Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Face My Enemy Review
This week’s episode, Face My Enemy, feels a bit too much like a Season 1 episode for my liking. It’s not a bad episode, but not too much happens in it as far as the overarching story is concerned, and a number of its stories felt pretty familiar. For those hoping that we will see how Skye deals with the knowledge that her father is out there and looking for her, there is hardly any acknowledgement of Ward’s conversation with Skye last week where he brought up the subject of her father. In fact, Ward doesn’t even show up in the episode. Instead the episode largely focuses on Coulson and May as they attempt to recover a “miracle” painting that survived a fire in the church where is was being housed, and possesses alien carvings on the back. Ultimately, this doesn’t add any new information regarding the carvings, so it ends up feeling a bit pointless as far as the overall plot goes.
That’s not to say that the episode fails, however. There are a few details that prevent it from being forgettable. The episode gives Coulson and May plenty of time to interact, and there is a decent amount of back-and-forth comedy that can be extracted from Coulson’s exuberance and May’s deadpan. What’s more, when May is intercepted and replaced with Hydra’s Agent 33 wearing a mask that alters the appearance of one’s face, Coulson ends up revealing his status as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to her, and that there may be a need for him to be eliminated in the future. The episode also has the benefit of being able to rely on something that a lot of early season 1 episodes lacked, namely the chemistry between its characters. This episode provides more opportunities for Coulson and May to interact than I think they’ve had at any point in the past, and show uses it to provide an illuminating look at both characters. If Coulson is the dad of the group (it sometimes feels like, if you dropped him into a 50’s family sitcom, he’d be right at home in that role), then May is the mother. Much of the episode focuses on Coulson trying to talk to May about a subject that they can’t discuss around the kids. They need a plan for what to do when Coulson degenerates beyond the point of being saved.
May’s reaction to this subject is actually quite intriguing. On reflection, she actually goes through many of the famous five stages of grief in this episode. I’m not positive that she reaches acceptance by the end, but this episode arguably provides more definition to May’s character than any other so far. I’m not saying that she was poorly defined prior to this episode, but more that she was defined by her closed off nature. Here we get the sense that while she isn’t one for nostalgia or reminiscing about the past, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t let those past emotions affect her present. Her reaction when Coulson tells her that, when the time comes, she will need to “deal with reality” and “kill [him] as ordered” is a great moment, and helps elevate an episode that feels like it came close to falling flat.
Before I wrap this up few Notes and Nitpicks:
- The episode ends with a confrontation between Raina and Whitehall in which he threatens her and demands that she bring him the obelisk. For a second there I thought she was going to stand up to him, but she reverted to being threatened and panicky in seconds. It appears that she’ll be a bit more prominent in the next episode (Though who knows if you can trust a S.H.I.E.L.D. promo?), and, if that is the case, I hope they can at least do something interesting with her.
- I’ll admit that, the first time I watched the episode, when Talbot showed up at the party that May and Coulson had infiltrated, I didn’t guess he was an imposter. That being said, I missed much of his talk with Coulson the first time, and it’s easy to see now that there were a lot of hints there that something was off.
- Is it just me or does the real Talbot appear to be warming up to Coulson? They seem to have a good back and forth, and his threat to trace the call from SHIELD seemed more like a joking warning than an actual threat.
- The promo teases the possibility of Skye meeting her father. I look forward to the 10 seconds that MacLachlan appears on screen.
- The fight scene between May and May was rather effectively handled. There were some quick cuts here and there, but largely it worked quite well.
- That being said, the whole Agent 33 as May subplot felt like a rather by-the-book subplot. It’s pretty easy to spot the moment that Coulson realizes something is off, and the “catch the imposter saying things the real one wouldn’t say” trick just feels a bit obvious in this instance.
- Fitz has a subplot where he tries to convince himself to engage with the rest of the team, and ultimately saves the Bus from sabotage by faux-May. It’s not a bad plot, but it’s relatively forgettable when compared to Fitz’s interactions in the episodes prior.
It’s fair to say that, plot-wise, I feel this episode fell short. Much of it felt like it was doing things by the numbers and ultimately, I have to admit that I was left disappointed by Face My Enemy. However, upon rewatch, I have to admit that the character interactions between May and Coulson help keep it interesting.
If it wasn't for the exploration of May's character, I probably would have dropped the rating a bit, but fortunately that character exploration helps to salvage Face My Enemy's rather mediocre plot.