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REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×14 “The Man Behind the Shield”

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Following the typical Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pattern, this week’s episode delved into the more emotional aspects of a few our key players. While much of the episode focused on finding the kidnapped Director Mace, “The Man Behind the Shield,” was very much a Phil Coulson story. Having been an agency man for the majority of his life, Coulson is ingrained within the very core of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself and this week gave us a closer look at how the synonymous nature of the two came to be… as well as why he’s so motivated to find May.

Spoilers ahead!

We start off with repeated references to the Framework, first as FitzSimmons demonstrate the earlier version for Coulson, Daisy, and Mack and then when we see Radcliffe happily immersed in his personal paradise with lost love Agnes. Of course, neither foray lasts long because team S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a hit on Mace’s tracker and leaves for Alaska while Radcliffe is pulled from his dream world by an antsy Superior.

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Greeting S.H.I.E.L.D. in Alaska is a super-suit minus a Director and a wall that’s plastered with Coulson’s mug. It’s all very serial-killery and, understandably, creeps the gang out. Luckily, they don’t have to deal with the murder-wall for long… unluckily the only reason they leave is because they’re off to follow a new lead in the one place scarier than an abandoned cabin in Alaska: Russia.

While the whole Russia thing isn’t surprising considering a Russian is the dude behind Mace’s kidnapping, what is surprising is the fact that the building they wind up at is one that Coulson has been to before.

Back in the good ol’ days when he was only a Level 4 agent!

We see a past mission between a young(er) Coulson and May where they sniped something from an armored safe in a hilarious bit thatbwas rife with flirting and General digs between a Comm bet and OPErations graduate. While their mission was successful, the Russians who failed to extract the same object S.H.I.E.L.D. got away with were tortured and executed for their gaffe. Which leads us back to…

Ivanov.

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The S.H.I.E.L.D. gang figures out where Russian Baddie #1 is keeping Mace and infiltrate the bunker with practiced ease before splitting up to best use their respective skillsets. Fitz heads for the computer servers, Jemma leaves in search of Aida, and Mack, Daisy, and Coulson move to find Mace and Ivanov respectively. The Superior is, of course, ready and waiting but, rather than be waiting with an arsenal of weapons, he’s waiting with a kinda boring anecdote that reveals the whole reason he’s been gunning for Coulson.

Apparently the killed Russians from the flashback were in Ivanov’s unit and he feels that Coulson is responsible for their grisly deaths. Because apparently Coulson being better at his job than the Russians were at theirs means that he murdered them…?  If you ask me, it’s a pretty lame reason for trying to decimate an entire race of Inhumans and Coulson basically reacts to Ivanov’s explanation in the same way I did: with a scoff, eyeroll, and, “Cool origin story, bro… but this means nothing to me.”

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It’s a mic-drop moment for sure and the perfect cue for Daisy to blast her way into the room and go hand-to-hand against the man who’s been trying to kill off her Inhuman people. While Daisy is beating up Ivanov, Mack and Coulson are rescuing Mace from the full on dungeon that he’s being kept in. It’s a pretty successful rescue mission as far as Mace is concerned but, unfortunately, Aida and May leave in the submarine before any of our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. team can get to them.

Cut to the Playground…

While back in the lab, Jemma questions Fitz about how long they were actually in the Russian base. She pieces together the timeline of what they remember with what Coulson, Mack, and Daisy had told them happened while they’d all been split up, and realizes that there’s a large portion that simply doesn’t make sense. In fact, there’s a fairly substantial gap in the timeline that doesn’t add up with the events that allegedly occurred.

What makes even less sense is the fact that the LMD detector on the Playground had been disabled recently by Phil Coulson himself.

Wondering what reason Coulson could have for doing such a thing, FitzSimmons scan through the logs and discover that… an LMD had been detected when Mack, Coulson, and Daisy had carried Mace into the base.

Understandably troubled by this, FitzSimmons do a bit more digging and realize that it wasn’t just one of their friends that had been replaced with an LMD during that missing block of time in Russia… it was all of them.

