‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘Love in the Time of Hydra’
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. assembles its 14th Season 2 installment with “Love in the Time of Hydra,” as Hunter discovers a new section of S.H.I.E.L.D. led by the enigmatic Robert Gonzales (Edward James Olmos), while the surviving Ward and Agent 33 undertake a personal mission.
Last week’s S.H.I.E.L.D. installment, “One of Us,” saw Skye's father assembling a team of supervillains for vengeance against Coulson, while May recruited her therapist ex-husband (Blair Underwood) to help Skye keep her Inhuman abilities under control. 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 14, “Love in the Time of Hydra”!
As much progress as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made through its second season, some part will always feel uncertain of its own identity, or at least struggling between masters to serve, whether an audience demanding self-contained storytelling, or a larger cinematic universe calling the shots. Credit where it’s due, the inaugural few 2015 episodes have taken some decent swings, returning Lady Sif to the fold, introducing Kree and Inhumans, and even offering up its own super-villain team last week, though certain outings can’t help missing the target more noticeably.
Ambitions generally felt a bit lower this week, lacking the visual scale of Cal’s team or the unique visual setting of a high school football field, yet the ideas brought to the table by “Love in the Time of Hydra” still felt very much out of sync, often sacrificing credibility in service of those different masters. For instance, I can understand why the repair of Agent 33’s mask would appeal to the old shape-shifter spy trope, yet Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. never quite put the work into developing Agent 33 herself, or the mask’s capabilities, instead passing off the character as a mirror-image May* whose hair and physical build offer little obstacle to her effectiveness. Nitpick though that might be in a world with iron suits and magic hammers, a sense of stakes and plausibility often elevate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. through weaker outings, while the thread with Ward tonight felt more like an attempt to reverse-engineer 33’s emotional state, or serve up some slapstick for Talbot.
*At first, I would have assumed the character keeping a scarred May visage to be the show making ends meet with Ming-Na rather than Maya Stojan, though Stojan’s return at the end of the hour hopefully signifies further appearances down the line. Not that there isn’t fun to be had with Ward having his own evil May in tow, but Evil Ward stories feel far less out of place with actual endgames, rather than unnecessarily anchored to the main cast.
It certainly made sense to check in with Ward after all this time, though “Love in the Time of Hydra” got much more mileage out of the introduction of Robert Gonzales and his own, evidently better-funded S.H.I.E.L.D. branch. I’m still wary of an underveloped Hunter and Bobbi dynamic as our window into the new organization, though Gonzales still brings to light some interesting points about Coulson’s leadership, and the costs of fellow agents and world security already reaped thus far.
The only real trouble lay in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. leaning backward into non-start stories once again, as our knowledge of the show’s larger context dispels much real threat the new group can offer. For one, we know that Fury chose Coulson, not a random mustachioed man to lead the next generation, which itself seems unlikely to work into Age of Ultron, in which Hydra at least remains a credible threat over any surviving S.H.I.E.L.D. We don’t necessarily need direct interaction with the films, at least any more than Hydra's appearance has provided, but the hour’s incessant rattling of Captain America and the Hulk feel more like the show’s early days, namedropping as a poor substitute for meaningful engagement.
As turned out to be the case with previous weeks, the smaller focus on more personal relationships worked for the better, as Coulson took Skye into isolation to better get a grip on her powers, flashing that strong chemistry between Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet that so often ballasts weaker hours. Fitz and Simmons too got some interesting exchanges over the latter’s inability to accept or embrace change, though both stories seemed to stall with a rehashing of surface issues, waiting for more eventful digressions in weeks to come.
Considering the strong supporting cast of Edward James Olmos, Kirk Acevedo and Christine Adams, it’s a shame “Love in the Time of Hydra” felt as undercooked as it did, mostly serving to establish the new S.H.I.E.L.D. and return Ward and Agent 33 to the spotlight, without necessarily doing anything of note with them yet. Things picked up a bit with Coulson and May so easily seeing through Mack’s deception, but for now it least, tonight definitely felt like a weaker, more transitional link in the chain Season 2 has been building.
AND ANOTHER THING…
- Did we need the Pulp Fiction reference in shooting up the diner? Would not it have been easier to kidnap that meek programmer covertly?
- Skye’s abilities in no way elicit Captain America or Hulk references, guys. And if you’re going to bring them up, why not some offhand references to adventures or incidents we haven’t seen?
- Rough as those were, I double-cringed at another “Bahrain” reference. Good grief, just explain it already.
- Needing a moment to recognize Chloe Bennet in a robe, bad wig and with Ming-Na’s voice was a bit jarring to land properly. At the very least, it should signal an end to the Ward-Skye pairing, nicely capped with his “I’m not insane.”
- The story of Coulson’s childhood was at least nice.
- As far as the inconsistency of Agent 33’s mask, it apparently…knew she was crying, and showed Skye crying? The writing really seems to have cut corners in service of having a shape-shifter to play with.
- At some point, Kirk Acevedo will make an entire career of roles all-but saying, “Okay, I’m the asshole.”
Did Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “Love in the Time of Hydra” keep up the momentum? How do you think the show handled Ward's return, or its the new S.H.I.E.L.D. implications? Stay tuned for more coverage of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2's latest, and join us next week for our review of “One Door Closes” on ABC!