“Face My Enemy” does nothing to advance the plot, but it does give us an awesome fight sequence — which works if that’s all you’re watching for.

“Face My Enemy” is the first episode of Season 2 that feels entirely superfluous, in terms of the “big story” stuff: Nothing really advances, there are teases but no major markers crossed in terms of the characters’ developments, the one thing that looks like a major reveal turns out to be one-off misdirection, and there’s essentially no Marvel Universe ephemera to parse out — hence why there’s no breakdown at the end of this article.

Ideally that wouldn’t matter if the writing/direction/acting was on point, but let’s not mince words: Marvel tie-ins and its own meta-story are the only things (apart from a group of characters who took almost a full season to become interesting) that keep Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from being a lower-budget NCIS with more exaggerated spy gear.

SPOILER WARNING is in effect. If you haven’t caught this week’s episode, spoilers are below… or you can catch up by watching on ABC’s website or Hulu.

It starts promisingly enough: A group of priests arrive at a fire-devastated Miami church to investigate the “miracle” of a Renaissance-era painting of The Virgin Mary & Child having somehow survived the blaze unscathed. Already I’m interested: The supernatural side of Judeo/Christian canon does exist in the traditional Marvel Universe (usually focused on the demonic side), and I’ve been hoping to at some point see how that dynamic “works” in the Cinematic Universe… but it’s not to be: The “Miracle Painting” seems to have alien writing on the back of its canvas.

Oh well. The actual setup is that S.H.I.E.L.D. now needs to retrieve this Miracle Painting from a charity art auction that General Talbot also appears to be attending. However, it’s quickly apparent that the episode’s main reason for existing is to do an old-fashioned Mission Impossible-style spycraft romp with Coulson and May infiltrating a fancy-dress party, all the better to separate them from the rest of the team and tease out more hints as to the actual nature of their (apparently) shared backstory and drop a new ticking-clock on us. Coulson wants May to kill him and take over as Director if the GH.325 still in his system does to him what it did to John Garrett.

For a minute there, it looked like they’d gone and revealed Talbot as a HYDRA stooge, which seemed like a disappointing plot turn but was really the aforementioned misdirection — used to reveal that those really, really useful hologram-disguise masks from Winter Soldier are still a thing, which allows HYDRA’s brainwashed Agent 33 to cosplay as May for a bit and so the episode can get to its showpiece: Ming-Na Wen having a mirror-match against herself.

Meanwhile, back at The Bus the B-story concerns Fitz still struggling to get over his brain-damage-related speech-impediment and bond with the (partially) new team. This gets some added “juice” when Agent 33 sabotages the plane with an explosion-countdown that only Fitz can solve. It’s a dopey bit of business (they’re not going to blow up the plane) and doesn’t really seem to take Fitz’s character anywhere, but it does lead to some bonding patter wherein newbie merc Lance Hunter describes his ex-wife as being alternately “demonic” or “an immortal goddess” and their relationship as “interspecies;” which is amusing when you consider that in this Universe he could actually be speaking literally.

But that’s about as close as we get to any kind of MCU connectivity this time around (it looks like that’s being saved for next week’s “A Hen in The Wolf House,” which features the MCU debut of Mockingbird and looks to be advancing the Skye’s Dad storyline) until the final-scene teaser: Whitehall/Kraken puts yet another new variety of HYDRA control-device on Raina and tells her to bring back The Obelisk.

Still, the reason they made the episode is for the May vs. May fight sequence, and it ranks pretty high in terms of onscreen action for the series thus far: No gadgets, special weapons or super-powers, just a lovingly-photographed showcase for the substantial physical prowess of Ming-Na Wen (and her stuntwoman) as-realized through some pretty convincing twinning effects. It’s brutal (by network TV standards), it’s fun — good show. Just wish there was some meat to the episode surrounding it.

The Bottom Line: Worth the watch for May vs. May and Clark Gregg slipping briefly back into Coulson’s breezy/dopey “Can you believe this is my job??” big-kid mode from the movies and Season One.

Recommendation: All but the most hardcore fans can comfortably skip otherwise.

[rating=2.5]

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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