Coulson: Where’s your power come from?
Robbie: I made a deal with the Devil.
Coulson: Right… okay… just… [walks over to Mack] Okay, ghosts, devils. You believe any of this stuff we’re dealing with?
Mack: I believe in God, so I gotta believe in the other thing.
Coulson: In my experience, gods usually turn out to be aliens.
Mack: Alien would definitely explain the things he can do.
The fourth season of Agents of Shield picks up a few months after season 3 finale with the search for Daisy Johnson, aka Skye aka Quake who has gone rogue and is chasing after a hate group called the Watchdogs who have been hunting Inhumans. Meanwhile, SHIELD has a new director, Jeffery Mace with a whole new set of rules, red tape, and bureaucracy; while Coulson is on Zephyr One with Mac searching for Daisy before the authorities (SHIELD and normal police) catch her.
Coulson: As a former director, I have a better sense than most about how precious your time is. How important it is to prioritize the critical from the trivial. Which makes me wonder why you’d waste half a day flying here on a wild goose chase.
Mace: It’s not a wild goose chase if there are geese. You deny they’re on board?
Coulson: Geese? I have zero geese. We are goose free.
Skye is falsely accused of being a terrorist thanks to the efforts of some senators who are secretly backing the Watchdogs and running a smear campaign against inhumans while also calling for Humans First (sounds familiar?)
That’s basically the premise, the season is then divided into three sections or I like to think of it as three miniseries with one overarching plot line or connecting thread. But like almost everything with Marvel, it is weirdly convoluted and hard to explain so you have to bear with me (or just skip the summary and go straight to the review below though I doubt if you haven’t seen this season that it’ll make any sense…) Anyway, first part is called Ghost Rider. And it is as the title indicates about the Marvel character: Ghost Rider. Now don’t think Nick Cage with the awkward facial expressions and bad CGI, no this is the real deal. Robbie Reyes is Ghost Rider and he’s “cleaning” the streets of Los Angeles by killing gang members. One of the gangs stole a strange device but it was intercepted and there’s a lot of weird stuff happening that I can’t explain but to give you a crude summary: “ghosts” steal this particle matter making device, taking to Momentum lab and conducting this experiment trying to play god. That’s one side of the story, then we have Radcliffe Holden (I think we met him last season, he’s the transhumanist scientists), Fitz’s old mentor who created AIDA, an AI that passed the Turing test. Then there’s the Darkhold, a mystical book with extraordinary powers that gives its reader a wealth of dangerous knowledge (think forbidden fruit but more dangerous, as in giving whoever plucks it, if I may, world annihilation-playing-god-opening-other-dimensions-powers and not just recognizing one’s own nakedness…).
Fitz [seeing the Darkhold] : I feel like a Dark Ages blacksmith looking at Tesla.
Anyway, the ghosts, who turn out to be old scientists want to use the Darkhold to bring themselves back to life and take over the world, typical villain plan. But they are thwarted by Ghost Rider and Shield.
Coulson: Without him [Ghost Rider], we wouldn’t know the Darkhold had resurfaced. But the fewer people who know about it, the better. Fury had no problem opening Pandora’s box from time to time, but even he was afraid of this thing. It’s powerful, it’s deadly, and now probably in the hands of a pissed off mad scientist ghost. So, thoughts, feelings? This is a safe space.
Oh an in the midst of all that hubbub, Shield needs to use the Darkhold (can’t tell you why because then it’ll spoil the fun and you might kill me…)but are afraid of its powers so what do they do? They let Aida, the AI who passed the Turing test, almost fooled Fitz, and was created by one of the smartest people on the planet, read the damn book, no big deal right? Nothing wrong can happen, right? I mean what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like Ultron destroyed an entire city and almost defeated the Avengers and took over the world and all he had was Jarvis. So why not give the Darkhold to Aida?
Mack: First of all, that thing is not a she. It’s a damn robot. And second of all, what is the matter with you two chuckleheads? Have either one of you seen a movie in the last thirty years? The robots always attack.
Radcliffe: Well, technically speaking AIDA’s not a robot, she’s an android.
Fitz: That’s true.
Mack: Android, robot, it doesn’t matter what you call them, the end results always the same. They rise up against their human overlords and go kill-crazy!
Radcliffe: You make a fair, if intense, point.
This then starts the second part of the season, titled: LMD which stands for life model decoy. Now after achieving their mission, Fitz and the rest of the Shield team try to wipe Aida’s mind because she read the Darkhold. Well they do, but when have we ever met a mad scientist who wasn’t mad in the Marvel universe? So of course Radcliffe has a backup plan and another LMD. One LMD infiltrates Shield and replaces one of its members, Radcliffe wants the Darkhold back. And the team goes on for more than 4 episodes not realizing one of their own was replaced. But then things go out of control, or so it seems, and Aida goes all Terminator on them (I mean the first one not Judgement Day).
Mack: Radcliffe built a humanoid robot that’s about to attack the base.Yo-Yo: Why would he do that? Has he watched no American movies from the eighties? Robots always attack.
