Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May was one of the standouts from the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., an experienced agent with a history, a trained fighter on the same level as Black Widow or Hawkeye, and someone with hidden depths and emotions; she was the most exciting character in a cast of young inexperienced agents, apart from Coulson (Clark Gregg).
Whilst the second season has done a good job of showing how some of these other characters have begun to grow, such as Skye (Chloe Bennet) becoming a competent field agent, or Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) living with his trauma, May seems to have been relegated to the background. ‘Face My Enemy’ changes this, however, as we not only get May being a central focus of the episode, but we even get two of her!
When a mysterious church fire destroys everything but a painting that contains the same strange writing that has been plaguing Coulson he and May infiltrate a fancy gala in order to steal it. This feels very much like the early season one episodes, taking on a bright, almost fun, Mission: Impossible style feel. There’s great chemistry between May and Coulson in these scenes, and it really helps to sell the idea that these two have known each other for years, and that they’ve been on dozens of missions like this together. These scenes also let Ming-Na show us that she can do more than just act as the colder, stoic member of the team, as she takes on a persona that smiles and laughs, much to the surprise of some of the rest of the team.
This being Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., however, means that the mission does not go as planned, as the painting appears to be stolen by General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar). Whilst it’s initially worrying when this happens because it would mean another apparent good guy turning out to be working for Hydra, the reveal that it’s actually a disguised Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) makes for a great moment. Plus the face swapping masks makes this feel much more like Mission: Impossible.
Making a return from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier the face changing tech is a great addition to the series. It allows for interesting narrative challenges for the characters, as shown in this episode, but it also makes a tiny bridge to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fact that it just appears here, rather than having someone say ‘ah yes, this is the same technology that Black Widow once used’, much like they kept doing in season one, actually feels very organic too.
Hydra make good use of this device here by having the brainwashed Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) take on May’s identity to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.. Unfortunately for her Coulson knows May well enough to be able to see through this ploy and figure out that she’s a fake. The fact that the episode went out of it’s way to have Coulson and May spend so much time together in the early part of the story and establish how comfortable they are around each other makes this a much stronger moment, Coulson didn’t catch her out because she slipped up on an obvious detail, it was something that only he would notice because of their friendship.
The Hydra story comes to a head as the two May’s come face to face in a fight that is hands down the best one the series has given viewers up to this point. It’s clear that this is a big part of why Mortal Kombat: Legacy director Kevin Tancheroen was given this episode to direct, as the two versions of May fight each other suing their fists, knives, lamp poles, and even electrical cables. They tear apart the room their in as they keep beating the crap out of each other. Whilst there are moments in the fight during the wide shots where you can tell that it’s Ming-Na fighting a body double it works very well for the most part and looks great.
May’s finishing move where she does a mid-air spinning face slam into a table is a moment that is guaranteed to make you cheer out loud just for how absolutely awesome it is.
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