Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 14: The Man Behind The Shield
Directed by: Wendey Stanzler
Written by: Matt Owens
Starring: Clark Gregg, Jason O’Mara, Mallory Jansen, Henry Simmons, Elizabeth Henstridge, Adrian Pasdar

Valentines has brought love to Agents of SHIELD…But of course, not in the way we’d want it. In true AoS style, this episode brought us some heartbreak with our action as we are treated to some May and Coulson flashbacks.

The flashbacks worked like a touch on the brakes this episode, slowing down the narrative enough for us to catch our breath. It’s daring to try and retrospectively fill in the blanks in terms of the Coulson/May relationship, given that we have already seen these characters develop over the seasons, but the episode toed the line well enough between what we know and what we don’t. The flashback sequences give us a bit of heartbreak, considering recent events between May and Coulson, as we get to see a much less experienced Coulson and a poignantly happy and flirty May. Seeing May like this is a rare treat and it makes her characterisation in the present day even sadder. The world and the life May lives have already worn her down, hardening her into the agent she is today, and the contrast is startling. We already had enough sympathy for her plight this season, but this episode has sealed the deal: May has to be okay by the end of this season, or else tears are going to be shed.

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The other romance of the show takes another step forwards this Valentine’s Day too as Fitzsimmons are once again placed in the spotlight. They’ll be playing a key role next week as this mission places them in direct danger. It’s a sure way to guarantee a strong finale as these two characters always prove to be fan favourites.

The reason for their perilous position next episode is all down to AIDA’s villainous contribution. She may have joined memories with her human base, but she’s apparently as merciless as ever as she steps up into main villain status. Cleverly, the show has knocked The Superior (a.k.a. Anton Ivanov) off of his position as top dog. Zach McGowan’s somewhat stereotypical performance apparently wasn’t destined to last long as the show uses the character as a red herring, a pawn for AIDA’s real plan.

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It’s a bit of a relief considering that Ivanov was an underdeveloped and somewhat irrelevant villain in contrast to AIDA, who has been moulding things to her will since the very beginning. Not only does Ivanov get a strong beating from Daisy, but he is shown to be not half the mastermind that AIDA is. Despite the fact that Director Mace is saved, AIDA makes another move and replaces Coulson, Mace, Mack and Daisy with LMDs. It’s a huge move and the sheer number of LMDs on the board is going to make for one hell of a fight later. Thus, it seems that Fitzsimmons are going to have to shoulder the weight next episode, considering how Battlestar Galactica things are getting. It took them a while to put the pieces together (something which definitely knocked the pacing off a little) but once they did, the impact of the discovery was like a bomb dropping.

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It will be interesting to see what happens with AIDA at the end of this season. Marvel could play her off as a straight-up villain from here on out and be done with it, but there’s the sneaking suspicion that more is in store for her. She’s too complex a character to be boxed-in like that and there is always a possibility of redemption for her. Is she simply a product of her programming? Or can we even blame her “upbringing”, as such? She may not have been “born” bad, but she was certainly pushed towards it by Radcliffe. And yet, glimmers of hope still remain for her.

The episode, despite the twist, was well focused on a single-stranded story this week, with the only diversions being the flashbacks. They were sometimes a little too slow, pulling the story back a little when, this close to the end, things need to be perfectly paced, but the actual flashbacks themselves were well handled and poignant. After a few particularly sweet Fitzsimmons this week and a very interesting villain in the line-up, next episode promises much more.

I give “The Man Behind the Shield” 3 out of 5 Cylons, I mean, LMDs.

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