Less than 5 – Skip it, 6 – OK, 7 – Good, 8 – Great, 9 – Phenomenal, 10 – You owe it to yourself to watch this episode!
“Making Friends and Influencing People” showcases a small example of HYDRA’s might and gives us a closer look at some of the shows villains as well as our first real look at what Agent Simmons has been up to this whole while.
Topping the awesome portrayal of the Absorbing Man from the first two episodes was a tall order, and while they weren’t quite on par with each other, Donnie Gill/Blizzard had a very strong showing. His powers were put to great use and he really came across as a powerhouse, despite some shoddy effects work. Dylan Minette does a fine job of showing how desperate he has become and how mistreated he was when left in the hands of HYDRA during season 1. His one scene with Simmons was satisfyingly tense and how he would react to the attempted trickery was a major selling point, especially once you consider how poor of a liar Simmons was last year.
Speaking of which, this episode did a fantastic job of showing how much the team has grown since we last saw them. Skye is no longer the generic hacker chick, Fitz is dealing with his near death experience and Simmons is neck deep in enemy territory. Judging from last season, I never would have expected these characters to end up where they are now. It was kind of obvious from the get go that Simmons was not truly working for HYDRA. The powers that be over at Marvel would have been off their rockers to spoil a surprise that potentially impactful a full week before the episode. Seeing her in this new setting creates a very interesting dynamic with the rest of the team, specifically with Fitz. His emotional instability stems from his belief that she has abandoned him but she was simply sent out on a life threatening assignment. She clearly still has feelings for Fitz, as shown in her short exchange with Coulson back at her place, and it makes for great drama in between the spy exploits and rebuilding of SHIELD. As mentioned before, Simmons couldn’t lie if her life depended on it so it is very intriguing now that her life literally depends on her ability to lie. Her arc moving forward will be one to keep an eye on.
As has become the usual with AoS, Fitz steals the show. His mental state hits an all-time low when he realizes that Coulson and the team have been hiding Ward, the man that attempted to murder him, literally underneath him this entire time. When Fitz finally confronts Ward he literally has no words. Iain Decaestecker does a brilliant job portraying the hurt and anger he has all the while being unable to articulate just what is going on inside of himself. His only answer is to show Ward what he put him through. It was an incredibly powerful moment and really showed how damaged Fitz is. He may be getting slightly better day by day but the damage can’t be undone. Ward, the other side of this spectacular exchange, was equally as impressive. It all came together to create the most emotional moment the series has seen so far. Season 2’s ability to seamlessly balance the bombast of a top notch superhero show and the emotional gravity of a veteran drama makes Agents of SHIELD must watch television. Which is what everybody wanted when the show first debuted. Better late than never.
In addition to fleshing out our SHIELD agents we get a closer look at one Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) and Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond). Whitehall comes off as a little too nonchalant and relaxed in my opinion. He is less scary and more collected than I believe the head of HYDRA (or this branch of HYDRA in any case) should be. Even his crazy supervillain mind control shtick failed to impress all that much (though the mind control itself is interesting, explaining how easily Bakshi managed to settle Creel in last week’s episode). Bakshi on the other hand is excellent. His voice alone implies villain but his overall demeanour is so hypnotic that you can’t help but want to hear him out. His interrogation of Simmons in the beginning was a great way to test how far improved Simmons has become and demonstrate how intelligent and conniving Bakshi could be. He is a great second in command, now if Whitehall can prove to truly be his superior we will have an awesome 1-2 punch.
In terms of overall narrative, ‘Making Friends and Influencing People’ seemed like a bit of a sidestep but still crucial in terms of character development. Had we gone any longer without seeing the real Simmons or getting to know our villains fans may begin to lose interest. The use of humour in this episode was a notable improvement over last season as well. As opposed to the oftentimes heavy handed nature of the jokes, episode 3 felt very natural. Coulson is a much more serious character now that he is Director but witnessing him crack a couple of one liners is always nice and reminds us that the guy he used to be is still somewhere in there.
With 3 very strong episodes under its belt, Season 2 of Agents of SHIELD is looking better than ever. As long as they continue down this path they can do whatever they want, and I’ll be happy to comply.
Overall this episode gets 8/10