Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 begins with Chloe Bennet’s Daisy (aka Quake) striking out on her own, hunting down the last remains of the Watchdogs group. Meanwhile, Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson and the rest of the gang are working for a new boss, Jason O’Mara’s Jeffrey Mace, who was chosen to be the superhuman public face of the organisation. Mace has ordered Coulson not to waste resources on tracking down Daisy, but Coulson has been doing so anyway.
But before viewers can meet Mace, a dramatic season premiere unfolds. Daisy witnesses the fiery destruction of the Aryan Brotherhood, at the hands of Gabriel Luna’s Robbie Reyes (aka Ghost Rider). Quake and Ghost Rider throw down, with Daisy failing to apprehend the flame-skulled killer. Later in the episode, Daisy sees Robbie in his human form, tending to his wheelchair-bound brother Gabe (played by Lorenzo James Henrie).
Meanwhile, Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May leads a strike force in the general direction of Daisy’s mission. May locates a group of Chinese gangsters, who have received a mysterious box from the aforementioned Brotherhood. The box opens, and its mystical contents drives the group of crooks insane. May, too, is infected, and at the end of the episode she sees a ghostly visage over Coulson’s face.
Also, Fitz learns in the first episode of the season that Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) has created a Life Model Decoy robot named AIDA (Mallory Jansen), off the S.H.I.E.L.D. books. Fitz decides to keep this information from Simmons, who is subject to regular lie detector tests from the new director.
Episode 2 focuses on the ghost of Lucy Bauer (Lilli Birdsell), who is linked to the box that is making May see things. The gang discovers that Lucy used to work at Momentum Energy. At the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, a paranoid May begins attacking other agents, until the super-strong director Mace defeats her. Daisy confronts Ghost Rider again, and loses again.
All the plot threads converge on Momentum Energy, where a group of ghosts attempt to destroy a lab with Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) inside it. Ghost Rider intervenes and destroys one of the ghosts. Daisy decides to stop fighting Robbie, and instead to work with him.
May is cured via unconventional means in episode 3, where Simmons works with Holden Radcliffe to kill May and then immediately revive her. It works, and May doesn’t see ghost anymore.
Meanwhile, Natalia Cordova-Buckley’s Yo-Yo gets caught up in a sinister plot involving blackouts, which turns out to be the work of Senator Ellen Nadeer (Parminder Nagra). The senator has a strong dislike for the Inhumans, despite the fact that her brother (Vijay, played by Manish Dayal) is currently encased in an Inhuman transformation cocoon. Senator Nadeer attempted to pin her evil blackout scheme on the Inhumans.
Coulson visits Eli Morrow (José Zúñiga) in prison. Eli worked at Momentum, and he is Robbie Reyes’ uncle. Eli was imprisoned for causing an explosion at Momentum. Robbie arrives at the prison, too, and after a bit of a scuffle, he agrees to aid the Agents. The gang learns that the scientists at Momentum were studying an ancient book called the Darkhold.
The ghostly Lucy confronts her husband – another Momentum scientist – in episode 5. They discuss the location of the Darkhold, which Coulson overhears. Everyone converges on the prison again, and Lucy succeeds in kidnapping Eli. Ghost Rider kills an imprisoned member of the Fifth Street Locos, a gang that paralysed Gabe with a hit intended for Eli. The footage of this murder ends up in the hands of Senator Nadeer, who uses it to blackmail Mace.
In the next episode, Mace sends Simmons on a secret mission, which turns out to be a study of Senator Nadeer’s still-in-a-cocoon brother. Mace himself takes a team onto Coulson’s plane in order to arrest Robbie and Daisy, neither of whom have registered their abilities as the Sokovia Accords dictate they should.
Robbie recaps his origin story to Daisy, recalling the night that he and Gabe went out racing in Eli’s car, only to be attacked by the Locos. Robbie was killed in the process, but a different Ghost Rider – one with a motorcycle, not unlike Johnny Blaze from the comics – offered him a chance at survival. Robbie agreed to take up the Ghost Rider mantle and to seek fiery vengeance.
Robbie’s Ghost Rider overpowers Mace, who then agrees to use Robbie in the fight against Lucy. The showdown takes place in an old Roxxon power plant, where Robbie succeeds in stopping Lucy. However, then we get a twist! Eli deliberately pushed the limits with his experimentation on the Darkhold. His lack of regard for safety caused the blast, killed some people, and created the ghosts. Lucy’s husband ordered the hit on Eli, hoping to stop him, inadvertently sending Robbie down his Ghost Rider path.
