This week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ rather shamelessly borrows a little bit of ‘True Lies’ and mixes in some ‘Mission: Impossible’ with a touch of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. And yet, somehow, it still manages to be one of the most entertaining episodes of the series to date.
(Admittedly, that may be a low bar to set, but I feel like the show has shown notable improvement lately.)
Episode ‘Face My Enemy’ begins after a Miami church has burned down. The only object to inexplicably survive the blaze unharmed is a religious painting. On the back side of it is some of that alien writing that Coulson has been obsessed with. Upon hearing of this, Coulson and May go undercover as wealthy socialites to some sort of gala event. (How the painting wound up there is not fully explained.) May has to put on a smile and make small talk. She hates it, but Coulson has fun watching her squirm. They tango through the ballroom, scoping out the building’s security.
Coulson spots Gen. Talbot there and worries that his cover is blown. He preemptively reveals himself and says that his mission will benefit them both. Talbot claims that he won’t interfere, but Coulson doesn’t entirely trust him. Good thing too, because – unbeknownst to Coulson – Talbot is not really Talbot. He’s actually HYDRA baddie Bakshi wearing a high-tech holographic camouflage mask. Fake-Talbot alerts the event’s security that Coulson and May have crashed the party, then makes off with the painting himself. However, he then asks for Coulson’s help to decipher the alien text.
Coulson sends May ahead to evaluate the situation. In Fake-Talbot’s hotel room, she encounters Agent 33, that former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative brainwashed into working for HYDRA. Agent 33 and Bakshi-Talbot take May captive and knock her unconscious, then Agent 33 uses the holographic mask to morph into May’s likeness. Lucky that she’s the same height and body type!
Fake-May returns to Coulson and tells him that Talbot is on the up-and-up and Coulson should totally do whatever Talbot wants. Thinking that he’s talking to his friend, Coulson lets a couple pieces of important information slip, including the fact that he’s currently Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (HYDRA did not know who’s in charge) and that he fears that he could eventually go crazy like Agent Garrett did – in which case he expects May to take him out and take over.
While briefly on the Bus, Fake-May plants a computer virus that causes the plane to lock down and trap the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies while it (very slowly) prepares to self-destruct. Fitz, who’s been depressed lately because he feels like he’s not really part of the team, saves the day and stops the virus with new guy Hunter’s help. Everyone celebrates Fitz and reassures him how indispensable he is.
As they approach Talbot’s hotel room, Coulson gets suspicious of Fake-May and leads her into answering a loaded question. When she gets it wrong, Coulson straight-up punches her in the face!
Still wearing the May disguise, Agent 33 pushes Coulson into the hotel room. Just then, the real May gets free of her bonds and rushes in. Wearing only a slip, she goes all Crouching Cougar and has an epic catfight with… umm… herself, sort of. This scene is all sorts of fun, and surprisingly brutal, as the two Mays fight it out. The battle eventually culminates with the real May slamming the fake one’s head into a coffee table and then electrocuting her, frying the mask.
Coulson grabs the painting and they hightail it out of there. Later back at the Bus, Coulson contacts the real Gen. Talbot and tells him everything that happened – with just one little exception. He claims that the painting was a fake and not worth worrying about. Of course, that’s a charade. What really concerns Coulson is that the painting itself is 500-years-old, but the alien writing is recent – which begs the question, who wrote it? I’m guessing Kyle MacLachlan, but we don’t actually see him this episode.
Only obliquely connected to these events, the evil Whitehall captures Raina and demands that she give him the Obelisk. He implants a pain device on her hand and gives her 48 hours to comply. You’d think he’d have enough leverage to just make her bring him to it right then, but I suppose that would be too easy.
It’s a shame that this show has taken so long to warm up, but an episode like this strikes just the right balance between entertaining banter, good plotting and a solid foundation for the ongoing story arc. I hope that more episodes this season can do so well.