A painting, some awkward dancing, and a Face/Off spin-off? This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is entertaining for its character moments, but not so much for its self-contained plot that feels pulled from a WB filler episode pitch; thus a pun made from the title “Face My Enemy.” Actually, it sounds more like a Dragonball chapter title.
The episode opens with a church on fire, and a “miracle painting” is found by some priests, but on the other side of the perfectly preserved painting are markings of the same origin of Coulson’s, and previously Garrett’s, alien wall carving.
The following sequence genuinely excited me, as it was our first glance at seeing the crew working together as the top notch spies they are with an uninterrupted-by-HYDRA fluidity in acquiring cover names for Coulson and May to arrive at some fancy-pants Miami party. The chemistry between the current team shines when everyone is in business mode, and Clark Gregg’s dancing abilities pale in comparison. Sure, it felt very Mission Impossible as he and May deconstructed the security in the building in a rather subtle manner; it was just distracting that the choreography was a little off with some rigid and repetitive footwork and bobbing on medium shots as they conversed.
This week’s Whedoning boils down to a single line in May’s introduction, as she steps out of the limo in a sparkly GQ cover girl dress and snidely comments, “I’ll pay you $500 for a pair of flats.” The line seemed to just come and go unnoticed, but I laughed in acknowledgment. Why is it worth noting that a strong independent woman makes a comment or two about the frustrations of having to seem appealing to men? I’ll just quote Joss himself by saying, “Because you’re asking that question.” The equally good line of hers worth mentioning was the straight-faced agent turning to Coulson after putting on her act, saying, “My face hurts.” in a tone like she was ready to kill him.
It’s revealed that Glenn Talbot, the thorn in SHIELD’s side, happens to be at the same party, and Couslon decides to confront him directly so as not to make a scene. Except it is revealed that this is one of the saran wrap disguises used by HYDRA, those pesky jerks, since they’re after the painting as well. When May and Coulson’s cover is blown, they comically get their way into the basement to discover someone has already found and acquired the painting.
When they split up, May encounters, and is somehow captured by, two HYDRA agents, one of whom was the false-Talbot, and the woman steals her dress, voice and face in an attempt to compromise Coulson. Thus, the rest of the episode’s self-contained arc is filled with the cliches one may find in the “enemy disguised as friend” story, complete with Coulson punching this woman in the face when she replies that she’d like to get coffee with him. Because of all the things in the world for Coulson to rely on, it’s that May, as well as potentially hundreds of HYDRA personnel, hates coffee.
The tension is built, however, regarding one of the episode’s high points, when Coulson and fake-May are driving to a particular destination, when he casually brings up concern with his position as Director of SHIELD: a piece of intel that was revealed to be unknown by HYDRA in the conclusion of last week’s chapter.
Meanwhile, whether it be by unclear coincidence, or somehow conducted by the same unit Coulson is dealing with, HYDRA attempts to shut down, and crash, The Bus with Skye, Hunter, Mac and Fitz aboard, which, regardless of being the subplot, is where “Face My Enemy” earns some quality marks. As Fitz saves the day, his chemistry with Hunter, which was nonexistent before, is established, and they all sit around and enjoy beer in the aftermath. Maybe I’m just a sucker who fell into sympathizing with the antisocial nerd, because each week I’m impressed with Fitz’s character growth, which, comparatively, was almost nonexistent in season one.
The episode’s climax soon takes place with one of those Fight Club-esque action sequences that was well choreographed for Ming-Na Wen, but honestly did nothing more for me than cause surprise by the lack of damage done to the hotel suite in which they kicked each other’s asses.
Actual quote by me: “There is no way that centerpiece on the table survived this fight! What the hell?”
The episode wraps with Coulson and May giving Talbot a call regarding the painting, and HYDRA impersonating him, just to keep him in the know so there are no surprises if his face shows up on Huffpost.
Finally, after nagging May about it through the entirety of “Face My Enemy,” Coulson begs her that if he were to ever “Go the way of Garrett” (Bill Paxton), that she would put a bullet in his head. She refuses, and shows him her actual plan of action if that day were to come: to isolate him, get him off the grid and move him to a cabin in Australia. This is a solid emotional establishment for a character as “tough as nails” as Melinda May, that she has such a close history with Phil that she could never bring herself to kill him. That, or she was written a bit out of character, but I believe the former assumption, as made evident by my “Whedoning” example of the week.
I will also declare a shoutout to Buffy and Firefly veteran, Drew Greenberg, for writing this episode. Even if it did feel a bit like filler, it still had some brisk action and poignant pieces of characterization for May and Coulson.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2.4. “Face My Enemy” (7/10)