After spending the first two episodes of the new season as a hallucination ‘Making Friends and Influencing People’ sees the return of Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). The opening scene of the episode focuses of Simmons, following her through her morning routine as she gets ready for her day at work. It’s a very different scene than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. usually delivers; it’s bright and colourful, it has cheery music, and it shows one of the heroes in a very normal, domestic setting.
This light scene takes a sudden turn when it’s revealed that Simmons is actually working for Hydra. This makes the different tone make a lot more sense, as it’s very clearly done to make the audience believe that Simmons has left espionage behind her and is enjoying an ordinary life only to surprise viewers with the reveal. It might be a fairly heavy handed technique, but it does make for a genuinely surprising moment.
Thankfully, the episode doesn’t try to trick the viewers into thinking that the incredibly loyal Jemma Simmons had joined a Nazi led organisation that had murdered her friends and colleagues as it’s quickly revealed that she is actually working undercover for Coulson (Clark Gregg). Sent into Hydra as a low level scientist/agent Simmons has been tasked with gathering useful intel, something that she’s been struggling to accomplish.
Fortunately for Simmons, her mission improves when she finds herself being brought into a manhunt for Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette), the temperature controlling former S.H.I.E.L.D. cadet from the season one episode ‘Seeds’. This brings her into contact with one of the heads of Hydra, Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), and his underling Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides). Whitehall and Bakshi are definitely built into the same mould as Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and Armin Zola (Toby Jones), men who want to rule the world and revel in their evilness. It makes a big difference from previous Hydra villains we’ve seen before yet feels perfect for the show.
We learn in this episode that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra are both after the same thing, powered ‘gifted’ individuals. The hunt for Donnie is entertaining, taking the action across the globe to a large tanker trapped inside ice. Whilst the location might not be the most exotic or visually interesting, but the tension and emotion in these scenes make them much better, particularly when Skye (Chloe Bennett) has to pull the trigger and kill her first person.
The best scene, however, has to go to Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) coming face to face with Ward (Brett Dalton) for the first time since he dropped him out of a plane. Any complaints made during the first season that Fitz wasn’t an interesting enough character on his own are well and truly shelved now, with the traumatised and wounded Fitz delivering a truly chilling and emotional scene. It’s moments like this that reinforce that De Caestecker is the best actor in the cast, as he takes Fitz through a range of emotions from shock, to fear, to anger, as he processes the fact that the man that tried to kill him has been secretly locked in the base, before he comes to the decision to try to murder him. Thankfully Fitz fails to go through with his revenge, choosing to let him live.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may be filled with action and comic book shennanigans, and this episode is no exception, but it’s the character moments that make the series special. We get to see in this episode how far characters like Fitz, Simmons, and Skye have come since those early episodes where Zitz and Simmons were interchangeable and felt like one character spread over two, and Skye was an annoying hacker with no training. The series is showing that there are consequences to previous actions, that these characters are not just archetypes who will always remain the same, but will evolve.
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