Agents of SHIELD keeps putting out great episodes this season. Last week’s wrap-up to the season premiere was a great one, giving us some solid character development while helping to feed some of the key mysteries that have been set up for this season. This week, the mysteries and the Obelisk were set aside as we finally learned what Simmons has been up to. We also got some stellar acting from Ian De Caestecker, who is the MVP of season 2 thus far, and a look at how all of our characters have changed and progressed since last season, and how the family dynamic of the team has shifted. We also saw the return of one of last season’s dangling threads, perhaps setting the stage for more returning characters from last year. So without further ado, let’s jump into “Making Friends and Influencing People” written by Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Bobby Roth.
This week’s episode’s “previously on” segment at first seems a little random, as it recaps the events of the season one episode “Seeds,” which focused on the events that lead to former SHIELD science student Donnie Gill gaining ice powers (and turning him either into Elsa from Frozen or the Blizzard). However, the first scene of the episode actually has nothing to do with Gill at all. Instead we find ourselves with Dr. Whitehall and his assistant, Bakshi. Whitehall is savoring a glass of liquor while musing on the fact that he bought a case of it for $10 back when he was a young man (presumably in the 1940’s) and each bottle is now worth over $2000. This isn’t an examination of HYDRA’s funding source, however, but a metaphor for how “patience is most definitely a virtue.” He’s certainly a patient man, as he seems unperturbed that his current efforts are taking longer than expected. We see that he has a woman strapped to a device with her eyes forcibly held open (A Clockwork Orange style), whom Whitehall calls “Agent 33.” She’s being forced to watch a screen filled with blue, swirling shapes while Whitehall tells her, “I believe in second chances. I want us to work together. I want you to become a valued member of our organization. Surrender and you will find meaning. What’s best is you comply. Compliance will be rewarded.” Agent 33 is having none of that, however, and tells him she will never work for HYDRA. Clearly, the brainwashing will take a while, but Whitehall is convinced it will work eventually. (He also calls it something that sounds like the “Faustus method”?)
The episode doesn’t waste any more time before answering our most burning question: What has Simmons been up to? Well, she’s waking at 5:45 in the morning, running on the treadmill, choosing an outfit, and picking up coffee and a snack on the way to work, all to the sounds of “God Help the Girl.” She strolls into work, handing her bag to the security guard while she passes through the metal detector, and the guard tells her that her smile is a breath of sunshine. She heads to an elevator, where a thumbprint scanner grants her access, and as the doors close the song tells us, “God help the girl, she needs all the help she can get.” The elevator takes her to a lab, where she sets to work analyzing some samples. Someone we assume is her boss comments on her early arrival, but it’s not exactly a compliment and he moves on to tell her that he wants her report on the samples by the end of the day. As he walks off, he passes by a wall adorned with a large, not very subtle HYDRA logo!
Skye, meanwhile, is also hard at work, practicing her marksmanship on the shooting range. She empties her clip into the paper targets, and the holes in it show a tight grouping right in the heart of the human outline. She tells May, who is watching her progress, “I imagined they were all Ward.” May almost smiles, before admonishing her to, “Imagine they are all targets.” She tells Skye that it’s all about control, but Skye pipes in with the next line in May’s speech. This is obviously not the first time she’s gotten this particular bit of advice, and Skye takes it to mean that her marksmanship is “puny”. May grabs her wrist and checks the Fitbit she’s wearing (the first of many times we’ll see this particular piece of technology, not exactly the most subtle bit of advertising, although they never mention the device by name), which shows her heart rate at a steady 61 beats per minute, which May says is definitely not puny. Next up on Skye’s training list is the sniper rifle, but they’re interrupted by Mack and Hunter.
