Welcome back, true believers! With last week’s episode focusing on a Watchdog turned Inhuman with the ability to self combust, the gang unfortunately had Director Mace taken right from under their noses by the militant organization. With Mace and May both in the clutches of Radcliffe and company, the team mounts a counter offensive in order to retrieve their fallen comrades. “The Man Behind the Shield” works on two levels, managing to give us a nice breezy adventure in the present while also recollecting a fun and humor-filled romp through the past, with young Coulson and May bounding through a mission against the Russians. While most of the episode is solid, it’s in the ending that big questions are laid bare, ones that may lead to huge ramifications for the season. Needless to say, while not a perfect episode,“The Man Behind the Shield” plays up the strengths of what makes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. such an enjoyable show — when it wants to be.
The episode takes us into a deep dive into technological by having the team explore the “Framework,” a virtual reality program that was originally created by Fitz and Radcliffe as training software. Of course, Radcliffe — much like with the LMDs — has decided to use the system for more nefarious reasons, such as keeping Agent May a prisoner. Personally, I would like us to see a bit more focus placed on the Darkhold, the mysterious evil book that seemed to be the deus ex machina for the start of Season 4. While its presence is still hinted at from time to time, we haven’t seen it actually do much since the latter half of the season, merely granting Aida (and potentially the other LMDs) the ability to become more and more human as time marches forward. Understandably, with more of a focus on technology rather than the supernatural, I suppose the Darkhold would need to take a back seat, but still, it would be nice to see some magic seep its way into the series once again considering how big the Darkhold is in the Marvel Universe of the comics.
The gang manages to track down what appears to be a board created by Anton Ivanov, the apparent superior to the Watchdogs (I mostly say “apparent” because there could always be a twist thrown in later on as to the true identity of their leader). While Anton’s character doesn’t have the personality of someone like Ward or Mr. Hyde, his motivation is at least an interesting one. Outside of simply trying to eradicate the alien influence on the planet that was somewhat ushered in by the reveal of the Avengers, he also believes that the impetus for these perceived threats is none other than Phil Coulson himself. The idea that Phil is linked to, or potentially the origin of, all of these different super-powered events makes sense in a sort of conspiracy theory kind of way, and that’s definitely where Anton’s mindspace is at the time. Honestly though, Ivanov would have made for a much better villain had he simply been more than a hired goon with a thick Russian accent. A villain can still be terrifying if they also have a personality attached to them — just look at Freddy Krueger as an example. Ivanov wouldn’t necessarily need to be invading people’s’ dreams while dishing out wisecracks, but at this point, it would be a welcome trait.
So when the episode takes us to a blast from the past in the adventures of younger Coulson and May, it’s a welcome respite. That’s not to say that the events in the present were bad by any stretch, just that seeing Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen shoot barbs at one another makes for a really fun scene. While the flashbacks don’t exactly offer a ton of new information to the proceedings, it’s a nice little reflection on the chemistry between these two actors and the strength of the series’ humor. Agent May would have fit right in into the movies proper had she been a side character alongside Fury and Maria Hill. Hopefully in the future of the series we can get some more episodes that focus in more on the fantastic exchanges of these characters, though I do find that the season premieres and finales do ramp up the humor of the Agents.
As Mace attempts to escape again and again, failing each time due to his lack of super strength, the team manages to pinpoint his location and makes a flashy rescue attempt. Daisy takes out Ivanov with a display of her powers and martial arts prowess, Mack tears through a ton of Watchdogs with a combination of fists and his shotgun axe, and the gang manages to seemingly rescue their director from the clutches of the Watchdogs. As Fitz and Simmons watch Coulson, Mace, Daisy, and Mack return to their headquarters, the LMD detector they installed near the entrance alerts them that not just one or two of their friends have been compromised, but all four of our returning heroes are in fact Life Model Decoys! The episode ends with Fitz and Simmons reeling in horror while “Fake Coulson” turns on the once deactivated May LMD, promising some more robot shenanigans coming down the pike.
Managing to revel in its technology focus and humor, the hour also delivers some nice surprises along the way. This episode was a strong showing for the series’ latter half of Season 4, which has been one of its best if I do say so myself, in that it manages to highlight all of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best assets.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Agents of M.I.S.C.E.L.L.A.N.E.A.
– Comic book fun fact: Dr. Strange once used the Darkhold to eradicate all the vampires in the universe. Obviously, they eventually got better somehow, but it just goes to show you how powerful the book is.
– I would definitely like more episodes that take the time to explore some of the pasts of more of our heroes. I know Fitz’s father was referenced earlier this season so hopefully that’s one thing they’ll take the chance to delve into.
– Coulson: “The fact that I feel anything at all is blowing my mind.”
– Coulson: “This is why I don’t have Facebook.”
– Coulson: “It is for the protection of your cats.”
– Fitz: “It’s not bloody Oculus Rift.”
– May: “I seem to go through men like paper towels.”
Coulson: “Agreed…or so I’ve heard.”
– Mace: “I do have one regret: not having my superpowers to kick your ass.”
– Coulson: “Cool origin story bro.”
– Daisy: “Have you ever read Animal Farm?”
– Fitz: “Pray we don’t run into the Goblin King.”