Mack: I’ve been saying that all day.
Yo-Yo: Smart people are stupid.
Mack: Alright, gear up. The robot apocalypse is finally here.
On the other hand we have Senator Nadeer, a pain in the neck who’s working with the Watchdogs and “The Superior” to bring Shield down and kill all the Inhumans. We have a a few scrimmages heres and there and plans that are foiled, t as much as I adore Coulson, he can be a trusting idiot sometimes. But that’s not the best part because by the end of this part. Seriously if you haven’t watched it, you can’t know what happens next without it being spoiled for you, even if I give you no details the whole plot line from hereinafter will spoil LMD for you. You can read it if you want if you’re a normal human being who doesn’t care about spoilers but I would personally lose my mind if I read spoilers. Your call.
Almost the whole team is replaced, you know save for a few who will have to save the day.
This then gives way to the third part of the series: Agents of HYDRA. Of course Aida took advantage of the Darkhold, undermined Radcliffe, replaced the whole team with LMDs and plugged plugged them into the Framework: an alternative virtual reality created by Radcliffe. In that reality, Aida removes each member’s biggest regret and then we watch their lives unfold. From the title of this part, you should already assume Hydra won the war and took over the world. Coulson was never an agents, he becomes a history school teacher, May, Ward, and Skye are devout Hydra agents (well Ward is a double agents because, Ward), Simmons presumably died in an explosion, Inhumans are hunted and experimented on, Mac knows nothing, Mace is the leader of the resistance, and wait for it…Fitz is the head of Hydra. And you know who’s his love interest is? Madame Hydra. Who is Madam Hydra you ask? Aida.
Radcliffe: Yes, quantum cells, flaming skulls, androids – just another day at S.H.I.E.L.D., huh?
Yes, she becomes the head of Hydra and is trying to use this alternative reality to create an organic body for herself in the real world and use it to take over the world, as you do. Okay so who saves the day? I said Aida plugged the whole team in but I also said almost the whole team. We still have Skye, Simmons, and Yo-yo in real life. Skye and Simmons go into the alternative reality to try to find out where Aida is hiding their team members and unplug them. Well that’s going to be a piece of cake, right? No. Because nothing in Agents is ever a piece of cake and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS WITHOUT BREAKING YOUR FREAKING HEART. Needless to say, they face a lot of trouble and your heart shatters into a thousand pieces, no big deal.
After a long ordeal and fight, the team succeeds and Aida is defeated with the help of Ghost Rider. But no rest for the wicked.
Oh there’s also a Russian dude who hates Coulson and aids Aida (see what I did there). He sniffs onions after drinking vodka and lives in a submarine. He played a role in Aida’s plans but he wasn’t that big of a deal really. They played him up as the Superior and he does the dirty work but meh, he’s not a major villain.
Mace: You know what a hero is?
Coulson: Are we really going to do this?
Mace: Everybody loves Han Solo. Rebel, rule breaker, lone wolf. But to my old-fashioned sensibilities he’s not a hero, he’s just a guy who always puts himself first.
Coulson: I agree.
Mace: A real hero’s a team player, someone who acts selflessly.
Coulson: Not sure you heard the part where I agreed. Personally I always felt that Admiral Ackbar was the unsung hero. A strategic military man who led combat ops against the Empire.
Mace: Is that how you see it Phil? S.H.I.E.L.D. is the Empire and your ragtag group is the Rebels?
Phew. Now let’s talk criticism.
This could be so far the best season of Agents. They took all the faults in the last season and rectified them here. Instead of stretching out one story over the course of 23 episodes to the point where you need filler episodes and it loses its punch, they divided it up into three parts, exactly what I wanted to happen in the last season. This way each part or miniseries had a tight plot line and was done properly, no lame filler episodes or crime of the week stuff, just plain bigger narrative ride.
At first I was skeptical with the Ghost Rider series, I didn’t know where they were going with it and I was afraid they might make it too hokey (I know it’s sci-fi and hokey by nature but there was always a logic to their universe, so not hokey, you know what I mean?). Anyway, I was concerned with the Momentum Labs plot and it wasn’t that great but then they introduced the Darkhold and brought Robbie in with the team and it picked up heat. It was more meaningful that personal vendettas, the whole world was at stake again. As for LMD and Agents of Hydra, gosh those two were fantastic. It was realistic enough to happen in the Marvel Universe and in a way they make it feel almost that it could happen in the real world ( oculus rift and AI are already a thing). It was taking the old Robots kill humans trope but giving it a creative twist, which mainly came from the personal stakes. It wasn’t just humanity were you could be dismissive we’re tired of that when it comes to AI (i know I sound I’m contradicting my previous statement about ghost rider but it’ll make sense, wait). Vigilantes with a personal vendetta are overdone AIs with world domination plan are overdone, switch it around-vigilantes saving the world and AIs with personal vendettas and you get some juicy stuff there.
