Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 4, “I Will Face My Enemy”
Written by Kevin Tancharoen
Directed by Drew Z. Greenberg
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET on ABC
There is nothing quite like a good art heist adventure, and Agents of SHIELD tries its hand at it in “I Will Face My Enemy.” Coulson and May attend a gala in order to steal a painting with valuable information written on the back. Before they can recover the painting, however, their cover is compromised by General Glenn Talbot, and someone else snatches up the painting first. The resulting episode is a loving tribute to the art heist sub-genre in the vein of James Bond and The Thomas Crown Affair with a big party, sexy ballroom dancing, and tricky laser alarms.
Every trope from the art heist sub-genre is present in the episode, from the overly showy dancing to the retina scan/laser alarm defense system. The comedy is heightened thanks to Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen’s performances and the audience’s knowledge of these characters. Seeing the often stern, sometimes fatherly, and quite frequently gigantic fan-boy Coulson play the debonair spy hero is hilarious on its own. It is especially good when paired when May, the stoic warrior of the team, is forced to make small talk with unpleasant people and laugh shrilly at their bad jokes.
Wen is easily the MVP of “I Will Face My Enemy.” Besides having some hilarious bits of dialogue and a dance number with Gregg, she is playing double-duty as May and as a Hydra agent disguised as May. As a result, she plays both sides of an excellently choreographed fight sequence between May and her double. Instead of sticking strictly to big punches and kicks, May’s fight moves all throughout the apartment onto different surfaces and features creative moves, like bouncing her double’s head into a table and knocking her out cold. If anything, the episode shows just how far TV fights have come since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it proves how lucky Agents of SHIELD is to have Wen in the cast.
On top of the main plotline, there is a B-plot with Fitz struggling to trust the other members of the team and working out if they still need him. This moves Fitz’s season-long story arc forward in a significant way and introduces a new dynamic of Fitz and Hunter working together. In season two, Fitz is spending a lot of time with imaginary Simmons and Mac, but he is intentionally distant with everyone else on the team. An emergency situation forces him to work with the rest of the team, especially Hunter, and with them, the show finds yet another pairing that works very well. The final scene with Hunter and Mac offering Fitz a beer is a highlight of the episode. It is a friendly chat about their ex-girlfriends that feels familiar but not clichéd or too cheesy.
The title of the episode is “I Will Face My Enemy,” and there are many plays on the title throughout, including the return of Black Widow’s facial disguise from Captain America: Winter Soldier. The focus is on agents wearing multiple faces and confronting what they perceive as their enemy. For Coulson, his enemy is himself, and he is confronting it by preparing May for the worst. For Fitz, his enemy is the limitations of his mind as well as his teammates, who he believes have no more use for him. For May, her enemy is her conflicting feelings about Coulson, wanting to save him but also wanting to do what is best for everyone, including Coulson. All of this character development is wrapped up in a story with Coulson and May putting on masks of their own to blend in at a party. It’s surprising it took this long for Agents of SHIELD to address the life of a secret agent in this manner and examine the masks that May, Coulson, and Fitz are putting on with each other. Can they ever be completely honest with each other, or are open relationships another sacrifice that agents must make for their own self-preservation? “I Will Face My Enemy” opens up that question and still leaves plenty of room to explore it in future episodes, offering another great reason to keep watching.