Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ah, Spy. . . “I Will Face My Enemy” Is Utterly Unremarkable Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Moments of character, Adequate performances
The Bad: Ridiculously simplistic plot
The Basics: Finally approaching the mystery of what happened to Coulson, “I Will Face My Enemy” degenerates into an unfortunately obvious spy thriller episode.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has any number of built-in issues with the concept. As a television series intended to flesh out the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the nature of the story forced the show into more of a spy-thriller series as opposed to a comic book super hero style show. The first major question of the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!) was how the series’ consistent element from the established Marvel Cinematic Universe was actually present. Given the tragic death of Coulson in The Avengers (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was burdened with explaining how Clark Gregg’s iconic character was around in the television show. While some of the characters in Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might be life body duplicates, alien replicants, or other conceits from the Marvel comic books, Coulson was legitimately resurrected with alien technology.

Smartly, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not ask viewers to expect that there are no consequences for using alien technology for its resurrecting powers. At the climax of “The Beginning Of The End” (reviewed here!), viewers were left with the idea that Coulson is suffering the same side effects that the first season’s main villain. Through the first few episodes of the current season, Coulson and May have confided in one another; May knows that Coulson has “episodes” where he has apparent visions of alien lettering. That alien lettering has appeared on the Obelisk, the original 084 S.H.I.E.L.D. paranormal artifact. So, to move forward the plot of the active element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “I Will Face My Enemy” follows May and Coulson actually trying to learn what the alien writing is.

Coulson and May infiltrate a society function under the guises of Charles and Heidi Martin. Their goal is to get access to a “miracle painting” that the party’s host is holding and showing off for the most wealthy donors. As they zero in on getting access to the miracle painting, the pair sees Brigadier General Talbot at the party. Coulson finds himself worried about what might be happening to him and he and May hightail it to the miracle painting. Escaping the party, they are met by Talbot. Talbot lets them know that he has the miracle painting and he negotiates with Coulson for a meeting.

Appropriately suspicious of Talbot’s sudden willingness to play ball with the fugitives of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson sends May to discover his agenda. What May discovers is that H.Y.D.R.A. has technology that allows their agents to mask their appearances. May figures out that Talbot is not actually Talbot and when she is captured, H.Y.D.R.A. sends an agent mimicking her back to Coulson’s new lab. The alternate May drops a device on the Bus which puts the Bus on a self-destruct and puts the remainder of Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team in mortal jeopardy. Coulson gives May a test, which she fails, inspiring him to turn the tables on the alternate May and rescue the real one.

“I Will Face My Enemy” opens in a way that makes genre fans terrified that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to do a cheap rehash of the The Lone Gunmen episode “Tango De Los Pistoleros.” Fortunately, “I Will Face My Enemy” is not that. Unfortunately, it is the archetypal “Double Among Us” spy television episode. It seems like every spy show has at least one and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not insult the viewer’s intelligence by trying to draw out the surprise of the double being in the protagonist organization. Unfortunately, it does not replace the quick establishment and reveal of the doubling technology with anything terribly clever or interesting.

The writer of “I Will Face My Enemy” seems to recognize that they were given a bum project to write the script for. After taking a bit of time to establish the premise, “I Will Face My Enemy” turns into a very direct spy mission story and when the whole doubling technology comes into play, it is resolved so fast that the episode is left with another whole act to fill. While Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a history of last-minute twists, “I Will Face My Enemy” has a final act that features Raina and Daniel Whitehall in a sequence that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the episode (though it does well to tie the overall plotline of the season together better). The point here is that this is an exceptionally thin story that couldn’t even be stretched out for a full episode.

The result is an episode that is not as satisfying as fans will hope. May and Coulson are the only members of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team who have backstory (albeit built into the first episodes – it was nothing shown in the Marvel movies) with one another and instead of being a truly big episode for the pair where their backstory is detailed or their relationship is fundamentally changed, “I Will Face My Enemy” just pairs them up in the most banal possible way. In fact, on the character front, “I Will Face My Enemy” seems only to remind viewers that May is truly Coulson’s closest confidant in the world now that Nick Fury is out of the picture.

The flip-side of the episode’s unfortunate lack of genuine character development is that Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen actually manage to play off one another with surprising adeptness. They have great on-screen chemistry that could be used to define clearly how professionals with a history of working together should interact. While some of the lines might be clunky and the relationship does not change directions from the “I know you so well that I can easily tell when someone is pretending to be you” genre conceit, Gregg and Wen do an excellent job of embodying what the relationship is supposed to be.

The other character aspect that makes “I Will Face My Enemy” even partially noteworthy is that Fitz starts to bond with the new team members, most notably Mac. Unfortunately, the fact that he continues to see the phantom vision of Simmons only muddies the progress he seemed to have made back in “Making Friends And Influencing People” (reviewed here!).

Even quality of the performances by the episode’s two main players does not save “I Will Face My Enemy.” The episode lacks spark or zest; it could be any number of other spy shows at this point and that only makes it more disappointing.

For other television shows that feature doubles, please visit my reviews of:
“The Adversary” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Colony” - The X-Files

[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 Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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