There’s an old theory that with a slight shift in emphasis, Star Wars could be rewritten to be a film about terrorists attacking a righteous Empire. Similarly, the last few minutes of “The Frenemy Of My Enemy” are just a few re-edits and quips away from being a complete farce.
With Inhumans, Hydra and Team Coulson all descending on Cal’s office in Milwaukee simultaneously, it's an extended sequence of near-misses, people walking into the wrong corridors at the wrong time and not-so-hilarious misunderstandings (“I’m a friend of Skye’s!” “Sure, and I’m the Hulk.”) By the time “Real” SHIELD muscle in on the act and get their link to Deathlok’s eye-piece working it wouldn’t be much of a shock if they were treated to the sight of a vicar with his trousers round his ankles in a compromising position with a busty maid.
What, they do, in fact, see is Coulson and Ward in cahoots. At which point Simmons’s eyes pop out of her head like she’s cameoing in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and May pouts so hard her cheeks look like they’ll cave in. Whoops!
Thing is – “The Frenemy Of My Enemy” is not a farce. It’s bloody exciting, packed with super-powered action, sudden twists and nasty surprises. There’s an awful lot going on, as different agendas come into play (Coulson’s, Ward’s, Bakshi’s “Real” SHIELD’s, Cal’s, Skye’s, the Inhumans’) and intersect. This is about as far from simple goodies vs baddies dynamics as you can get.
The episode as a whole is slightly sharper and sprightlier than usual. And wittier. Oh sure, this show is never short of quips and fun character moments but the wit here isn’t just in the one-liners; it’s in the plot twists, the inventive direction and the way the playful dialogue dovetails naturally rather then relying on quips as punctuation.
Skye finally learns her full, true birth name in this episode, and even says it out loud as if trying it out for size: “Daisy Johnson”.
The excellent teaser sequence sets the tone. It’s not so much Fitz’s pursuers walking into the invisible jet that sells the scene so much as Team Coulson’s joint, “Ouch” when he does so. Similarly, brief scenes between Deathlok and Agent 33, Deathlok and Ward, Ward and Coulson and Fitz and Ward all crackle with an energy and personality beyond the mere exposition they require.
Even Bakshi gets to have some fun. From the moment he’s revealed in the boot of Ward’s car, promising, “Happy to comply!” he’s a masterpiece of double-talk and double-crossing. Although for most of the episode you have no idea whose side he’s really on, watching his silver tongue at work is endlessly entertaining.
The script also serves Cal well. He has countless great lines (“I’m an overdoer!” is a peach) and Kyle MacLachlan grabs the opportunity to deliver a blisteringly intense, mercurial performance. He’s still clearly a “pitbull” – as Skye puts it – but it’s easy to feel some sympathy, if not empathy, for Cal now.
The same cannot be said for Jiaying. When Skye objects that an angry Cal could result in the death of innocents, her response – “Those people aren’t my concern” – is incredibly cold.
Hydra, however, do become lost in the mix, somewhat. Their presence in the show now seems hamstrung in service to Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Their motives and actions seem a little muddied as a result. There’s just a little too much happening “off-screen”.
To be fair, though, what room was there for it to happen “on screen”? It's a packed episode anyway. We’ve barely even mentioned May and Simmons back at base, forming an edgy partnership despite their difference of opinion over Coulson. The shot of Simmons lobbing the fake toolbox in the bin is another tiny moment that says so much about her attitude.
You could argue the show is trying to do too much at the moment. There’s nothing wrong with scripts that demand the audience pay attention, but occasionally with SHIELD vital exposition and illuminating character moments become a little lost in the wash. Certainly there’s a sense in that final frenetic action scene that while it’s clear what’s going on, it’s not always clear why it’s going on.
Even with that caveat, this is the kind of episode that SHIELD should be putting out every week: confident, colourful, pacy and full of character interaction that’s both natural but attention-grabbing the same time.
Also: “Take me to your leader”. Great. Last. Line.
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK.
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|The One Where
|Coulson forms a pact with Ward to track down Hydra, while Skye accompanies her dad on a trip back to his home in Milwaukee what he doesnt know is that Jiaying wants him left there.