So this week’s AoS seems to be the show settling into the weekly formula for this season, going on a one off adventure, but very much entrenched in the happenings that came before it. This week’s episode wasn’t necessarily one to write home about itself, but I will say it is obvious it’s setting up some plot points that will take a while to pay off, so it is a necessary set of developments.
We begin with Dr. Whitehall (a.k.a. the Kraken, remember him from episode 1?) attempting to… convince a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to let go of her allegiances to her former career and join HYDRA. He very creepily explains how he bought a young scotch in the 40’s for $10 and its now mature at $2000 a bottle (basically confirming he actually was alive in the 40’s). He has the agent, whom he calls Agent 33 (who exists in the Marvel U as a Hercules ally, but who knows if she is the same person), in a very Clockwork Orange-esqe setup forcing her eyes open to some Hypno Toad brainwashing images. She refuses to give up, and he says the “The Faustus Method” (classic Captain America villain) takes time, and he has plenty of it.
Next, we are shown Agent Gemma Simmons (YAY!) in an almost way too perfect opening scene, similar to any “working-girl” movie in the past 10 years. She gets up, works out, walks to work to a perfect pop soundtrack and seems to love every minute of it, until we get the shocker. The lab she is working in is actually a *gasp* a HYDRA lab! But how could this be, what is she doing there, and why do these secret organizations insist on plastering their giant logos everywhere? But anyway, we see she is having trouble fitting into the environment, and they seem to be wasting her talents on routine tasks, which she certainly is not happy about it. She seems to be working on a “gifted” who has ice abilities, and she doesn’t realize who it is until she sees a picture of the subject on a folder her superior is holding, its Donnie Gill (a.k.a. Blizzard from season 1 episode Seeds).
We are taken back to the Playground, where May is training Skye in the firing range, trying to get her to understand that it’s not about the shooting, but controlling herself throughout every scenario. She has given Skye a Heart-Rate monitor bracelet so she can try to stay calm in any situation (61 BPM, which is about the standing heart rate of a good athlete, nice Skye). Hunter and Mac have a bet as to whether she has gone to the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy to get her skills, which we know it’s not and Hunter gets inventory duty because of it. Hunter is curious as to whether she has ever taken anybody out, she hasn’t but May lets her know experience doesn’t make the process any easier. Coulson gets back from a mission, where he was trying to recruit Agent 33 but knows HYDRA got to her first. They know HYDRA is active and they begin looking for leads. We are then shown Simmons going home, hearing rustling, and gets out her gun to take out the intruder, who turns out to be Coulson. He brings dinner to cook while she debriefs him, and we learn that the setup is an undercover op, she is there to get information on HYDRA from the inside, but he insists she starts making friends to move up the ladder (hence the name of the episode). She is upset he is treating it as only a mission, but she understands that he needs to stay detached as director. Coulson returns with the intel, and the team decides they need to catch Gil before HYDRA gets to him, but there is one thing they need to take care of before then.
Coulson sends Skye to get information from “the Asset”, as they refer to Ward around Fitz since they don’t want to upset him knowing he is still around. Fitz demands to know who it is and how he can help, with continued support from Mac’s interpretation. Ward seems to continue to try to woo Skye, who is genuinely annoyed at his attempts but slips up when she asks if HYDRA brainwashed him too (which he didn’t). With their new knowledge of brainwashing techniques, they fuel up The Bus and go to Morocco, where he is held up. Mac and Fitz stay behind, and mention that Koenig isn’t hogging the Xbox since he’s on assignment, but Fitz is very upset they aren’t letting him in on all the information. As for Gil, he is in Morocco to since escaping the Sandbox (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s superhuman prison that was destroyed after Season 1) and ended up killing the first batch of HYDRA agents sent to capture him. He found out the ship they were going to use to transport him, and he goes to end all the HYDRA agents on it, freezing it in port to prevent their escape (an iceberg in the Middle East,.. subtle). Simmons gets into trouble with the HYDRA higher-ups, and is escorted by armed guards to an office with the scary guy accompanying Dr. Whitehall. He questions her knowledge of Donnie Gil, whom she says she didn’t know, pointing out that not only did she know him but saved his life (see Seeds from last season). He questions why she was at S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place and whether she is loyal to HYDRA. She says was 17, had two PhDs and lots of questions; so that’s why she joined S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place, and is at HYDRA now because they have resources.. She only loyal to science. The creepy dude is ready to test her loyalty by sending her to help capture Gil, since he should trust a face that he knows. This was certainly not what he signed up for, and she is terrified, but she knows she has to do it to keep her cover.
