[This is a Review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 4 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]

Now that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has hit its stride with season 2, finding a balance between the larger war between Coulson’s team and HYDRA and individual character development, it seems a change of pace was in order. With some heavy-hitting scenes in last week’s episode, the writers have decided to lighten the mood in this week’s episode – meaning the punches that are thrown land even harder.

In “Face My Enemy,” written by co-executive producer Drew Greenberg (Arrow, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team are on the hunt for a centuries-old painting marked with the same strange symbols the S.H.I.E.L.D. director is haunted by. With Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) on his arm and his team behind him, Coulson infiltrates a posh Miami party to attain the painting, finding that General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) is after it as well – and his loyalties aren’t what they seem.

Some fans may feel that the momentum built in the season thus far was placed on pause this week, but make no mistake: the same subplots and overarching threats are still present, even if they aren’t foregrounded in “Face My Enemy.” Instead, the newest members of the team – Mack (Henry Simmons) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) – get a chance to prove their worth, taking part in a caper that seems more at home in Mission: Impossible than past AoS adventures.

The fit is a surprisingly strong one, and the brief reprieve from the heavy drama and foreboding atmosphere of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters won’t go unappreciated. After all, it was the suggestion that beneath Agent Phil Coulson’s suit and tie sat a precocious idealist that made him a fan-favorite. And with his future in jeopardy, this return to the field may remind viewers why they fell for him in the first place.

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The conventions of a classic caper continue, as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned-HYDRA operative Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) and Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) – disguised as General Talbot – spring their trap for both Coulson and May. The plot twist soon reverts to a simple means of keeping Coulson in danger while giving May a chance to save the day, but the dynamic it makes possible between the two stars is a worthy payoff.

It’s not often that Coulson finds himself with the wool pulled over his eyes, so pairing him with Agent 33 (disguised as May) provides a chance to show both in a new light, and adding the kind of physical comedy and winks to the camera that ‘body-swapping’ or ‘disguise’ subplots tend to bring with them.

That lighter tone extends to the supporting cast, who are, for the majority of the episode, contained to ‘The Bus.’ In what is easily the clearest sign of writer Greenberg’s work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Warehouse 13, the chance for lighthearted idle banter between Hunter, Mack and Skye (Chloe Bennet) is used to its full potential, with only a few lines of dialogue from each needed to make their differences – and similarities – perfectly clear moving forward.

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As has become the trend, it’s in this same side plot that Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) once again embodies the scars suffered by all in AoS‘ first season. And while the new players may share a laugh, and Skye finally finds kinship among ‘non-company men,’ it is Fitz who is left both emotionally and physically wounded. Over the course of the episode, his reliance upon Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is also revealed to be more than just a mental crutch, but an emotional one as well.

Finally giving voice to his feelings for Simmons, and how his existing identity within the team was defined by her partnership pulls all the remaining skeletons from his closet, and her sudden disappearance reveals just how slowly and subtly the two have become one of the show’s more intriguing relationships to watch.

The lighter and more painful elements of the group aboard The Bus are juxtaposed so well, it seems that the showrunners themselves know they’ve hit their stride, even choosing to thrust Fitz and Hunter into a life-or-death scenario, proving even team members with next to no history can now function as one. But it’s sure to be the crumbling of Fitz’s emotional wall, not his mental one, that could mark his return back into the team’s fold. Not into his old role, but potentially, an entirely new one.

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With Mortal Kombat Legacy director Kevin Tancharoen behind the lens, the action sequences are as on-point as one would expect. Coulson’s combat may be played for a laugh, but May-fighting-May is predictably vicious, with a final flourish sure to be re-played by most viewers. The stakes, like the danger in such a playful detour, are admittedly low.

But the time spent away with Coulson and May emphasizes their bond as the ‘old guard’ of S.H.I.E.L.D. – culminating in a set of promises that slams the train back onto its tracks, and returns the mystery of Coulson’s mind, the Obelisk, and the malevolent Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) to the forefront. In the process, making the ‘answers’ being built toward seem not only more enticing, but nowhere near as critical to enjoying the show along the way.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with “A Hen in the Wolf House” @9pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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