May and Coulson DanceThis week’s episode is one that’s practically made for the shippers, featuring May and Coulson going undercover and posing as a couple. I can almost hear the fangirl (and boy) squeals now. But there’s seasonal arc relevance, too, so read on for more.

The episode opens with several priests gathered around a burned out church, where only one object survived–a Spanish portrait of Mary and baby Jesus that has been around for hundreds of years. And on the back, the alien markings Coulson has been scribbling. Certainly intriguing, eh?

Coulson thought the same, so they set up an op to acquire this otherwise very expensive object. Step 1 of the plan: have Lance Hunter seduce and distract a girl, so that he and Skye can steal her tickets to the event, because those tickets are $25k, and SHIELD doesn’t have that kind of money these days. I kid, but it’s an interesting direction that they have to take; SHIELD in season 1 did morally dubious things in the name of control and under the guise of the greater good, mostly abusing the extraordinary amounts of power they used to wield. This season, they’ve been reduced to petty crimes out of desperation, but for a much clearer and more objectively good purpose. It makes for good contrast, at least, and shows exactly what kind of influence HYDRA had on them. With the tickets in hand, May and Coulson are off to the ball.

Aren't people with access to classified info not supposed to drink for security reasons?

Aren’t people with access to classified info not supposed to drink for security reasons?

May’s the fish out of water here, claiming her face hurts from all the vacuous fake smiling. But she’s an experienced enough agent to know how to maintain her cover, and she and Coulson go over some of the good old days when they were both new recruits. After shutting off their radio contact with the gang back at base,  May and Coulson discuss how this is actually more of a personal mission. See, Coulson’s alien-influenced condition is worsening, and he’s concerned about what will happen if he gets all loopy like Garrett did at the end of season 1. May would rather not chat about that, especially here, and especially once she’s spotted General Talbot is here, too. Uh oh.

Coulson decides to go speak to him, since he didn’t immediately start shooting, and it seems that with a bit of liquor in him, Talbot’s a lot more reasonable. Still, he’s not exactly trustworthy, so they have to accelerate the plan, which means breaking into the vault and stealing the painting directly. May sweet talks the event host, and gets Coulson to take a photo of them together–but the photo is actually retina mapping his eyes, as a way to bypass the security system. As they do it, Talbot appears again, and points in their direction. They run off to the basement level and use a holographic recreation of the guy’s eyes to get past the lock, which is a very neat trick. Much more efficient than cutting people’s eyeballs out or taking them hostage. As they make it down to the storage room, they run into a laser grid. Coulson limbers up for the ol’ laser grid limbo, but May just walks through, hilariously subverting the cliche by noting that their presence has already been made known. But in the vault, there’s no painting. Skye and the team manage to find a report about the government requisitioning it this morning, so the whole party is actually about nothing. Talbot’s on the phone with someone, implying that he had a different target and that Coulson is actually the one getting in HIS way. He sends a picture of May and Coulson to the voice on the other end–HYDRA agent Whitehall.

Yeah, just rip his face off. I'm sure it'll be fine.

Yeah, just rip his face off. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

As May and Coulson make their escape, they’re caught like deer in the headlights by Talbot’s… er… headlights. He asks for Coulson’s help actually; he knows the alien writing is important, but they have no hope of decoding it and this kind of thing really is right in SHIELD’s wheelhouse. Of course, he’d have to do it on government property… and to May’s surprise, he agrees, but insists he needs an hour to inform his team, so Talbot agrees to meet at a hotel in an hour. Naturally Coulson is just playing along, so May is sent ahead to the hotel to check it out, and maybe recover the painting. She makes her way up, and watches carefully through a door as a woman flips through a few folders, one of which includes a dossier on Coulson. Then she closes it, revealing the HYDRA logo. So May attacks, and wins pretty easily, asking where Talbot is. And then Talbot steps out and punches her. May’s good, but it’s still a two on one fight, and as she hits Talbot, she notices something strange. Surprise! It’s not really Talbot, it’s Bakshi wearing one of those holographic face things that they used in Captain America 2. See, HYDRA, how much trouble you’d save yourselves if you could be a little more discrete? My only explanation for this is that, being showy nazis, it was REALLY hard to keep quiet for 70 years, so now they’re making up for lost time by emblazoning every-fucking-thing with the logo.