After some debate about SHIELD academy (which Hunter never attended), Hunter apologizes again for shooting May and Skye with ICERs in his quest for vengeance on Creel. May tells him, “Don’t be sorry, just wait,” which would make me pee my pants if I was in Hunter’s position. However, Hunter has other things on his mind, namely the bet he made with Mack over whether Skye attended the academy. She tells them that she never did, despite Coulson saying she was a real SHIELD agent, as she only had the badge for a day before SHIELD collapsed. This means that Hunter loses the bet and has to do Mack’s inventory for him. Watching Skye with her weapons, he tells her how Hartley preferred a knife to guns, while Idaho would go to church to light candles for those he killed as a way to balance the scales. He wonders whether Skye’s ever taken anyone out before, but she says she hasn’t. He and Mack leave, and May heads off Skye’s self-doubt by telling her that “experience doesn’t make it any easier to cross someone off.” But for now it’s back to work, as she wants Skye to practice with the sniper rifle to get used to the recoil.Coulson strolls by, and May jogs over to hear the latest news. Since he’s alone she assumes that the mission was a failure, and he agrees that it was a “waste of precious jet fuel.” It seems that he was after Agent 33, but HYDRA got to her first. “I’m tired of losing our best and brightest to HYDRA,” he tells her, giving us a line we saw last week in the preview for this episode.
Speaking of HYDRA, we next check in with Simmons, who is still working hard on her samples. Her boss comes up and wants whatever information she’s discovered right now, as he’s been called upstairs to give a report and he has little to show them. Simmons offers to come along to explain things, but he thinks she’s crazy for wanting to do that, as “the higher you go the scarier it is.” She tells him that the cells she’s examining have the abnormal ability to create trace amounts of hydrogen, but that it’s a result of environmental conditions, not something genetic. She glances inside her boss’s file and sees the familiar face of Donnie Gill attached to a report. She asks who he is (although she obviously remembers), but is told that he’s “just another acquisition.”
Speaking of that “acquisition,” we catch up with Donnie Gill sitting in a bar in Morocco, fixing the bartender’s radio. The bartender is thrilled, giving him a drink in return and listening to Gill talk about how he used to study engineering back in the day. He uses his powers to freeze the glass, chilling his drink, and offers to fix more things for the man in exchange for some rewards. “It’s been a while since I’ve liked being somewhere,” he said. The bartender says that he has a history of giving shelter to people who were hiding, which sets off an alarm for Gill, who never told the man that he was hiding. He jumps up and grabs him by the throat, asking who he told about Gill. The man says that he was threatened by them, but Gill freezes him solid before he has a chance to say any more. Suddenly two men in suits arrive, and just want Donnie to hear them out, but he’s not interested. After one of the suits sits at the table, Donnie freezes the table, sending ice up the man’s arms until he, too, is frozen like the bartender. The other suit runs for it, while Gill removes the first suit’s cell phone and goes through his messages until he finds one instructing the man to deliver Donnie to the Mirabel del Mar. As he leaves, the frozen man in the suit falls to the ground and shatters in to hundreds of icy, bloody chunks. (I guess he’s more Blizzard than Elsa after all.)
Simmons comes home from her day at work and hangs up her purse and her coat when she hears a noise coming from inside her apartment. She draws a gun and after a steadying breath she turns the corner and aims it at Coulson, who asks her, “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” He strides to her refrigerator and opens it, lamenting the fact that all she has inside is sriracha and beer, wondering what kind of healthy diet she thinks that comprises? “I also have tea,” she comments, adding that “dead drops shouldn’t involve fast food.” Coulson says that he’ll revisit that protocol, before revealing that he’s brought her some groceries. It’s about at this point that the reality sunk in for me and I finally accepted that Simmons has been working undercover for Coulson this whole time! Coulson’s brought some grass-fed steak, potatoes, and kale, saying “While I cook, you debrief.”
She tells him that HYDRA is after Donnie Gill, and that her analysis tells her that he has the power to freeze things. Coulson takes this to mean that he’s not just a gifted scientist, but a “gifted” scientist. Simmons theorizes that the lightning that struck their weather device while Donnie was in contact with it. They discuss her prospects for advancement within HYDRA, who are currently wasting her talents. Coulson asks if she’s made any friends, as she seems lonely, but she knows that he’s not asking out of concern for her feelings. He wants her to move up the (evil) corporate ladder, and to do so she’ll need to make friends with her coworkers. She says that she can’t lie like Ward did, but he advises her to tell half-truths in order to deceive, which should be easier. After a hesitation she asks how everyone is doing back at SHIELD, but Coulson knows exactly what information she wants and tells her, “Fitz is ok. He’s hanging in there.”