Last week, I predicted “Face My Enemy” would feel much more like the old days of season one. I was right, and it was awesome. There was a big focus on nostalgia as Coulson and May go undercover to infiltrate a party and retrieve a painting with alien markings on the back. The same markings Coulson and Garrett carved, the same ones on the highly coveted Obelisk.
After episodes centering on Lance and then Simmons, it’s high time we get to see the Coulson/May powerhouse in action. They are an absolute delight to see on-screen together, working a covert operation with false identities. Very false identities, as May laughs and flirts, entirely un-May-like, then uttering through a forced smile, “My face hurts.” When Coulson goes radio silent, he invites May to dance. Their dance steps don’t miss a beat, and neither does their repartee as they reminisce about the exciting missions of their youth. It’s a reminder that Coulson and May have a long and storied history together, of which we haven’t actually seen much.
The mission takes an unexpected turn when Coulson spots Talbot at the party. I can’t say enough how much I love the fact that Adrian Pasdar continues to be a recurring presence, especially as a supporting character from the Hulk franchise like Talbot. Coulson and May accelerate their plan and head to the room where the painting is held, encountering a good ole’ fashioned laser grid. What happens next sails the show right back into the first season’s cliche-defying, unpredictable hilarity. As Coulson prepares to delicately navigate the laser grid like the expert spy he is, May casually walks through the lasers, pointing out “They already know we’re here.”
With the painting missing, we find out Talbot has it – and he’s with Hydra. Talbot strikes a deal with Coulson to meet up and help decipher the painting together, but when May scouts ahead to survey the hotel room, she discovers the truth. Talbot is just Bakshi with a holographic mask (the same one used by Black Widow in The Winter Soldier, actually. A nice continuity). You’d think for a super-secret organization like Hydra, they wouldn’t plaster their sinister logo on all their files and uniforms, but, oh well. What’s world domination without some theatrics? The brainwashed Agent 33 disguises herself as May, while the real May stays tied up for a torture session with Bakshi.
The subplot for this episode has Fitz onboard the Bus with the rest of the team running support for Coulson and May’s mission. There hasn’t been any sense of downtime this season until now, with Skye, Trip, Lance, and Mack trading stories about ex-girlfriends. It all feels like the golden days until Fitz isolates himself, scared that if he joins in he’ll embarrass himself. Fake-May boards the ship after telling Coulson the meet-up with Talbot is legit, and plants a device on a console. As Fake-May takes Coulson to see Talbot, he quickly senses something’s off, and before walking into the hotel room, he suggests they get coffee after they’re done. Fake-May agrees with a sweet smile, and Coulson punches her in the face, saying “May hates coffee.”
A fight scene explodes as the real May escapes her ties and charges at a terrified Bakshi. The two Mays start beating each other up in an impressive show of choreography and Coulson chases Bakshi as he tries to escape with the painting. While the May-on-May combat is a tad lengthy, it’s the most suddenly thrilling hand-to-hand segment since Ward’s in the beginning of the very first episode.
In the end, May beats down Fake-May, Coulson gets his painting, and Fitz saves the ship when Fake-May’s device threatens to cause the whole thing to explode – with a little help from his friends. All in all, it’s a run of the mill episode. For S.H.I.E.L.D. though, “run of the mill” by any other show’s standard is thoroughly entertaining. With this episode’s reach back to last year’s format, the show doesn’t forget to further its new directions. Throughout the episode, Coulson convinces May that if he becomes a danger to himself or others like Garrett did, she needs to kill him. He repeats her words to him that “Nostalgia’s fine. But then life happens and you need to face reality.” Coulson warns her that hard times are coming and that she needs to be prepared to make the hard decisions. It adds a very foreboding aftertaste to a fun, upbeat episode.
Before the credits, Hydra boss Whitehall catches up to Raina. He gives Raina 48 hours to deliver the Obelisk, establishing himself as a truly menacing villain. Next week should be cool.