Eli reveals his evil intentions, using the power plant to recreate his work at Momentum. Using a new machine, Eli gains the power to create matter, even without the Darkhold (which May has hidden). Robbie, Fitz and Coulson disappear in a dramatic cliffhanger, as Eli’s machine zaps them into a dark place between dimensions.
This trio are powerless to help in the next episode, as Eli kills a bunch of people and makes good his escape. Because Fitz is missing and Simmons is off on her secret mission, Radcliffe is brought in to study Eli’s tech. May, desperate to save Coulson, gives Radcliffe the Darkhold. Radcliffe decides that no person could handle its evil magic knowledge, so he gives it to AIDA to read instead. May and Coulson learn that AIDA is a robot.
AIDA succeeds in building a portal to save the trapped agents, who return to the normal world. While all that was going on, the Ghost Rider spirit transferred itself to Mack. At the end of the episode, it returned to Robbie, who promised to serve its vengeful wishes even after Eli is defeated. AIDA begins some secret experiments, building a holographic brain thingy.
The Ghost Rider portion of the series wrapped up in episode 8, the pre-Christmas finale. Mace sends Yo-Yo, Ghost Rider and Quake to attack Eli’s base, but due to Eli’s growing abilities, only Robbie can make it inside. The gang learns that Eli has created a demon core, which will blow up and kill a lot of people unless a solution can be found.
AIDA saves the day (again), by creating a portal to drag Eli and his destructive creation into a dark dimension. Robbie ends up being sucked into the portal as well, having used his Ghost Rider powers to stop Eli from escaping.
Mace publically clears Daisy’s name, after she’s spotted by the local media. She’s reinstated as an agent. AIDA’s success means that Radcliffe is allowed to continue his work on Life Model Decoys. And just before the Christmas break, it’s revealed that Radcliffe has replaced May with one such LMD.
After the Christmas break, the focus fully shifts from Ghost Rider to LMDs. Fitz and Radcliffe attempt to erase the Darkhold info from AIDA, but it soon becomes clear that AIDA has gone sentient. She overpowers the pair of scientists, and uses the May LMD (who’s currently unaware that she’s not the real May) to locate the Darkhold. But before AIDA can escape, Mack (Henry Simmons) beheads her with his shotgun axe. What fun!
We learn that Radcliffe intended for AIDA to go sentient and steal him the Darkhold. Now, disappointed that his plan didn’t work, Radcliffe activates a new AIDA. Meanwhile, Senator Nadeer kills her brother, when it becomes apparent that he’s gained Inhuman powers after emerging from the cocoon.
In episode 10 of the season, the truth about Director Mace is revealed: he isn’t an Inhuman, after all. Rather, he’s been taking regular doses of a super-soldier serum to beef himself up to superhero levels. This is revealed when a HYDRA/Watchdogs villainous alliance shoots down a Quinjet, leaving Mace – without his precious serum – stranded with Coulson in some woods. This allows Coulson to turn the tables on Mace: he takes control of S.H.I.E.L.D. again, with Mace only serving as the public face of the organisation.
Daisy and the May LMD save Coulson and Mace, but in doing so, the May LMD is injured. She notices her robotic innards, and works out that something is up. She begins studying the original AIDA’s decapitated head.
And in the next episode, when Senator Nadeer is one step ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D., the May LMD works out that Radcliffe is leaking information from her CPU to the Inhuman-hating politician. It’s revealed at this point that the original May is trapped in a simulation of her past tragedies.
Then comes episode 12, where Patton Oswalt plays numerous Agent Koenigs. This episode explains that the Koenigs aren’t LMDs; they’re just a big family. Coulson had intrusted them with the Darkhold after AIDA’s attempt to steal it. In this episode, the main players converge on a secret base named the Labyrinth, where the Koenigs are keeping the Darkhold. Radcliffe ultimately makes off with the big bad book, and the May LMD is finally revealed to the rest of the gang.
Another baddie makes themselves known in this episode: Anton Ivanov (played by Zach McGowan), aka the Superior, who blames Coulson for all the alien nonsense of the last few years. Ivanov is aligned with Nadeer, the Watchdogs, and Radcliffe.
To determine whether Nadeer is an Inhuman like her brother, Ivanov sends a lackey (Tucker Shockley, played by John Pyper-Ferguson) to expose her to the Terrigen mists. This plan backfires: Tucker transforms into an Inhuman with the power to explode and reconstitute himself. He accidently blows up Nadeer, and becomes episode 13’s freak of the week villain. The gang succeeds in stopping Shockley, but Ivanov uses the fight as a distraction. He kidnaps Director Mace.
Around this time, Coulson and the gang work out that Radcliffe modelled AIDA on his former lover Agnes Kitsworth (also played by Mallory Jansen), who has terminal cancer. Agnes and Radcliffe meet up, but the former soon dies, succumbing to her illness. Radcliffe puts her mind in the Framework computer simulation, where the original May is still trapped.
