[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 3, "Making Friends and Influencing People"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
As I sat down to watch this week's episode of SHIELD, I was startled to realize that in virtually no time at all, half of the episode had passed. Sadly, it wasn't because of such engrossing action or development that I lost all relative sense of time. It was because of a growing disconnect I'm feeling towards the series. My enthusiasm has had very little to sustain it, but I've stuck with the series in the blind hope that it'll be worth it in the end. But I fear that my resolve is weakening. The vast majority of the audience realized this a year ago, and left quietly. I guess I'm just stubborn like that.

This week was a baseline episode. It had some solid scenes, and focused a lot on relationships between characters, while also giving us a better look inside Hydra's day-to-day operations (turns out, not that undifferent from SHIELD's). But there was also a lot that didn't really do a lot other than make the minutes tick by, and reminded us yet again that Clark Gregg is 100% this show's best asset, and when it doesn't use him, it suffers.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are happy to comply.

This was essentially a FitzSimmons episode, except that they never interact. It did let us know what the real Simmons has been up to since leaving SHIELD, and elaborated on Fitz' condition. Which allowed both characters to have one really strong character scene each, based on their interactions with another character who illicits strong emotions from them. In Simmons' case, it was a positive reaction and a very fatherly scene where Coulson checks up on her and cooks her dinner, which felt very "college student away from home for the first time has a heart-to-heart with dad" vibe that actually worked, and didn't feel as forced as all that "team dad" stuff they had Coulson doing last year did.

For Fitz, the scene was a confrontation with Ward. Iain De Caestecker finally has some interesting material to work with this season, and the writers to their credit are giving him the opportunity to explore this fractured side of the boy genius. Particularly satisfying was, after muster courage to confront Ward, upon seeing him Fitz immediately collapsed into a shaking wad of stutters. Then nearly killed his once-good-friend. The damage caused has created an entirely new Fitz, and I feel rewarded that the writers haven't yet decided to take the easy way out with him, though I expect in time they will. But for now, there is legitimate concern that his unpredictability might cause him to kill someone.

Even Skye is getting some good material. Not for herself necessarily, but concerning her. There was some good team-dynamic work in place with episode, centered around Skye and how everyone else relates to her training. I'm glad to see that she has evolved from the Whedon-type snarky lady-nerd, even if it means she's only turned into the Whedon-type woman-of-asskickery. But more of any material that makes it feel like these people all work together if a good thing. It helps considerably now that they have a home base, which was something I suggested they desperately needed last year. By having a central operation from which techs and admin can work from, and using the Bus to shepherd the tactical side of the team, it helps facilitate the illusion of a complex operation. That there is structure in place, and hierarchy. Which provides secondary definition to the characters.

SHIELD has a opportunity this season to live up to one of it's initial promises this season, which is to give the viewer a look at the MCU as it occurs between the theatrical releases. It never felt like that last year. This year, because Winter Solider only scratched the surface of their operations and Age of Ultron isn't likely to dive that deep, the best chance we have to learn anything about the world-wide Hydra threat is from Agents of SHIELD. This episode began to take us down that path. So far, we can say that they are patient and determined. But also, not as ragged and slapdash as Winter Solider might have made them seem. In fact, they seemed very regimented and established. Very much a bureaucratic cog, much like SHIELD was a year ago. I don't know if this is the most creative direction, or if it's meant to be a twisted reflection of the organization they spent decades infiltrating. But it gave us Reed Diamond speaking calmly and menacingly in a few scenes, so I'm OK with it.

Where this episode was a let down was, as with last year, in the macguffin, in this case the Freezer Burn kid from last year's terrible SHIELD Academy episode (which sounds like a Young Adult novel series from the mid-nineties). Hydra hunting down and acquiring assets through any means necessary is a logical step, and that they use force, blackmail and brainwashing adds to their menace. But this particular adventure never seemed to go anywhere. I've already forgotten how the action ended up on an Arctic-bound barge, but it was little more than an excuse to put Simmons in SHIELD's sights, and to give us yet another "maybe he'll be back" style character cliffhanger like accompanied all of the comic-drawn villains last season.

Three episodes in, and I'll be honest with you, I don't feel like Hydra is much of a threat to anyone but SHIELD. If they are an international terrorist organization, with footholds in dozens of countries, and the resources and ability to run a near constant bombardment against everyone and everything they consider counter to their agenda (as has been suggest in the past), they don't seem to have done much in that way. It seems to be taking a while for them to consolidate after their reveal. All those red dots on Coulson's flat screen a few weeks ago seems far less frightening.

Also, between once again bringing up dead Xena and the other guy, and also mention the absent Patton Oswalt, the show really needs to stop reminding the audience about the more interesting characters that aren't there. All that does is foster anger and fan fiction.
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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.


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