There’s been a label that’s been applied to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since its earliest days, even before it premiered. It’s a label that’s also a name: Whedon.
Calling AoS a Whedon show has been a blessing and a curse—it helped at the start, getting people excited, but it also set expectations really high. But AoS was an entirely different animal, and I’d argue that the comparison wasn’t really fair. But if I were forced to make it, I’d say the Whedon show that’s reflected most in AoS is Angel.
It’s all there: the rocky first season that ends with blowing everything up, a second that starts with a soft reboot, a new sense of purpose, and slightly different roles for each cast member (Fitz is obviously Wesley, guys). And really, it’s at that last part where AoS has really found its groove.
There are some problems that persist—visually, the show continues to be aggressively bland. It’s hard to find a single arresting image or shot in the show’s entire run thus far (maybe Ward’s flashback in “The Well?”), and it struggles with action scenes at times. Even though these are all things that can be fixed further down the road, they end up being really distracting in an episode that’s as entertaining as “Face My Enemy” is.
A tight caper that doesn’t waste any time, this week’s adventure centers around an old church painting in Miami, Florida, that survived a fire—and happens to have the same symbols/glyphs that Coulson can’t get out of his head. The painting is now being sold at an auction for the super-wealthy in order to benefit the church, and Coulson and the Agents decide that it’s a pretty good opportunity to steal the thing. And so begins OPERATION: STEAL THAT PAINTING, as well as some of the most fun had on AoS yet.
From Hunter’s hilarious pickpocket seduction/hand-off to Moped Skye, to May and Coulson dancing their way through a threat assessment, the cast is firing on all cylinders. Also surprisingly great: Adrian Pasdar as Glen Talbot, who’s really starting to relish his role as perpetual stick in the mud.
Oh, by the way, Talbot is there, which pretty much blows their cover right away. Or not. He flirts with Coulson first. It’s kind of adorable.
Coulson tries to convince Talbot into letting him carry out his mission without interfering, and Talbot says he won’t unless he feels like he needs to, which is a really confusing way of telling someone “no.” Also confusing is Talbot’s mustache, which is a role that the producers have recast in pretty much every appearance. For what it’s worth, I like this mustache better than the others. Hopefully, it gets the gig.
While May and Coulson are busy pulling off Ocean’s Two, the rest of the gang are just chillin on The Bus, engaging in the classic pastime that is talking crap about your ex(es). Well, everyone except Mack, who only has the coolest of exes (although one made the poor guy suffer the indignity of pretending to like quinoa), and Fitz, who feels alienated from the group.
The rest of the episode is a pretty straightforward affair: Coulson and May, in response to Talbot’s presence, decide to move up their timetable and steal the painting right away, but when they make their way down, they find that Talbot already took it. And then we see something truly strange: Talbot on the phone with Hydra boss Daniel Whitehall. Crazy, right?
Talbot then intercepts Coulson and May as they make their party getaway (through the ghost method, most likely). Talbot then makes a strange deal: Coulson can look at the painting under military supervision, as long as he shares what he finds. Coulson agrees, but smells a rat: He tells May to investigate while he heads back to the bus in order to regroup with the team.
But when May gets to the hotel room where Talbot told Coulson to meet him, she doesn’t find the General—but the reprogrammed Agent 33. There’s an extremely brief fight before Talbot shows up, reveals that he’s not Talbot but Whitehall’s Euro Lackey using that nifty mask ScarJo had at the end of The Winter Soldier, and has 33 knock May out. She then reprograms the mask to look like May, and uses it to infiltrate the bus.
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