*Update: My full recap of “Making Friends and Influencing People” is now live. Read it here!
If tonight’s SHIELD episode gave us a closer look at what we can expect on a weekly basis from the show this season, then I’m excited to see what’s yet to come. After last week helped wrap up the season premiere, this week we got more of a stand-alone episode that still helped to advance the story SHIELD is telling. We got the return of (the real) Simmons, some new revelations, some new mysteries, and a good helping of suspense. So read on for my instant reactions to the episode, and check back tomorrow for my full recap of the “Making Friends and Influencing People” (I’ll post a link here once it’s up).
- Simmons isn’t HYDRA!!! (Yet.) I’m so relieved. I know everyone will say that they knew all along that she wasn’t really HYDRA, but I was never 100% sure. I’m thrilled she was just working for them on Coulson’s orders, although I’m not thrilled that Coulson would put her in such a dangerous situation. However, this is a great opportunity both for Simmons as a character and for Elizabeth Henstridge as an actress to stretch their wings and show us something new. It’s cool to see Simmons outside of her comfort zone but managing not only to cope but to thrive. Despite Skye’s concerns about Simmons’ ability to lie, she’s taking Coulson’s advice and using partial truths to conceal what she needs to conceal. I can’t wait to see where this story is going to go!
- I’m also loving May’s new dynamic with the team, particularly with Skye. She’s definitely taken on the mother role of the team (with Coulson as the father, for all you Philinda shippers), being both firm and encouraging with Skye. After she kept secrets from everyone last year, it’s good to see her and Coulson seemingly on the same page, and if they’re keeping secrets from everyone it looks like they’re doing it after some careful thought. It’s not just Coulson compartmentalizing everything, it’s the pair working together, and that’s much more healthy for everyone.
- Ian De Caestecker has been seriously impressive so far this season. He’s made Fitz so heartbreaking and relatable through his ordeal, but he absolutely knocked it out of the park tonight. His scene with Ward was stellar, and he found the perfect intensity for his reaction to discovering Ward there in Vault D. He gave us so many emotions in a short span of time, from his initial panic attack, to indignation at Coulson both for bringing Ward to the Playground and for keeping that information from him, to fury at Ward’s mere existence. It’s a really tough role to play, and he’s doing it stunningly, as it would be so easy to either overact or play it too normally. He’s been the biggest surprise so far this season, for sure.
- Favorite Quote: Skye: “You don’t give the orders, Trainspotting.” Hunter: “I’m not Scottish.”
- The brainwashing aspect of HYDRA creates an interesting situation for the show, as anyone could potentially turn out to be a sleeper agent (including Ward, no matter what he might have told Skye). Not only could any of our main team secretly be a HYDRA spy and not even know it, but anyone they meet from here on out could be as well, at least until they find a way to break people’s “compliance.” We don’t know for sure that anyone on Coulson’s team is a sleeper agent, but this certainly feels like Chekhov’s Gun. Who’s your money on? (I’d guess Trip, given he used to work for Garrett.)
- It was good to see Donnie Gill return, even if we might have seen the end of him (though that was left open, of course). SHIELD laid the groundwork for many characters from last season to potentially return this year (Graviton is the first one that comes to my mind), and I think it worked really well tonight. The HYDRA/SHIELD war is the perfect stage for these sorts of characters to be fought over by the two organizations, with each winning some and losing some. Each minor battle between the two sides feels important, which is something the mystery-of-the-week episodes last season lacked. It allows the show to have some plots that are more standalone (while still having character and mystery development) but which feel like a part of a larger story arc.
- We’ve now had three episodes and every one of them featured a character with superpowers. I don’t think SHIELD is going to attempt to maintain that (especially based on the preview for next week), but still, Creel and Gill have been a solid response to last year’s complaints about a Marvel show without superheroes/villains. It helps that the show’s visual effects seem to have improved, although that might just be my imagination. Either that or they’re learning how to use them in a way that works better on our TV screens.
- Mack and Trip didn’t have as much to do this week as they did last week, but they both still had their moments. I loved that Mack is now helping to feed Fitz words when he has trouble, which might be an important step towards helping him get by without his imaginary version of Simmons. As for Trip, I liked how he just rolled with the knowledge that Simmons was working undercover with Coulson for HYDRA. The others might make a big deal about it, but Trip just took it in stride. That, and the fact that he wanted to be the one to shoot Hunter.
- I’m impressed with Ward’s straightforward acknowledgement of his crimes and betrayals. It would have been very easy for him to say he was brainwashed (and he still might have been), or to blame his actions on his family or on Garrett, but he seems to be making a genuine effort to own up to what he did and not try to weasel out of facing the consequences. That certainly doesn’t mean he is forgiven, nor does it mean that he truly understands the damage he did or the pain he caused (although Fitz tried to help a bit with that), but if he is ever going to see redemption then being honest about his actions is a big first step. No one is completely ready to trust him, and some of them outright hate him, but having Ward take on the burden of his actions so quickly is an interesting bit of storytelling that I fully support.
What do you think? Did you enjoy “Making Friends and Influencing People”? Are you relieved that Simmons isn’t truly a part of HYDRA? Surprised? Suspicious? Did you like the return of Donnie Gill? Who else would you like to see return from last year? Do you think Fitz would have actually killed or done permanent damage to Ward? (Should he have?) Could De Caestecker be any better? Who do you think is a HYDRA sleeper agent, if there is one at all? And most importantly, where do you stand on laser grids? Let me know in the comments!