A review of tonight's “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” coming up just as soon as I cook while you debrief…
“SHIELD” season 2 has had to push nearly all the regulars into new roles, from Coulson as spymaster to Ward as a more square-jawed Hannibal Lecter. “Making Friends and Influencing People” focuses on how three members of the team are faring in these new positions, and does really well by two of them, while maybe putting the emphasis on the wrong place with the third.
In the clear win column: Simmons going deep undercover with Hydra. Like so many of the shifts, this is a much better use of her than as Fitz's cheerleader – and the Ghost Simmons device allows the show to have its cake and eat it too on this front – and Elizabeth Henstridge sold the idea that Simmons could do well in this gig, because her lack of guile makes her seem such an unlikely candidate.
(Simmons' undercover work featured two of the more visually striking sequences from a show that's usually pretty bland on that front: the rom-com montage of Simmons getting ready for work – scored to “God Help the Girl” – and Simmons being led down a seemingly endless white Hydra corridor to join Mr. Bakshi and the assault team.)
The broken Fitz, meanwhile, remains among the smartest decisions the show has made, and his confrontation with Ward was a tense reminder that broken toys can still try to hurt you. (And I appreciate that the writers aren't trying to excuse Ward's sins by suggesting he was brainwashed.)
On the other hand, it felt like the episode leaned too much on the Skye/Ward relationship, and the ongoing mystery of Skye's parentage, while mostly skimming over what, to me, is the more interesting matter of Skye going full action heroine, and the emotional consequences of that. May lectures her early on about how hard it is to get used to shooting at live targets, but the show glosses over the notion that she might have killed Donnie Gill – the digital pulse monitor is there only to show that she was more shaken up by what Ward told her than she was by maybe killing a guy, even the latter was in defense of her friend.
For the most part, the show seems to have its priorities more in line this season, as evidenced not only by the Simmons story here but the work in portraying life at Hydra – for both the working stiffs like Mr. Turgeon and the brainwashing victims like Agent 33 – but it does feel like the writers haven't been able to entirely kick their dependence on the mystery box stuff, last week with Coulson carving the symbols, here again with the talk of Skye's father. The show has done a good job of making us care about who the characters are in the here and now, and while that doesn't make origin stories and story arcs unnecessary, it does mean that the show doesn't have to lean on them nearly as much to pull us forward. For much of last year, the mysteries were all the show seemed interested in doing; this year, there's a clear potential for “SHIELD” to be a kick-ass blend of spy drama and superhero drama if it can just stay focused on that.
What did everybody else think?