Just the other day, I wrote a post which said that watching ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ feels more like an obligation than something I truly enjoy. Of course, the show then has to go and air a pretty good episode that I enjoyed a fair amount. That’s exactly how this series has kept me on the hook this long. Every time I think I’m about done with it, the show keeps me just interested enough to stick around.
Episode ‘Making Friends and Influencing People’ marks the return of Jemma Simmons. Of course, we’ve seen Simmons previously this season, but only as Fitz’s hallucination. Now we finally learn where the real one has been and why she left. At first, it appears that she’s been recruited by HYDRA, but I’m sure that any viewers with functioning brain cells can guess that she’s really working undercover for Coulson. As she toils away in the evil laboratory, she relays secret reports back to her real boss, unbeknownst to everyone except Coulson himself and May.
Also coming back around is Donnie Gill, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy student who was struck by lightning and now has the power to freeze anything he touches (Dylan Minette, who coincidentally also appears in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’, released by ABC parent company Disney this weekend – what are the odds?). Donnie is hiding out in Morocco when HYDRA learns of his whereabouts and dispatches agents to recruit him – whether he wants to be recruited or not. And make no mistake, he doesn’t. When he freezes the first HYDRA operative solid, the evil Nazi Dr. Whitehall (Reed Diamond) sends his second-in-command Bakshi to take care of it, and Bakshi in turn brings Simmons along as a test of her loyalty. Meanwhile, Whitehall stays behind to brainwash a captured S.H.I.E.L.D. member known only as Agent 33 (Maya Stojan from ‘Castle’) using a Ludovico machine.
Donnie decides that he’s tired of running, so he freezes a HYDRA freighter ship in its port to lure the bad guys to him, planning to show them what happens when they don’t leave him alone. Via Jemma, S.H.I.E.L.D. also learns about Donnie. May, Skye and Lance converge on the ship just after Bakshi and Simmons arrive.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Fitz makes his way down to the basement and discovers Ward’s cell, which Coulson had kept secret from him. Ward tells Fitz that, when Garret ordered him to kill Fitz and Simmons, he couldn’t bring himself to do it, and dumped their crate in the ocean instead to give them a fighting chance to find a way out. Fitz doesn’t believe him, and sucks the oxygen out of the cell to teach Ward what he went through. As he chokes, Ward tries to warn Fitz that Skye and the others don’t know what they’re stepping into with Donnie.
Because Donnie knows and will remember Simmons from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, Bakshi sends her into the bowls of the ship to talk him down and win him over to HYDRA’s side. To do this, he has her repeat several specific lines. Unbeknownst to Jemma, these are trigger words. Donnie had previously been brainwashed by HYDRA, and hearing the secret phrase will activate his programming. (This is what Ward tried to tell Fitz.)
Jemma doesn’t get to complete the words before May and Hunter interrupt. However, when Donnie chases her down a hallway, Bakshi finishes the job and Donnie immediately starts accepting his orders. Bakshi instructs him to freeze the entire ship, including all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in it.
Fortunately, Fitz didn’t kill Ward. He radios Skye about Donnie, and Skye (who’s been training as a sniper) takes the kid out with a well-placed shot that knocks him into the ocean, where he freezes. This is Skye’s first kill. At least, she believes so. Naturally, Donnie’s body is never recovered, so comic book rules dictate that he’ll show up again later.
Bakshi and Simmons return to the HYDRA base. Although they didn’t get Donnie, neither did S.H.I.E.L.D., which counts as victory enough. We discover that Agent 33 is now a fully brainwashed member of HYDRA. Simmons, having maintained her cover and seemingly proven her loyalty to the cause, is promoted without needing the brainwashing treatment.
Over at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Skye starts to believe that Ward may really be honest with her, which is when he tells her that her father is still alive and he can take her to him.
This episode is well-plotted and serves as a nice showcase for Simmons. The undercover storyline allows her character to stretch in ways she was never allowed to when stuck in the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab bantering with Fitz. The episode also provides worthwhile development for Fitz and Skye. Honestly, I think Skye is pretty tolerable this season, which is a huge improvement for that character.
Dare I say that I’m actually interested to see where the show goes the rest of the season?