In a fun flashback during episode 14, we get to see Coulson and May at an earlier point in their career, recovering an 0-8-4 from an SVR base in Russia. In the present day, Ivanov leads S.H.I.E.L.D. on a wild goose chase, as Coulson and co search for Mace. They end up revisiting that Russian base, and Coulson learns more about Ivanov’s motivations – all of his comrades were killed after Coulson and May bested them in the past.
Eventually, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team locates the current evil base, and they have something of a showdown with Ivanov. Daisy cripples the Russian baddie, and the gang escapes with a badly injured Mace. AIDA, who has been left to run rampant by Radcliffe (who’s now more interested in the Framework), finds Ivanov still alive.
Upon returning to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, an LMD alarm goes off. Fitz and Simmons find out that four agents were replaced with LMDs during the showdown at the villainous base. Dun dun dunnnnnn!
The LMD storyline comes to a head in spectacular fashion in episode 15 of the season. After a lot of ‘Who can trust who?’ fun, it turns out that Coulson, Mace, Mack and Fitz have all been replaced with LMD doppelgangers. They have been programmed to act out Ivanov’s ultimate wish: to destroy all Inhumans. This leaves Daisy and Simmons to find a solution.
Meanwhile, AIDA kills Radcliffe’s human body, and uploads his mind to the Framework. The original Coulson, Mace, Mack and Fitz are still alive, but their minds have also been trapped in the Framework with May and Agnes.
AIDA also has another project on the go: she removes Ivanov’s head from his body, and creates some Ivanov androids for him to control telepathically. Because why not?
Daisy and Simmons fight their way out of the LMD-infested S.H.I.E.L.D. base, with help from the May LMD. It turns out that the May LMD has fought against her programming and created a heroic personality of her own. She sacrifices herself, blowing up the base and the other LMDs within it, so that Daisy and Simmons can escape.
Daisy and Simmons make a drastic decision in the mid-season finale’s final moments: to plug themselves into the Framework, so that they can locate their friends and start to put things right. In this artificial reality, HYDRA won out instead of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is still alive.
It turns out that things are very topsy-turvy within the Framework: Coulson is a schoolteacher; Mack’s daughter, Hope, is still alive; Fitz (who’s now rich), May and Daisy (who’s also dating Grant Ward) all work at Hydra; and, um, Simmons is dead. Upon transferring her consciousness into the Framework, Simmons wakes up in an unmarked grave. Daisy, meanwhile, wakes up in bed with Ward, the big bad of last year.
Simmons tries to talk sense into Coulson, but he has no recollection of the real world. Coulson, loyal to his HYDRA overlords, alerts them to Simmons’ presence in his school. Daisy sees the alert and rushes to the school, only to be followed by Ward. Soon after, Ward reveals himself as a member of the Resistance, who are taking a stand against HYDRA. Daisy and Simmons find out that their safeguard escape route has been blocked, by AIDA, who has entered the simulation as Fitz’s lover and the head of HYDRA.
Upon speaking to Daisy, Coulson begins to remember things. Ward takes Coulson and Simmons to the Resistance base, which is led by a properly Inhuman version of Mace. Meanwhile, Daisy returns to HYDRA in a bid to find Radcliffe, but May uses a kidnapped Mack to trick her into revealing her S.H.I.E.L.D. allegiance. Mack ultimately comes to regret his part in this – which was motivated by HYDRA nabbing his daughter – and he joins the Resistance.
The rest of the gang take a Quinjet to Radcliffe’s hideout, finding him with Agnes. Fitz and AIDA arrive, and Radcliffe tries to convince Fitz to join the good guys. Too far gone into the simulation, Fitz shoots Agnes dead, and imprisons Radcliffe and Daisy. Shock horror – the lovely Scottish scientist is now a chilling villain!
In the next episode, B.J. Britt returns as Agent Triplett, who’s long been dead in the real world. He’s alive in the Framework, though, and the gang saves him from a HYDRA Enlightenment Camp.
Things come to a head at this brainwashing location: Coulson attempts to save one of the kids from his school, and Mace tries to help him. But HYDRA launches a missile strike, which ultimately kills Mace. He dies a heroic death, helping Coulson and some kids escape. Mace’s body dies in the real world, too, proving that there are real stakes inside the Framework.
May witnesses the missile strike and its fallout, and she’s shocked to see that her HYDRA employers would put kids in harm’s way. She changes allegiances, and gets a Terrigen crystal to Daisy. This allows Daisy to get her Quake powers inside the simulation. Also, while imprisoned with Radcliffe, Daisy learns about a secret exit from the Framework.
