In a stark contrast to season one, the second season of Agents of SHIELD has gotten off to a really good start in almost all respects and has been chugging along on a good pace. So far this season we’ve seen some new villains and also a few new mysteries. One of my mos anticipated “mystery-to-be-explored” this season was Skye’s past and who/what she is exactly, and the second season addressed exactly that in its cliffhanger of last week’s episode. But more than that, the episode also saw some good developments for the future of Coulson’s SHIELD, and that was a great thing.
The episodes this season, given what I’m seeing on the show’s Wikipedia page, are really odd and long, not exactly rolling off the tongue. This week’s episode, “Making Friends and Influencing People” sees the return in-the-flesh of Agent Jemma Simmons, whom we last saw in last week’s episode three teaser as being an agent of HYDRA now. So the episode delves into that in detail, and explores how Simmons has changed, and what kind of an impact her absence has had on Fitz, who himself learns some dark secrets about the new SHIELD. This was an interesting episode for sure, but also a bit numbing since nothing BIG actually happened. A by-the-numbers, solid episode that is better than most of the first half of the first season.
The first two episodes of the were a short arc that laid a lot of groundwork for the new season. It established the ground rules with respect to Team Coulson and the various villains and other antagonists. They also introduced a new HYDRA character in Dr. Daniel Whitehall, a former Nazi who has somehow stayed alive since the end of the second World War but hasn’t aged a day since he was taken into custody by Agent Carter, the Howling Commandos and other members of the Strategic Science Reserve. The new episode elaborates a bit on what Whitehall wants to accomplish and how he is stealing Coulson’s potential allies from him. That’s the core concept this week.
Oh and we finally get to see the real Jemma Simmons in this episode, not the illusion conjured up by Fitz’s somewhat frayed psyche to maintain some kind of normalcy in his life. This episode is where I really got into Jemma as a character I think. We haven’t seen the real her since the start of this new season and so this episode comes in at just the right time. In many ways, you can say that the story is very Simmons-centric, but of course, it goes beyond that even because this is no longer a season where characters and the status quo need to be established. It allows the writer, Monica Owusu-Breen, the opportunity to get past the fluff and dive straight into how Jemma herself has changed.
Thankfully, she is NOT a HYDRA agent after all, but is instead working for Coulson, undercover and right under the noses of Whitehall and his second-in-command Sunil Bakshi. This was a plot-thread that I could really get behind. It allows for more nuance to creep in to the show where characters like Fitz and Simmons are concerned, particularly since the debut season didn’t work so well for them. Even as we get to see such a great job by Simmons as a double agent, we also get to see how Fitz is dealing with things. Here, he finally wizens up to the fact that some key intelligence is being kept from him, and he decides to investigate. Some of that is rather convenient and lazily-handled but the rest is executed well enough.
Much as with the gray morality we are getting to see with Elizabeth Keen’s character in NBC’s The Blacklist, we are getting to see the same with Team Coulson as well. But the key difference is that while the execution with Elizabeth is developed specifically for that purpose, with Skye and Fitz it came across as another case of being done for the sake of the plot rather than the characters. The setup did not exist for either of their dark turns, and I didn’t like it in either case.
If there is any other negative thing that strikes out at me, it is that the casting of Sunil Bakshi just doesn’t make sense to me. Performed by Simon Kassianides, I liked the character more when I didn’t know his name. Now that I do though, it just irks me to no end. This is the same kind of problem that can be found with the character of David Singh on The Flash or the general casting of the villain Khan in the Star Trek movies-verse.
Still, such downer moments are very few and one of the coolest elements of this episode is Grant Ward, formerly a SHIELD agent, but revealed to be a traitor later in the second half of the first season. Now he is Coulson’s prisoner, kept alive because she is a font of knowledge about HYDRA that Team Coulson can leverage for its benefit.
All in all, I did like this episode. As I said up top, it is a much better episode than much of the first half of the previous season, which was often bogged down by weak stories and weak characterization. But now things are getting together really well and I am enjoying the second season much more. The acting in general is much better this time around, and so are the stories as well.
And as it happens, the production values have also stepped up a notch. We have seen the Bus in action twice now, and we also know that the team has a Quinjet in its possession now, thanks to the daring heroics in the first episode, the second season premiere. And last week we learned about Skye’s father as well, played by the excellent Kyle MacLachlan who was superb. Hopefully we get more on that particular mystery, and others, very soon!
Agents of SHIELD Season 1 reviews can be found here. I’ve reviewed every episode so far.