DUN DUN DUN!!!!

So now we’ve got LMD versions of Coulson, Mack, Daisy, Mace, and May roaming the halls of the Playground… with only FitzSimmons and all of the nameless, red-shirt, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to get their friends back.

That’s how you end an episode.

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Were it not for the final ten minutes, and the frankly epic promo for next week’s episode, this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be placed strictly in the, “filler,” category.

Episodes 13-17 of a TV show are almost always a valley in the overarching plot of a season. What I refer to as the “lull-zone” is typically the section of a season in which the earlier arc has culminated while the final act is being prepped with necessary exposition and arguable filler. This is no different where Season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is concerned as we’re smack in the middle of the, “arc,” whose main purpose seems to be setting up the next one. The past episode or two have largely focused on introducing the idea of new characters and plotlines, while struggling to maintain a clear episodic arc to thoroughly entertain viewers in the interim.

Having said that, though predictably background heavy, and an episode that felt a bit lacking in plot and action, “The Man Behind the Shield,” did have enough moments to make it an episode that many fans (Philinda shippers in particular) will surely appreciate. If anything, this felt like an hour of television that, though not overly spectacular in the moment, is one that will grow more enjoyable over time. Due largely to the fact that, because the final arc is still a ways away, there was ample opportunity to take a slight detour and focus on making, “The Man Behind the Shield,” a more character-driven episode.

Was there the obligatory connection to all of the stuff that’s been hinted at over the course of 4B? Of course. But much of that took a backseat in favor of dealing with the mythos and ethos of the characters rather than the still-mostly-unknown teases that will no-doubt come into focus in the final third of the season.

Getting that taste of Coulson/May backstory was pivotal in better understanding why Phil has repeatedly mentioned that he’s not going to give up and leave her behind. It was a key piece to the episode that explained much of the Philinda dynamic and put  to relationship into perspective.

But the biggest high of the episode was without question the final ten minutes. Revealing that four of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest were replaced with LMD’s was one humdinger of a plot-twist and, based on next week’s promo alone, it will set the stage for an epic showdown between the humans and androids.

The fact of the matter is, it’s tough to make an episode clearly meant to serve as a prop for those that will immediately follow it one that can simultaneously be an enjoyable standalone. While, in this respect, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has most definitely had its successes (“4,722 Hours” and “Spacetime” immediately come to mind) as well as its failures (“Paradise Lost” and “The Good Samaritan” to name a few) “The Man Behind the Shield,” feels a bit like an odd amalgam of the two.

There was some expected lagging but simultaneous episode highs that made me really excited for next week.

Episode Grade: B-

Episode Highs:

  • That ENDING. The dawning realization on Jemma’s face as she figured out what had happened while they’d all been split up in Russia was such a great moment and the fact that Fitz immediately dropped into hushed whispers amped up the big ol’ DANGER sign that was flashing in my mind.

Episode Lows:

  • The main one for me, as already mentioned, is that it felt very much like 42 minutes of television whose sole purpose was to be a lead-in for the next 42 minutes. 
  • Not really buying Ivanov as a big bad. Or even a little one to be honest. The fact that his main motivator is vengeance makes him feel very much like the Russian version of Grant Ward…which isn’t a good thing. Much of Ward’s story arcs were repeated from year-to-year and often fell flat so… not sure it’s a great idea to recycle them yet again for his Russian counterpart.

Additional Thoughts:

  • The lovely speech that Jemma gave to Fitz about him not being responsible for the horrible actions of others was one that I hope she gives to herself one day. Simmons has placed her fair share of unnecessary blame on herself (Season 2 in particular) so it felt almost cathartic to see her reach a point where she can see that the actions of others aren’t a reflection of one’s own misdoings. I like to think that she was able to tell Fitz all of this so easily because it’s something she herself has already, finally, been able to come to terms with.
  • May’s wig might have been more distracting than Oliver Queen’s.

What did you think about the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen

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