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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Review: “A Hen in the Wolf House”

This week’s episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. does something that no other episode of the show has done — it kicks ass. I’ve found S.H.I.E.L.D. interesting, funny, entertaining – and, in its first season, exasperating – but at no point in its run has it plastered a mile-wide grin on my face that lasted long after the end credits. The fact that this grin isn’t the result of one-liners or references to Marvel movies, or one specific performance or moment has me smiling again now. Because I’m hopeful the show has, once and for all, figured out what it needs to be, and will continue delivering for the remainder of its second season.

“A Hen in the Wolf House” has the good sense to keep things simple, the secret to success in any screen espionage tale, be it James Bond or Alias. Since, if a milieu has the potential to be labyrinthine, the story at its core shouldn’t be equally confusing. Here, Raina’s been given forty-eight hours by Hydra chief Daniel Whitehall to deliver him the mysterious Obelisk, or she dies. Simple. She turns to Skye’s dad, “The Doctor,” to whom she delivered the artifact a few episodes back. Played by Kyle MacLachlan, his lab and demeanor suggest he’s really much more of a mad scientist, and he refuses to play. So she calls on Coulson and company, blackmailing them by threatening to expose their mole Simmons, still working undercover in Hydra’s labs. Coulson too refuses to deal, and allows her to send a photo of Simmons reporting to S.H.I.E.L.D. to every Hydra agent. Whitehall’s right-hand man Bakshi and Hydra’s head of security Bobbi Morse (played by Adrianne Palicki) come for her, but – surprise! – Morse is also a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole, one assigned to protect Simmons, whom she rescues in spectacular fashion by jumping off the roof of Hydra headquarters onto a cloaked Quinjet. (The look of hero worship on Simmons’ face is adorable.) Upon returning to the Playground, Morse is invited to join Coulson’s team, to the chagrin of her ex-husband, Lance Hunter.

The pace of this week’s episode is relentless. Kudos to director Holly Dale and writer Brent Fletcher for the ways in which they intertwine the suspense of Simmons’ fight to maintain her cover at Hydra with Coulson’s cat-and-mouse game at a table in a swanky restaurant with Raina. S.H.I.E.L.D. is sometimes criticized for a lack of visual style, but by placing its characters in increasingly upscale settings this season (like the posh party Coulson and May attended last week or the wedding banquet that opens this week’s tale), the show has found a way to bring some glamor to its world of dark machinery and business suits. The balance of personalities within this year’s newly expanded cast is also welcome. Actor Nick Blood, as the former mercenary Hunter, is especially fun. In the comics, Bobbi – who’s known as Mockingbird, and sports the same signature baton weapons – is the former wife of Hawkeye. But since Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton is unavailable to the show, the character’s love-hate relationship with his ex is recaptured through her interaction with Hunter. Here’s hoping this dynamic doesn’t end anytime soon.


Also exciting is the way that stakes have been raised via the introduction of Skye’s father, who reveals a temper and physical strength made intriguingly Hulk-like by the green light of his laboratory. Growing crazed at the thought that his daughter regards him as a monster, he allies himself with Whitehall, promising he’ll teach him to use the Obelisk (which the Big Bad wants to convert into Hydra weaponry) in an effort to destroy Skye’s surrogate father Coulson. Skye, meanwhile, discovers the S.H.I.E.L.D. director’s secret carvings, and realizes it’s only a matter of time before he completely snaps like John Garrett last season. The banter between Coulson and Skye continues to be a highlight, with the two engaging in a laugh-inducing though entirely sensible discussion over whether her alien DNA could save her from whatever force has seized control of her boss’s mind.

My one beef with “A Hen in the Wolf House” is Simmons’ anticlimactic reunion with Fitz, who’d progressed enough in her absence to address the version of her he’d imagined since the start of the season as a part of his subconscious. I liked the way Simmons’ absence humanized Fitz, even prompting him to share a beer with his teammates last week and lament the girl who got away. And I liked our brief glimpse of the cerebral scientist as a fish out of water at Hydra. Whatever direction their relationship takes, here’s hoping the two aren’t reduced to the two-dimensional cyphers they were in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first year.

