Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.03: "Making Friends and Influencing People"

“I can’t look at him. I hate that he’s here. But we barely know anything about Hydra. I need to do whatever it takes to understand the people we’re fighting. Ward is one way I’m trying to do that.”

“Making Friends and Influencing People” continued what has been a relatively strong second season for “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The show overall, since midway through last season, has gained a lot of momentum from the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” They’re kind of plucky underdogs at the moment, although they’re slowly regaining strength. Hydra is back in the shadows again, but they can still pack a punch. They’re trying to assemble a collection of the Gifted to use as weapons, and the folks that don’t convert are taken out. Reed Diamond as Hydra leader Whitehall is deliciously creepy, but I think I’m only going to be able to take that creepy for a limited amount of time before it seriously messes with my head. There’s a lot of action, but the FitzSimmons situation also provides some heart. Simmons needs to come home soon, because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take Hurt!Fitz for much longer either. He’s like a hurt puppy. Hurt puppies make me sad (obviously).

The opening scene of this episode (and a similar scene in the middle) is what led me to say in the intro that Whitehall is seriously creepy. The whole thing had a very “Lost” early season 3 (the Hydra Island mini season) vibe, and I did a little research that explains why. Monica Owusu-Breen, the writer of this episode, was also a writer/producer on season 3 of “Lost.” Whitehall has a brainwashing room set up that reminded me a lot of the Others’ brainwashing room (Room 23) on Hydra Island. The being forced to keep your eyes open and the patterns displayed on the wall were kind of similar. It’s super creepy. We see Whitehall trying to brainwash a woman known only as “Agent 33.” He tries to tell her that “compliance will be rewarded,” but she’s not having it.

The next scene felt very “Lost,” too. In a montage set to “God Help the Girl,” we see what Simmons has been up to since she left Team Coulson. We see her waking up and eating breakfast and exercising before heading to work. It reminded me of similar montages in the season 2 (focused on Desmond) and season 3 (focused on Juliet) premieres of “Lost.” “God Help the Girl” is a modern song, unlike the songs in those montages, but because it is lo-fi indie, it has a very similar vibe. The real twist comes when we see where Simmons is working. She’s working at Hyrda. Her boss is rather hapless, and he accidentally shows her the file of the person who’s DNA she is analyzing. It’s none other than Donnie Gill, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy scientific prodigy the team met last season. Her boss tells her that Gill is Hydra’s “newest acquisition.” We take a brief detour to Marrakech, where we see Donnie is hiding out. I love Morocco, but the place where Donnie was hiding looked too green to be Marrakech, which is right on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

Skye continues her progress towards becoming a fully-trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. In this episode, we see her at a shooting lesson. Lance and Mac start questioning her about her past. They want to know if she went to the Academy, and they’re kind of peeved to find out that she got to have a S.H.I.E.L.D. badge without having gone. Skye does point out that she only had the badge for a few days before S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed. They also want to know if she has ever killed anyone. She says that she hasn’t, that she’s aware of. This is a pretty clear Chekhov’s gun situation. It’s obvious that she will kill someone by the end of the episode.

One of my favorite scenes in the episode involves Coulson paying Simmons a visit so she can debrief him on what she has learned thus far at Hydra. Coulson is rather disturbed that pretty much all Simmons has in her fridge is beer, so he went to the grocery store, and he offers to cook up a delicious dinner while she debriefs. A boss who cooks for his employees is an awesome boss! Although, now that I think about it, does that mean I have to take my own advice? Does it count that I made both meatballs and bean salad for the baby shower we threw for one of my team members? Coulson heads back to the Playground to brief the team, and he also sends Skye in to talk to Ward. She wants to know what Ward knows about Donnie’s connection to Hydra and how Hydra recruits Gifteds, but Ward doesn’t say much. As for Donnie himself, he’s now in Casablanca (usually just called Casa by Moroccans). He’s using his freezing power to freeze a ship docked at the port.

Simmons is busily working away at Hydra HQ when she is taken “upstairs” for a security interview. Whitehall’s creepy right hand man Sunil leads the interview. Apparently Hydra knew that Simmons had been a Level 5 S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but they didn’t know that she knew Donnie. They really didn’t know she had saved his life until somebody found the newspaper cover story about it. Simmons explains that her “real” loyalty is to science. S.H.I.E.L.D. had the resources to fund her work before, Hydra has the resources now. Sunil still doesn’t quite trust her (which is good instinct on his part). He gets permission from Whitehall to put her loyalty to the test. Then he asks Simmons to help Hydra retrieve Donnie from the boat in Casa.

Team Coulson is trying to retrieve Donnie as well, and Fitz is sad that he wasn’t able to come along, considering he and Donnie bonded during the Academy adventure. In fact, he’s kind of downright paranoid about it, wondering why the rest of the team is keeping secrets from him. He walks and converses with his hallucination of Simmons for a bit, and he finds himself at Vault D. Inside Vault D is where Ward is being held. Ward is extremely upset to find Ward there, since Ward tried to kill him and all. He starts cutting off the oxygen to Ward’s cell so that Ward can have a taste of what he went through. The thing that stops Fitz from killing Ward is Ward basically warning him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is running into a trap going after Donnie.

Simmons is taken to the frozen ship in Casa, and when Donnie starts to mistrust her, Sunil starts feeding her specific lines to say. At the same time, Fitz is telling Team Coulson that Donnie was programmed by Hydra, the programming failed, and they’re trying to reprogram him. At the ship, Lance aims his rifle, and Simmons is in the crosshairs. When may realizes Simmons is there, she shoots towards Lance to stop him from killing Simmons and cause a distraction. Lance is just grazed by the bullet. Simmons and Donnie run into a corridor, where Sunil finishes the patter that Simmons started, making Donnie compliant again. He tells Donnie to freeze the whole ship and kill any S.H.I.E.L.D. agents inside. Before Donnie can complete these orders, Skye shoots him, and he falls into the ocean. Simmons cover with Hydra is maintained, which makes me a little sad because I want her reunited with Fitz already.

Coulson returns to the Playground and has a chat with Fitz. They talk about Ward, and when Fitz asks if there is anything else Coulson has been keeping secret, Coulson owns up to the fact that Simmons didn’t just up and leave, she’s on an undercover assignment. Fitz seems to be speaking a bit more coherently, which is definitely a good thing. I think that Mac’s friendship and the opportunity to confront Ward were both good things for him. Speaking of Ward, Skye visits him again, and he tells her that her father is still alive and wants to meet her. Skye doesn’t take it well, as you’d expect. At Hydra HQ, Sunil asks Whitehall if Simmons can start working upstairs (on more sensitive projects, presumably). He trusts her after the incident in Casa, but if it turns out she’s untrustworthy, he has ways to make her comply. And again, I really, really wish she’d just go home to Fitz already. I miss my FitzSimmons!

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