‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ delivers a small plot twist this week that undoes a previous plot twist, yet still doesn’t seem particularly surprising (if it was supposed to). After that is a more interesting plot twist. Also, the show is apparently going to keep pushing this Coulson/May romance angle until somebody believes it.
Episode ‘The Man Behind the Shield’ features a number of flashbacks to an unspecified point in the past, during which Coulson was still a regular S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He and May are sent on a mission to a Russian mining facility to retrieve a MacGuffin something-or-other. The scene takes place before May’s life-changing trauma in Bahrain, and she has a fairly happy-go-lucky attitude. The two of them exchange a lot of flirty banter.
While distracting a group of Russian soldiers, Coulson gets captured, but of course May rescues him and they escape with whatever they came for. All in all, it’s a pretty successful mission. On the way home, May mentions that she has a date lined up, but if it doesn’t work out, maybe she and Coulson should go out for drinks and see where their obvious chemistry leads. In fact, the guy she’s supposed to see isn’t even really her type. She’s not into doctors.
Ha ha. The obvious implication here is that May and Coulson were on the verge of a romantic relationship when she was distracted by Andrew.
All of this ties into events in…
The Present Day
Fitz explains that the “Framework” thing Radcliffe talked about is a Virtual Reality environment originally built as a S.H.I.E.L.D. training tool. Coulson and Daisy use it for a sparring match, and Coulson is very impressed at how convincingly realistic it is to all five senses. He even feels pain when Daisy hits him. Mack finds it very distasteful when he tries it. He prefers to punch things for real. (What’s the deal with Mack becoming such a Luddite this season? His growing distrust of technology makes little sense for someone whose job is engineer and technician.)
A tracker in Director Mace’s suit leads the team to an empty building in Alaska, where they find the suit abandoned. A murder board on the wall shows how obsessed the Superior must be with Coulson. “This is why I don’t have Facebook,” Coulson quips.
At their new hideout, the Superior grows very annoyed with Dr. Radcliffe, who spends far too much time plugged into the VR Framework, leaving Aida to do all the work the Superior expects of him. The Superior does not care for Aida.
Director Mace is chained up in a cell. When a guard leaves his cell door open (on purpose?), Mace uses the last of his super-strength to break out of his chains. Unfortunately, his escape attempt is quickly thwarted by the Superior, who knows that Mace isn’t a real Inhuman. He beats the crap out of Mace and knocks him unconscious. He plans to use Mace as bait to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. to him.
From clues on the murder board, Coulson draws a connection to the old mission at the Russian mine. Zephyr One flies there and they find the facility abandoned, with the bodies of long-dead Russian soldiers on the floor. A cell phone has been left inside the skull of one body. It rings and Coulson answers. The Superior tells him that the deaths of these soldiers are Coulson’s fault and he will pay for them.
Fitz uses science magic to track fragments of the Framework code to an old Russian submarine base. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team heads there next and breaches the base. The Superior was waiting for them. He gets Coulson alone and delivers a Talking Killer speech revealing that he was one of the soldiers at the mine Coulson stole the MacGuffin from. Their failure to protect the object led to his comrades being executed. He escaped that fate, but holds Coulson responsible and has sworn a vendetta against him.
Coulson finds all this rather amusing. He flippantly tells the Superior that the mission to the mine wasn’t particularly meaningful to him. He doesn’t even remember what it was they stole. As far as he’s concerned, the Superior is just another Redshirt who got in his way. “This means nothing to me.” Ouch.
As the Superior gets ready to show Coulson exactly what it means to him, Daisy intervenes, and Coulson is fine with letting her clean up the mess. She and the Superior fight. Daisy takes a throwing dagger to the shoulder, but uses her telekinesis to blast him into a support column, causing a large mass of rubble to fall onto his head, knocking him out. For some reason, rather than check whether he’s dead or, you know, take him into custody, Daisy elects to just leave him there.
Coulson and Mack find Director Mace, who’s in pretty bad shape after taking an additional beating from a group of more Russian thugs.
Jemma chases Aida to the submarine, only to get to the dock too late. The sub leaves, presumably with Aida, Radcliffe and May on it. Coulson orders the team to withdraw and return to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.
In the aftermath of this operation, Jemma is bothered that the timeline of events doesn’t quite match up. There was a period of several minutes where everyone was separated and nothing seemed to happen. Fitz does some additional checking and discovers that the LMD detectors that he installed in S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ were disabled. The records show that Coulson turned them off. Why would he do that… unless… ?
Yes, Fitz runs a new scan and detects four LMDs in the building. It looks like Coulson, Daisy, Mack and Director Mace have all been replaced by robots!
Meanwhile, it turns out that Aida is still in the Russian submarine base. The departing sub was a bluff. She finds the Superior unconscious and half dead. She says that’s good, because she has plans for him.
In the finale teaser, the Coulson-bot finds the May-bot in storage and activates her.
At the beginning of this story arc, we were led to assume that Aida 1 would be the Big Bad villain. It seemed like a pretty clever twist when it turned out that she was just a pawn and Radcliffe was the mastermind behind the theft of the ‘Darkhold’. Later, we learned that Radcliffe was working for the Superior, who took over as the Big Bad. Now the plot has twisted again and the Superior is just a patsy for Aida 2.
This isn’t really a surprise. It’s been pretty clear for a while now that Aida 2 can think for herself and isn’t entirely under Radcliffe’s control. The problem, unfortunately, is that this brings us around full-circle to being just another evil robot storyline, which is a pretty big cliché for comic book properties, especially Marvel, and was already thoroughly exhausted in the ‘Age of Ultron’ movie. Those events have even been name-checked several times since Aida was introduced. This whole storyline feels redundant.
If you can get past that, the preview for next week’s episode looks like it could be a lot of fun, with four LMDs running rampant through S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.