Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 4.14 Review – ‘The Man Behind the Shield’
Previously on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Mack and Coulson seek out the woman who was Radcliffe’s inspiration for Aida and try to convince her to help them find Radcliffe and May. The Superior sent Shockley to disperse one of Radcliffe’s reconstituted Terrigen crystals to see if she shared her brother’s Inhuman genes, but it turned out that Shockley was the Inhuman and he developed the power to explode and reconstitute himself, essentially making him the MCU version of Nitro. FitzSimmons determined that any continued use of his serum would potentially kill Mace, but when Ivanov and his forces come after Daisy as she, FitzSimmons, and Mace have laid a trap for Shockley, Mace injects himself again and tries his best to fight them off. He eventually succumbs to Ivanov’s goons, but he allows Daisy and FitzSimmons enough time to trap Shockley in a special neutralization chamber and escape to safety. Agnes agrees to help Coulson and Mack but when Radcliffe insists he can save her from terminal cancer, she joins him, leaving Mack and Coulson in her wake, but it turns out that Radcliffe simply digitized her personality and memories into the Framework and had Aida euthanize her.
Season 4, Episode 14: ‘The Man Behind the Shield’
Coulson punches Daisy directly in the face and they begin a round of sparring with Daisy taking the momentary advantage before Coulson sweeps her leg. They resume sparring with Daisy taking the advantage, but when she kicks Coulson, he flies through the air and suddenly pauses, revealing it to be Fitz’ version of the Framework. The team theorizes how they can find May within the Framework until an agent comes in and reports that they tracked the GPS in Mace’s suit to Nome, Alaska. Upon arriving there, Coulson finds Mace’s empty suit and Mack finds one of Ivonov’s boards detailing his investigation into Coulson.
Ivanov enters a separate, undisclosed location and boards his sub where he attempts to talk to Radcliffe who is in the Framework. After a minor verbal scuffle with Aida, she pulls Radcliffe out and he and Ivanov discuss the Superior’s plans. Ivanov is reluctant to work with Aida, but when Radcliffe jumps back into Framework, Ivanov warns her that things better go according to his plan.
In Alaska, Daisy finds a photo of a mining compound owned by Ivanov and asks if it also pertains to Coulson, and he reveals that it does. Coulson flashes back to a mission that he and May did when they were much newer to SHIELD, and when Daisy snaps him back to the present, Coulson says they’re going to Russia.
Someone opens a window in a cell door, casting a sliver of light on a bloodied, sweating, and chained Mace. He breaks the chains and makes his way to the door, which proves to be open. He sneaks into the hallway and takes out the lone sentry, only to find himself surrounded by Ivanov and his men. Mace says he’s placing Ivanov under arrest, Ivanov asks under what power and says he’d like to find out if Mace has actually used up all of his power. Ivanov takes him down fairy easily and tells his men to chain him up again.
Mack comes out of the Framework and seems less-than-impressed, and Fitz tries to defend himself, but Mack blames him for building a killer robot. They debate ethics and the line between “scientist” and “mad scientist” when they get notice that they’ve arrived at the drop zone. Mack prepares for the mission and says he hopes Fitz figures this one out. Mack, Daisy, Coulson, and a couple of agents arrive at the mining facility and Coulson again flashes back to his mission with May. Coulson is clearly the less experienced agent and May razzes him about being terrible while undercover as her husband. Coulson attempts to cut through the safe when four SVR agents arrive. Back in the present, they find the safe that Coulson was trying to crack and Mack asks what’s in there. Coulson says they have the suit, so he hopes it’s not Mace’s body.
Ivanov talks about how he admired his father for being a hard worker until he saw him sucking up to the richest man in town who never had worked for anything, and he uses that compare to Mace pretending to be an Inhuman. He pulls a knife out and digs it into Mace’s chest, but Mace says they’ll come for him, which Ivanov reveals is his plan. Aida and Ivanov discuss his methods and he says that she’s as fake as he is, but even filth has a purpose.