Next week: It’s a classic Marvel scenario as our heroes are framed by Hydra for a crime they didn’t commit, and Skye is forced to call on her traitorous former lover Ward for help. Oh, and there’s also the world premiere of the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Images: ABC/Marvel

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  1. Rogers says:

    I’m going to rant.

    I can’t stand Skye either.  Why does everything revolve around her problems?  You know they’re focusing on her too much when major villains from both seasons (Deathlock, Ward, and now her father) have close connections to her and the other major plot (alien stuff) is connected to her too.  She’s all over everything!  Is this the only way her character can remain relevant on the show?  She doesn’t seem spy-like and is more about drama and attitude.  Can a show with an ensemble cast really continue to focus so much on just one of them?  Toning her down to make her feel more like an equal member of the team would be nice.

    Where are all the male leads on this show?  Since Ward turned bad, all the male characters (except Coulson) have been evil, damaged (Fitz), neglected (majority of new male cast, especially the Black guys), or made into whiny guys (the British guy).  Did the Whedon’s revert to a Buffy show design with female leads only (Skye, May, Simmons, and now Morse) and leave every other character, who all happen to be male, out of it?  Please don’t make the British guy a sniveling loser comic relief like Xander from Buffy.  You can have him make jokes without being one.  The shows Nikita, NCIS, Burn Notice and even Once Upon a Time had/have both strong women and men.  Nikita and Ziva are some of the strongest female roles I can remember on television, and not once did they neglect or weaken the male roles on their shows, and Nikita could kick Buffy’s butt mentally and physically all day. 

    The best part of this episode was the fact that a Hydra agent (Morse) was wearing a military style uniform instead of business casual attire like usual.  Are they fighting Hydra or a science/engineering firm?  I want to see some Hydra military uniforms!  I also greatly appreciated the city scene where Simmons and Morse jumped onto the cloaked aircraft.  It really felt like they were in the Marvel Universe at that point.  The suspense between the Hydra security team and Simmons was the best thing I’ve seen in the entire series, mostly because of Morse I think.  The feel of all the SHIELD characters together in their headquarters at the end of the episode when Morse returned with Simmons had a great feel to it.    

    The Hydra boss Whithall and his underlings remind me so much of Buffy/Angel villains, especially Whithall.  The whole attitude Hydra has of “kill everyone because it’s good” seems so over the top that they don’t even come off as human.  They could easily be a company of demons from the show Angel.  Besides, what’s Hydra’s end game?  Are they just doing evil things because they’re evil?  Give us something.  What beliefs are at the core of Hydra?

    Speaking of Angel, does Ward being imprisoned in the SHIELD headquarters remind anyone else of Angel’s imprisonment in Buffy when he turned into Angelus?  Seriously, Skye talking to the evil Ward is like Buffy talking to the evil Angel.   

  2. Kiji says:

    I can’t stand Skye. I thought she was getting better, but after this last ep, I realized she is the weak link of this show. Maybe it’s just the actress, I don’t know…

  3. Nathaniel H says:

    Wait… so you didn’t think last week’s May vs. May kicked ass?

  4. patricia says:

    liked it but I am still upset over the lucy lawless storyline.

  5. Vern says:

    Enjoyed this ep, I feel like I missed a couple of Easter Eggs, though, there was an exchange about a hellcat, just call her Bessie, or something, but it went by so fast I didn’t get it, was this a nod to Hellcat? There was another thing later in the show, but i can’t remember what it was, now there’s a load of help…

    • thismoviesucks says:

      it was actually “hellCow” and it is a reference to some wierd vampire cow from the comics

  6. Insightful Panda says:

    Im so glad Bobbi Morse is sticking around! Now that Skye’s father and Hydra are working together, things are going to heat up fast

  7. Erik says:

    My only qualm with this episode is the “evil corporation” must act evil cliche.  Why would anyone work for Hydra if they are threatened constantly?