Week of September 17, 2023:

BOOM (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s4 e13) released February 7, 2017 (where to watch)
The Man Behind the Shield (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s4 e14) released February 14, 2017
Scott Hardie | February 16, 2024

BOOM: This was a pleasant hour, using its multiple remote filming locations to freshen things up. I appreciated the little symbolic detail of Agnes Kitsworth's necklace being an ouroboros; that's clever on multiple levels. I've talked enough about the show's morality and don't want to dwell further on it, but I have to acknowledge Alphonso Mackenzie refusing to compel a dying woman to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., which was welcome but also a sign of just how wide this show's window of acceptable behavior has become. I wouldn't say that I rooted for Senator Snotty Pants to die, but if the show was done with her, getting killed by her own collaboration with dumbass terrorists was deserved, especially with the nice touch of disproving Daisy Johnson's callous predictions. I could have done without that death being called "villain-on-villain violence" as if the characters know they're in a comic-book universe. I also resented the Hollywood trope of a late-stage terminally ill person still looking like a Vogue cover model; I kept expecting Agnes to take off her wig or stumble over her words or something to indicate that she's in the final days (weeks?) of living with a brain tumor. I don't buy the Superior casually reading the Darkhold when he's so opposed to extraterrestrial threats. The physics are questionable, but I really enjoyed the big action showpiece of Quake's battle with Tucker Shockley, and the way that Leo Fitz effortlessly made a containment unit for the exploding man; a lot of death and suffering could have been prevented if the comic-book version had been so quickly outsmarted. I'm still waiting for the show to reveal that more characters are LMDs and/or are trapped within the Framework without realizing it, because that seems like such a natural twist at this point; Holden Radcliffe discovering that Aida has killed him and replaced him with an LMD seems the likeliest because it would be so poetic. (7/10)

The Man Behind the Shield: I've avoided talking about it so far because I didn't know where the show was going with it, but now I have to ask: What do you think of the romantic pairing of Melinda May and Phil Coulson? Before this season, I had been low-key shipping them because I had some lingering fondness for both characters, I wanted them to find the happiness that had eluded them in prior relationships, and I thought that the age difference setting them apart from the rest of the characters (they feel like "Mom and Dad") might bring them closer together. But there wasn't really any chemistry between the actors, and because so much mass-media entertainment insists on romantic pairings, I wanted to applaud one of the few shows that normalized colleagues of mixed gender just working together like professional adults. (Well, at least when it came to Coulson and May. I've talked enough about the show's very damaging portrayals of other pairs.) All of that said, now that the show is going there, I find myself a little bit more annoyed with it in each passing hour: Not only does it feel perfunctory and forced by the plot, but it is once again highlighting just how crazy and evil Coulson is under the charismatic surface. We've seen him become obsessive about doing terrible things in secret, like carving the Kree symbols into the wall, hunting Grant Ward to murder him, and forcing Werner von Strucker into the torturous memory machine. Now he's keeping an android copy of May inside HQ because he can't bear to destroy her, and apparently his LMD has reactivated her and is acting out Coulson's romantic feelings towards her, which is disturbing. This series launched with so much potential to spend time with the quiet little "nice guy" of the MCU, but just as "nice guys" in real life often turn out to be creeps and jerks, Coulson has slowly revealed himself to be reprehensible. I do not expect to remember him fondly when the series is over.

The rest of the episode is better. I enjoyed the flashbacks to Coulson and May's first assignment, and Coulson's line about starting to wear sunglasses got me to laugh, as did Agent Davis taking offense at Leo Fitz not trusting him to protect Jemma Simmons. Aida's lessons in cruelty -- the Watchdogs' submarine is no place to raise an impressionable android! -- have a satisfying payoff at the end that is juuust believable enough. The tension of FitzSimmons discovering the four LMD replacements at the end is excellent and promises to deliver more of the intra-agency paranoia that this show does so well. I liked the suggestive use of light throughout the episode, from dramatizing the loneliness and isolation felt by Jeffrey Mace, to silhouetting Coulson against the wall of photographs to illustrate that he's "the man in the shadows" behind it all, to a more junior Coulson asking May to hold up her flashlight to reinforce that he needs her help to accomplish his work. Even though it didn't make any sense tactically or physically, I liked Alphonso Mackenzie using a rocket launcher to blow a hole in the side of the submarine base, because sometimes the simplest pleasures are the best ones. The fight between Daisy Johnson and Anton Ivanov was satisfying, although I have no clue why Johnson simply left him behind, unconscious in the rubble; isn't he one of the most wanted men in the world and a man who'd made it his life's work to attack both S.H.I.E.L.D. and inhumans? (7/10)

Erik Bates | May 25, 2024

Ivanov was right to be suspicious of Shockley. If I were Ivanov, I'd maybe dig a little more into how he escaped an explosion of that size without a scratch -- and without his own clothes. "You're my superior" isn't exactly what I would call an airtight alibi. If he ever escapes, I expect our intrepid agents will track him down working in a fireworks stand.

