Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Last Night’s “The Man Behind the Shield”:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. likely knew that “The Man Behind the Shield” made for one of the stronger episodes of Season 4, as well the unfortunate fact of it being relegated to Valentine’s Day, without Agent Carter to break up the season. I’m not exaggerating with the title assertion either, that between Ghost Rider or LMD, last night’s efficiently entertaining hour likely offered the strongest, most efficient display of what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be; thanks in no small part to Clark Gregg performing Coulson at his quippiest, past and  present.

All the same, “The Man Behind the Shield” only complicates the Season 4 narrative, between the looming presence of a Matrix-like “framework” fooling all who enter, or the closing moments’ impressive assertion that no less than four main characters have become LMDs. I’ve little sense of what another guessing game* will do for the final stretches of this “pod,” but the prior pursuit of the Superior nonetheless offered a great method for Coulson and Skye to align their Season 4 goals; to say nothing of that wonderful confrontation with Coulson utterly dismissing Zach McGowan’s villainous vendetta with “cool origin story, bro.” Even then, the hour still never lost sight of what said pursuit might mean for Fitz and Simmons, or how to spotlight the real Melinda May in flashback.

*My instinct still tells me that Fitz is one of the LMDs, if only to cast doubt on at least some of the four figures now earmarked for investigation. The post-credits confirm Coulson, but why go to the added trouble of replacing Mack and Daisy?

Poor Zach McGowan never gets those icy robot chicks to take him to the City of Light.

Regardless, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely pivoting to wrap up its current Season 4 arc, marking “Man Behind the Shield” a notably strong transition from the Radcliffe-Watchdog pursuit. Not only did Zach McGowan’s “Superior” and the more sinister AIDA get their biggest spotlight to date, but we also managed to keep Mace in play; re-affirming his heroism (and gleaming Jason O’Mara chest) regardless of any serum. We even found space for Mack’s concern over Fitz’s more Radcliffe-life tendencies, as well as Simmons’ supportive capacity to restore his confidence; something I presume is building toward an engagement, or at least some Season 4 climax.

Uncertainty over its future aside, there’s a great deal to love about “The Man Behind the Shield,” including what I’d project to be Clark Gregg’s best work as Agent Coulson. It’s enough that I’d rather not consider say goodbye to this branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just yet, especially when such an energetic climax makes a great case for at least a final thirteen-hour pod next season.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Something tells me producers have been looking for any excuse to feature Daisy and Coulson squaring off.
  • Interesting parallel, between the shot of Coulson’s Inhuman writing and the Superior’s giant Coulson collage.
  • The “framework” is bound to prove a source of confusion, as I expected a number of Jeffrey Mace’s scenes to have been simulations.
  • I get the sense that the flashbacks were largely designed to retcon Coulson and May’s flirtatious history before her LMD replacement, so as to continue with the real May down the line. How it plays in retrospect is another matter.
  • Remember when Fitz had brain-damage, and that was a regular part of the story? Seems like that’d be relevant with his May concerns.
  • Simmons had a great point about the mission allowing ample opportunity for people to be replaced, and I appreciate “Man Behind the Shield” not taking too much time to spell that out. That said, Davis has to die horribly, right?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will continue Tuesday, February 21 with “Self Control,” airing at 10:00 P.M. on ABC.

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