So have you been wondering what Agent Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) has been up to the past few episodes? It’s time to find out.
Let’s bitch it out…
Loners and weirdos take precedent in ‘Making Friends And Influencing People’. The title is probably a little too on the nose, but it’s also an accurate reflection of the thrust of the episode which focuses on three characters: Simmons, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and returning junior villain Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette). All three of them are having difficulty acclimatizing to their new status quo and fitting in, which makes them perfect foils for each other since they understand each other.
From the opening moments of the episode, when we follow Simmons through her morning routine to a cheeky, upbeat song through to the reveal that she has joined HYDRA as a scientist, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly trying to shake our perception of who Simmons is. Unfortunately the likelihood of Simmons actually defecting to HYDRA is too great a pill to swallow, especially in light of the Ward (Brett Dalton) reveal, so the effort feels undermined from the get go. It’s hardly surprising when Coulson (Clark Gregg) shows up for a dead drop debriefing and the truth of her undercover mission is revealed. While it’s not exactly the twist the ABC promos wanted us to fall for, at least this new development offers Henstridge more to do as an actress than simply hang around as Fitz’s hallucination.
If there’s any part of ‘Making Friends And Influencing People’ that suffers, it’s that things actually move a little too quickly (which is shocking for this series). We’re offered very little background information on how and when Simmons joined HYDRA, or how Donnie Gill has survived since escaping the sandbox, which makes it feel like we’re touching base with characters even as they’re already getting uprooted. I’m not suggesting that I want to see Simmons’ first days in the lab or more of Donnie’s poorly CGI’d ice sculpture adventures, but it would have been nice to get a bit more context before the “mission of the week” kicks in.
Throwing Donnie and Simmons into the same space makes sense given their relationship back in 1×12 ‘Seeds’ (something Simon Kassianides’ Bakshi is hoping to capitalize on). It also highlights the void that Fitz’s injury has left since he would be a much more natural fit to approach Donnie. Unfortunately Simmons and Donnie’s encounter lacks a strong emotional core, opting for action and threats of icy death rather than explore how neither of them feels grounded.The result is a rushed and mildly unsatisfactory climax. Although the episode does what it needs to move the character arcs for Ward, Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons forward, Donnie’s struggles frequently end up being told, not shown. As a result Donnie’s issues feel superficial and the opportunity to explore how isolation affects people outside of the team goes unexplored. Despite Minnette’s willingness to come back (which may continue given that we learn his body is never found), this feels like a missed opportunity. The ‘special’ at the center of the episode could have been anyone.
- Simmons’ musical intro reminded me of Juliet’s introduction on Lost, which similarly upended narrative expectations. The difference, of course, is that we didn’t know who Juliet was at the time and, unlike SHIELD, her membership in the Others wasn’t a ruse.
- The Fitz stuff, which was starting to stagnate, pays off when he stumbles onto Ward and nearly kills him. The encounter ends up driving the most emotionally loaded scene of the episode when Coulson confesses to Fitz that he hates Ward’s presence and can’t even look at him. Some good powerful stuff and an overdo acknowledge of the elephant in the room between Coulson and Fitz.
- Skye’s time with Ward also proves fruitful. Despite her confessed animosity towards him, she’s still seeking answers about his motivation. I’m glad that he refuses to offer easy answers, but his reveal that her father is alive feels like it’s been played too early. Thus far the writers’ use of Ward as a prisoner/informant has been handled in an efficient and effective manner, but this seems like an excuse to spring him from his cell early.
- Initially I thought that Skye’s ability to regulate her heartbeat would be tied into her 084 status. Imagine my disappointment when her BPM is instead just a visual tool to communicate the extent to which Ward gets under her skin. It’s far too facile (and quickly becomes overused in a very short amount of time). Here’s hoping it doesn’t become a regular feature of future episodes.
- The ‘Influencing People’ part of the title refers to HYDRA’s habit of brainwashing high profile targets. We see first hand how the technique works in snippets as S2’s Big Bad Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) tortures Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) with some patented Clockwork Orange techniques. We also have a demonstration of its efficacy when Bakshi uses the trigger to take control of Donnie in the field. I’m intrigued by the visual manipulation associated with Hydra on this show (remember they controlled co-opted agents in the first season via a device in the eye).
- Side Note: I’m a little concerned that former Dollhouse and current SHIELD showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are going back to the same sleeper agents, triggers and mind control well. I’m one of Dollhouse‘s biggest fans, but I hope that they have something new to say rather than falling back on familiar narrative habits.
- Finally Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) is filling that cocky-know-it-all/Ward role on the team nicely, isn’t he?
- Skye (when Hunter “You don’t give the orders, Trainspotting.” Hunter: “I’m not Scottish”
- BJ Britt’s Tripp (when Ming-Na Wen’s May confirms she shot Hunter): “Man, I wanted to be the one.”
- Skye (fearing Simmons’ safety as an undercover operative): “No I’m serious, her trying to lie is a horror show.”
Your turn: is SHIELD staying consistent to you? Did you feel that there was overlooked potential in exploring Donnie’s isolation? Are you surprised that Simmons wasn’t really a HYDRA defector? Are you intrigued by the suggestions of brainwashing? And how is Ward’s imprisonment playing out for you? Sound off below.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on ABC