Now that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has dealt with its initial Inhuman arc and diverted into the clash of the S.H.I.E.L.D.s, the show has taken on a decidedly grey overtone. Though the audience is naturally inclined to root for Coulson's team, both Coulson and Gonzales' factions have enough valid points that cast doubt on one another. The second half of Season 2 has essentially been one giant mud-slinging fest as the two race to recruit agents from the other side. This week's episode, "The Frenemy of My Frenemy," continued that trend with an episode that cast Coulson, May and various others in an unflattering light.
After "Melinda," last week's episode, the audience is more than aware that May has a troubled history with the Empowered -- and, more specifically, Inhumans. Usually calm and collected, May has veered down a more emotional path since Gonzales and Bobbi revealed to her that Coulson has been funneling funds into a project she knows nothing about, and one that involves her ex-husband Andrew Garner, at that. With that knowledge weighing heavily on her, May has been on the war path to uncover Coulson's true plan. In "The Frenemy of My Frenemy," even May's loyal associates get burned by this; as Simmons attempts to walk the fine line between factions, May outs the plan almost as soon as she knows it, and without warning. Not only that, she throws Fitz under the bus while she's at it. With May investing all her energy in uncovering this secret, her actions affect her associates, whether or not she realizes or cares -- something that seems totally, completely unlike her; in fact, she appears to be becoming as unhinged as Gonzales believes Coulson to be.
In her ardent search for the truth, it appears as though May's allegiances have shifted, landing her on Team Gonzales. However, on closer inspection, May has never quite indicated that she has joined his cause; as much as their goals align, May seems to care less about the split between S.H.I.E.L.D.s. Rather, she's more concerned with uncovering the truth -- that is, what Coulson is up to. Though she's taking a rather hardcore route in order to do so, she's more preoccupied with what Coulson is doing rather than Gonzales. Further, Coulson tasked May with keeping an eye on him, way back at the beginning of the season when he started his alien carvings. Arguably, her recent actions could be an extension of this. As upset as she is, she has never spoken outright about the cause of her distress. She appears to be syncing up with Gonzales, but there may yet be more to May's story that will be uncovered, especially with her ardent quest for the truth rather than transparency.
Likewise, Coulson comes away from this episode looking bad, though in a way where it's obvious to the audience that his actions are taken out of context. This has been pretty thematic for the character this season: First, he's compelled to find an alien city; then, his care for Skye blinds him the threat that the others perceive her to be, which divides the team further; finally, his clash with Gonzales uncovered some unsavory secrets to the shock of his team. In "The Frenemy of My Frenemy," Coulson clearly had a plan grounded in the best of intentions, no matter how upended that went. Regardless, Simmons' hack of Deathlok's system occurred at the most inopportune moment, just in time to show Coulson and Ward working together. It's a pretty damning snapshot, no matter how you look at it, and one that May, Simmons and Skye won't forget any time soon. Coulson continues to lose face with May, and their reunion sure won't be a pleasant one when he is taken into Team Gonzales' custody.
Jiaying hasn't been all that forthcoming, either. It took a few episodes for her to come out with the fact that she is Skye's mother, and then she's less than honest to her husband about her plans for him. What's more, she is intently focused on her own people. Once again, she dredges up the phrase, "You're not one of us." Her concern begins and ends with the Inhumans, as evidenced by the fact that she tells Skye not to be concerned with the people Cal may hurt in his rage when he finds out he's been duped. Though she allows Skye to believe that she is handling Cal on her own, Jiaying quietly sends Lincoln to keep watch. While Jiaying appears to have her people's best interests at heart, there's something sinister about her secrecy and her disregard for anyone not like her -- something that she has in common with Team Gonzales, as a matter of fact. This parallel doesn't bode well for the pending clash between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans.
In fact, Cal just might be the most open of all the characters in this episode, which somehow puts him in the best light of all. He's honestly over the moon about his reunion with his wife in daughter. As he and Skye meander down the streets of Milwaukee, he rambles freely about the plans he had for her, which only sharpens the sting of Skye's betrayal; when he learns that Jiaying had them followed, his pain is genuine. Of course, this doesn't excuse his actions -- as "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" put it so succinctly, "Cool motive. Still murder." But it makes him one of the most sympathetic characters in the episode. Similarly, Ward gets several humanizing moments in this episode, from the plant he picked up for Agent 33 to the sacrifices he made in order to rescue her.
Like the previous episodes in the second half of this season, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." continues its march towards "Captain America: Civil War" through its treatment of the Enhanced and the further motivational graying of the main characters. And with "Avengers: Age of Ultron" just a week and a half away, the show has set the stage for an epic collision between both S.H.I.E.L.D.s, Hydra and the Inhumans.This Week, in Other Appearances...
- In "Inhumans," by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, the Inhumans evolve in a way that best benefits their society when they undergo Terrigenesis. With Gordon and Raina being the first teleporter and clairvoyant respectively, is it possible their powers are predictive of what's to come for Jiaying's community in Lai Shi?
- Echidna Capital Management: We got a nice long shot of this logo before Bakshi met up with List on Air Hydra. Introduced in Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli's "Secret Warriors" #1, the company is a Hydra front that deals in genetic engineering, new media, nanotechnology, next-generation military systems and aerospace engineering and manufacturing. How interesting, considering List's involvement with the Enhanced.
- So much name play! Skye finally said "Daisy Johnson" out loud, and Cal referred to how he changed his last name to make it more menacing. That also means that Jiaying's full name might have been Jiaying Johnson, which gives it that double-letter comic book staple. Nice.
- Cal's office is jam packed with Easter eggs, like the Johnson name reveal, but one of the more interesting ones is the peek into the filing cabinet as he fishes out his grandfather's WWII medical kit. There's a shot that looks directly into the drawer, where you can see three vials of glowing green goo. Could it be his Mr. Hyde formula?
- Coulson reasserts the idea that he values the Enhanced as people when he declares, "[Deathlok] isn't a cyborg, he's a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent."
- Hunter continues to prove how much of a Hawkeye/Clint Barton stand-in he is by quipping about his bullet wound with a Monty Python quote.
- Ward seems to be on a redemption arc, which I hope isn't the case, as he is far more interesting as a sympathetic villain than a lost soul.
- As I saw pointed out on Twitter, Lincoln looks as though he might be Spark, a NuHuman who first appeared in Christopher Yost and David Baldeon's "New Warriors" #6. In the episode, Deathlok referred to Lincoln this way.