For the first few minutes “Making Friends And Influencing People” looks like it could be very cool concept episode, and a potential five-star one at that. The opening montage with Simmons getting ready for work with a big grin on her face like a girl in from a Tampon ad, and ending with a shot of a HYDRA logo on her office wall is a pleasantly unexpected and quirky move for this show.
Sadly, from there on in the show reverts to normal form; solid, entertaining but slightly predicable. It seems like a missed opportunity to see the whole episode from Simmons’s point of view, as she struggles to “make friends” and move up the HYDRA ladder. Other regular characters could have popped up in cameos every so often. It would certainly have made the climatic scene where Skye pretends to shoot at Bakshi and Simmons pretends to push him away a lot more dramatic.
On the other hand, that technique would have prevented us from seeing that great showdown between Fitz and Ward, which was a highlight of the episode. Another great performance from Iain de Caestecker. Elizabeth Henstridge is also better than ever here as Simmons; she’s much more endearing on her solo adventures than she ever was babbling away with Fitz. Does anyone actually want them back together?
Dr Daniel Whitehall calls HYDRA’s brainwashing technique “the Faustus method”. This may be a reference to Captain America’s enemy Doctor Faustus, a non-superpowered villain who nevertheless was renowned for his skills of coercion and persuasion.
Although its potential isn’t fully realised, the “undercover” angle still manages to give the episode an enticing twist, and the script plays the “is she or isn’t she angle” cleverly for a good while (“I’m getting damned tired of losing our best and brightest to HYDRA,” moans Coulson as the scene cuts to Simmons). Skye’s concerns that Simmons seems a unlikely choice for undercover work seem valid, but Coulson’s advice to Simmons, about sticking to the truth as far as possible, is shown in action in the ensuing action; you can almost see his words coming back to her when Bakshi is interrogating her, saying, “You seem nervous,” and she replies, “Of course I’m nervous.” The unexpected truth seems to unbalance him. You do, ultimately, believe that Simmons can pull this off.
Donnie Gill (Blizzard in the comics, and referred to as “Project Blizzard” by Bakshi here) fills the gap left by Creel; have the producers made a conscious decision to use more villains with visually impressive powers this season? Let’s hope it continues.
Other than that, things are a little humdrum. Skye’s subplot about “can she kill when she needs to?” pretty much fizzles out. Ward’s “revelation” about her father lacks any clout because we knew he was going to say it sooner or later. Trip once again barely has anything to do. Coulson’s deadpan quippage rate is way down on average. And Fitz’s complaints that he’s being kept in the dark sound oddly familiar… Oh yeah, Skye complaining she’s being kept in the dark.
Finally, a couple of things to chew on. Anyone else think that Donnie’s “death” (he’s clearly not dead, just on ice) looked a bit like the way Captain America fell into suspended animation after the Second World War? And SHIELD isn’t averse to a bit of low level brainwashing themselves if those HYDRA symbols on the targets in the shooting gallery are anything to go by.
Fitz: "Is there... anything more..." Coulson: "That I'm keeping from you? Yeah... I'm Director. There's a hell of a lot more."
At a briefing, May tells the team that Donnie has frozen the waters around a ship in Morocco, to which Trip responds, “Iceberg in the Middle East?” Erm, Morocco is in North Africa, Trip.
The song that accompanies Simmons’s getting-ready-for-work montage is “God Help The Girl” (2009) by God Help The Girl, an offshoot project by Belle And Sebastian front man Stuart Murdoch with vocals by Catherine Ireton. Very jaunty it is too.
Those attachments on Agent 33’s face aren’t very convincing. Rather than looking like they’re forcing her eyes open, they look as if they’d fall off if she blinks.
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK and on ABC on Tuesday nights in the US.