Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episode 14 review: The Man Behind The Shield

A tale of two shows this week as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts out slow but ends on a thrilling note...

This review contains spoilers.

4.14 The Man Behind The Shield

As I was prepping this week’s Agents Of SHIELD review, I was getting ready to carp about what a generic, nothing villain The Superior is. I was getting ready to complain that even though Zach McGowan delivers a subtle, shifty eyed performance as Anton Ivanov aka The Superior, the character itself is uninspired. I mean, there the agents were, acting like Ivanov is a big bad on par with Grant Ward when in truth he is a villain that was just thrust into the forefront a few weeks back.

Well, Agents Of SHIELD and AIDA 2.0 pulled a nice bait-and-switch on us this week as Ivanov was revealed to be a patsy for AIDA’s Battlestar Galactica long game, and all of a sudden, a rather low stakes and plodding episode of Agents Of SHIELD turned into an explosive shocker.

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Things begin this week as Director Mace is taken prisoner by the Superior. Coulson and his team spend the first quarter of the episode trying to track Ivanov in order to save Mace and May. Fitz is able to track them using some of the coding from the Matrix-like computer programme he created and which Doctor Radcliffe is now using to keep May trapped. In the meantime, we are treated to a flashback of an old school mission where Coulson and a very spritely and happy May first encounter Ivanov.

It’s all competent enough but it didn’t feel all that important. It is cool to see the foundations of Coulson and May’s partnership in these flashbacks and it is cool to see the pre-Cavalry Agent May in action, but the series never really gave us a reason to care about the Superior as a villain. The Man Behind The Shield felt like it was going through the motions – until it didn’t, and boy oh boy, did the series pull a fast one this week.

So Fitz and Simmons track Ivanov’s base, Fitz blames himself for creating the tech that is imprisoning May while Mack makes Fitz feel even worse by going on a series of anti-science rants that were more annoying than poignant (don’t worry, Mack kicks some major ass later, and that’s really all that matters). The flashback plods ever forward with some light action and fun banter as we get to see some Iron Man-era action with Agent Coulson, and then our team arrives to Ivanov’s base where all hell breaks loose. What follows is some good self-referential James Bond action with Daisy kicking Ivanov’s Inhuman-hating ass on behalf of her people, Coulson finding and freeing a near-death Director Mace and AIDA escaping on Ivanov’s sub.

I know that sounds like it’s the end of the episode, but really, the action just began. You know how I said that Ivanov seemed terribly generic, tacked on, and uninspired? Yeah, he is meant to be all those things because it is revealed that he is just AIDA’s pawn to lure SHIELD into her web. During the melee, AIDA replaces Coulson, Mace, Daisy, and Mack with LMDs. Luckily, the real Fitz and Simmons are on the ball enough to realize what happened, and there’s your cliffhanger.

So Ivanov was a giant red herring. A manufactured bad guy to distract SHIELD and the viewer as AIDA’s master plan is revealed. AIDA Cyloned the heck out of SHIELD and now there’s a bunch of fleshy LMDs ready to take it down from within. Damn, that’s some good storytelling. Now, we get a paranoia-fuelled thriller with Fitz and Simmons at the centre of it all. And if we know anything about this series, it’s that when you want fans to truly care about a SHIELD story direction, put Fitz and Simmons in dire circumstances.

That plot twist is the main event but this week’s instalment also reveals a few nice character beats as well. We get to see Mace take on Ivanov and see that Mace is a man that does not give up no matter how beaten he may be. As we have noted here before, the legacy of Jeff Mace stretches back to Marvel’s Golden Age and his actions this week make him worthy of that legacy.

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I also liked seeing a young, carefree May in the flashbacks this week. We get to see the stalled romantic beginnings with Phil Coulson and May as the two promise each other that if May’s new romance doesn’t work out, then they would hook up. Sadly for Phil, May’s romance was with her future husband Andrew Garner, so our two favorite SHIELD higher-ups never get their tryst. Happy May takes a bit getting used to, but it is fun to see her so carefree. Hey, we got to see Agent May and The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes both smile in the same week, who would have thunk it?

Finally, AIDA is turning into a great villain. In a way, she is out-Ultroning Ultron. There is a subtlety to AIDA and her mimicked humanity that makes me want to learn more about her plans. Her iniquitous greatness makes up for the stillborn villainy of Eli Reyes, Senator Nadeer, and the Superior, all villains that were introduced and went nowhere this season.

I’m looking forward to next week as Fitz and Simmons face off against the ‘bots that replaced their friends. Let’s just hope all our human cast survives the encounter.

Read Marc’s review of the previous episode, BOOM, here.