It wasn’t a total loss for the SHIELD team, however, as they managed to recover numerous crates of HYDRA equipment from the ship. Trip’s not willing to bet with Mack over their contents, however, as he doesn’t want to be stuck doing inventory like Hunter. Skye’s taken off somewhere, away from everyone on the Bus, but Hunter confronts May to let her know that he’s alright, if bruised, despite the gunshot. He assumes that this means that they’re even, to which May replies, “We are,” with a grin. “Oh bloody hell,” Hunter says, as he realizes he’s still got some payback coming from Skye and Trip.
May finds Skye in the former briefing room, which has hanging plastic in place of the glass walls it had before they were shattered last season. May makes a comment about how they should fix it up before asking Skye what she’s doing. “I don’t know, it just reminds me of before.” She says she’s been monitoring law enforcement communications and that they haven’t found Gill’s body yet. She wonders if May knew about Simmons working undercover for HYDRA, and May confesses that she did. Skye’s scared for Simmons, mostly because, “She’s a terrible liar. It’s a horror show.” However May insists that Simmons can handle it and is good, and “she’s not the only one” who can handle herself. Despite the situation, Skye seems to be comforted by May slight praise.
Coulson decides it’s finally time to sit down with Fitz. “We should talk,” he says. “I want you to know that I see your progress. I saw the recording. You almost killed him.”
“But I didn’t,” Fitz replies. “I’m not a killer.”
“I can’t look at him,” Coulson confesses. “I hate that he’s here. But we barely know anything about HYDRA. Ward is one way I’m trying to do that.”
“You should have told me.”
“I didn’t want to add to what you were already dealing with.” Fitz wants to know if there’s anything else Coulson is keeping form him. “Yeah, I’m director,” Coulson says. “There’s a hell of a lot more.” He finally tells Fitz that Simmons is on an assignment, and that’s why she left. Fitz asks if she was ordered on the assignment or of she asked for it, if she wanted to leave. Coulson doesn’t answer that except to say that what she’s doing is very important.
We check back in with Dr. Whitehall, who asks Bakshi if they know who is in charge of SHIELD. “I’m afraid not,” is his answer. They’re interrupted as Agent 33 arrives carrying some documents she says she was told to bring. “I’m happy to comply,” she says before she leaves. They discuss Gill’s program, which was unstable. Then Bakshi says that he’s met a scientist who works for them whose talents are being wasted and he wants to bring her up to their level. Whitehall asks if he trusts her, and Bakshi replies that he does now (especially after she “saved” his life), “but if I’m wrong, we’ll make her comply.”
After the credits, Skye pays another visit to Ward, and she tells him she imagines he’s happy she’s not Fitz. “I’m happy it’s you and that you’re ok,” he says. “I’m glad I could help.” She asks if his earlier reference to HYDRA’s way of convincing people meant brainwashing. He says it’s not done often, it’s a lot of work, and not everyone is susceptible. “Like you?” she asks, and the question hangs there for a moment. “I wish I could say that’s what happened,” Ward answers. “I swore I’d never lie. Everything I did, good and bad, I did of my own free will. Do you believe me?” She says she does, she’s just not sure why. He wants her to believe him, not for his sake but for hers. “I know something, and I want you to believe me when I say it. Your father is alive, he’s looking for you, and some day if you let me I’ll take you to him.” She’s stunned and after a moment says, “We’re done here,” before heading outside. Once upstairs she leans against the wall, somewhat panicky, and checks her heart rate. She watches as it climbs to 99 beats per minute, then to 105.
Agents of SHIELD has really hit its stride right out of the gate this season! We’ve had three excellent episodes in a row, and things don’t show any sign of letting up. I imagine “Making Friends and Influencing People” was probably a better snapshot of what we can expect from this season as far as standard weekly episodes go. It may have been a bit light on the action compared to last week, but the race by HYDRA and SHIELD to get control of Gill made for an engaging main plot, while the character developments all felt important and natural. We got some of the finest acting we’ve seen on the show thus far, and a sense that even though things have drastically changed for our characters they’re still a team in spite of it all. I hope SHIELD can keep up this level of storytelling for the entire season!
Simmons is part of HYDRA (though not part of HYDRA)! I know last week they made it seem in the preview that she had betrayed everyone to join them, but most people didn’t believe it. I didn’t either, but I try not to make assumptions about what will happen on a show, because I tend to be wrong and then I would have been even more devastated by her betrayal. Still, I’m glad she’s just working on Coulson’s orders. I think this is a great move for the character from the writers/showrunners, who are doing their best to give all of our characters new facets this season. It’s great to see her out of her comfort zone and to watch her mature into a more capable agent, able to deceive and manipulate as well as do the sciencey stuff. As long as they don’t lose sight of what made us love Simmons in the first place, I’m thrilled that they’re playing with the characters and letting them show us new things. Still, as exciting as it is having Simmons undercover with HYDRA, I hope it’s not too long before she’s back with the team and with Fitz.