Radcliffe: I’m building an inter-dimensional gateway with an android I’ve created. If this works, I could die happy.
May: We’ve put our faith in a robot who says she hears ghosts. If it fails, you might die quickly.
The best thing about Agents is its characters. The Whedons have a knack for making you invested in the characters even if they are the worst. It’s impossible to not love the agents or hate the villains, of course a well written character couldn’t create that effect if it weren’t for a talented actor that brings it forth. You can’t help not feeling their pain, their loss, their anguish, desires and pleasures, the characters feel so real. It’s like Supernatural where you keep watching it even after 12 lousy season only because Sam and Dean are so damn good, except with Shield even the plot is riveting. For instance, in the Agents of Hydra storyline, although it is an alternative reality and everything is almost completely different, the changes to the characters are still in line with the characters developed so far, Coulson is a good guy who tries to stand up for the bullies even as a history teacher making his own soap, May is a devout soldier but with a strong sense of morality, underneath the mechanic macho person, Mac is just soft puppy who wants to save people and do good in the world, Ward will always be the double agents, and Fitz, well he’s an easily influenced weakling mad scientist but with a good heart. It brilliant how well the development is drawn out in such a believable way that also has some social commentary about the nature of humans and effects of society.
Mack: Just you and me now Tin Man. You don’t mess with my buddy and walk away from it.
LMD Radcliffe: If you shoot me now, it’ll be murder.
Mack: Nice try, wrong guy. You’re just a bunch of ones and zeroes, not flesh and blood.
LMD Radcliffe: Flesh and blood? That’s not life Mack, that’s just biology, and biology’s just… software, programming you to die.
Mack: Maybe, but I have something you will never have: a soul, that will continue long after I’m gone.
LMD Radcliffe: How can you be so sure I don’t have one? If a soul doesn’t come from your flesh and blood and my ones and zeroes, then it has to come from somewhere else, somewhere unrelated to our physical bodies. If you can have one, so can I.
Mack: My, you are a sly one, aren’t you?
LMD Radcliffe: If you don’t think I’m alive and don’t have a soul, then why did you feel the need to switch me on before killing me?
Mack: [cocks his shotgun] I like to hear robots scream.
Speaking of that, this season was very political. There were direct, clear references to and critiques of the elections, the political system, the rise in toxic nationalism and patriotism, the mirroring of the hate rhetoric and alternative facts. Its staring right at you in the face, and in a Brechtian move, it makes it even more clear how monstrous humans have become and makes reality more scary. But it does it in a way that, although it on the nose it isn’t forceful in a way, it’s a paradox I know, but I think because there is sarcastic and almost dark comedy element in the show that it acknowledges the fact that tits making a political statement and then it doesn’t feel so forceful. eVerything now is saturated with politics and I know we’re all sick of it, but here its done in a subtle and delicate way that balances self-aware dark comedy with political commendatory that makes it rather palatable.
To go back to the characters, one of the show’s strengths is the dialogue. You don’t have that “You have failed this city,” “I believe in you, you’re our only hope” crap that you see in other superhero shows. If they ever do it here, there’s always sarcastic sense to it, and you can see the characters smirking, it makes light of the whole saving the world thing to the point that it almost mirrors the audiences feelings of being fed up with sequels and prequels (that being said, I will still watch every movie that comes out in the MCU…I’ll). Anyway, there’s a lot of breaking of the fourth wall in the show and pop culture references in rather serious moments that provide the perfect amount of comedic relief. I think I’ve said this in my review of Season 3, especially when it comes to Mac’s lines, they are hilarious and his delivery makes them even more so. He has that look of disbelief on his face whenever something weird happens and it’s PERFECT. Also, his rapport with Yo-yo is as what the kids these days say, goals.
Simmons: So, we fight our way through the trained military personnel, then the ultra-powerful android doubles of our friends, somehow make it to the Zephyr, which we can’t fly, to escape the base and try to plug our minds into an alternate reality.
Daisy: Okay, well, don’t say it out loud, because that made it sound way worse. Let’s just keep it one thing at a time, okay?
Now I know I said the show is funny and light, that’s not the entire truth…Yes it’s funny, but it is directed and written by a Whedon. Whedon has become a name I dread because its synonymous with heartbreak. I will tell you this here and now, it will break your heart. You thought Jemma being sucked into an alternative universe with the melting rock thingy from season 3 was bad? You thought losing Bobby and Hunter was bad? What about Skye’s face when she wasn’t connected with HIVE anymore? Or the look on their faces when Ward turned out to be a double agent? Or maybe Tripp’s death? Yeah all of that is bad and it doesn’t get any better in this season. Fitzsimmons don’t catch a break, Skye and Coulson each have their own loses, Mac will shatter your heart….there is no hope for your heart. But don’t let that deter you, it’s worth watching, every second of it, every plot twist that makes you yell obscenities and every event that makes you gasp out loud that your parents or family members look at you with a “what the hell is wrong with that kid” look on your face, it’s worth it.