[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 4, "Face My Enemy"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
First off, I'll apologize to regular readers (hi, Craig!) for the lateness of this review and the general lack of content this week. Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving (motto: like the American one, but earlier and pointless) and that through me off my schedule big time smiley. Then, I spent a not insignificant part of the week without internet. Rather than double up next week, I thought I get this one in under the wire.

I can count the number of episodes of SHIELD that are honestly, objectively great on one hand. And yes, that is using the augmented SHIELD scale of quality, where a 10 equates to a six at best on a conventional scale. But my point, on one hand. This episode is one of them. Yes, it was bogged firmly down in every subplot the show has going for it. It had Whitehall and Hydra. It had Raina and whatever crazy she's involved with. It had Talbot, it had Fitz' broken brain, it had both Coulson's resurrection and crazy alien writing. In any other episode, on any other series, a throw everything against the wall and watch it all stick approach usually ends in a muddled disaster. But against all odds, here it worked. It was good, it was right, and no one had to get nailed to anything.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that get's their satisfaction elsewhere.


SHIELD this season is to be broken into two parts, and the hope was that the writers would view these as separate entities, which would necessitate a more economic approach to the storytelling. A tightening of the belt, as it were. If that were true, then we're nearly at the half way point of this season-oid, and this had better start moving. We've spent enough time establishing the new problems for this year, and mourning characters we didn't know long enough to care about anyway. And this episode did that! It moved the arc of the season along, not by focusing on the macguffins, but on the two elements of the show that work the best: Coulson and May. This was an episode that understood what about the show works, and what it needs to be more regularly.

I give every bit of credit to Drew Z. Greenberg, in his inaugural SHIELD script. And he seemed to approach it as an audience member: focusing on what works, leaving alone what doesn't, highlighting the strengths, downplaying the weaknesses. And doing so with such precision that it can only come from an outsider's perspective. I firmly believe that the writer's room of this show is far too entrenched in their own distractions to notice the flaws of their creation (to the point where listening to interviews reminds me of listening to addicts speak at their own intervention). Greenberg brought a fresh and at time very self aware voice to the battered series. When Coulson says at the end that "we're more enjoyable in small doses," it's hard not to read that as a jibe against Coulson being born of smaller supporting and far more successful roles in the film.

So, Coulson and May were given the spotlight, and the spot slightly to the left of the spotlight. This was their show, and made a descent argument for the show just being them moving forward. It's a little unfair, considering that Clark Gregg and Ming-Na are the two most experienced actors on the show, but week to week they seem to be the only ones actually interested in the the characters they are playing. This week, with Coulson in full Thor "all business, with a healthy amount of sarcasm"  and May displaying some personality, the focus was all on the characters. Parties are a great way to bring personality an character to the surface, especially if the character has to lie, as it forces them to reveal the person they are concealing. So while May grimaces and Coulson shoots one-liners, we get a better look at who they are, and who they are together than we have before.

Back on the bus, Iain De Caestecker can continue to be proud of the new direction that Fitz has been taken, and surprisingly this episode managed to pack in a lot of additional character growth for Fitz. I'll admit, I felt something in me swell as Fitz stood, watching a Hydra virus rip his home apart, as the assembled teammates finished his sentences for him. This season has done a superior job of having the team work as a team, and that scene really sold their unity. Hilariously, two of those teammates are brand new and have no established relationship yet. I'll repeat that: in one scene two unknowns, a rebooted character and BJ Britt, who is still for whatever reason still only a guest star, have better chemistry than the entire first season team.

I can speak at length about how horrible it is to bring a story to a climax with a fistfight. It's a lazy and boring way to bring any idea to a conclusion. And yet, the seven minute fight sequence between the dueling Mays was impressive. The choreography, the use of space, the imaginative direction from Kevin Tancharoen (perhaps not surprising from the director of Mortal Kombat: Legacy). And the way it was juxtaposed between the intellectualism of Fitz and the simple utilitarianism of Coulson's own approach to defeating his enemies betrayed a finer understanding of balance in the scripting process, and how, as much as a fight is appreciated by a part of the ever dwindling audience, it isn't what everyone wants.

More than anything, this episode reminded me of the Coulson we wanted to get his own series. Not the increasingly paranoid and depleted Coulson of season one, and not the secluded and doubting Coulson we've seen so far this season. It was the confident, calm, jokey, damned good at his job Couslon. The guy who doesn't flinch whether he's talking to a confused personal assistant or an ancient god. The one man special operations team. The sort of guy who earns the respect and privilege of being Nick Fury's most trusted agent. What we saw in this episode was that Coulson, for the first time in a long time. The Coulson that was worthy of becoming Director of SHIELD. We need to see more of that. Yes, drama is important, and yes character development is critical. The way Coulson reveals his reactions to his increasingly uncertain mental state, both in action and reaction, was smooth and made sense in character. Broad-strokes shifts from one state to another isn't development, it's inconsistency. Since this is the Coulson we already love, why not restart from here, and see where it goes, organically?
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

2 comments :

  1. Well, as you often point out, in addition to Craig, you have a few library hobos like me who follow you as well. Thanks for getting this in today as I was looking forward to it -- and I personally hope AOS goes back to this writer/director combo again. It finally had an action scene reminiscent of Arrow and a well-written Coulson. Which brings me to my real reason for commenting: as you're surely aware, Gotham/Arrow/Flash are all out there to be reviewed, and Constantine will soon join those. Have you been following any of these, and is there any hope you might start regularly reviewing them? Also, I wonder what your take was on Warner/DC's announcement of the upcoming films?

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    1. Yeah, keep an eye out for Constantine reviews coming soon. As for some analysis of DC's announcement, I hope to have something up in the next week or so.

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