The Good: Plot moves along, Moments of character, Decent performances
The Bad: Stands poorly on its own, Very much a middle act
The Basics: “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” is one of the best episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, though all of its important moments are meaningless without already being invested in the show.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is five episodes into its second season with “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” and the show was in danger of going off in too many directions to be accessible to those who are not already fans, watching each episode. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not even trying to be episodic at this point and the strongly serialized nature of the show actually makes “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” a better episode. Given how “I Will Face My Enemy” (reviewed here!) ended with Raina being given a ticking clock and a mission of her own, it was pretty natural that “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” would pick up almost immediately after the prior episode.
Almost immediately, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” is tasked with either pushing forward the central plot of the series or mortgaging a reasonable sense of suspension of disbelief in the show. Fortunately, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” aims for the former and hits the mark. Unafraid to burn the dangling plots that have the potential to be truly problematic the longer they linger in the background, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” effectively burns the Simmons plotline from “Making Friends And Influencing People” (reviewed here!). Fortunately, the movement made in this episode is well-executed and makes the spy show actually work in a credible way, despite the science fiction aspects of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..
After a wedding where H.Y.D.R.A. agents experiment upon the guests and kill most everyone there, H.Y.D.R.A. becomes obsessed with obtaining the obelisk. Raina, tasked with getting the obelisk from Skye’s father, is denied the treasure and when she sees Simmons at the H.Y.D.R.A. laboratory, she strikes up a plan to save her own life. Skye, having seen the alien writing carved into the desk in Coulson’s office and after an unsettling conversation with Ward about the nature of those symbols, confronts Coulson. Coulson admits that he and Garret reacted poorly to having alien DNA put in their bodies, but Skye did not. Told she might actually be an alien, Skye freaks out. Raina calls Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team meets with Raina.
Raina puts Coulson on the defensive, threatening to out Simmons if he does not help her get the obelisk and Skye. Refusing to concede to Raina, Coulson calls her bluff. The H.Y.D.R.A. security agent who is closing in on Simmons suddenly comes to her rescue to extract her from the enemy lab. Bobbi Morse blows her cover, but Coulson uses Raina to try to find the obelisk and Skye’s father. But when Skye goes rogue, tailing Raina, to try to find her father, the entire mission is put in jeopardy. But Skye’s father is struggling to maintain control over his own monstrous abilities and in trying to elude Skye, he runs right into the arms of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest enemy.
The burden of continuing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the climactic events of the first season and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that the show is plummeted into a genre that has been mined to death. The savvy television viewing audience has seen spy shows and we know virtually every twist coming episodes in advance. To make the heroes interesting, the villain has to be credible and powerful. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s adversary is H.Y.D.R.A., an evil superspy organization that worked with the Nazis . . . and the Nazis were the cuddly half of that arrangement! In making H.Y.D.R.A. the supervillains of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the burden of the show is to make the enemy smart enough to keep world governments and S.H.I.E.L.D. on the ropes. “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” does that quite well by having H.Y.D.R.A. and Skye’s father becoming appropriately menacing and causing the few clandestine assets Coulson has to be burned.
Adrienne Palicki bursts into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Bobbi Morse wonderfully. From almost her first moment in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse,” Palicki makes viewers wonder just how the hell DC Entertainment failed to successfully launch Wonder Woman with her. Palicki is articulate and has great physical presence in the role of Morse. She instantly upstages Nick Blood’s Agent Lance, though they have decent banter between them in their scenes.
What keeps “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” grounded is that Skye and Coulson are focused on enough to make sure that the episode is not a Raina episode. Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet have decent on-screen chemistry in the episode as Coulson and Skye. Bennet has grown as an actress and in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” has her losing her uncertainty in playing Skye. The enhanced performance ability comes at the ideal time as her character has a fairly emotional episode. Skye nears her lifelong goal only to discover that her father is not looking for her for positive reasons. Bennet plays Skye as appropriately shaken and those moments resonate. Fortunately, Gregg’s Coulson grounds the emotional moments of the episode.
Holly Dale directs “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” with mixed results. While the episode moves along with amazing pacing and good cuts to make the banter flow, but the meeting between Fitz and Simmons is cut in such a way that there is nothing cathartic about the much-awaited, potentially emotional moment. Even with that emotional flaw and the necessity of being already invested to care about the sweeping events of “A Hen In The Wolfhouse,” the episode is quite good.
For other works with Adrienne Palicki, please visit my reviews of:
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!
For other television reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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