Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Man Behind the Shield Review
ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 4, episode 14, ‘The Man Behind the Shield,’ covered enough ground to be a peak episode; but actually turned out to be more of a bridge episode. Considering what all that peak material promises to bridge to, I’d say it was a pretty great way to change gears.
What initially seemed like a wandering season, may just be a fine-tuning of the show’s wild-card game. The transition, from the Ghost Rider to LMDs & the Watchdogs, seemed like a downgrade. Now, however, there is a sense for another transition in the making, to something bigger than Radcliffe (John Hannah), or ‘Superior Man’ Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan).
Director Mace (Jason O’Mara) had just come off his best character turn, resolving running doubts about his role on the team (even if the sport analogies wore thin). This was just the sort of thing to bring some dire prospects to his sacrifice play, last episode; but the titular figure, this episode, wasn’t Mace – it was Coulson (Clark Gregg).
If the previous episode set up concerns over the fate of Director Mace, then ‘The Man Behind the Shield’ served to remind us why we should be glad Agents like Coulson are on the side of the Angels, instead of… somewhere else.
The negative reinforcement of Aida (Mallory Jansen) continued, as Ivanov & Co. kept providing her with first hand experience on Human inhumanity (and the catch-phrases that make it fun). This was mostly kept in the background – kind of an obvious slow-build, towards the plot-twist ending – while Ivanov made Mace his example of everything wrong with modern man.
The episode gets points for gamer & Bond villain references; but Mack (Henry Simmons), of course, has been pointing out such examples almost from day one – kinda been his thing. This time around, however, he took Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) to task, for being the worst kind of scientist – the one with purely good intentions. This, in turn, gave Fitz something to angst over, this episode – a state that would not only facilitate a tender moment with Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), but a dire need for old fashioned Wonder Twin power, by the end of the episode.
I figure an outfit like S.H.I.E.L.D. (and a strategically tactical thinker, like Coulson) would conceive of a way to put a tracker in Mace’s person – not just on it – but plot needed servicing. It served to get us to the connection between Coulson & Ivanov, which, in turn, got a parallel flashback story going.
So Coulson & May (Ming-Na Wen), back in the day… I do miss this. Unfortunately, ‘this’ turned out to be ‘that;’ and while it was meant to remind us why their reunion is necessary, I doubt their dynamic, going forward, will have the same snappy charm as the early days of the series – much less, this look back at their pre-team shenanigans.
Fortunately, ‘that’ also served up a fine Coulson rebuttal, to Ivanov’s plan-reaches-fruition speech. I’d say it was as good a punchline as any, for pulling a boss fight bait-and-switch; while the boss fight we did get was unfair, but satisfying. Not covering the seaward approaches, despite knowing Ivanov had a sub, seemed pretty careless; but considering how things actually turned out, I guess it could be overlooked.
With all the elements coming together as nicely as it did, the twist to the ending was the bulls-eye at the carnival dunk-tank. I’ll admit to having a hard time, wrapping my head around having to re-evaluate a sizable portion of the cast, but that promises to be a big part of the fun… and Fitz-Simmons’ problem (which will also be part of the fun).
Cylons, and Matrix residency, and Things From Another World. Oh, my. Throw in that Wonder Twin awkwardness, having to work with what comes next, and I’m creeped out already.
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