By Josh Logue
I hope this week’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” signals a move for the show toward a series of narrower, character-focused episodes like last week’s look at Simmons and the time spent with Coulson and May this week.
Let’s not get carried away. I doubt the show will stray too far from its mission-of-the-week formula, but the past several episodes exhibited a heightened attention to individual characters that was largely missing from the first season.
This week in particular, we follow two of the show’s more enigmatic characters, Coulson and May, on a mission to retrieve a painting inscribed with the same mysterious patterns Coulson carves into the walls during his “episodes.” The two of them share a wonderful scene early on that combines a nifty dance number with some fun dialogue and tactical reconnaissance. During that chat, and several times throughout the episode, Coulson reiterates to May the need for a plan if his worsening grid-related “condition” gets even worse and he goes Garrett. May’s not too keen on having that discussion, though. So it’s on with the mission.
The twist? Talbot turns up and snatches the painting out from under them. The double twist? It looks like Talbot’s working with H.Y.D.R.A!
Back at basecamp, the team is trading stories about everybody’s exes, and Fitz, who decidedly isn’t doing that, tells Hallucination Simmons that he’s feeling alienated. Though the choice to keep Simmons around via hallucination initially felt a little ham-handed to me, Fitz and Simmons have the best chemistry in the show and some of the most natural-feeling dialogue. Losing that would have hurt. It’s Fitz, in fact, who takes the title this week for Best Timed Line when he finally opens up a little to the rest of the team near the end of the episode after everything quiets down.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though.
Remember when it looked liked Talbot was working with H.Y.D.R.A? Well, he isn’t! Turns out, H.Y.D.R.A used their face-mimicking mask technology (as first seen in “Captain America 2”) to steal the painting and lure Coulson into a trap, first by doppelgangering Talbot, and then May herself. They send fake May to the bus to grab Coulson and plant a computer virus that locks everyone else in and sets the airplane to explode.
While May dukes it out with her doppelganger, the team races to stop the H.Y.D.R.A virus before the plane explodes. This is where the episode came together for me. The action feels fun and well-paced, Coulson’s one-liners are clearly on point, and most importantly, the show subtly and marvelously captures Fitz’s evolving relationship with the new team. He tells Simmons early on that the others don’t see him as one of them, but the moment things kick into gear, everyone easily intuits the words Fitz can’t summon, and they all work seamlessly together to save the day. That kind of deft, unspoken characterization isn’t something I expect as a rule from this show, and I was immensely pleased to see it here. I hope it’s a sign of good things to come.
And, on that hopeful note, I want to leave you with one last thing, which is that whatever gripes you (well, OK, I) may have with this show’s (cookie-cutter) plots or (two-dimensional) characterization, these actors can deliver lines that other people simply can’t. Is there a line more hackneyed and cliché line than “Blank. Why is it always blank?” No, there isn’t. Yet somehow, with laser grids this time, Coulson pulled it the heck off. Credit where credit due. Game recognizes game. “Laser grids. Why is it always laser grids?” Why indeed.