Mace wants so badly to be a hero. His motivations are making a lot more sense to me, now. Him being the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. was far less important than him being a hero, and more importantly, being seen as a hero. Throwing Shockley into the containment pod, playing the 'blocker' against the Russians... if he can't live as a hero, he'll die as a one. Either way, he gets his glory.

It really is quite amazing how quickly Fitz can manufacture entire devices so quickly. Did he just happen to have that miniature Death Star vacuum cleaner laying around from some other project, or does S.H.I.E.L.D. just have the worlds most advanced 3D printer?

Aside: I also wonder why Radcliffe didn't make Aida Australian if he was truly trying to model her after Agnes. My initial thought was this storyline wasn't part of the original plan.

Erik Bates | May 25, 2024

The Man Behind the Shield
Have they addressed whether Mace ever attempted to "become" inhuman through the teragenesis process? Seems like that would be easier (though, admittedly, less predictable) than pretending to be inhuman with bastardized Captain America syrum.

I thought it was kind of funny that after Coulson and Daisy finished beating the shit out of one another, Fitz decided that Coulson hitting a wall is where he should draw the line as far as pain allowance goes.

While in Russia, I was looking at the Coulson web of connections on the wall trying to find an Easter egg reference to something, but I nothing stood out. I wasn't realy looking super closely, though. I was hoping for something obvious like "Sakovia" in giant letters somewhere.

I appreciated Aida's foreshadowing warning about just ripping the Framework headgear off of someone. $10 says that this is how we wind up getting rid of Radcliffe. Speaking of which, I assume that he was in the Framework visiting Agnes?

I liked the flashback to Russia, and I especially liked how they gave us a time reference of "some time ago." Clever continuity-saving loophole there.

I realize that the show has been trying to give us some Coulson/May will-they-won't-they tension for some time now, and I'm a little disappointed that we're apparently tilting the scales more toward "will they?" This is not a relationship that the show needs. It serves no purpose, in my eyes. These two get along great, and are a fun team when working together. Why does it have to go beyond that?

"Cool origin story, bro." Witty Coulson is my favorite Coulson.

Back to Mace -- I didn't realize the serum was something that he could "use up." I thought it was more of an injection that just wore off over time. But after he broke free from his chains, Ivanov pretty much implied that there was a chance that Mace used the last of his super strength in that moment. Or am I reading that wrong? I will say that I liked Ivanov's rationale for disliking Mace isn't necessarily because he works for SHIELD (thought that, of course, is part of it), but rather he sees it as a greater sin not to be an inhuman, but rather to want to be an inhuman.

I'm still not fully grasping Mack's weird hatred for androids, and now, apparently, virtual reality? Part of me wants to know the back story, but mostly I just want him to shut up about it. It just comes across as irrational and out of character.

Up until the very end, when Aida was standing over a mostly-dead Ivanov, gloating about how she's not done using him, I was starting to feel that she was going to have a change of heart and take the side of SHIELD. My logic -- she's seeing that, as a non-human herself, and a target of hatred from many, she may see SHIELD as a group that may serve to defend her right to exist as much as they defend the Inhumans.

She's just gotta get past Mack, first.

And finally -- what was the OA4 that Coulson and May were trying to retrieve? Did we find out? Will we find out? Was it ultimately a MacGuffin?

Scott Hardie | May 26, 2024

About Fitz building machines for very specific purposes very quickly: I should be annoyed by it, but the show has wound me down after depicting this so many times that I just roll my eyes and go with it. Plus I'm tired of complaining about Fitz; this is hardly his biggest crime as a character. But you're right, it's ridiculous and that should be pointed out.

About Aida lacking Agnes's Australian accent: I wonder if the intended purpose was to tell Aida and Agnes apart? I've said before that this show often hurries through a lot of plot material and needs little shortcuts to help us follow along, and having them distinguishable by accent might be another example of that.

I like Witty Coulson too.

About Aida siding with S.H.I.E.L.D.: I've seen ahead further than you, but at this point in the series, I wouldn't have bet on that, mostly because of Mack's attitude towards artificial intelligence and Simmons's attitude towards any man-stealing Jezebel who might come between her and Fitz. (I exaggerate but the show really does give off those vibes for me.) And this just further shows how out-of-place Mack's anti-android stance feels. He's literally surrounded by fantastical advancements in science and technology, and he's fine with all of them except this one specific kind about which he's at DEFCON 1 levels of violent and hostile paranoia. It's a bizarre choice.

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