Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 18: “The Frenemy of My Enemy”
Written by Monica Owusu-Breen and Paul Zbyszewski
Directed by Karen Gaviola
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on ABC
“The Frenemy of My Enemy” is an episode with a whole lot going on, probably a little too much going on. The return of Ward, Hydra seeking out super-humans, and Cal’s day out with Skye all come to a head in a big showdown in Milwaukee. Plus, Simmons and May are clashing over Gonzalez’s SHIELD, and one of Jiaying’s super-humans goes missing on a camping trip. As a result, everything except for Skye and Cal’s father-daughter date feels rushed, but thanks mostly in part to Kyle MacLachlan’s performance, the episode is still very entertaining, despite its minor flaws.
One of the biggest problems with the return of Ward and Coulson getting into Hydra is that their plans are so ill-defined going in. When Coulson makes his deal with Ward, he does not tell Ward what intel he is looking for, which seems like something they should really discuss beforehand, and there is no discussion of what will happen to Bakshi and Deathlok should anything go wrong. All Coulson asks is for Ward to generally get him into Hydra. Even when they are in the midst of the mission, it doesn’t seem like they have a real plan, beyond throwing in Bakshi and Deathlok and winging it. At one point, Coulson yells at Ward, “That wasn’t part of the plan,” and the moment comes off as unintentionally funny.
With the amount of plot that needs to be covered, there isn’t much time for intentional humor in “The Frenemy of My Enemy”. Coulson gets a line about Deathlok’s rocket arms, and Simmons pretends to be working on the cube, reminiscent of Unikitty in The Lego Movie. “Business, business, business, numbers, is this working?” Fortunately, writers Monica Owusu-Breen and Paul Zbyszewski save the episode’s best lines and levity for Kyle MacLachlan. He plays Cal as an awkward, adoring puppy, so eager to make up for lost time with Skye that he loses all self-awareness. He shows Skye around Milwaukee, and searches everywhere for a mom-and-pop bakery or an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and intentionally or not, the writers give a big nod to Marvel’s newest hit show Daredevil with Cal’s comments on gentrification. A Swedish bakery is gone, replaced by a currency exchange.
The best thing about the scenes with Cal and Skye is that they slow down and let the emotional moments breathe and resonate before moving on. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the scenes between May and Simmons, as well as the ones between Ward and Fitz. When May reveals to Bobbi that the cube is a fake, it is a major betrayal of Simmons’ trust. Their conflict needed more screen time to play out. Similarly, this is the first time that Fitz has had to work with Ward since discovering Ward worked for Hydra. This is a major character conflict, but the only times it’s really addressed are during Fitz’s brief conversation with Hunter, and Fitz going after Ward on the plane. Again, it demands more screen time, but with everything else going on, there simply isn’t enough time in the episode.
Speaking of screen time, Dichen Lachman as Jiaying seems to have less screen time in “The Frenemy of My Enemy” than she does in “Melinda”. Even so, Lachman is doing a fine job building on Jiaying’s character, making her likable and admirable, but not necessarily trustworthy. She lies a little too easily to a man she once loved, to the father of her child. She is lying to the other leaders by not telling them that Skye is her daughter. It is conceivable that she is currently lying to Skye or will lie to Skye in the future. Lachman’s performance reveals that Jiaying doesn’t want to deceive Cal, but she will do so if necessary. It also shows that Jiaying’s decisions are based only on the well-being of her people. When Skye confronts her about Cal being dangerous in the real world, she is unmoved by Skye’s pleas, even annoyed with her concern for humans.
Pacing issues in “The Frenemy of My Enemy” might still be redeemed in the next episode, “The Dirty Half Dozen”. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, making it feel like a two-part episode, and the story might flow better watching the two episodes together, rather than a week apart. Also, with the way the episode ends, there is still a chance it will come back around to the interpersonal conflicts between Fitz and Ward, as well as between Simmons and May. A little rushing is definitely preferable to season 1’s dragging pace, but not every episode needs a kitchen sink mentality. Sometimes all the drama it needs is a dad trying to connect with his daughter by buying her ice cream.