Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 9
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD returns from hiatus to kickstart a brand new arc picking up from the cliffhanger at the end of the previous episode.
It’s surprising how seamlessly the show transitioned from magic and demons to something grounded in technology as I expected an episode or two of fumbling around before settling on how the arc was going to progress. It’s safe to say that this episode completely hit the ground running and put a lot of interesting things in motion.
The implication at the end of the previous episode was that Aida had gained sentience and was looking ensure her own survival at any cost. This episode proceeds on that basis and paints Aida as the central antagonist.
It turns out to be far more complicated than that when it is revealed that Dr. Radcliffe is the mastermind behind this plot and engineered the situation so that people would believe that Aida was the real threat. It’s a really clever reveal and is consistent with Dr. Radcliffe’s character. It’s easy to forget that when he was introduced back in “The Singularity” he was something of a villain as he was a devout believer in enhancing humanity through biomechanical means. That was pushed to the background after his introduction but it was always there in things that he said and done. The fact that he chose to hide Aida earlier this season is another example of his self serving nature.
He mentions that seeing the Darkhold opened his mind to the seemingly infinite possibilities that can be found in its pages so set this whole thing up to get his hands on it. Aida was only following his instructions while he pretended to be none the wiser. It’s the standard selfish desire for power motivation but it works really well here and gives the team a more personal antagonist to deal with.
Radcliffe doesn’t lose any of his nuance through this reveal as well as we spend the entire episode hearing his views on Aida and interacting with Fitz. His friendship with Fitz has never seemed like anything other than genuine and he has very compassionate views about the things he talks about so it’s definitely not as simple as him being a “bad person”. Once it comes to light that he is working against the team I’m guessing the biggest conflict will be the difference in values rather than the black and white “good vs. evil”.
The beauty of all of this is that Aida is doing exactly what she is programmed to do. As Radcliffe says her function is to mimic humanity by presenting the appearance of emotions but she’s incapable of actually experiencing them because she isn’t sentient. It turns out that he was completely right but Mallory Jansen’s performance succeeds in fooling the viewer to believe that she has become sentient. Those invested in this universe will remember that Ultron gained sentience in Avengers: Age of Ultron so I imagine the writers are playing with that and this episode does a really good job of subverting this expectation. Everything Aida said made her a complex threat who felt that her methods were necessary for her own survival. It’s hard to disagree with her desire to survive but the way she goes about it is obviously less than ideal.
Interestingly the episode also works on a completely different level by bringing an amusing meta edge to the whole thing. Mack and Elena spend a lot of time discussing 80s movies where robots attack their creators. Terminator is obviously mentioned and there’s even a shout out for the cult classic Chopping Mall. It’s really fun dialogue that shows how natural a relationship Mack and Elena have but it also serves the important function of acknowledging that all of this has been done before and challenging the show to come up with something fairly unique. So far I’d say it has done that by setting up Aida as gaining sentience before revealing that this isn’t the case at all.
There are a lot of moving parts in this episode that help to enhance this. May has been replaced by a Life Model Decoy and the episode plays around with hinting that she is on a mission that she’s conscious of before revealing that her programming gives her the perfect cover. She is used to monitor everything that goes on but isn’t even aware that she’s a decoy. This means that we get the same interactions we would normally get from May while having the subtext of her being part of the problem. It’s a really nice touch and it’s working brilliantly so far.
More movement is made on Senator Nadeer’s relationship to her newly hatched Inhuman brother Vijay (Manish Dayal). This was probably the weakest part of the episode but it’s still compelling. I like that him spending 7 months in a cocoon is still a question to be answered and the idea that he was in there for so long because he was fighting the change is an interesting one. I suspect that there will be another reason for this but the point is that it makes him unique. We don’t see his powers until very late on so the idea that he doesn’t have any is preserved and the fact that he goes back into a cocoon when he is believed to be dead raises more questions.
This part was weaker than the rest of the episode because I don’t think enough time has been spent establishing Vijay’s relationship with his sister. There is some discussion of them being anti-Inhuman as a consequence of the death of their parents during the Chitauriattack in The Avengers and I like that Senator Nadir doesn’t let family get in the way of that but it doesn’t come through clearly enough. If the reveal of his powers had been left for another episode or two then there would have been more time to build this relationship. Sometimes this show moves just a little too quickly.
Daisy and Mace proved to be a really fun double act. He is very much the straight man with Daisy being the more comedic side of it but it plays to the strength of the actors. I’ve often thought that Daisy has become a little too serious compared to the happy go lucky attitude she had when she was called Skye so it’s good to see her loosen up a bit. Mace and Daisy both being Inhumans but having different views on what that means to them and the world is a solid basis for their relationship as it puts them on different sides of an important issue. They are able to have really interesting discussions while also working well together. I look forward to seeing more of this dynamic.
If there was a weak link in these scenes it was Simmons and that was mostly because she didn’t have an awful lot to do. Seeing her act like a spy and get to kick some ass was good but it wasn’t shot terribly well and her overall role in the episode didn’t come through strongly enough. I can see why this was done because the dynamic between Mace and Daisy needs to be developed but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the other characters.
An excellent episode that kicks off the new arc in really compelling ways. Subverting expectations by revealing that Aida hasn’t actually become sentient and Dr. Radcliffe is behind it all was a really clever twist that still feels in character for Radcliffe. As an antagonist he should be really interesting as his friendship with Fitz feels genuine so the conflict should come from his views being different. I also really liked the way the episode addresses how familiar this story is through references to 80s movies where robots take over from Mack and Elena.
The development of the relationship between Senator Nadir and her brother, Vijay was also really interesting with lots of questions to be answered but it progresses a little too quickly at the expense of establishing their relationship fully. Daisy and Mace have a really interesting dynamic so far that plays to the strength of the actors and is based on them both seeing their status as Inhumans differently. Simmons being tacked onto this plot wasn’t really necessary but these scenes didn’t suffer too much because of it. The second arc of the season has started of brilliantly and I look forward to seeing more.
- subverting expectations around the sentience of Aida
- Dr. Radcliffe being behind it making a lot of sense
- all the 80s doomsday robot movie references
- Daisy and Mace’s fascinating dynamic
- the Senator Nadir and Vijay plot moving a little too quickly
- Simmons feeling unnecessary in Daisy and Mace’s scenes