[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its midseason hiatus, the show has shifted focus from the mystical threat posed by Robbie Reyes aka Ghost Rider and his uncle Eli Morrow to threats closer to home. Of course, those threats - Dr. Radcliffe, his Life Model Decoys, and Senator Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) - have turned into more of a united front in the episodes since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s midseason premiere. Although Radcliffe has been employing his LMDs in efforts to obtain the Darkhold, a mystical tomb that gave Morrow his powers, from S.H.I.E.L.D., it was revealed in last week's episode, 'Wake Up' that he's been working with Nadeer.
Nadeer, meanwhile, has additionally teamed up with the Watchdogs, an anti-Inhuman militant group that has been able to improve their arsenal thanks to some generous financial backing. In the midseason premiere, Nadeer and Watchdog leader Shockley (John Pyper-Ferguson) revealed that mysterious backer to be called simply The Superior. In 'Wake Up', Nadeer decided it was time for Radcliffe to meet The Superior, and in this week's episode, the two team up in order to go after the Darkhold.
In 'Hot Potato Soup' - written by Craig Titley and directed by Nina Lopez-Corrado - Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team must protect Sam Koenig (Patton Oswalt) when his brother Billy is abducted by Shockley. The Koenig's family secret is revealed as they explain how they hid the Darkhold, while Radcliffe and The Superior (Zach McGowan) attempt to learn its whereabouts from Billy in ways unique to their skillsets. Meanwhile back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Fitz, Simmons, and Mack learn the secrets of LMD-Radcliffe, who attempts to rattle Fitz by bringing up the scientist's estranged father.
The Koenig Family Secret… isn’t Robots
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has long teased the mystery of the Koenig family since it was revealed in season 1 that there's more than one of the lookalike agents operating within S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, the first Koenig to appear on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Eric, who was killed during the series' Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in storyline wherein it was revealed Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) was an agent of Hydra. Later in season 1, Billy was introduced, followed by Sam in season 2. The last viewers saw the Koenigs was in late season 2, back when Daisy was still going by Skye - and long before she was given the nickname of Quake.
Now, the Koenigs return as 'Hot Potato Soup' as integral members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team since Coulson tasked them with protecting the Darkhold. We learn that not only are there more Koenigs aside from Eric, Billy, and Sam, they're aren't even the only Koenigs in S.H.I.E.L.D. when Coulson brings his team to meet the original Koenig, LT (Artemis Pebdani). LT was the first to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and she's the sister of Eric, Billy, Sam, and their fourth identical brother Thurston - who is an anti-establishment, anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. slam poet.
Keeping up with his previous appearances, Oswalt brings plenty of humor to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with his various Koenigs. Sam's interactions with Daisy, in which he fans over her newfound status as Quake and reveals there's fanfiction featuring her and Black Widow, are particularly hilarious - and double as nods to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pebdani brings a balance to the Koenig group, grounding them as the most experienced agent, though it must be said their Operation Hot Potato to keep the Darkhold moving is especially inspired.
Of course, fans may be disappointed that the Koenig family secret isn't robots or clones - though 'Hot Potato Soup' includes enough robot, replica, clone and other non-human references that viewers will certainly feel as if they're in on the joke. But, with LMDs now at the forefront of season 4, it would have been overkill if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. established the Koenigs as robots as well.
So, May’s A Frickin’ Robot
In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. midseason finale, the show left fans with a tease for the then-upcoming LMD storyline, revealing in the final moments that Aida had replaced May with a Life Model Decoy. That particular mystery has slowly been unraveled since season 4 returned from its hiatus, with LMD-May becoming self-aware to her existence as an android replica, and struggling with the question of where May ends and Radcliffe's programming begins (a fascinating question presented by the series that we likely haven't see the last of).
But, in 'Hot Potato Soup', not only do Fitz and Simmons deduce that the May in the field is a robot - leading to Daisy's perfectly snarky line, "So, May's a frickin' robot." - Coulson figures it out from a mere kiss. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been slowly teasing a romantic relationship between Coulson and May in season 4, with the arc especially speeding up since the agent was swapped with the LMD. But, their kiss is undercut by the fact that it may not be real - it's not the real May, after all, is it? Nevertheless, despite the inclusion of the LMD element, it's a broad storyline we've seen with Coulson before - a romantic interest is threatened and he becomes more dedicated to defeating evil.
Still, 'Hot Potato Soup' officially brings everyone up to speed on the majority of the mysteries surrounding Radcliffe, LMDs, and Nadeer. Considering Coulson's relationship with May, S.H.I.E.L.D. will undoubtedly set their sights on learning what happened to her, then saving her from Radcliffe. But, with Radcliffe and The Superior additionally in possession of the Darkhold, May's safety isn't the only thing S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to worry about.
The Superior is Revealed
Since the show's midseason premiere, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has worked to develop the anti-Inhuman factions the organization is facing in season 4. Although it was revealed in the first half of the season that Senator Nadeer was working with the Watchdogs to further her own anti-Inhuman agenda, it has since been explained why Nadeer hates Inhumans and that she and the Watchdogs both work for the same person: The Superior. In 'Hot Potato Soup', both Radcliffe and viewers meet this so-called Superior, a reclusive industrialist named Anton Ivanov.
So far, it seems Ivanov is a completely new character to the MCU (although a Yegor Ivanov appears in the All-New Ghost Rider comic series). While a reveal of the Superior's identity to be someone already introduced on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or a character from the comics likely would have appealed to diehard Marvel fans, McGowan's performance as Ivanov is far and beyond compelling enough to keep viewers interested. The actor has excelled on television prior to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as morally complex characters on both Starz's Black Sails and The CW's The 100, and he appears to be bringing the same magnetism to Anton Ivanov aka The Superior.
Still, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of The Superior is the cause for which he's fighting - not the anti-Inhuman cause, but his belief that Coulson is to blame for all the unnatural occurrences on Earth, dating all the way back to the arrival of Thor and the Chitauri invasion during The Avengers. It's certainly a new way of approaching Coulson's presence in the MCU. Plus, considering Coulson's resurrection and secretive goings on with S.H.I.E.L.D., it has the potential to address questions fans have had since day one.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 continues with ‘BOOM’ Tuesday February 7 at 10pm on ABC.