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Daredevil may be the Marvel TV series getting all the attention right now (it just got picked up for a second season), but after spending considerable time in Hell’s Kitchen with daily Daredevil reviews, I find myself preferring the tone and characters of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Netflix series has a lot of style and intensity, but not much of a sense of humor, and the overwhelming darkness of the story can get tedious, particularly in the final episodes of the season. S.H.I.E.L.D. is like the Flash to Daredevil’s Arrow, telling brighter stories that highlight the more fantastic elements of this shared universe, and featuring more diversity in its cast. S.H.I.E.L.D. also has much more diversity in its creative team, employing more women and people of color in both writing and directing positions.

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“The Frenemy Of My Enemy” is written and directed by two women of color—Monica Owusu-Breen and Karen Gaviola, respectively—which immediately differentiates it from nearly every single thing Marvel Studios has produced in the past. The success of this episode certainly isn’t dependent on the sex and race of the creative team, but as the first MCU story written and directed by women that aren’t white, this is still a milestone for Marvel Studios. People that want to see more creative diversity in their superhero franchises need to support the ones that are delivering it, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. consistently employs female creators to tell stories that heavily feature multi-dimensional, self-reliant female characters.

Monica Owusu-Breen’s script for this episode has some considerable forward movement for the plot, but its primary focus is on exploring how recent events have altered the show’s character dynamics. Coulson teams up with Ward, much to the chagrin of Fitz. May allies herself with Bobbi and “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.”, much to the chagrin of Simmons. And Skye gets closer to her father Cal, which doesn’t really disappoint anyone. That last one provides the most in-depth character work, fleshing out the relationship between father and daughter and putting Skye on the path to reclaiming her birth name of Daisy Johnson.

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Skye shunned that name when she thought her father was simply a raging mad scientist, but as she gets to know him and see the different sides of him, she starts to ponder the possibility of taking on the family name. I’m gleaning all this from Skye’s casual utterance of “Daisy Johnson” when she learns Cal’s last name, but Chloe Bennet’s performance in that moment makes it feel like Skye is finally coming to terms with her identity. You get the sense that “Daisy Johnson” sounds right to Skye, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was going by that name by the end of the season.

Kyle MacLachlan has been one of the best things about this show’s second season, and this episode takes his character in a softer direction as Cal reconnects with his daughter on the streets of Milwaukee. Cal wants to show Skye all the places he used to love when he ran his medical practice in the city, but none of them are around anymore. The city has changed, and Cal can’t go back and relive that past time with Skye, no matter how much he tries. Making up for lost time and missed experiences is the major theme of Cal and Skye’s plot in this episode, and Cal wants to turn back the clock and have the family unit he couldn’t have back when Skye was born. But that’s not possible anymore.

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Jiaying is the leader of a group of Inhumans. Skye is an adult. They have bigger roles beyond wife and daughter, and they can’t just walk away from those duties to fit into Cal’s perfect idea of a family. Skye wants to help Cal understand this so he doesn’t flip out when he finds out that he’s being left behind while Skye returns to Afterlife alone, and she tells him to readjust his priorities in order to make their time apart easier. But before she can tell Cal that she’s leaving without him, an eavesdropping Lincoln interrupts them, giving away his position by making a sound in the hall. This summons Cal’s rage, but Hydra and Coulson’s ragtag group interrupt Lincoln’s beating by arriving at Cal’s building and engaging in a firefight to retrieve Skye.

Coulson is able to follow Hydra to Skye’s location thanks to the assistance of Ward, Kara, and Bakshi, who serves a double agent returning to Hydra with Deathlok as his bodyguard. The script could bring more tension to this uneasy alliance, most of which comes from Fitz’s furious reaction at being asked to team up with the man responsible for his brain damage, but it still mines a lot of suspense from the question of whether or not Ward is going to betray his old partners. This plot also brings Hydra back into the fold after staying out of action for the last few episode, and the combination of Hydra and “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” ramps up the stakes as the show gets ready for Avengers: Age Of Ultron and whatever status quo changes that will bring to the MCU.

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Skye and Cal end up getting teleported back to Afterlife, but Hydra doesn’t leave empty-handed. The terrorist organization acquires both Lincoln and Deathlok, giving it access to a superpowered Inhuman and a recently upgraded cyborg, which is very bad news for S.H.I.E.L.D. That’s probably why Coulson turns himself in at the end of this episode; the threat of Hydra is growing, and S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to dedicate resources to stopping the real enemy instead of hunting down Coulson and his friends.

Stray observations:

  • It was announced this week that Bobbi and Hunter will headline an in-development S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off, which has a lot of people thinking it will be a Mr. And Mrs. Smith type of affair. I’m still hoping for Avengers Academy, and Bobbi and Hunter can be two faculty members.
  • The Simmons and May subplot this week is great. Simmons’ loyalty to Coulson is challenged by May’s concerns about Coulson’s secrets, but she keeps her faith right up until they hack Deathlok’s visual feed and see their old boss working with their old enemy Ward. The look from Henstridge in that moment fully captures Simmons’ disappointment at seemingly being proven wrong.
  • I have a soft spot for sparring scenes where characters banter while fighting each other, so Bobbi and Mack’s training session at the start of the episode fills me with delight.
  • What is up with that phone conversation Kara is having when she first shows up? Did I miss something or is that intentionally unclear?
  • “That won’t end well.”
  • “Do you like Funyuns?” Cal asks the important questions.
  • “Cal’s not a puppy, he’s a pitbull.”
  • Cal: “You know what doesn’t have the smell of buttery goodness wafting out of it on your way to work?” Skye: “A currency exchange?”
  • “He’s not a cyborg, he’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent…with rockets in his arm.”

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