Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 3, “Making Friends and Influencing People”
Written by Monica Owusu-Breen
Directed by Bobby Roth
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET on ABC
To quote Bill Hader’s beloved SNL character Stefon, “Making Friends and Influencing People” is an episode of Agents of SHIELD that has everything: Double-agents! Hypnotism! Nazis making The Sound of Music jokes! A male version of Queen Elsa from Frozen (minus the singing) freezing a ship! Underneath all of these borderline silly moments, however, is one of the best episodes of Agents of SHIELD yet, not just for season two but season one as well.
The three major storylines of the episode are Simmons going undercover in Hydra, the return of Donnie Gill, and Fitz finding out that “the asset” is Ward. There are also some subplots about Skye training with May and Fitz bonding with Mac, but unlike some of the over-packed season one episodes, all of the subplots are interesting and actually move the season-long plotline forward. Now that Skye and May are getting along, their scenes together are really great. May is pushing Skye to improve, and as a teacher, she is firm but fair. When Skye says that her performance at target practice must look “puny and sad,” May points out her improvements and says, “Not that puny.” In these scenes, Ming-Na Wen gets to show another side to May, encouraging Skye and discouraging her self-deprecating comments.
Speaking of nurturing, Coulson has a sweet and much-needed moment of comic relief with Simmons. In the first two episodes of season two, Clark Gregg is playing Coulson as more emotionally distant, but his concern over Simmons’ empty fridge is adorable. “Sriracha? Beer? What kind of diet is that?” I am also a fan of Coulson as an amateur chef, cooking up steak and organic kale while Simmons debriefs. The scene also showed how much a shift in location can alter some simple dialogue between two characters. Most of the show takes place in these very cold, impersonal places like a lab, on a plane, or at a secret base because that is the life of a field agent. These characters do not get to set down roots or start a family. Sitting Coulson and Simmons at a dinner table, enjoying a good meal together, was a comforting change from the norm and a reminder of what these agents sacrifice for the greater good.
On the topic of Simmons, one of my biggest annoyances from season one is Simmons’ extremely selective competence. In some episodes, Simmons is saving the day with her brilliant scientific mind, and in another, she is hilariously incompetent, unable to properly lie to throw off the villains. In Simmons’ first episode back in season two, writer Monica Owusu-Breen drops the comically incompetent angle, which is a poor attempt at comedy anyways, and she lets Simmons behave like a real SHIELD agent. Elizabeth Henstridge also seems relieved that the writers are treating her character seriously and giving her storylines of her own that don’t involve Fitz. She still plays Simmons as an agent more comfortable in a lab than in the field, but she no longer has to play stupid on a mission. Fortunately, her undercover work at Hydra is far from over, and it is likely that Simmons on her own will play a much bigger role in the success (or failure) of Coulson’s new SHIELD than she ever did with Fitz in season one.
Simmons isn’t the only character to benefit from her separation from Fitz. Iain De Caestecker is continuing to impress as an angrier, less cuddly Fitz. His scene discovering the imprisoned Ward is well-written, and it features fine acting from him and Brett Dalton. Ward never did get the chance to see the damage he caused Fitz, and Fitz’s realization that Ward is alive and living under the same roof is heartbreaking. His willingness to punish Ward is another sign that he is a changed man, and cutting off the oxygen to Ward’s cell is shocking, even if he ultimately doesn’t kill Ward.
“Making Friends and Influencing People” is an appropriate name for the episode because if any episode could convince fans to strap in for season two, this is it. There are great new friends like Mac, old enemies like Donnie Gill returning, and characters like Fitz and Simmons who hung back playing supporting parts are getting the chance to shine.