Then, we are given a pretty standard capture scene, where the Team meets up with the HYDRA team with Simmons, where she is talking to Gil after running into him on the HYDRA ship. She is trying to convince him to give up easily, with the creepy guy feeding her lines in her earpiece. The team sees her from behind and before Hunter can take her out (not knowing Simmons is undercover for S.H.I.E.L.D.), May realizes it’s her and shoots him in the shoulder instead (knowing it won’t get through his Kevlar, and as payback for shooting her last episode). Back at the playground, we see Fitz cannot take not knowing who “the Asset” is, and what they are keeping from him, so he goes down to the vault to find out. Fitz opens his cell to find its Grant, taking his breath away since he can’t handle seeing the man that nearly killed him again. He tries to explain to Ward how his decisions crippled him and caused Simmons to leave, and get a reason for it, which Ward can’t give him. Ward explains Garrett would’ve had him outright kill Fitz/Simmons, but he gave them a chance, which Fitz doesn’t take too kindly. He decides to show him what his “chance” did to him, and lowers the oxygen content is Ward’s cell, causing the hypoxia that led to Fitz’s brain damage. As Ward is suffocating, he tries to understand why he is so upset, and when Fitz lets slip that the team is going after Gil, Ward tells him they have no idea what they are going into, and Fitz snaps out if it. Fitz runs to Mac to get him to inform the team about what Ward told him, and Coulson can’t believe it.
It turns out that Gil didn’t escape the Sandbox, HYDRA deep-agents brainwashed him, teaching him to amplify his powers, and used him to take the prison down. The creepy guy’s real goal was to reactivate Gil’s brainwashing, which he succeeds in, and they use him to begin to freeze the ship, killing them all. When he’s about to finish them all off, Skye shoots him with a sniper, knocking him off in the water. Simmons “protects” the creepy guy from her shot to keep her cover and they HYDRA team gets away empty handed. The team gets all the tech from the HYDRA ship, and now has a decent setup of equipment to work with. The creepy guy informs Dr. Whitehall that he is interested in moving Simmons up to the big stuff, having earned his trust, but if she doesn’t want to they will make her “comply”. Its then when we see Agent 33 from before handing Whitehall some files, apparently having gave into the brainwashing, yet more evidence that it works (it’s very scary for Simmons). In the final teaser, we see Skye go back to Ward to ask him about what he knows, and his family. She says he can’t be telling the truth about his motivations for joining HYDRA since his family is actually “beloved”, and he insists every family has its secrets. Its then he finally reveals to her that he knows her father is alive, she is floored but holds it together, giving him the cold shoulder but showing that she cannot control her heart rate after that situation, she still has work to do.
This episode was really a setup for further story beats later in the season, not really being a particularly memorable episode on its own. It certainly beats any of the relatively terrible episodes from season 1, which is encouraging, since even the foundation episodes are pretty entertaining. May’s training style of focusing on zen calming techniques instead of only fighting skills is interesting, and I wonder if the large focus on Skye’s heart rate monitor will become more important later on. Mac’s interpretations for Fitz is an interesting dynamic, but it seems very random unless it’s pure altruism. The Fitz/Ward scene, and him nearly going off the deep-end by depleting his oxygen was scary but somewhat understandable, as a way for Fitz to finally get some revenge and let out some of his frustrations. I am looking forward to more explanation on Ward’s family being “beloved” if they are really as bad as he says, since a Senator Ward has been cast (Tim DeKay), and he may be related to the wealthy senator benefactor Talbot referred to last episode. Making Friends and Influencing People will not be an episode we will be talking about at the end of the season, but the plot threads stemming from it will certainly have flowered by then, so maybe it will be more influential than it seems.