We all know Coulson and May used to serve together as field agents and that May is what is politely described as a “stick in the mud” especially when it comes to missions but this week we get a hint at what these two used to be like back when they first graduated and hell this is something I’d love to see as a mid-season series next year! The setup is pretty straight forward, there’s a 500 year old painting that survived a church fire, the hitch, it has funky writing that the Vatican can’t make heads nor tales of. (Come on, like the Vatican hasn’t run with Aliens!) In another against type move the Vatican decides to sell the painting to rebuild the church remember now these are the people who hold on to bones of people who MAY have been a person who MAY have been a saint during the age on antiquity so giving up something that’s as big a pilgrim inducement as this is kind of a bit hard to believe BUT this is a TV show so let’s run with it.
Coulson and May launch a mission to infiltrate the pre-auction party and get their hands on the painting. This episode is one of the most “Character building” episodes yet and it’s handled amazingly. It’s not like it’s full of talking heads but they communicate a lot about these characters and their relationships (ironically the one person who can’t talk does the most talking in this episode). Right out of the gate we have Hunter seducing a woman, Skye making a drop while on a scooter, doing a quick hack, Mack trying to convince Coulson to let him work on Lola, Coulson having fun being back in the field and May complaining about having to wear heels. Did I mention that this was all in about a minute and a half? This is dense story telling but not at the expense of being entertaining.
Right out of the gate we get hard core spy stuff, discussing the mission, playing up their covers, people running support from the back end. This is the kind of spy stuff that I hoped for in season one and it never fully delivered. Again, I think this was more to do with the fact they were beholden to Captain America and Thor than anything else but there’s only so long excuses like that can be leaned on and it would appear they are doing a good job of showing us what they can do with the breaks off. We even get a great gag about May’s apparent lack of humor. In a scene that could have been lifted straight from True Lies May and Coulson scope the room discussing the eclectic curriculum that S.H.I.E.L.D. offered their agents. Also though, there’s an unpleasant game of cat and mouse going on between May and Coulson about his condition, turning off their comms Coulson wants May to be willing to “do what needs to be done” to stop him from becoming like Garret but May refuses to go down that path. It seems like Coulson is going to push the issue when May realizes they may have been rumbled spotting Talbot across the room.
The face you make when the woman you are hitting on says about her husband "we're modern".
While this is going on back at the Bus Hunter has returned and we get the feeling the crew have been on and off bonding for a while now. Mack and Hunter (the new guys) have reached the point where they know about their ex-wives and being the nosey parker that she is Skye is all to willing to ask about “this story again” despite Mack’s obvious lack of interest and frustration of hearing about it. I think we all have at least one person in our lives with an ex story like that. There’s a great playful back and forth comrades but Fitz is uneasy with this for obvious reasons.
May saying to hell with it blows their cover entirely when they come to a laser grid, the “bad guys” know they are in the vault and they have to act fast taking the wind right out of Coulson’s sails. Finding the vault the painting isn’t there and right that moment Skye finds a government appropriation form showing that Talbot took possession of the painting. This confuses Coulson even more, Talbot has not shown this level of interest before and it seems out of character but it’s not only out of character we get a scene where Talbot is speaking to Whitehall and doesn’t seem to recognize them which pretty much tips the hat for those who didn’t catch that this wasn’t actually Talbot.
Here’s one of the annoying plot holes (and I have to admit ever since that Cracked video I’ve been noticing more and more). May and Coulson are making their escape waiting for the right moment Coulson feels this is his chance to corner May and get her on board with his plan should he go “Garret”. Here’s the thing that bugged me though, when they were in the party and even mere moments ago when they went downstairs it was bright light outside, if not noon at least very early evening. Now it’s dark like it’s midnight. I HATE when that happens, just too fast and it’s distracting. That said it still doesn’t ruin the moment. May is clearly distressed and changes the subject getting Coulson to run with her during the gap. They get out of the compound to be confronted by Talbot offering to let them see the painting. This CLEARLY sets off alarm bells for Coulson but he doesn’t want to be too suspicious as he’s been courting Talbot as an ally for some time. May volunteers to check things out while Coulson debriefs the rest of the crew at the Bus admitting that, okay, maybe she did like the dancing a little bit.
