With some of the snappiest dialogue in the show for a while, a titanic May versus May cat fight and wonderfully light-hearted Ocean's 11-style first third, “Face The Enemy” teeters on a four star episode. It just fails, though, because despite all that, it still suffers from ongoing Agents Of SHIELD malady – a lack of flair.
That’s not to say it’s a poor episode, far from it. It’s pacy, it has surprises (especially the reveal that Talbot is actually Bakshi in disguise – that fooled us), it amusingly deflates expectations (though perhaps being denied the sight of Coulson backflipping though the laser security grid was a good thing), and there are some great character moments. There are also some lovely small details, including that incredulous look on a security guard’s face when when that credulous businessman is taken in by May’s platitudes. It’s also very funny, making the most of the incongruity of May in a dress having to look happy. It’s becoming unclear, though, if we’re supposed to be amused by Hunter or think he’s a dick; you can’t help but think that the way he goes on about his wife is just a man in denial.
But when you look at the episode’s set pieces, each one just plays it too safe. The set-up for the heist at the beginning was fine but Chuck used to have more fun with the same kind of scenario every other week, and Hustle turned it into a art form. SHIELD didn’t have to reinvent the Ocean’s series, but it could have used the show’s USP – spy-fi tech – to make the sequence feel a little more distinctively SHIELD-esque.
The masking technology used to make Agent 33 to look like May was previously seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where it was used by Black Widow. So HYDRA nicked it from SHIELD, then.
Then there’s the dance, which comes across as a little half-arsed. Sure it’s funny seeing May have on display in a glittery dress and loathing it, but then the dance just becomes exposition with slightly stiff shuffling.
And finally the fight – May versus May. Now, the fight itself is great, and a great concept around which to build the episode. It’s well-choreographed, nicely physical and the FX are impressive.
But a fight in a hotel room? That’s so 1960s The Saint.
Kidding aside, fights in hotel rooms are a staple of TV action/adventure dramas, and the problem with hotel rooms is that they’re not particularly exciting and lend themselves to the blandest lighting. The result here is a great fight that goes on slightly too long set against a sea of beige.
Just because the plot requires some hotel room sequences, the action doesn’t have to stay there. Get the girls on the roof, fighting in the moonlight or rain or both. Get them into a car park, with flickering lighting. Get them into a supermarket where they can throw food at each other. All of which are clichés in themselves, but they’re better than a beige hotel room.
We’re exaggerating to make a point. It’s just a shame to watch the show fall back on safe TV set-ups rather than trying to stretch itself. Some really good ongoing plots and characters are being undersold in a show that has a slightly old-fashioned, make-do feel.
But Coulson likes kangaroos? Okay, let’s see that become an important plot point.
Keeping It In The Family
The episode’s director, Kevin Tanchareon, is the brother of exec producer Maurissa Tanchareon (who of course is married to fellow EP Jed Whedon). He is also director and producer of the Mortal Kombat: Legacy webseries, so he was probably chosen for this episode to make the most of the fight scene.
Skye says that she used a “five fingered discount” to purchase the tickets to the fundraiser. We know what she means (hacking), but you can’t help thinking it sounds more like she pleasured one of the event organisers.
Strictly Come Spying
We’re no ballroom fans, but were May and Coulson actually performing the right dance for the music they were playing? It looked like they were tangoing to some elevator muzak. Everybody else on the dance floor was just kinda shuffling. Talk about not looking conspicuous. Then again, constantly mumbling while you’ve got a finger in your ear pretty much screams, “SPY!” anyway.
Skye: “Wait, what was that?” Coulson: “Yeah, that’s May.” Skye: “Is she okay, is everything okay?” Coulson: “Yes, she’s laughing. I think the worst of it’s over now.”
Face Of The Week
Fitz reacts to hearing one too many bloody anecdotes from Hunter about his wife. Hunter is laying it on so thick now, you wouldn’t be shocked if she turns up next week…
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK and on ABC on Tuesday nights in the US.