level position. Coulson suggests using her innate likeability to advance in the organization, but her initial attempts are met with an armed escort to her supervisor.
The reason for the confrontation is that Hydra’s latest target, and the one on whom Simmons was carrying out research is none other than Donnie Gill, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy student imbued with ice powers by the explosion of his weather machine. He is currently hiding in Morocco, and apparently freezing solid anyone who slightly irritates him, and then wondering why Hydra keep finding him: he manages to find out where they are based and goes to freeze more stuff until they stop, or something along those lines.
Meanwhile, back at S.H.I.E.L.D. base Skye is continuing with her training and occasional interrogation of beardy Ward, who tells her that Hydra’s recruitment process when it comes to Gifted individuals is pretty brutal: if they don’t come in willingly or allow themselves to be captured, they are killed on the spot, as a Gifted who refuses to work with Hydra is counted as a ‘threat’. They share some more information, including a couple of interesting mentions of Ward’s family as ‘loved’ by the general public, and then Skye screws everything up by accidentally allowing Fitz to realise that Ward is the ‘asset’ she has been questioning.
A scene follows in which Fitz confronts the man who is entirely responsible for his current condition, and it is one of the most intense sequence present in Agents so far. Upon seeing him, Fitz has a near-breakdown as Ward offers some ultimately meaningless platitudes about how it is ‘good to see’ Fitz, and that his choice to eject Fitzsimmons from the Bus instead of simply killing them outright was done out of compassion, giving them a fighting chance which they took. However, Fitz responds by telling Ward what his actions caused, that he has brain damage and may never get back to his former self: then, he demonstrates this to Ward by lowering the oxygen levels in his laser-cage and damn near killing the man who took pretty much everything from him. In fact, the only thing that really saves Ward is his revelation that Donnie Gill is actually a Hydra agent already, and the mission in Morocco is not to recruit him, but to re-activate his brainwashing.
Speaking of which, everyone shows up to the party in Morocco: Bakshi, Simmons’ superior in the Hydra lab, has shown up along with Simmons herself and a metric ton of armed Hydra soldiers; and on the S.H.I.E.L.D. side Skye, May and Hunter all go into action. Events transpire so that Skye is forced to shoot a newly-reactivated Donnie, apparently killing him (although they pulled the old ‘his body was never found’ trick which suggests he will be coming back, possibly in an even more icy form), and Simmons is able to gain Bakshi’s trust, allowing her to advance in her position within Hydra; although the threat of brainwashing continues to hang above her should she reveal any element of her allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Finally, Ward reveals to Skye that her father is still alive and that, given the chance, he would take Skye to him. While Skye comes across cool as a cucumber, her heart rate monitor reveals otherwise, and the prospect of being reunited with her dad is apparently a pretty stressful one. Considering his sinister behaviour last week, and his apparently perpetually-bloody hands, I don’t really blame her.
There was a lot going on in “Making Friends and Influencing People”, which came together in a pleasing fashion and offered some very interesting revelations: seeing Big Bad Whitehall in creepy action as a master manipulator was great, and the aforementioned Fitz-Ward confrontation was very well-played. Overall, it was the best example so far of the ongoing S.H.I.E.L.D.-Hydra conflict, and continues to set up an intriguingly shadowy battleground for the rest of the season.