Again we get more team building with Tripp calling Skye on being a nosey Parker, Hunter oozing more charm than a player at a charm off, Mack being gruff but lovable and Skye deflecting everything by bringing it back to Hunter’s ex-wife. Skye is able to one up Hunter with a great line about Ward and Fitz is there but not saying much, Imaginary Simmons tries to get him to engage but he’s having none of it. Even Imaginary-Simmons isn’t able to get him to take part and instead he stalks off to the garage.
Meanwhile back at the hotel May has found the room Talbot is supposed to be staying in easily enough and peeking through the door (in a very unsubtle way) she finds Agent 33 checking out some files about Coulson and May before closing them to show a big Hydra logo. It would appear that 33 will be a recurring character, confronting 33 May gets in to a throw down with 33 that is AWESOME and gets AWESOMER when Talbot walks in. She is owning the two of them (as would be expected from a former Chun-Li) until she rips the Talbot mask off the face of the wearer who turns out to be Bakshi, this throws may for a loop long enough for 33 to stun her, I felt sorry for poor 33 immediately after that moment. She does not know the basket of hell she’s opened up for herself. It has been said that Wen does her own stunt fighting and if she does she is all out awesome and I’m enjoying every moment of it. 33 and Bakshi strap her down and take some samples creating a May Mask allowing 33 to infiltrate the team hacking her cell to get their location and grabbing a present to leave in the Bus.
Cutting back to the Bus we get to find out more about what is wrong with Fitz, a lot of this isn’t the communication part but the fact things are changing and he doesn’t feel he’s a part of it. What is more sad is he even knows he’s talking to an imaginary Gemma and he (like a lot of spurned lovers) is beating himself up over past failures. May walks in and 33 to her credit does a good job of returning to the Ice Queen interrupting the moment Fitz was having with his imaginary friend. May convinces Coulson to return with her that Talbot is on the “up and up” they leave as she drops off a little present that starts to take over the Bus.
While 33 picks up Coulson May is being interrogated by Bakshi, she is doing her best tough guy routine and not giving anything up but he decides to improvise. As May is treated to some homemade ECT Coulson finally gets to have his chat with who he thinks is May, unfortunately it’s with the wrong May but this also piques his interest. May is decidedly un-May, she’s receptive, willing to talk and even touches him. May would not touch him, again we get the “hmmm something’s not right here” but Coulson is good and holds on until he gets closer to what he seems to have figured for a trap.
As Coulson closes in on the Hydra trap the trigger appears to have been pulled as the Bus locks in the team and systems start malfunctioning all around them. It would seem though this is Fitz’s moment to shine. He is able to quickly figure out what is going on and with the help of Mack and Skye communicate exactly what is happening to the rest of the team. It looks like his discussions with Imaginary Simmons have actually been useful and he’s starting to find more confidence.
Arriving at the hotel Coulson stops May before they open the door and says that it’s been fun working together again, that maybe once this is all over they can get that coffee they should have got years ago. May smiles and agrees and three strikes you’re out. Coulson punches her square in the nose, May doesn’t like coffee. And now all hell breaks loose, there have been some decent fight scenes before, the one between her and Ward last season was delectable in that she was exactly what I expected from “The Cavalry”. That fight was short, to the point, and brutally efficient this time though we get to watch her really tango, maybe it was because she had to dance earlier that she had to blow off some steam but when Coulson’s fight starts in the hall May takes this opportunity to get out of her restraints and charges Bakshi who to Kassianides credit does the best “oh crap” face I’ve seen in a long time.
And thus a thousand fan fic slash stories were born.
Cutting back and forth Fitz and team are starting to click, Fitz is taking control. We get some really great editing here. The episode so far has had some fun wipes that were very spy movie and the old rule of “never cut on action” that changed to “always cut on action” seems to be balanced quite well. There’s an amazing sense of pacing with this episode where we get to see all players constantly in motion with only brief moments of down time that never seem forced.
This was a roller coaster and the entire time my hands were up and I was screaming for joy. We end with a touching moment of bonding over beer where Fitz appears to let go of some of the pain that’s been holding him back and accepting a new place in the team, Coulson gets to poke Talbot before coming to an agreement… well really an order with May and in possibly one of the most awesome stingers of the series yet Raina is confronted by Whitehall who is none too pleased with having his things taken. Knowing this will be the focus of next week’s episode this is really exciting, we’re keeping the pacing tight and the stories is happening over days and weeks not months and years. This season of Marvel’s AoS is shaping up to be not just a great super hero show (as more “Gifted” are introduced), but a great Spy show and possibly some of the best cinematography and tightest edits on television. I can’t recommend this episode highly enough.