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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 2 Episode 3 Recap: “Making Friends and Influencing People”

Until The Walking Dead returns on Sunday, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has officially become my most anticipated show every week. A short reign, to be sure, but an impressive feat for a show that was dead in the water last season.

In “Making Friends and Influencing People,” we discover what Agent Simmons has been up to, check back in on a newly “gifted” Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette), while also getting more of the season’s Big Bad Daniel Whitehall than ever before.

All of these are great things, to varying degrees.

Reed Diamond is intent on being the breakout actor on the show this year, as the villainous Kraken. He’s all about patience; the guy’s been waiting since the Red Skull fell during WWII to make his move, and the time is finally nigh. The patience comes forth in Diamond’s performance: he’s deliberate, dry in his delivery, and no less chilling than the Blizzard that’s coming in the form of a souped up Donnie Gill.

Whitehall has Agent 33 (Maya Stojan), a S.H.I.E.L.D. asset, captive, and drills her with psychotropic images and comic-book villain chatter. Comply, join. Agent 33 resists, but Daniel Whitehall persists. After all, the Faustus Method takes time, and BAM, in an oblique way the awesome Captain America villain Dr. Faustus has been introduced into the Marvel TV and Cinematic Universe. Faustus is essentially a brilliant mastermind who emotionally manipulates his opponents, and whether he’s still around or not, his method remains, and has proven to be a reliable weapon for Hydra.

Gemma Simmons wakes up at 5:45 AM, an altogether way too happy song playing (“God Help The Girl”) for such a time, as she heads to work…at HYDRA. I had this kind of ruined for me, but figured pretty quickly that she was undercover, which is confirmed when Agent Coulson brings fingerling potatoes for a dinner and update. Simmons only has Sriracha and beer in her fridge, confirming that she’s my dream girl. In regards to her mission, Simmons is frustrated by her lack of progress: she’s being wasted on the lower levels, and is used to immediately rising within the ranks. Either way, it’s another refreshing development for a character that could’ve become stagnant. Instead, they’ve thrown Simmons to the wolves, into probably the toughest spot of all of them (while, of course, dragging out the FitzSimmons relationship; I’m shipping MacFitz/FitzMac anyways). As Skye herself says, she’s an awful liar, and Simmons is the last person you’d send to go undercover, which is exactly why it works so well.

While I don’t really care, I appreciate that AOS is devoting time to Skye’s transformation into a field agent, rather than just throwing her out there without any training like last season. I also really like Melinda May’s tutelage, and the almost mother/daughter relationship that has developed between them. A wonderful change from the janky love triangle with Ward of last year. Man, everything’s better, isn’t it?

It’s become a talent grab standoff between SHIELD and Hydra in order to bolster their ranks, and SHIELD is losing. When they learn that Donnie Gill is out and about, the chase is on. AOS isn’t shying away from FX or powers early on, as Gill is far more Blizzard than Donnie here, freezing multiple people to death, a long way from the unstable annoying kid from the SHIELD Academy in “Seeds.”

After an episode off, Ward is back in a big way this week, who relates Hydra’s MO when it comes to “gifted” acquisitions. They don’t hesitate, which is why they’ll win. He also keeps dropping hints about Skye’s father, this time telling her he’s alive and he can take her to him, but she ignores the psychopath, unwilling to move that particular subplot forward. Last season, that’d leave me frustrated, but there’s so much other stuff going on that I’m fine slow playing it.

The best stuff with Ward comes when Fitz discovers him. Understandably, the damaged Fitz has trouble seeing the guy who nearly killed him and Iain de Caestecker provides what might be the best acting moments this show has had. Similarly, Brett Dalton continues to shine as Maybe-Evil Ward; whether he’s feigning affection or not, his sorrow and empathy is written on his darkened features. Fitz isn’t having it, however, cutting off the oxygen in his prison. It’s an effective strategy even if it wasn’t intended as such (tortured mentally unstable Fitz hurts my heart, but he’s totes compelling); Ward warns them of Donnie Gill’s brainwashing and power amplification. Thankfully, they don’t use the brainwashing as a convenient excuse for his betrayal. Nope, he was evil all on his own.s

When Bakshi, Whitehall’s second in command, learns that Simmons had prior history with Donnie Gill, and didn’t share it with Hydra, he’s displeased. Instead of blowing her cover, Simmons convinces Bakshi to bring her along on the acquisition romp to the port of Casablanca. Yay Simmons!

Coulson’s team also converges on Casablanca, and he’s for some reason surprised to find Hydra there too (“Of all the ports in all the towns in all the world…”). This puts Simmons and the team in an interesting position in trying to maintain her cover, while also keeping her alive. Simmons and Hydra manage to “activate” Gill again, and it takes a bullet from Skye to take him out, as he falls into his own icy prison, pulling a Captain America. You know he’ll be back, and I bet he’ll look more like the Blizzard from the comics when he does (here’s hoping!). Simmons impresses Bakshi, and her efforts inspires him to promote her to the upper levels of Hydra, which likely means we’ll be seeing Mockingbird soon. Whitehall trusts Bakshi’s judgment, but if he’s wrong…they can always use the Faustus Method on Simmons. Ruh roh.

While you don’t come away really impressed by Dylan Minnette’s acting, everything else in this episode is stellar. In other news, Trip is the happiest person in the world, and I love him for it. More Trip, please.

GRADE: A-

Agents of S.P.O.I.L.E.R.S.

  • Now that he’s been mentioned, will Dr. Faustus appear on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Considering Chris Evans’ reluctance to commit more of his life to Captain America, it certainly seems like Captain America 3 is going to be the Ed Brubaker classic “The Death of Captain America” storyline, something I’ve been predicting since before The Winter Soldier. In the comics, Sharon Carter kills Cap (until he’s brought back to life because comics), because she was brainwashed by Faustus. Who knows if they’re going to keep that aspect of the movies, since they didn’t really give Emily Van Camp’s Agent 13 much play in The Winter Soldier, but it’s tantalizing to ponder. Early fancasting choice? Brendan Gleeson (although I’d settle for Christoph Waltz or Jared Harris). Either way, it’ll be interesting to see if Dr. Faustus appears this season, and if he’ll make the jump from TV to movie, something no character has done to this point.
  • Obvious Prediction: When we meet Mockingbird, she’ll have been brainwashed by Hydra using the Faustus Method, and part of her arc will be breaking down those walls. Maybe Ward will help, and they’ll form a weird romantic liaison.
  • Apparently, Agent 33 is a very minor character in the Marvel Universe. I seriously doubt we’ll be seeing her recruit Hercules any time soon (I doubt we’ll ever get a Marvel tinted Hercules), or ever, but it’s a fun nugget. Curiously, in next episode’s IMDB, her character is referred to as Agent Q, who’s an even more minor character. And a man. Hydra changes people, yo.