Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its fourth season 2 installment in "Face My Enemy,” as Coulson and May go undercover to recover a painting with alien writing on the back, while Fitz is forced to rescue the team from a grim fate on the plane.

Last week's ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Making Friends and Influencing People” saw Simmons working with Hydra to recruit the unstable cryokinetic Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette), while Fitz took action against the team secrecy keeping him out of the loop, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series continue its marvelous new season?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' season 2, episode 4, “Face My Enemy”!

Last night, when breaking news effectively broke the Marvel Cinematic Universe in twain with the report that Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘Iron Man’ might potentially start a “Civil War” with ‘Captain America 3,’ I couldn’t resist poking a bit of Twitter fun at ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ for the inevitable manner in which poor Phil Coulson would be left sitting by the phone. Over at IGN, Eric Goldman countered that ‘Agents’ might act along the lines of the “Civil War” side-issues that flesh out peripheral characters like Bobbi Morse’s Mockingbird, and while I’d like nothing more than for that to be true, considering how exponentially ‘Agents’ seems to have improved in its second season, I couldn’t shake that image of ol’ Phil at his desk. Like a lonely Thanos, nobody-but-nobody wants to invite him back to the big show just yet.

That said, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ really has shown tremendous improvement in stride this year, with each episode effectively building on the next, though I had my trepidations about “Face My Enemy”s cutesy-looking callbacks to more camp episodes and spy tropes, the kind you might expect from ‘Chuck,’ back in the day. The hour certainly danced over that line here and there, what with May and Coulson’s only means to recover an important artifact lying in a lavish party, the stock laser grid security alarm, May's mirror image fight, and other such throwback fare, but I’d say “Face My Enemy” ended up more of a celebratory self-aware subversion, rather than a sign of the season running out on empty just yet.

For all the spy stuff and humor (May’s laughter throwing off the team was a particular highlight), tonight’s episode gave Melinda May a little bit of spotlight, not necessarily in that long-prophesied “Cavalry” mission we’ve waited to see, but rather what the character means to the team as a whole. Sure, Ming-Na can stare stoically through the background of any given scene, and otherwise provide the muscle as necessary, but “Face My Enemy” manages to highlight the character’s more nurturing den-mother presence, specifically the unwavering loyalty to Coulson and her friends that a brainwashed Agent 33 could never have hoped to mimic.

The actual moment of May revealing to Coulson that she’d already planned a contingency for his possible insanity unfolded with a bit more schmaltz than it potentially could have, given we don’t quite understand the nature of Coulson’s affliction anyway, though fleshing out May’s necessity beyond the physical made an important season 2 distinction to have early on. It certainly didn’t hurt to have so many cool moments between May fighting her ‘Winter Solder’-enhanced doppelganger and slow-motion slamming her head into a table either, so long as the point was already made.

The episode’s actual plot came with a bit of diminishing returns, as we’ve gotten to a point in the narrative where the writing can only run to the mystery well behind the alien writing so many times, without actually offering any new details of its significance. We’re led to believe it spared the painting from a fire, though we’ll chalk that up to a 22-episode order stretching things out, and adding an episode to find the other party inscribing symbols on walls. At the very least, reintroducing Talbot* into the mix made for a fun wrinkle to the mission, simultaneously fleshing out the menace of Daniel Whitehall's Hydra lackey Sunil Bakshi as well.

*Even watching the episode at New York Comic-Con, I had my doubts that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ could affect such a drastic change as making a recognizable comic character like Glenn Talbot into a Hydra collaborator, though my uncertainty in that kept suspense afloat long enough to sustain the eventual reveal, and neatly tie in the “disguise-o-mesh” tech as well.

"I too, am on this Marvel television series."

As for the B-story, “Face My Enemy” also shifted back to Fitz’s efforts to return to his old useful self, albeit in a somewhat less depressing fashion than last week’s grim threats against Ward. Having something as A-to-B as Fitz using Hunter to save the day from the Bus’ bomb threat seemed a bit on-the-nose as a means to alleviate Fitz’s feelings of isolation from his peer-bonding team members, though the story proved just sweet enough in the end to squeak by. And while I’m already preparing an eye-roll for continued Skye-Hunter flirting, the thread also put the British mercenary in a slightly more humanizing light, even calling out his constant references of that ex we keep hearing so much about.

The expansion of ‘Gotham’’s first season earlier this week serves as a stark reminder of how the most conceptually intriguing series can falter by spreading themselves too thin, and it’s very relieving to see ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ continually pacing itself with an even mix of action and character. “Face My Enemy” isn’t going to blow any minds like the announcement of an impending “Civil War,” but on the smaller scale, some top TV action sequences and a few neat subversions of classic spy tropes made for another solid entry into what’s shaping up to be a very sound season thus far. I’d still like a bit more insight into May’s actual past, rather than such repeat references, and the alien tech could use some explanation sooner rather than later, but they’ve earned our patience, for the moment.

AND ANOTHER THING...

  • "They already know we're here." Not that I don't imagine Clark Gregg fully capable of such an acrobatic laser grid routine.
  • Boy, we have got to give Trip something distinctive to do within the next few episodes.
  • I demand someone re-watch all of season 1 to confirm that May never drinks coffee.
  • It was nice to get to see Iain de Caestecker play the normally eloquent Fitz again, if only in his mind for a conversation with Fake Simmons. Also $10 Fitz will confuse the two when the real one inevitably returns.
  • "Hard choices are coming, May. Also, this rain is very symbolic of that, and I want you to acknowledge it."
  • So very glad that Reed Diamond got to drop his stock German accent for the modern day. Daniel Whitehall makes a much more ominous villain without it.
  • Not only did the 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' panel at NYCC give us our first taste of 'Agent Carter' in action, but also the world premiere of Marvel's Netflix 'Daredevil.' You know, if you're into that sort of thing (Read: IT WAS AWESOME).

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s second season installment “Face My Enemy” keep up the momentum as successfully as you'd hoped? How do you think the show fares with its titular organization in Hydra-torn pieces? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2's latest, "A Hen in the Wolf House" on ABC!