ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Face My Enemy TV Show Review. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 2, episode 4, ‘Face my Enemy’ began with the revelation of the alien code scratched onto the back of a monastery painting – revealed as a result of being the only thing to survive the monastery burning to the ground. That ‘miracle’ provided the setup for a mission to retrieve said painting. It was a mission so important, that only Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), himself, and top operative, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), were to attempt it, with the rest of the team in the remote support role. It was a mission so delicate & daring, that special outfits needed to be worn, and – for May, in particular – the most insidious of cover personas adopted. It was a mission to the high-end fundraiser, to restore the monastery, and Team Philinda had to doll up & dance, as a wealthy married couple. Frankly, it took the showrunners long enough; but before I get into all that, two ground rules.
First of all: no references to ‘Philinda’ in a shipping context – the term shall be employed purely as a matter of expediency. Second: I will attempt to avoid any comment on May’s attire, for the duration of the episode – I imagine there will be more than enough all caps text contractions on the matter, across the boards.
‘Face my Enemy’ was, for the most part, a breather moment. Fans were offered more candid moments, from the larger cast, than usual (I’m guessing there may not be as much time in the second season time-table, for individual spotlights, as there was in the first), that, beyond Philinda, included a group bonding session, back at the Bus. A bonding session Simulant Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) was trying to get Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) to get in on. Despite Mack’s (Henry Simmons) positive influence, Fitz was still wary of interacting with the others, and stewing over Ward. I suppose getting the expanding cast, under more dire circumstances, to let their guard down was a form of fanservice – Philinda doing the True Lies super spies Tango certainly was.
Ah, but fanservice comes in many forms, and date night, for the grown ups of the Bus, also meant a chance to show off their field chops. After a whole lot of fun (mainly at tomboy-in-a-dress May’s expense) playing the blase couple, there was more fun to be had, of the infiltration/ smash-and-grab variety. To the that end: enter Talbot (Adrian Pasdar). Alright, a slightly inebriated Talbot; meant as an allowance for his his oddly amicable reaction to Coulson’s conciliatory face-to-face confrontation. He made Coulson an offer that was hard to refuse.
Now, a little of Agents‘ Talbot can go a long way; but the threat of his character becoming overbearing, for the series, still remains. For ‘Face my Enemy,’ however, we were treated to less Talbot than actually advertised. Good thing, too, because the HYDRA reveal would’ve been a bit much – particularly for source fans.
With Talbot already in possession of the painting, Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) saw an opportunity to add injury to insult. Coulson might have seen it, as well, as May was sent ahead of the scheduled meet, and came across Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) reading up on both her & Coulson. (Former S.H.I.E.L.D.) Agent 33 was the subject of Whitehall’s brainwashing (White-washing?), throughout ‘Making Friends & Influencing People,’ and apparently the treatment took. Reading up on May, however, did not prepare her for the real deal, as May got the better of her – only to be surprised, in turn, by Talbot.
It was here that uninitiated viewers were treated to a nifty piece of kit called a Bio-Mask. Add some of the subjects DNA (blood, in the case of Agent May), and the material conforms the subject’s exact features to your own. A previous example provided by Whitehall right hand, Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides), in a spiffy Talbot getup. Leave it to HYDRA to one-up the Philinda ocular mapping trick with Face Dancing.
There was kind of a pun to the title, you see.
Masked May set out to secure Coulson, sabotaging the Bus, on the way out. The payoff to the Philinda magic would be the when/ how of Coulson playing off of Masked May’s inability to play along; the payoff to Simulant Simmons’ efforts, to get Fitz back into team player mode, would come from the balance of the team being trapped in the compromised Bus, winding up to self-destruct; and the payoff to May Actual’s need to shed her domestic front would come from being at Bakshi’s mercy.
I was sort of hoping for the May interrogation to borrow, a bit, from the Black Widow interrogation (from the Avengers film, not the source material it was based on – which would have been prohibitively sweet); but I suppose keeping May grounded jibes with the show’s more gritty approach. It also made the comeuppance that much sweeter.
If the May interrogation was toned down, then the Bus team pulling together, under Fitz’s non-sequitur direction, was a ramping up of the classic red vs blue wire scenario. It also may have marked the official start of the Fitz comeback trail; definitively proving that Fitz not only had a lot to offer the team, but could still be a team player, under pressure. It seems Mack had a positive influence on team mates like Hunter (Nick Blood), as well. Some credit went to Hunter’s ability to be the hands to Fitz’s thought process. Nothing like a sudden, violent death, to serve as a bonding experience; so Fitz got to that drink with the crew, after all (somewhere, the spirit of Simmons looks upon this, smiling… oh, wait – there she is).
Now, when I think to myself “May on May action,” the various images whiz past like the virtual armory of The Matrix. While its probably for the best, that I can’t immediately single out a scenario (self-censorship should be a reality of the information age), there was a real concern over a certain staged clumsiness to that inevitable confrontation. It went better. Sure, there were still awkward bits; but it seems Agent 33 had taken some of May’s measure, after that first surprise encounter, and actually made a fight of it. A relatively dirty one, too (I do not miss the days of Dojo level hand-to-hand combat, onscreen – Krav Maga for everybody!). Bonus points for skipping the which-one’s-which scenario – I like keeping score.
Coulson getting Bakshi for a dance partner was strictly also-ran; but it was still satisfying to see Bakshi get dirtied up, some (not as satisfying as him first laying eyes on “I’m the bitch called payback” May, but yeah). Also satisfying: Team Philinda pulling off a flawless victory, with no “oh, well” upside for the bad guys, at the end. Throw in one more dig, at Talbot, actual, and it was all win.
Well, okay, not completely. The nature of the scratchings, HYDRA’s interest in them, and their recent origins, reduced the entire exercise to a single step, while its ties to Garrett cemented an Old Yeller contingency, between Coulson & May. If that wasn’t sobering enough, Whitehall, unable to end the episode with a salvaged win, at Team Coulson’s expense, took it out on the competition.
Raina (Ruth Negga) found herself well within his reach, and with that signature businesslike execution, Whitehall made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
With that last play on the title, ‘Face my Enemy’ took us back to the larger arc at hand; reminding viewers that there was much more to season two than occasional fanservice filler. It also took something of a bold step, in using Raina to make that point. Till now, Raina had always been the one voted “most likely to walk away unscathed, after all Hell broke loose.” Here, however, she was not only easily found, she was placed in real jeopardy. I may be alone on this, but I think enough has been invested in her, as an integral character, to place significant weight behind her new predicament – Agents thus making a bold move in counting on viewers to care. Even if I didn’t (and I did), I’d have to at least give the showrunners points for that.