Coulson’s team finds skeletons dressed in security guard clothing and a phone starts ringing inside one of the skulls. Coulson answers it and Ivanov asks if he recognizes the men, since he ordered them killed.In the past, May suggests she’s going to take out all four SVR agents, but Coulson goes out and tries to bluff them, which apparently got them tortured and killed. Ivanov dug them up to pay their respects, but he tells Coulson that when he kills all of Coulson’s people, no one will be left to dig up the bodies. Ivanov tells Mace that Coulson plays with other people’s lives and uses them and the government as a shield, and that his only goal is to shut the door that Coulson opened by allowing alien races to seed humans.
Fitz tracks the signal for the Framework, but Radcliffe is using an advanced form of quantum computing, routing it through millions of devices all over the world, and it doesn’t stay on any device long enough to track it. In the past, Coulson continues to try to chat up the SVR agents, who have come to secure an item at all costs. A noise inside causes them to bring Coulson in, only to find the safe open and the item missing, and when they go back outside, May is racing away in Coulson’s vehicle, causing the SVR lead to say that the cost is Coulson’s life.
Daisy tracked the unit to a SVR detention center with a submarine base and the team prepares to storm the base and get their people back. Simmons tells Fitz that they’ve found the location, but Fitz is worried that they can’t save them or that May will end up with permanent brain damage. He concedes that Mack was right, but Simmons says that he does need to think about the ramifications of what he creates, but she says he creates with his genius from the goodness of his heart and he’s not responsible for someone else using it improperly. Fitz says that there might be Framework hardware at the base that would allow him to shut it down permanently.
Ivanov asks if Mace is ready to denounce SHIELD, but he says that he believes in Coulson and that while Ivanov says he fights for humans, he thinks Ivanov lost his humanity long ago. Mace says his only regret is that he doesn’t have superpowers to kick Ivanov’s ass. Ivanov says that he respects Mace’s commitment and regrets that they’re on opposite sides of the board, but ultimately, Mace is just a pawn and pawns can only move forward. He dumps Mace on the floor and says that he can forgive his sins, but his men can’t, and he sets a group of them on Mace like rabid dogs as Coulson’s team penetrates the outer perimeter of the base.
They begin their sweep, with Coulson taking down two of Ivanov’s goons with ICER rounds before Ivanov disarms him and takes him down. Ivanov monologues about discovering Coulson at the center of everything and a flashback shows how May rescued Coulson from the SVR (and a younger Ivanov). Ivanov says he wouldn’t let Coulson have what he wants, but admits that Mace is in the compound, though he might be dead by the time Coulson finds him. Coulson says Ivanov’s story means nothing to him, as he’s just another guy trying to stop him from saving the world (THAT’S WHAT HE DO!). Daisy blows the doors open and Coulson says that she’s another story. She says she’s been waiting on a face-to-face with Ivanov and blasts him into a pillar.
Daisy lays out Ivanov’s schemes and he says it’s not a fair fight but he will fight it regardless. He reaches for his knives and Daisy blasts him backwards, but he ricochets one off of the wall and sticks it in her shoulder. FitzSimmons search for Framework hardware and Simmons takes an agent and goes after Aida, thinking she could also be key to shutting down the Framework. Mack finds Mace and blows the door open before taking out the Russians who are beating on Mace. One jumps on his back, but Coulson comes in and takes him out with a wrench, as well as a straggler. They try to find out where May is, but Mace is unresponsive, though he’s alive.
Daisy pulls the knife from her shoulder and prepares for a knife fight with Ivanov. He says she’s a genetic cheater, but she says he’s playing by old rules and that the game has changed. She blasts him into a pillar and then collapses the pillar, burying him in rubble. Daisy calls for the rest of the team but can’t reach them, an issue that Simmons also notices as a sub leaves with Aida in it. None of the team are able to communicate with each other, but they meet up and leave to get Mace medical attention. Back at headquarters, Simmons says that something isn’t right with the timeframe of the mission, and although Fitz tries to console her, they quickly discover that Daisy, Mack, Mace, and Coulson are all Life Model Decoys. Back at the sub base, Aida is happy with the success of the mission, and she says that Ivanov has served his purpose and repeats his line that even filth has a purpose.
