Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S04E14 “The Man Behind The Shield” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on E4, Sundays 9pm
Writer: Matt Owens
Director: Wendey Stanzler
Essential Plot Points:
- SHIELD uses a tracker in Mace’s Patriot suit to locate him, but when they get to Nome, Alaska all they find is his suit.
- Oh, and Ivanov has made a lovely wall montage of all his favourite Coulson clippings from over the years.
- One image leads SHIELD to an old Russian mining facility, the location of a mission Coulson and May undertook years before.
- On that mission they had to retrieve an object of unknown origin that the SVR (the Russian foreign intelligence service) is after too. In the process they kill a number of the Russian agents. But a young Ivanov, who was part of the SVR team, remains alive and is extremely bitter about his colleagues being “red-shirted”
- In the present, Ivanov is leaving a breadcrumb of clues to lure Coulson’s team to a disused Russian Cold War submarine base.
- This is where Mace is being held, and periodically being beaten up and stabbed with pointing things, though he does have time for the odd indignant speech in-between.
- Meanwhile, Mack is giving Fitz grief about inventing things that go evil, while Simmons gives him some pep talks.
- After Fitz fails to locate the source code for Radcliffe and Aida’s Framework (because it is piggy-backing and leapfrogging from server to server around the world) he hopes he can find some hardware at the submarine base that might hold some clues.
- Team SHIELD arrives at the sub base and blasts its ways in.
- Coulson finds Ivanov and tells him that he’s a pretty pathetic supervillain, frankly. Then Quake quakes him and he’s buried under rubble.
- Mack hits lots of Russian grunts hard and rescues Mace.
- Fitz finds his hardware.
- Simmons goes on an Aida hunt but fails miserably.
- Fitz and Simmons watch Ivanov’s submarine get away, presumably with Aida, Radcliffe and May on board.
- Team SHIELD regroups, but, oddly, Coulson doesn’t seem that bothered about chasing the sub and orders everyone back on the Zephyr.
- Once there, Simmons can’t shake the feeling there was something odd about the mission.
- On further investigation they learn that Mack, Mace, Coulson and Daisy have all been replaced by LMDs!
- To make matters worse, the Coulson LMD brings the May LMD back online.
- Back at the submarine base, Aida finds Ivanov alive – barely – under the rubble and tells him she has plans for him.
This is pretty much par for the course for Agents Of SHIELD at the moment; another serviceable episode with a couple of good moments but which lacks any real spark. Luckily it start well – the VR fight scene with the frozen Coulson is a striking way to open – and ends well with that, “Holy S**T” revelation that at least three quarters of Coulson’s team is FAKE SHIELD now. But in-between it’s a fairly listless affair, a kind of dour treasure hunt across the globe’s most unprepossessing locations.
We’ve moaned before that the biggest supervillains on Agents Of SHIELD are the production designer and cinematographer, and they’ve shifted their evil plan to make the dullest-looking show on TV up a gear here; with about 80% of the episode taking place at night, it boasts a colour palette ranging from murky blue gloom to muddy brown.
The fun banter in the May/Coulson flashbacks adds some much-needed energy to proceedings, but also makes you glad the May we normally get on the show is the taciturn version. We don’t think we could handle these two doing the Moonlighting shtick every week.
Other than that, Mace gets to give an impassioned speech, Daisy gets to knock Ivanov around a bit, and Aida starts displaying a frankly unsettling level of supervillain dry humour. Also disturbing is the way she peers in on Ivanov’s goons beating the crap out of Mace; she actually looks like she might be getting off on it… in a purely “fascinating research” kinda way, you understand.
To be fair, there are a lot of interesting little moments and nuances like that: Coulson teasing Ivanov about his rubbish origin story; Mack pointing out to Fitz that he’s beginning to sound like Radcliffe; flashback May being pretty certain her new “shrink” boyfriend won’t be a laster.
But once again, we get an episode that feels like a lot of b-plots, without something meatier to bind it all together. (But next week’s is a LOT better)
- The opening VR fight, especially the moment when Coulson is frozen in mid-flight.
- “I don’t need you throwing off my game.”
“You have game?”
“I have what some people refer to in certain parts of the world as game.”
“It’s cute that you think that.” – Much of the quipping in the May/Coulson flashback is fun. Though we agree with Russian that Coulson talks too much, it’s great to see May in her more carefree, pre-Cavalry days. And the gag about Coulson needing to use sunglasses to cover up his “giveaway” eyes is a peach.
- “I felt strangely cold, though.”
“Well, I tried to make the simulation as real as possible, and since you always leave the air-con on in the base, I exaggerated it. Kinda like a silent protest.”
- “I believe in Agent Coulson. I believe in SHIELD. Because for all its imperfections, it strives to do the right thing to protect people. You claim to fight for others, for humanity. I think you lost yours a long time ago. And to answer your question, I do have one regret. That I don’t have any superpowers of my own that I could use to kick your ass.” – Excellent speech from Mace.
- “I’ve been on hundreds of missions in my time. This one you’re so upset about, I was sent to retrieve an object. If I’m being honest, I don’t even remember what it was.” It’s actually kinda refreshing to hear a character dismiss a MacGuffin as a MacGuffin. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that we don’t know what the 084.
- It’s all so gloomy-looking! It doesn’t look moody, just very dark.
- Surely Quake could have downed Ivanov in about five seconds flat?
- It feels like yet another water-treading episode…
- …and yet again SHIELD ends up in a worse position than at the beginning of the episode. It’s all getting a tad repetitive.
- So Ivanov did turn out to be as ineffectual and dull as we feared. Let’s hope whatever Aida has planned for him improves matters.
And The Random:
- “It’s a bloody labyrinth.”
“Pray we don’t run into the Goblin King.” Agent Davis is referencing David Bowie’s mightily cod-pieced character in Labyrinth (1986)
- “You interrupted a rousing discourse on pre-Week End Godard.” Radcliffe is referring to French new wave film director Jean-Luc Godard and his 1967 film Week End. Presumably he’s chatting about this with Agnes because we can’t imagine May having much of an opinion on the subject.
- Fitz mention the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s virtual reality headset launched last year.
- It has previously been established in the show that an 084 is SHIELD code for an object of unknown origin. The first 084 was a Kree Diviner obtained by Peggy Carter during the raid of the HYDRA Research Facility in Austria in 1945 (it was presumably the 84th item catalogued). Thor’s hammer in the first Thor movie was also decreed an 084.
- “You built a Matrix prison, and now May’s stuck in it like Brainscan.” Mack is referencing the movies The Matrix (1999) and Brainscan (1994) in which Edward Furlong plays a teenager who’s plays of an interactive video game in which he kills innocent victims, only to discover later that the murders have happened for real.