This week's SHIELD didn't have a lot of Marvel references, but it did move the plot along. So that's good, right? Let's see what connections can be made to the comics anyhow.
"Face My Enemy" makes for the second adequate episode in a row. It's fun, and exiting where it needs to be, but doesn't stand out on its own merits as a great part of this series. Also, other than the obligatory SHIELD and Hydra references, there aren't a lot of Marvel connections here.
It may be geeky to say it, but fans want to see some fan service, even if it means something as simple as Maria Hill casually name-dropping the Man-Thing. Here's hoping we'll have more connections in later episodes.
Spoiler-light Recap: Coulson investigates leads on the alien hieroglyphs in his head with May's help, but the rest of the team may take the heat for their transgressions. This means people may have to face their worst enemies: themselves.
The set up for this story takes place in Miami, Florida, where a 500-year-old church called Santa Maria de las Flores recently burned down, revealing an old Spanish painting of the Madonna and Child with strange alien glyphs carved on the back. The action shifts to South Beach, Florida, where a gala is held to rebuild the old church. None of this ties directly to the Marvel Universe of the comics, but Florida itself has been important for a long time. One of the stories in Marvel Comics #1 - the very first Marvel issue in 1939 - takes place in Florida, and that was retroactively established to feature Citrusville, the fictional town where the Man-Thing, Captain Fate and the Conquistador tend to hang out. Florida is also home the government-sponsored superhero team The Command, and to Curt Connors, better known as the rather lame villain from the Amazing Spider-Man film (but a cool character in the comics). Florida's a popular place.
The priests at the beginning are acting all Exorcisty, but they are actually more concerned with proving "miracles" are real. Verifying miracles is a thing the Vatican actually has people dedicated to, but one wonders if the term "miracle" might have another meaning given the stinger from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the scene which essentially served as a teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the term "miracles" seemed to be a euphemism for "people with powers." In the Marvel Universe it is acceptable to say "marvels" (and has been since the eponymous series), and in the Marvel-related universe the Ultraverse, they are called Ultras. There's also that Miracle guy, but that's neither here nor there at the moment. For the record, the Marvel Universe does have its own fulltime exorcists, the Darkhold Redeemers.
Coulson, who is becoming more and more obsessed with those alien glyphs, seeks out the painting. To do so, new guy Lancer Hunter seduces (and picks the pocket of) Bridget, the executive assistant of Gabriel Soto, some rich guy who seems to earnestly want to help the old Church. This leads to an undercover mission where Coulson and May adopt the identities of Charles and Heidi Martin. Then have to get past multiple layers of security, including a seemingly daunting laser grid. While all of these things fall into heist movie clichés, they also fall well into the territory of Marvel's resident thief-with-a-heart-of-gold, Gambit. The Ragin' Cajun always walks the straight-and-narrow when working with the X-Men (despite his unusual past with Mr. Sinister), but whenever he's on his own, he tends to get into some Oceans Eleven-level trouble.
May is extremely uncomfortable wearing heels (strange, other female fighters seem to use them so much...), but she quickly falls into character thanks to the dancing course she briefly took at SHIELD Academy. Wait, SHIELD Academy offered a dancing elective!? Uh... anyway, the team freaks out to hear her laughing and making small talk. Nothing to do with Marvel, but this calls to mind a great write-up on drawing human figures, including establishing a character's personality through their base expressions, by Dresden Codak-creator Aaron Diaz (here's a link, has some NSFW images).
We also learn that Coulson and May went on their first field mission together in the exotic local of Sausalito, California, but things went bad because the commander didn't provide an exit plan, leaving May stranded in the ocean for some time. Previous episodes established that their first CO was Nick Fury himself.
The undercurrent of the main caper story involves May's growing concern over Coulson's alien glyph-related episodes (which the others aren't aware of yet), Coulson's insistence that he should die with dignity if he ever seems to be heading into insane territory like Garrett did (as Garrett had similar visions), and Skye's insistence on learning what the heck those two are so worried about.
They also have to deal with Hydra - which is also after the mysterious glyphs - something complicated by Hydra's use of holographic mask technology. This stuff was featured in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and is a stable of spy stories, even going as far back as Captain America's first appearance in 1941. You'd think they'd have been tipped off by the nice-seeming Talbot, but it wasn't until nice-seeming May that Coulson figured it out. Marvel's most notorious master of the artificial disguise is Spider-Man villain the Chameleon, who has spent so many years being so many different people, he's forgotten a lot about who he really is.
This also means we get a great May vs. May fight scene, with the real May in her slip fighting the brainwashed Agent 33 wearing May's stolen dress, and a copy of May's face. 33 put up an extended resistance to Hydra-boss Daniel Whitehall's brainwashing last episode before finally complying, so she was clearly a tough cookie, and with this episode we learn she is a physical match for May (the best fighter in Coulson's group).
By the way, all this could've been avoided if Hydra didn't brand everything from office buildings to document folders to SWAT uniforms. Sure, it doesn't make a lot of real world sense, but villain-branding is an important tradition in spy fiction, especially in the Marvel Universe. Who are Hydra without their green cannonfodder, or AIM without their beekeeper suits? Nobodies, that's who.
In the B-story, we see Lance, Trip, Skye and Fitz trying to stop their recently upgraded superplane, the Bus, from exploding. Before that, however, Lance keeps talking about his ex-wife, calling her a goddess, a demon, a thing from another species. He's probably just being sarcastic, but wouldn't it be interesting if she really was something other than human - a Gifted, so to speak? Hey, Deadpool recently married a demon from Hell, so stranger things have happened.
Throughout this sidestory, we learn that Skye really did have a crush on Ward (unless the evil guy she referenced was Miles Lydon from "The Girl with the Flower Dress"), and that Fitz could operate under pressure to save the day (and that he felt rejected by Simmons).
For no discernible reason, Coulson calls his unrelenting enemy, Brig. Gen. Talbot, to keep him abreast of the situation. Coulson really wants to make friends with this guy even though it isn't going to happen, but who knows? Maybe Coulson could make regular reports to Talbot at the end of each episode like Mork calling Orson.
He doesn't tell Talbot, of course, but Coulson learned the alien glyphs on the 500-year-old painting are recent, meaning there's someone else out there having visions - and someone willing to do a lot of damage while getting these images off their head. Ominous.
More immediately ominous, Raina is discovered and threatened by Hydra. Not any old agent either, but Whitehall himself, who puts a little fear-of-Hydra into the Girl with the Flower Dress. He gives her 48 hours to return the Obelisk she stole, setting up next week's premise.
No new special thanks this episode, but not a lot of direct Marvel references either. Ah well, see you all next time!
Over at the Lonely Skeptic, someone was able to get a clear screenshot of May's phone! There's a lot of potential Marvel connections there, but the biggest deal to me is Jimmy Woo! He's Marvel's original bad ass secret agent, having fought evil in the 1950s before joining SHIELD in the modern day. Thanks to some pretty swanky alien technology, he's young and in his prime today. Here's hoping he shows up in Agent Carter's series! [Thanks for the head's up Alliterator!]