Few actors on television can match Clark Gregg when it comes to dryness. It’s not that Gregg offers the most arid performance on TV in his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson, but his line readings are the equivalent of a weekend in the Southwest, humidity-free, but inviting and warm. Edward James Olmos, by comparison, is the southern Rockies — as craggly as they come, towering in his delivery but grounded in bedrock. Which is why Olmos’ casting as Robert Gonzalez, Coulson’s opposite number in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s splinter group (or, as Mack would have it, “the read S.H.I.E.L.D.”), is as perfect a casting choice as the show has seen since it premiered. With all due respect to last season’s Bill Paxton and Kyle MacLachlan’s turn this season, Olmos never runs the risk of descending into camp. And with the recent death of Hydra chief Daniel Whitehall, Coulson now more than ever needs an opponent whose gravitas matches his own.
We’ll have to wait a little while, however, for Gonzalez and Coulson to go mano a mano over their differing philosophies towards how S.H.I.E.L.D. should best operate in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Nick Fury’s “death.” (Befitting this season’s, and indeed the show’s, ongoing debate over “the truth,” Gonzalez believes S.H.I.E.L.D. should operate with transparency, not from the shadows.) Until then, we’ll see their battle carried out between Bobbi and Hunter, the show’s on-again, off-again lovebirds. In “Love in the Time of Hydra” the latter is brought before Gonzalez, and his ex — and Mack — finally come clean with their true motives these last few episodes: they’ve been spying for their new boss, gathering intel on Coulson and co. as they decide how best to knock him off his perch.
Meanwhile, back at HQ, May finally decides enough is enough with the still unpredictable super-powered Skye, and advises Coulson she be removed from active duty. He reluctantly takes her out to one of Fury’s safe houses, where we learn Steve Rogers himself recuperated in the wake of his “defrosting.”
There’s a third couple operating remotely in “Love in the Time of Hydra” — Ward and Agent 33, whom we finally catch up with after last year’s midseason finale (“What They Become”). Ward credits her with saving him in Puerto Rico, while the former Hydra operative is grateful he gave her something to do after Whitehall was terminated. She remains haunted, though, by her facial lacerations. So the pair kidnap a scientist who gives them a working nanomask with which to mask herself. Her internal scars are not so easily fixed, and she spends most of the episode trying on different faces — including the one she thinks will be be most pleasing to Ward, a submissive Skye — until he convinces her to focus her energies on the man who brought her to Whitehall, Bakshi. Ward and 33 bust the torturer out of Talbot’s prison, resulting in a surprisingly hilarious case of mistaken identity involving Talbot’s confused wife. But after sorting things out, the crusty general calls on Coulson and co. for assistance.
— Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Twelve Monkeys‘ Kirk Acevedo — in his ongoing mission to appear in every major genre project — appears here as Gonzalez’s Agent Calderon. In the ’30s he’d be the guy in every gangster film. In the ’50s, every western.
— Gonzalez says Hunter’s deceased friend Isabelle Hartley saved his life and was very close to him. Ironically, she was played by Lucy Lawless, who played a Cylon opposite Edward James Olmos’ William Adama on Battlestar Galactica.
— I love the fact that Skye is playing with Operation as a means of testing her nerves.
— Agent 33 is fast becoming Marvel Studios’ own Mystique.
— The pullback shot of Hunter, when he realizes he’s trapped on an aircraft carrier, is almost identical to that of Fish Mooney on Gotham a few weeks back when she learns she’s trapped in an island prison.
— “The damn experience nearly cost me my marriage. I’m gonna be up to my ears in edible arrangements trying to make this thing right.”
Next week: S.H.I.E.L.D. two most lethal warriors — Bobbi and May — battle one another, while Skye is targeted by Gonzalez.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).