A lot of people have been wondering where Simmons is and what she is up to in the wake of last season and Fitzs condition, and "Making Friends and Influencing People" answers that question while continuing the shows significant increase in quality since the second season began. This episode mainly follows Simmons as we learn about her whereabouts and reasons for leaving SHIELD, before throwing us into a conflict with an character we last saw in season one.
Without getting spoiler-y, there simply isn't a whole lot that can be said about this episode. There are a lot of reveals here - this may be the episode that moves the plot of the season forward the most so far, giving us a ton more information about the layout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while also having a lot of really good, but very much plot-centric, character moments back at base.
Naturally, most of the running time this episode is spent with the recently absent Simmons, progressing that element of the plot forward a significant amount. But, as has been the case with every other episode this season, the focus on writing and better character hasn't been lost, with Simmons taking on a new level of responsibility within SHIELD whilst also being put significantly outside of her comfort zone. The change in character from season 1 to season 2 is large, but it feels a shame that this change happened largely off screen.
We also get significantly more time spent with Fitz this episode, again kicking the poor sod when he is already down in one of the best scenes the show has ever offered. To go into detail about the scene would unfortunately ruin some of the surprise of it happening - but it is intense, well acted, and more importantly, meaningful to the characters in it. There is genuine, natural conflict, and both characters have a real stake in the interaction, and it makes for some great TV. Fitz is easily the most interesting character in the show at the moment, and his increased screen time (as well as Iain De Caestecker's incredible acting) is a massive boon to the show, never mind the incredible transition that the other character in this scene has taken, and the performance that is given.
Also worth mentioning is the darker tone that this episode takes. Previous episodes have certainly upped the ante, but this is different - we get multiple murders, an extended torture/brain washing scene, and Simmons is in pretty much constant peril, a far cry from the family friendly series that the show used to be. And this tone isn't bad by any means - it gives the show more weight with which to play with, but what's interesting is that it doesn't rely on being 'gritty' in order to create dramatic tension. There is a fine balancing act on display here, keeping the series believable while reintroducing fairly ridiculous concepts, as well as ensuring that the show never goes too far into the dark side, something that I can imagine being very, very difficult to achieve.
Despite not being able to actually say a whole lot about the episode (damn you, spoilers!), you'll have to take my word that "Making Friends and Influencing People" is just as good as the previous two episodes, developing the seasons plot in an episode that feels fast paced while allowing time for satisfying character moments to develop naturally. The only real complaint I would have is that Coulson's increased presence in this episode takes some of the momentum out of it towards the end, but its a minor complaint to make of an otherwise excellent episode, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this season can continue to develop and improve.