The surprise was enough for them to get May with a taser, so she’s out. But from this, they’re able to deduce that SHIELD and Talbot’s forces aren’t exactly allies, so they need someone Coulson can trust in order to capture him. And lucky for them, they have just such a person lying unconscious on the floor, AND a crazy mask that lets you look and sound like anyone! So the girl (apparently called Agent Q) does just that, and she’s on her way to meet Coulson.

Let's keep hoping that the real Simmons will return so the hallucination goes away, cause it's just too sad.

Let’s keep hoping that the real Simmons will return so the hallucination goes away, cause this is just too sad.

We finally catch up with Fitz here, who still has his illusory Simmons to keep him company. He’s upset that they renovated the old lab on the Bus (mostly because it reminded him of better days), and feels like he’s not part of the team any more. Simmons points out that by keeping himself isolated all the time, it’s no wonder he’s not feeling like part of the team. He won’t interact with them any more. It’s about then that fake May walks in, and up to where the others are. She tells Coulson the deal is legit, and plants some kind of device that Bakshi gave her to sabotage the rest of the team.

The real May comes to, tied to a chair in just a slip (they took her dress for the disguise, see) and Bakshi preparing to interrogate her. She’s not going along, obviously, so he threatens the brainwashing machine before breaking the light nearby and deciding to take the Jack Bauer approach. Not good. Coulson and fake May are having an awkward car ride, as he tries to broach the topic of him going crazy again. He says that if something happens to him, she’ll have to step up as the new director. Fake May plays along as best she can, but she’s a little too open and touchy.

Fitz, finally giving in, approaches the rest of the team, who are busy doing research until the lights go out. Great timing, buddy. The Bus has been tricked into responding as if they’ve crash-landed in water, and now the whole thing is sealed up tight. Fitz is able to spot the device, though, and recognizes it (great timing, indeed). He says that the Bus is going to explode if they don’t get it fixed soon. In the meantime, it’s exploding in parts, just to make things harder. Fitz takes Hunter down with him to work on the systems that will be up for exploding next, and uses his hands to do the job (since Fitz’s hand-eye coordination isn’t too good now). They rearrange wires and dodge showers of sparks until they get it functioning again. Yay Fitz! Hunter’ll buy you a beer for that.

Battle of the century! Or, it would be, if Agent Q were anywhere near the real May in terms of skill. Also, you know, Avengers.

Battle of the century! Or, it would be, if Agent Q were anywhere near the real May in terms of skill. Also, you know, Avengers. Tough competition for the title in the MCU.

Fake May and Coulson are walking down the halls of the hotel, and he’s still reminiscing about the old days. He asks her out to coffee, and she agrees, so he punches her in the face (May hates coffee). They keep fighting in the hall, distracting Bakshi long enough for real May to break free, so now it’s ass-kicking time. That’s offscreen, though, and soon enough it’s down to a May versus fake May. As Bakshi takes off with the painting, Coulson has to tear himself away from the catfight to chase him down. But Coulson’s not really one for chasing, so as they get to a long stretch of hallway, he takes Bakshi down with an icer. As the May fight progresses into the hotel room, fake May resorts to kitchen knifes and rods and scissors, but ultimately real May uses the hanging electrical wires, shocking the mask and burning a significant chunk of Agent Q’s face. Coulson has the painting, but a HYDRA strike team is inbound, so it’s time to run.

Coulson calls the real Talbot and fills him in, but tells him the painting was destroyed. It wasn’t, but it turns out the writing on the back is not 500 years old, but brand new–which means someone else out there has the same condition as Coulson. They discuss the backup plan, and Coulson orders her: she must kill him if it comes down to it.

The tag shows Raina getting into a car, but someone’s already there. Whitehall gets in the back seat and threatens her: 48 hours to return the 084/obelisk to him, or she’s dead. Bye!

This week definitely kept the quality up, and didn’t focus as much on the date/party undercover thing as the ads would have led us to believe. The alien writing arc has moved forward, and we got a lot of good character moments with May and Coulson as well as Fitz and Hunter. They avoided a lot of the cliches, too, like the laser grid, and no “shoot her! I’m the real one!” stuff. I’m very interested to see where next week leads and what happens to Raina, so get ready for “A Hen in the Wolfhouse.”