ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Making Friends & Influencing People TV Show Review. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 2, episode 3’s title, ‘Making Friends & Influencing People,’ perfectly summed up the course of the episode, behind the scenes at the ‘other half’ of this season’s primary conflict.
We got to see what Simmons, actual (Elizabeth Henstridge), has been up to, which was largely about making friends in very dangerous places. Recently inducted ex-merc, Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) had some making up to do, after going rogue with his first turn at bat; ground Agents May (Ming-na Wen) & Triplett (B.J. Britt) were not interested in having him recover without treading very lightly. We also got a peek behind the curtain, regarding HYDRA’s powers of persuasion – as mentioned by Ward (Brett Dalton) to Skye (Chloe Bennet) – which would be the “influencing people” part of the title. Throw in the continuing evolution of Skye, from hipster-hacker-in-jeopardy to stone cold killer, and the stage was set for the plot behind the episode’s twin themes: an effort to secure Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette).
Before we could get to any of this, however, there was the matter of the set up. I think it’s safe to say that a fixture of the ‘Whedonverse’ has been reducing matters of global domination/ salvation/ destruction to everyday mundane procedure. A secret army, battling the forces of evil, as an extension of a college curriculum, on Buffy; the arch-villains of Angel operating as a law firm; the bureaucracy behind the Dollhouse; Cabin in the Woods… ’nuff said.
The fact is, as scary as belligerence can be, nothing beats cold, calculating indifference as the face of villainy. Even though Agents has taken the ‘another day at the office’ route before (for last season’s finale), it still proved pretty effective, here. “The new #2” of the season seems ruthlessly efficient; his superior, Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond): the embodiment of the inhumanly procedural Nazi war criminal – after many, many decades of practice to his craft.
The point being made was that Simmons had traded a relatively sheltered gig, as Team Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) tech support, for working in a shark tank.
After having a hallucination standing in for her, two episodes into the second season, Simmons received a well deserved spotlight, this time around. The nature of her role, however, should draw comparisons to season one’s effort to toughen up the team’s tech support. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) was paired with Ward, on a field op, while Skye found herself relying on Simmons’ ability to lie (back when Skye was something of a thorn in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s side). Neither went well. While the Fitz-Ward bonding eventually proved tragic, the immediate outcome of the Skye-Simmons pairing established that Simmons was well out of her depths, for this episode.
By playing to lowered expectations, Simmons’ story achieved a level of tension, that has gone from fumbling the ball, to a real sense of danger. Simmons wasn’t just under a lot of pressure, she was under the gun.
Fitz, in the meantime, revisited the fallout from his own raised expectations of Ward. His ability to organize & express his thoughts may have been compromised, but Fitz has retained his powers of detailed observation. As he has been unable to relay this to anyone else – except Mack (Henry Simmons), to some degree – I suppose it was understandable that no one caught him picking up the trail that led to Coulson’s in-house ‘source’ of HYDRA intel. While it was not made clear if that fact kept Fitz from committing murder, it did indirectly contribute to Simmons’ salvation. Hopefully, their remotely parallel efforts will connect, somewhere down the line.
Between the revelation of Garrett’s personal recruitment drive, and the revelation of Donnie’s role, in his own escape, the second season may amount to a race, between S.H.I.E.L.D. & HYDRA, to round up ‘gifteds.’ I am inclined to interpret this as a promise of more superpowers & super agents to come. The character of Donnie Gill, himself (aka Blizzard), had evolved from homicidally disaffected youth, to a cagey asset with a payback plan. Still some room to grow an extra pair of icicles; but thanks to the resolution of the Skye thread, he may have some time to himself, to do just that, and maybe return as a proper supervillian. I could get used to that formula.
It was nice to see the writers & cast working towards making for some light-hearted – even funny – moments without resorting to hip/ cutesy quips. Allowing esprit de corps to serve as the impetus, to the Hunter payback running gag, not only suggested a greater depth to the team dynamic (season one amounted to a bunch of characters acting off each other, without a sense of off-screen bonding), but also suggested a new sense of consequence. The actions of any given character will amount to more than just a footnote, in future episodes. It was nice to see an effort to balance the characters. We got see May’s playful side, without her seeming out of character, for the script’s sake. Granted, it was the kind of playfulness you’d get out of a cat, if you were a mouse, but I liked it (wait for the True Lies tribute, with Coulson). Tripp managed to be menacing with a welcoming smile – that takes balance; while ‘pledge’ Hunter managed cocky with knowing his place, in the new team order. It was also nice to see Skye & May briefly touch on the season one team dynamic. I’ll take that as a subtle acknowledgement of just how far they’ve come, in terms of cast & crew; since the showrunners still insist that this was where the show was going, all along, and all.
Quick side note: I’d say a decent job of making the HYDRA TAC unit look practical-yet-intimidating, in a way that honored the source material without looking cartoony; good job on making Jemma’s escorts reduce her to a puny, fragile thing, by way of perspective size, and camera angles; and P90 assault rifles(!) – I was afraid this too-cool-for-The-Pentagon-just-perfect-for-Hollywood weapon went out with the Stargate franchise. Nothing says cutting edge intimidation like a Bullpup gun (consider the Governor, from The Walking Dead, and look closely at the Peacekeeper’s weapons, from Farscape). Okay, so maybe not so quick.
Reed Diamond made for pretty good baddie, on Dollhouse, in a stuffy 80s school principal sort of way. So far, on Agents, he seems to have been tapping into a Dr. Christian Szell/ Der weisse Engel vibe – I can almost picture him asking a subject “is it safe.” So far, Agents has been content with leaving Whitehall as the mysteriously well preserved menace-in-waiting – which, along with Dr. Arnim Zola, would make him representative of HYDRA, itself. The thing is, all WW2 veteran HYDRA operatives, left in a position to menace, have had a means of defying age/ cheating death. Zola was digitized, but Daniel Whitehall’s source gimmick may be of particular value to Agent’s early season two character developments.
Don’t hate me for saying so, Fitz fans, but a part of me expected Fitz taking a very dark turn, this season. Lingering anguish, resentment, and a Wonder Twin hallucination make for a decent basis for this. Between Mack’s influence, and the early breaking of the Ward scenario, however, things could go either way. If Whitehall turns out to be anything like his source character, there is a sizable opportunity for Fitz to both overcome his current state, then promptly go off the deep end.
Back in the day (as the hardest working man in the MCU), Coulson was the spook, dropping in unannounced, that you may have actually wanted to see (as opposed to the oh-so-imposing Nick Fury). For ‘Making Friends’ (and specifically that half of the episode), he got to be that guy, again, and then some – demonstrating why he had left such a warm impression with the big screen’s Pepper Potts character, I imagine. So far, second season Coulson has been focused, perceptive, and dangerously disarming; so whether it’s the creative powers, behind the character, all warmed up, or the role of Director (and getting away from a ‘bus’ full of charges) just suiting him better, some of that big screen presence seems to have finally settled in.
Three episodes in seems like a good place to declare the character fixes of Agents as having taken hold. What remains to be seen is whether the pace & direction, that has served to reintroduce the series, and establish the season, can be maintained. Season two is Agents‘ to lose; but so was season one.
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