Agents Of SHIELD Season 2 Episode 4 'Face My Enemy' Review: Characters Lighten Up And The Action Gets Kicked Up A Notch Or Two
Face My Enemy is the first episode of SHIELD in a long, long time to strike the right tone between camp, humor, action and serious drama. I think all we have wanted from the show is essentially a less ridiculous Archer mixed in with just a hint of some superhero plotlines hovering on the edges. After a long time, Face My Enemy has delivered just that.
The writers and directors have finally figured out that we don't like sad Coulson. Clark Gregg is a fine actor, the best on the show and his easy mix of charm and gravitas makes him an ideal lead for any show (or organization, for that matter). Recently, though, Coulson has been sitting back on The Bus, barking orders and being grumpy because of his current affliction. Face My Enemy gets him back out into the field, where he can let loose a little more. The verbal sparring between him and May at the beginning of the episode is smile-inducing. Gregg and Ming-Na Wen have an excellent chemistry together; not romantic (though certainly more sexual than the Ward and May tryst last season), but the easy ball-busting friendship that soldiers who have seen some shit have with one another.
That theme and feeling permeates through the entire episode. The remaining agents back at base are bonding; something I do not believe we've ever seen them do. They've been crammed so full of Whedon-lite dialogue that we've never gotten a chance to spend some time and have a beer with them. Hunter has a long, amusing story about an ex-wife that endears him (albeit strangely) to us better than in any of the previous episodes. For a few brief moments, they were not agents, they were just people hanging out. More of that, please.
This softening and friendliness also extends to Agent May, who has remained a solid wall of sternness throughout the entire show. She gets to dress up in a dress, smile a little in that delightful sarcastic way of hers, show off some dance moves, banter with Coulson and then at the end, kick some ass.
That final brawl, which features May squaring off against herself (a HYDRA agent is wearing a cloaking mask), it's some of the best staged action in the entire series. Light years ahead of anything else. Too long, Agents of SHIELD has suffered from a lack of execution; the action scenes are conceived well, but improperly displayed. They're over edited or too shaky. There are flashes of brilliance, most of which involved Ward and May being incredibly lethal at their jobs, but this is the first sustained, perfectly executed fight scene that is more than just a simple fight. The environment is utilized effectively, both fighters are equally matched in terms of skill and while we do not doubt that May is going to make it out of there, there is enough bone crunching tension to keep us well engaged.
In fact, the only complaint one may have about the fight is that it lasts a bit too long! The main story of the episode, Coulson and May have to steal a painting with some of the alien writing on it, is slight but there's just enough to hang a full 42 minutes on. The 'Bus is going to blow up' subplot adds nothing plotwise to the show, but it does clearly and effectively get Fitz back into the team. So while it sometimes suffers from idleness (when isn't the Bus in danger?), Ian De Caestecker continues to be great in the role of Fitz. We like watching him and we want to see him succeed after so much tragedy and injury in his life.
By shrinking down the larger subplot, that of the alien writing and Coulson's obsession with it, and letting the group in on the secret (even if the secret is still well guarded), it no longer feels like we're watching the May and Coulson Secret Stuff subplot that has been in effect this entire season. I understand the need to keep the mystery going (and going and going), but allowing the other characters into the plot gives us a better sense of team. Too long has the core group been divided into cliques; there are still secrets, sure, but they actually feel like much more of a team for a change.
I must always mention Raina, one of my favorite characters on the show. Let's see how her choice manifests itself in the coming episodes.
Face My Enemy is still missing something. That spark, that magic 'it'. At times, it feels uncomfortable with itself. The production value continues to be average at best. Lots of hallways and poorly lit tight shots. But I hope it signals a change of things to come; of a little looser and little more fun Agents of SHIELD. After all, this isn't DC. We can have a little fun with our characters.
Background Noise is GameNGuide's television column.