Agents of SHIELD: 204 “Face My Enemy” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Remember this time last year, when four episodes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had tried the patience of a good proportion of its viewers and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of improvement? Remember when people had written the show off as Marvel’s first big misfire in the realm of visual media and the first move on the company’s inevitable downward trajectory?
How things have changed.
“Face My Enemy” continues the second season’s streak of quality, as Coulson and May go undercover to try and steal a painting, the back of which is covered in familiar-looking alien symbols and is being coveted by certain other organizations. It also reintroduces a certain piece of technology used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to great effect and begins to show the cracks in Hydra’s armour.
The cover which Coulson and May go under is of a married couple attending a party/auction for the painting, and it involves them dancing and flirting while Coulson attempts to have a conversation with May about killing him should he start to go the way of John Garrett, a conversation which May clearly does not want to have. Their festivities are made even more awkward by the presence of General Talbot in full ridiculous-moustachioed glory (no matter how many times I see it, I’m not going to get over the ridiculousness of his facial hair, so get used to those comments), although his brief conversation with Coulson suggests a cooling of the relationship between them.
However, it is not actually Talbot who is in attendance at the event, but Bakshi the sinister Hydra agent wearing the aforementioned S.H.I.E.L.D. technology, an identity-swapping electronic mask much like the one that Black Widow wore in The Winter Soldier to impersonate Jenny Agutter, which is a phrase I never thought I’d write. Further use of this piece of tech is made when the Hydra agents manage to incapacitate May and put a May-mask on Agent 33, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned by Daniel Whitehall last week.
She goes to bring Coulson in, but does a bad job of impersonating May and winds up receiving a swift punch to the face, followed by a significant and very well-choreographed beating from May. The action sequences in this episode were impressively put together by veteran fight director Kevin Tancharoen (who earned his chops directing the surprisingly good web-series based on the Mortal Kombat videogames), and the combat between May and her sort-of doppelganger looks great throughout the extended sequence.
Elsewhere, the rest of the team get stuck on the Bus as doppel-May knobbles the transport with a virus which spreads quickly through the systems, blowing each of them up in turn. Unfortunately, the only one on the plane who knows how to stop the virus is Fitz, and he’s pretty wrapped up in talking to imaginary Simmons and generally not being very happy. He stands on the sidelines as the rest of the team talk about exes, from Hunter’s ‘demonic hell-beast’ of an ex-wife to Mack’s ex who forced him to enjoy quinoa (the worst of crimes) and Skye’s former crush living in a cell underneath their base; and even though imaginary Simmons tells him to interact, he doesn’t seem keen.
However, when everything starts going boom, he teams up with Hunter to try and fix everything, as he needs someone else to be his hands. Their interaction is brief but incredibly enjoyable, and Hunter cements his place as one of the better new characters in the show: his comments about now being a ‘technological genius’ after his brief foray into the medium were some of the best of the season so far.
Overall, our time with the rest of the team is somewhat limited, but even watching them pass the time with idle chit chat has become a lot of fun as the chemistry between the actors has grown ever more engaging. It is the mark of a good ensemble cast that they are just as interesting to watch while doing nothing as when they are engaged in full-on action; for me, Team Coulson are rapidly approaching Buffy’s Scooby Gang as some of the best Whedon family characters out there, and that’s a big admission.
Anyway, as the episode wraps up we get a few different revelations: firstly, it turns out that the alien symbols on the back of the painting were brand new, meaning that there is someone else who is going through the same thing as Coulson, and by extension as Garrett; Coulson finally convinces May to kill him should the GH 325 in his system start to affect him, even though May shows him her own contingency plan of fleeing to Australia should anything go wrong. Then, on the other side of the conflict we see Raina confronted by Daniel Whitehall and forced into retrieving the Obelisk for Hydra: how well ‘the Doctor’ is going to take this remains to be seen, but we’ve already got a compelling long-form story arc going on with multiple sides with different motivations.
See what I mean about how far we’ve come?
Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really is going from strength to strength these days, and rather than waiting to see if it improves, as we were this time last year, we’re just waiting to see how much better it can really get. Judging by the overall quality of the first four episodes, we’re going to be going to some impressive places this year.