NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are present in this review.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to shed a bit of the darker tone that it’s been carrying since the start of the second season, to mixed effect, but still with the result of an enjoyable episode overall. Key plotlines continued to move forward, and while the absence of another recognizable Marvel super-villain was a bummer this week, we at least got some promising teases for episodes to come later in the season.
To start, Coulson and May infiltrate an art benefactor party, looking for a painting that appears to have Coulson’s strange involuntary carvings on it. The building dread that Coulson could be following the same mental degradation as John Garrett from last season provided some nice drama, and better still was the fact that May was finally given some great material to work with for the first time this season for the most part. It was rather unsurprising to see Coulson declare that he would want her to be his successor as S.H.I.E.L.D. director if anything happened to him, but the heavy moment at the end of the episode where Coulson twists May’s arm to kill him if he starts turning out like Garrett was the point where it was really illustrated just how much Coulson depends on May’s counsel and trust.
This came after some forced early moments in the episode, which felt like they went back to the Season One issue of trying too hard to force silliness and humour in some places. There was a genuinely funny moment when May is heard laughing loudly on the comms, and the crew back on the bus immediately assume that something is very wrong, but the rest of the banter felt a little forced.
Thankfully, this was only in the opening, as Coulson and May end up running into Colonel Talbot of all people at the party, and are forced to speed up their timetable. In reality though, it wasn’t actually Talbot at all, but an undercover HYDRA agent, who has also brought the brainwashed Agent 33 to festivities as well. The show initially tries to make it appear that Talbot is working for HYDRA, but longtime viewers won’t fall for this fake-out at all, since it flies in the face of Talbot’s portrayal in Season One especially.
This is when Black Widow’s face-changing technology from Captain America: The Winter Soldier came back into play, no doubt a spoil that HYDRA snatched during the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. during the events of that movie. After May gets captured, Agent 33 is then disguised as May in an attempt to neutralize Coulson, which is pretty cool. Naturally, Coulson eventually saw through the ruse however, when he brings up a coffee date that May apparently promised him, punching the woman in the face afterward, and revealing that May hates coffee.
This led to May taking over the fight for Coulson, who chased after the fake Talbot instead, and the battle between her and Agent 33 (still with May’s face, no less!) was easily the highlight of the episode. This episode happened to be helmed by Mortal Kombat: Legacy director, Kevin Tancharoen, and it shows, as the fight choreography, combined with the neat special effects of Ming-Na Wen fighting herself, was absolutely fantastic! I don’t want to spoil May’s moves here, but rest assured that she’s still quite the bruiser!
Outside of Coulson and May, everyone else spent the episode on the sidelines, left to idly chit-chat with one another. This did provide a great opportunity for Fitz to continue developing as a rebooted, mentally-addled character however, with the imaginary Simmons encouraging him to socialize with the group and re-join them. Fitz never stopped being part of the group, but his insecurities over his condition have made him become something of a loner. Fortunately, after Fitz manages to save the day, following HYDRA trying to sabotage and destroy the bus, he has a beer with the guys and realizes that he is indeed among friends, appearing to bid farewell to the imaginary Simmons in his mind in the process.
Fitz has far and away had one of the best overhauled portrayals in Season Two at this point, and the show separating him from Simmons and forcing him to battle both socially awkward neuroses and a brain condition that appears to nullify his talents has proven to be a stroke of genius. Seeing Fitz finally sit down and enjoy a beer with the rest of the guys at the end of the day is enough to bring a joyful tear to the eyes of fans, demonstrating that he’s found the drive to try and move on. Yes, Simmons will inevitably be back with the group later in the season, but it’s great to see that Fitz can be his own character without her, and can remain interesting without her.
As much as there was some good development for future episodes however, “Face My Enemy” did come off as a bit of a filler episode at times. It was still a good one, but it felt like it was largely setting up for future episodes, and simply taking a brief sojourn from rounding up established Marvel baddies. Thankfully, this episode’s epilogue will get viewers excited for next week, with Raina being cornered in her car by Doctor Whitehall, and being threatened with an untimely end if she doesn’t get The Obelisk from Coulson and give it to HYDRA in under forty-eight hours.
Whitehall’s intentions remain frustratingly unclear at this point, but the later episodes should hopefully have a good payoff to a character that clearly has quite the hidden motive. The same is true of Skye’s father, who also appears to be getting set up for actual material next week.
“Face My Enemy” slipped in quality a bit from the previous episodes so far this season, but it did at least finally let May have the spotlight, as well as providing a very well-earned character moment for Fitz. This episode felt like the show was having to recharge after a trio of high-quality, action-packed episodes, but thanks to its promising plot foundations, it should hopefully lead to some great material next week.
"Face My Enemy" delivered a lighter, slower episode, albeit one that finally focused on Coulson and May, and continued to make Fitz's struggles a standout plot element.