May and Daisy bust out of the HYDRA base. Daisy injures AIDA, rendering her bed bound for a bit. AIDA urges Fitz to carry on with their shady new venture, Project Looking Glass. Simmons and Tripp head to the Framework version of Ivanov’s submarine, and they work out what Project Looking Glass is: a combination of the Darkhold and the Framework, which will allow AIDA to take a proper human form in the real world.
Coulson broadcasts footage from the Enlightenment Centre tragedy, urging the citizens of this digital world to not believe the fake news they’re fed by HYDRA.
Fitz’s dad (David O’Hara) was drunk and distant in the real world, but he has been upgraded into an evilness encourager – pushing Fitz in AIDA’s intended direction – within the Framework. Simmons goes to visit Fitz’s dad, but after a scuffle, she accidently kills him. She had hoped to find a way to fix Fitz, but all she did was motivate his dark side even more.
Events inside the Framework escalate: Fitz coerces Radcliffe (with a promise of a new human body) into helping him hunt down Simmons; AIDA begins the transfer into her new body; and the S.H.I.E.L.D. gang locate the backdoor exit that Radcliffe mentioned before.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Daisy and Simmons’ normal bodies are on Zephyr One. The power drain it takes to plug them into the Framework proves to be too great, and Yo-Yo (who’s been keeping an eye on them) has to transfer energy away from the ship’s cloaking devices.
Daisy, Coulson and May go through Radcliffe’s portal and return to the real world. Fitz arrives in time to confront Simmons, intending to kill her in revenge for his father’s death. Radcliffe intervenes (flip-flopping back to the goodies’ side), pushing Fitz through the portal. Simmons goes next. Mack, however, doesn’t want to return to the real world. In the real world, his daughter is still dead. He stays in the Framework.
Coulson, May and Fitz wake up in their original bodies, on board Ivanov’s submarine. AIDA, who know has superpowers, confronts them, before teleporting away with Fitz. Daisy and Simmons wake up on Zephyr One, and fight off Ivanov’s men, who have found them because of the cloaking devices being switched off.
Fitz and AIDA have an emotionally charged chat. Fitz now has two sets of memories in his head, and he realises that he loves Simmons and isn’t evil. AIDA now has human emotions, and she doesn’t take kindly to Fitz rejecting her. AIDA heads to the bombed remains of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, which the May LMD blew up a few days ago. AIDA kills a load of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as well as some soldiers under the command of General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar).
Daisy and Simmons head to the submarine. They help Coulson and May fight off the android copies of Ivanov, and they manage to escape. AIDA reunites with Ivanov, and they plan to use the Darkhold to turn the real world into the Framework version. At the end of this episode, Ghost Rider returns through a portal and looks utterly bad-ass.
Ivanov takes the Darkhold to an international meeting of politicians, and he offers to use the book against the Inhuman threat. To illustrate said threat, Ivanov has an LMD of Daisy Johnson walk in and shoot General Talbot in the head (he doesn’t die, though, just a coma). A fight ensues, and S.H.I.E.L.D. manages to get their hands on the Darkhold – thanks to an assist from Ghost Rider.
Meanwhile, Yo-Yo has gone into the Framework. She tries to talk sense into Mack, who still doesn’t want to leave. His hand is forced, though, because AIDA is shutting down the Framework. Mack’s daughter is erased from existence, and he leaves – a broken man – with Yo-Yo. Radcliffe is deleted, too, because he never got a replacement human body.
AIDA heads to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, intending to regain the Darkhold, which all her evil plans revolve around. She confronts Coulson, who surprises her by transforming into ruddy Ghost Rider! It turns out that Coulson made a deal with The Spirit Of Vengeance, off-screen, in a bid to get the upper hand on AIDA. The plans works, and Coulson successfully disintegrates her.
Coulson gives the Spirit back to Robbie Reyes, who takes the Darkhold through a portal and out of this dimension. Job done. It was a very satisfying end to a tightly plotted season – the Ghost Rider, LMD and Framework arcs tied together nicely in the end.
The gang, having broken about a zillion laws this season, go to a diner and wait to be arrested. However, just as they’re about to put in a pie order, the team is confronted by a mysterious organisation. A bald man uses a little green device to freeze everyone. Then he says to his men, “The window closes in less than two minutes. Take them.”
An unspecified amount of time later, Coulson wakes up, puts some boots on, and looks out a window. Out that window is deep space. “Alright Phil”, he says to himself. “Enough sight-seeing. Get back to work.” And so ends Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4.
Agents Of SHIELD season 5 starts on ABC in the US on Friday the 1st of December, and in January (date tbc) on E4 here in the UK.