How about a big round of applause for Ian De Caestecker? Not only was he absolutely phenomenal in his confrontation with Ward, but he’s really given the most impressive performance of the entire cast so far this season. I liked all of the cast last year, but Fitz didn’t really get a chance to shine as more than a source for comedy (except for “FZZT”) until the last few episodes. But as horrible as it is to watch Fitz struggle with his “damaged” brain this season, it’s invigorating to see De Caestecker’s acting chops on full display. He played the moment where he tried to suffocate Ward so well that I’m still questioning whether he would have killed him given the chance. Yet he can still be the old Fitz we know, unplugging Mack’s Xbox in his hurry to communicate with him (that seemed like such a Fitz move to me). Everyone on the cast is showing new depths so far this season, but De Caestecker has stood head and shoulders above the rest.
I love the new approach to storytelling that SHIELD is taking this season. All of the same elements from last year are still here this season, but they’ve all been rearranged. For most of last year, the main driving force of the show was the resolution of its key mysteries (Coulson’s resurrection, the Clairvoyant, Skye’s background, etc), while character development occurred alongside. This season, while the mysteries are still there, and there’s a new threat in HYDRA, for me the backbone of the story has shifted to the characters. I want to know what the Obelisk is, and what’s going on with Coulson, but more than that I want to know how Fitz is going to deal with his situation, what are Ward’s true motivations, how will Coulson balance being a member of the team and the Director, and what will Skye’s parentage mean for her sense of who she is. It’s easy to plop down a load of mysteries to keep people watching, but it’s much harder to get people invested in the character developments. It was important for the show to lean on the mystery aspect last season and let the characters build around those, because that’s how you rope in viewers. But much like Lost did over the years, the focus has shifted and it’s the characters that keep me coming back. It gives the show a much more mature, rich tone that I’m absolutely loving.
Even with a new, more mature tone, there’s still room for fun, and next week’s episode certainly looks like fun. Coulson even says, “Isn’t this fun? Look, cufflinks!” We’ve got some major moments for Philinda shippers as Coulson and May look very sexy dancing together at a party of some sort. It seems like the team is after a painting, which may have some of those familiar alien symbols on it. I don’t want the show to lose its sense of humor, something that helps set the Marvel Cinematic Universe apart from other superhero films, so it’s good that they find a balance this season between episodes like the one we had this week and ones like next week is shaping up to be. “Laser grids… why is it always laser grids?”
Let’s not forget Ward. I know people feel as betrayed by him as our heroes do, and with good reason, but I’m definitely curious about his intentions and his motivations. I’m glad that Coulson, Fitz, Skye and the rest aren’t eager to forgive him, but his mere presence makes the show more interesting. He seems very intent on hooking Skye back up with her father, but we don’t know why. Is it simply a desire to “help” her by giving her information that she doesn’t have, or is it something else? Could he be working for her father in some capacity? Does he really regret his actions, or is he just upset that they ruined his chances with Skye? Did he give Fitz his information about brainwashing in order to save Skye or to save himself? If it was to save Skye, why not just come right out and say it when he was talking to her? Is he still protecting HYDRA even though he claims to have no loyalty to them? I promise not to talk about Ward every week in this section, but for the moment I’m still left with lots of questions, all of which have caught my interest. It’s hard for me to trust anything he says, and that makes for an interesting character.
Do you think anyone on our team has been brainwashed by HYDRA? As I said in my instant reaction to the episode, it seems like something of a Chekhov’s Gun if they make such a big point of it and then don’t reveal that someone is a sleeper agent. Obviously, we’re supposed to be worried that Simmons will be turned via brainwashing, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that someone else is a more likely target. I’m not sure who, but some of the crew seems more like while others are virtual impossibilities. If I were to rank the characters from least likely to be a HYDRA sleeper agent to most likely to be a sleeper agent (leaving out Simmons, because Bakshi made it pretty clear that she’s not one, yet), my list would be: Coulson, Fitz, May, Hunter, Skye, Mack, Ward and Trip. Trip seems like too obvious a choice, given he worked with Garrett, while I think everything that Coulson’s been through makes him unlikely. Ward may have said he acted of his own free will, but isn’t that what a sleeper would think? Skye, however, seems like the most interesting choice to me.
What do you think? Did you enjoy “Making Friends and Influencing People”? What do you think of Simmons’ situation? Would Fitz have killed Ward? Have you been impressed with Ian De Caestecker? What’s your opinion on the season after three episodes? What do you think Ward is up to? Do you like the very obvious Father/Mother roles Coulson and May are playing? Do you think any of the main team are sleeper agents? Do you think we’ll see Donnie Gill again this season? Does next week’s episode look like fun? Why is it always laser grids? Let me know in the comments!