[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Although the first part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 was largely focused on the introduction and development of Robbie Reyes aka Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), the episodes additionally planted seeds that the show has capitalized on since returning from its midseason hiatus. Senator Ellen Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) has been an anti-Inhuman opponent to S.H.I.E.L.D. since season 4 began, but more recently it was revealed she's been working for someone called The Superior and even teamed up with Radcliffe - whose LMD Aida has been a throughline of season 4 as well.
In last week's episode 'Hot Potato Soup', Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. officially introduced The Superior as a reclusive industrialist named Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan) who is pulling the strings of not only Nadeer and the Watchdogs, but now Radcliffe, too. 'Hot Potato Soup' concluded with Radcliffe obtaining the Darkhold thanks to LMD-May - despite Coulson entrusting the dark magic book with the Agents Koenig. Now, Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team are without May and the Darkhold, and they must try to recover both.
In this week's episode, 'BOOM' - written by Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman and directed by Billy Gierhart - Daisy Johnson and Director Jeffrey Mace will have their hands full in a face off with an Inhuman who possesses explosive powers. Meanwhile, Coulson and Mack uncover new information about Radcliffe's LMD Aida in their search for May.
Shockley Lives Up to His Name
Despite the implied action of this week's episode title, 'BOOM' largely slows down the momentum of this season to make some changes before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. moves forward. In the wake of Radcliffe's victory over S.H.I.E.L.D. last week by obtaining the Darkhold, this week sees the organization regrouping and attempting to figure out how to proceed. And, thanks to an explosion that kills Senator Nadeer unexpectedly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also utilizes 'BOOM' to firmly shift the season's focus away from her anti-Inhuman agenda to The Superior's partnership with Radcliffe and their shared fascination with the Darkhold.
The scene in which Shockley (John Pyper-Ferguson) attempts to corner Senator Nadeer and turn her into an Inhuman, only for himself to be encased in the Terrigenesis cocoon, is an excellent subversion of expectations. So too is Nadeer's death since she had been positioned as a main antagonist throughout the season. However, Nadeer's death is disappointing as well. Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its midseason hiatus, Nadeer had been developed into an especially ruthless zealot - killing her own brother because he became an Inhuman. The irony of the scene in 'BOOM' is well played by both Nagra and Pyper-Ferguson, and acts as an excellent lead-in to the episode's main storyline, even though the loss of Nadeer means Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. loses a compelling antagonist.
Of course, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was becoming quite cluttered with antagonists thanks to the recent arrival of The Superior, and 'BOOM' successfully pivots to his character as the bigger evil in this particular story arc. But first, S.H.I.E.L.D. is forced to contend with Shockley, who has developed explosive powers after undergoing Terrigenesis. Pyper-Ferguson is given much more room in 'BOOM' to play up the villainy in Shockley, from his dedication to The Superior's cause to his delight in using his powers to causes as much destruction as possible. It's a fun and entertaining mission for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, but largely a distraction from the bigger problem and stakes of season 4.
Radcliffe Bests His Greatest Opponent?
While the majority of S.H.I.E.L.D. is dealing with Shockley, Coulson and Mack are on their own mission, pursuing a lead that could help them find May. This particular lead is a woman named Agnes, who's living in Spain and was the inspiration for Aida - Radcliffe even modeled Aida's appearance to look like Agnes. As Coulson and the viewer learns, Agnes and Radcliffe were together, but he wasn't able to "fix" her so he left because he couldn't face his failure. Agnes has a brain tumor that is inoperable, which became Radcliffe's motivation to create... Not Aida, but the simulation in which May has been trapped?
On the surface, Agnes is meant to flesh out Radcliffe's backstory by giving him a reason for creating Aida and pursuing development of the simulation in which he has kept May while LMD-May carried out his mission to obtain the Darkhold. Certainly, if Radcliffe's main goal is cheat death, both his Life Model Decoys and the simulation help him achieve it. But, it also requires ignoring the fact that a Life Model Decoy would never have been able to help Agnes cheat the natural cause of her death, and the simulation was only introduced as a way to incapacitate the real May. Radcliffe's ability to keep Agnes' consciousness alive in his simulated world is a convenient progression to the technology that ties up the loose ends of 'BOOM', but it isn't quite backed up by the storytelling up to this point.
Additionally, it's unclear how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to develop Radcliffe's simulated world as part of the overarching storyline - or whether they will at all. Since this storyline of season 4 is subtitled LMD it seems more likely this simulated world was simply introduced as a way to resolve Agnes's storyline. However, the brief scene after Agnes dies in which Aida takes her necklace seems to hint that Radcliffe's LMD is developing some kind of consciousness all her own. Considering how self-aware LMD-May became, it's quite possible Radcliffe's creation will soon move beyond his control.
Patriot Finds His Place on the Team
The inclusion of Jeffrey Mace within the S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy provided for some interesting shakeups within the first run of episodes this season. However, since it was revealed that Mace isn't the Inhuman he and General Talbot claimed he was, Coulson has largely taken over as Director - calling the shots of the missions, leading his own missions, and acting as the hidden operator behind the more public face of the organization. It seemed Mace had found his place in S.H.I.E.L.D. as that public face, the bureaucrat who would deal with the likes of Talbot and Nadeer.
But, with Nadeer out of the picture and given the fact that Mace started off as a soldier, he chafes at the idea of being S.H.I.E.L.D.'s poster boy. Plus, with Simmons delivering the bad news that each dose of the Patriot serum is more dangerous and provides a higher chance of killing him, Mace feels especially out of place within the organization. For advice, he turns to Coulson, who has experience working with superpowered individuals. However, Coulson's time with the Avengers didn't end all that well for him - and it may not end all that well for Mace either.
Although it seems Mace finds his place as The Patriot operating as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s blocker - capitalizing on the football metaphor he uses throughout the episode - he's taken down quite quickly by The Superior. Of course, The Superior captures Mace with the hopes of obtaining the Inhuman director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Mace and the viewer know it's only a matter of time before truth comes out. Perhaps Mace can be more helpful to S.H.I.E.L.D. as a human rather than an Inhuman - or perhaps his time with The Superior will end just as badly as Coulson's with the Avengers.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 continues with ‘The Man Behind the Shield’ Tuesday February 14 at 10pm on ABC.