Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Advance Of Ultron: Ward Turns Up As "The Frenemy Of My Enemy!"

The Good: Good plot, Good pacing, Decent special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: More plot-heavy than character motivated, Unremarkable performances
The Basics: "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" does not live up to its advertising, but does manage to be a surprisingly engaging episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that uses the full, very broad, cast.

In advance of the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was given the chance to lead into one of the big Marvel properties and the episode "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" was hyped as doing just that. For the bulk of the episode, the hype is vastly overstated; the tie-in to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is the reference to the H.Y.D.R.A. leader Baron von Strucker, who does not appear in the episode. The reference to H.Y.D.R.A. having (essentially) two leaders is a cheat that allows The Avengers to have their own big mission that appears significant, while allowing H.Y.D.R.A. to remain the primary adversary on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Picking up right after "Melinda" (reviewed here!), "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" tries to restore ex-Agent Ward to the series. The problem with Grant Ward has always been that he is not a particularly interesting character and so virtually everything that has been done with him has had a contrived feeling to it. As a result, when he was exposed as part of H.Y.D.R.A., he was momentarily interesting. When it became very clear - by the end of the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - that Ward was more a rogue agent indebted to John Garrett than a H.Y.D.R.A. loyalist, the writers lost any momentum or intrigue for Ward. So, when "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" bothers to bring him back, the viewer has to wonder why they bothered.

Fitz eludes his tail and joins Coulson, Mike Peterson, and Agent Hunter. Using Fury's toolbox, Coulson prepares to make a deal with Ward, who is now a significant power in H.Y.D.R.A. While one of H.Y.D.R.A.'s new leaders, Dr. List, experiments upon Potentials, Skye reacts to having had dinner with her parents. After capturing (ex-)Agent 33, Coulson lures Ward into a meeting where he offers Ward a chance to walk away by getting him into H.Y.D.R.A. and letting him use the T.A.H.I.T.I. Protocol on Ward. Ward agrees, reluctantly, while Simmons tells May that Fury's toolbox is gone and she is shocked when May tells Morse.

At Jiaying's Sanctuary, Skye tries to convince her mother not to evict Calvin under the pretense that the world it too dangerous for Calvin to be out in it alone. Using Bakshi, Coulson plans to infiltrate H.Y.D.R.A., while Simmons tries to track down Coulson's team through Peterson's eye. Bakshi uses Peterson as a bargaining tool to endear himself to Dr. List, which leads to a standoff in List's office.

"The Frenemy Of My Enemy" does a decent job of utilizing the rather broad cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a way that the show has not managed to do that effectively before. Virtually everyone has a role to play in the episode, even if some of them are rather unremarkable, like Mack being used as a punching bag for Morse. That makes it a very plot-heavy episode.

In fact, the biggest character development in "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" comes from Skye and Calvin. Calvin Zabo is dropped back into the real world and Skye is determined to keep him from getting angry and exploding with his powers. Zabo becomes increasingly frustrated by all of the things in the world that are different from how he remembers them. That frustration continues to make Zabo more twitchy and it puts tension on the bond between Skye and her father.

Zabo is aptly played by Kyle MacLachlan. His performance as Zabo puts a lot of pressure on the reboot of Twin Peaks; MacLachlan's character there was just transformed into the embodiment of all evil in our world when last he was seen. If MacLachlan returns to that role, the challenge for him will be to differentiate it from Zabo, who is articulate, but twitchy, and barely containing his rage.

What "Frenemy Of My Enemy" does more than give Ward a decent return to the series or effectively lead into The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is undermine Skye even more than it has in the past. Skye recognizes that Calvin might go ballistic when she reveals that she is leaving him, but still she lets it slip that she is leaving. Instead of being cautious and waiting for her backup to arrive, Skye is not careful enough to keep herself in check, even when faced with mortal consequences for, frankly, her stupidity.

"The Frenemy Of My Enemy" is, essentially, a rescue mission and J. August Richards, Chloe Bennet and Kyle MacLachlan give the best performances of the episode. There is a "comedy of errors" aspect to "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" that leads to all of Coulson's plans going awry. While it makes for a well-plotted episode, it hardly leads into The Avengers: Age Of Ultron the way it makes the next episode a potentially indispensable one.

[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 reviews of components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of reviews from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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