Action! Intrigue! Humor! Tonight’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has it all, plus Kyle MacLachlan chewing the scenery like the show is filmed on location in Candyland. “One Of Us” is the series’ strongest outing since returning from hiatus, dialing down the bleakness to offer a S.H.I.E.L.D. versus supervillains conflict that is a whole lot of fun, and the fight sequences are spectacular with Kevin Tancharoen back in the director’s seat. The man responsible for the Mortal Kombat: Legacy webseries and that kick-ass May versus May fight in “Face My Enemy,” Tancharoen should be a regular fixture on this series because he makes it look good.
I’ve criticized the show’s lack of style in previous reviews, but Tancharoen brings a visual excitement to the series when he’s in director’s chair, and not just when it comes to fight sequences. There’s a fluidity to his camerawork that makes the show look less like a typical network drama, and he has a great eye for capturing a sense of place, whether it’s the university campus where Agent May’s ex-husband works or the small Wisconsin town where Calvin Zabo and allies stage their assault on Coulson and his team. But the reason Tancharoen needs to become a fixture on this series is because he knows how to choreograph and direct action, an invaluable quality when working on a spy series set in a superhero universe.
With Calvin assembling a team of supervillains—some pulled from the comics with considerable changes (Karla Faye Gideon, David A. Angar a.k.a. Angar The Screamer), plus some brand-new characters (Wendell Levi, Francis Noche)—I anticipated this episode to have some strong fight sequences, and Tancharoen delivers. A quick close-quarters fight between Bobbi and a patient at the Brynmore Psychiatric Facility spotlights Mockingbird’s strength and agility, and she gets to show off even more when she faces off against Karla and her sharp metal nails (a super lame enhancement). Tancharoen appears to have a thing for using tables for finishing moves, because the big “oh shit!” action moment of the episode is when Bobbi pushes down on a table to send the other side careening into Karla’s face for a knockout.
May and Coulson also get some solid screen time during the big fight at the end of the episode, and they look like total badasses thanks to Tancharoen’s direction. Ming-Na Wen has impressed with her action skills in the past, but Clark Gregg has had fewer opportunities in the field this season, so it’s nice to see Coulson tapping into his secret agent experience and getting his hands dirty. But May is the real star on the football field of Coulson’s hometown high school, proving her mettle against an opponent that has super-strength thanks to experimental steroids.
May is actually the big star of “One Of Us,” gaining considerable depth thanks to the presence of her ex-husband Andrew Garner (the oh-so-dreamy Blair Underwood), a psychiatrist that is sought out to help Skye work through her current issues. Andrew brings out the softer side of May, and while it’s a bit jarring to see her smiling and joking around, it’s also a very welcome development. It introduces a lot of humor to the script, and adding more dimension to a character is never a bad thing. May is always so stoic and serious, so it’s refreshing to see writer Monica Owusu-Breen explore a considerably different aspect of May’s personality.
It makes me wonder what May was like before the trauma that led her to quit her job as a field agent and become a S.H.I.E.L.D. pencil pusher. Did she always have this severity and Andrew helped her loosen up? Or was she a more carefree person that suffered an experience that dramatically changed her demeanor? I’d love to get an episode that solely focuses on May, and considering Ming-Na Wen and Blair Underwood have barely aged in 20 years, they could easily play May and Andrew in flashbacks. I want to learn more about her relationship with her mother, how she met Andrew, what tore them apart, and what exactly happened to make her “The Calvary.” Ming-Na Wen is a phenomenal actress when she’s given the right material, and she could rock an Agent May spotlight episode so hard. She also has wonderful chemistry with Underwood, so the sooner they’re back together, the better.
Andrew plays an important role in “One Of Us” as he tries to help Skye overcome her personal trauma rather than pushing it down, because burying the problem isn’t going to make it go away. It just puts it in a place where it can come crawling back when her guard is down, like when she’s sleeping. When her powers kick in during the fight at the end of the episode, she tries to calm herself and control the quakes, but all she does is send them inward, causing 75 hairline fractures from her clavicle to her fingers. We’re one step closer to Skye gaining Daisy Johnson’s signature gauntlets, and she’s becoming a more intriguing character as she starts to resemble her comic-book persona more and more. She has a clear purpose on the series now, serving as one of the main entryways into the world of the Inhumans, and Chloe Bennet’s performance is gaining more depth now that she has more to do.
Skye’s daddy continues to be one of the best things about this show, and Kyle MacLachlan is a big bad in the classic Whedon mold: extremely dangerous but also incredibly charismatic, with a twisted sense of humor that makes him stand out from the other villains on this show. There’s very little subtlety to his performance, but he’s playing Mr. Hyde, so the aggressive approach works very well and makes him even more of a threat. He’s a delight to watch, and I’m especially excited to see where his story goes now that he’s been grabbed by Gordon and pulled deeper into the Inhuman plot.
And what about poor Lance, who got knocked out at the end of last week’s episode? He spends most of the episode handcuffed to a sink, cursing his ex-wife and her partner in deception, who are both working for “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” It makes a lot of sense that other benevolent S.H.I.E.L.D. officials would rebuild the organization following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and based on the previews for next week’s episode, it looks like Edward James Olmos is in charge of this outfit, which is awesome. I eagerly anticipate lots of scenes of him being an angry curmudgeon, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. versus S.H.I.E.L.D. battle sounds has the potential to be very entertaining (even though all those damn periods are going to kill me by the end of the season).
- Skye/Daisy Johnson will be appearing in the S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book to help Coulson take down her dad, and I’m pretty excited for the issue because Greg Smallwood (Dream Thief, Moon Knight) is tackling the art and he’s a beast. Here’s a peek at Julian Totino Tedesco’s earth-shaking cover:
- I apologize for incorrectly calling Lance Hunter by his actor’s name for my entire review last week. In my defense, Nick Blood really sounds like a comic-book name.
- I would love for Fitz and Simmons to reconcile by hatching a Parent Trap-like scheme to get May back together with Andrew. That’s totally what this episode was hinting at, right?
- Fitz’s confused look at May after discovering that she was married is perfect. This is a great episode for Fun Fitz in general.
- Karla Faye Gideon grafted metal blades on her nails to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend that she later killed. That’s an absurd backstory. Why not just use a knife?
- We’re getting closer to “Inhuman” as the official branding for Skye, Raina, and the like. It’s only a matter of time before Simmons settles on that term.
- “I sound bat-guano crazy.”
- “Give him a beer or something.”
- May: “Hungry? I can fix you something.” Andrew: “I’m not that hungry.”
- “He teased her about it. She was laughing.”
- “The… slicing… talons?”
- “What’s your thing? I was hoping it was wings.”