In the past, May keeps telling Coulson to say it, and he finally relents and thanks her for saving his ass. May talks about starting to date Andrew, and Coulson says if it doesn’t work, maybe they can talk about it over a drink. May says there’s a good chance, and Coulson admits that he hopes it doesn’t work out with Andrew. In the present, LMD Coulson reactivates LMayD and tells her that they’ve waited around forever, which was more than long enough.
This almost played like a “greatest hits” of Agents of SHIELD episode, and I mean that in the best way possible. While I don’t think the entire episode was better than the sum of its parts, they took pretty much everything there is to love about this show and fit it into this episode. Flashbacks? Check. Witty banter between Coulson and May? Check. Coulson using pop culture references to get inside the head of a bad guy? Check. Kick-ass fight choreography that blended hand-to-hand combat with Inhuman abilities? Check. Fitz doubting himself and then being part of a major storyline revelation? Check.
On paper, it sounds like this should have been one of the best episodes of the series, and while it was definitely very, very solid, I just don’t know if it stacks up with the best of the best. And, just for the sake of clarification, I really did enjoy this episode, and I liked how it built upon what we’ve already seen so far in the LMD saga while also dropping a massive reveal at the end that sets up the next several chapters of the story. Not only is SHIELD infiltrated at basically its highest level with Life Model Decoys, but it also appears as though Aida is actually moving past the limits Radcliffe programmed into her and the leniency he gave her to act as his proxy is likely going to come back to haunt him. That, to me, is a compelling narrative – Radcliffe tricked the team into thinking Aida had gained sentience in order to further his agenda, and now it’s that same agenda that may have given her the freedom she needed to start freeing herself from his programming. It’s such an excellent update on Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I sincerely hope that Aida is given the same depth as the Monster and doesn’t just end up as another Ultron (an ironic sentiment, perhaps, considering the Karloff’s Monster was monosyllabic while Ultron was gifted with the wonderful personality of James Spader).
Speaking of Ultron, it was nice to see Mack and Fitz have a similar conversation to the one in Avengers: Age of Ultron and see how someone without Tony Stark’s unfailing sense of self-righteousness would react to it, and I really love that the MCU is wide-reaching enough to encompass that difference (as well as Mark Ruffalo’s Banner, who fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between Tony and Fitz). As always, seeing Iain de Caestecker question himself and then rise to the occasion thanks in part to Simmons was a highlight of the episode.
Another highlight was Jason O’Mara’s performance as Jeffrey Mace, something I feel like I’m writing nearly every week as O’Mara continues to make a case for being the best addition to the cast this season (he’s still got a pretty steep hill to climb to surpass Henry Simmons, though). Mace’s lines could’ve easily sent him over the top into pure cheese territory – the lamentation about his lack of superpowers as it pertained to kicking Ivanov’s ass was certainly corny – O’Mara played everything perfectly so that Mace came across as a man who believed in SHIELD and his ideals rather than an overzealous martyr to the cause. The line between the two is probably about as fine as Mack’s line between “scientist” and “mad scientist”, but O’Mara thankfully stayed on the right side of it.
And finally, Clark Gregg was in peak Coulson form tonight – cracking wise, taunting Ivanov by using modern slang (“Cool origin story, bro”), obsessively refusing to leave an agent behind, and single-mindedly pursuing his vision of what he believes is right, even though we saw that it ultimately compromised his team. The icing on the cake were the flashback scenes, where we could see a lot of the groundwork being laid for the Coulson and May that we’ve seen over the past four seasons. Coulson as a bumbling neophyte in the face of May’s already cold-as-ice specialist was a particularly nice touch, and the revelation that the sunglasses that Coulson sported throughout the Phase One movies and much of this show were May’s idea to help him hide one of his major tells was especially awesome. I also really liked Coulson describing his budding relationship with May to the SVR soldiers and then the conversation he had with May about Andrew. Knowing that he’s carried a torch for her for that long makes it a lot easier to accept that he’s moved on from Rosalind so (relatively) quickly.
Overall, as I said, this was an enjoyable episode from beginning to end, and I’m glad that they didn’t go the more predictable route with the ending (when FitzSimmons started to realize something was off, I just assumed that the team had been placed in the Framework). I also hope that next week’s episode is an homage to They Live, with Fitz and Simmons playing the parts of Roddy Piper and Keith David. That’s probably a stretch, but one can hope, right?