Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 12
“Hot Potato Soup”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD brings back the Koenigs as Dr. Radcliffe’s plan to retrieve the Darkhold moves on in significant ways.
This show sometimes has issues juggling plots. There are so many characters all fighting for screen time and character development that it’s difficult to keep things balanced. When at its best this show juggles characters nearly perfectly as we saw last week but often the experience is a muddled one as this episode was.
One thing the show has become known for this season is intensity. Right from the first episode events have been spiralling out of control as darker corners of the Marvel Universe have become available to this show. There’s more out there that the characters struggle to understand and it really shows in the way the characters are constantly chasing their tails to keep up with the latest crisis.
The Life Model Decoy arc has been a great example of something new to the universe becoming known and the characters struggling to understand it. Seeing an android that can mimic human behaviour perfectly would definitely be a jarring experience and the constant uncertainty of not knowing who is real and who is a copy of someone that’s real has formed the backbone of the past few episodes.
This overwhelming intensity is why I applaud the show for trying to lighten things up this week. There’s no better way to do that than bringing back Patton Oswalt as the various Koenig’s. We see all of the surviving ones in this episode but I’ll keep my discussion of each of them brief. There are notable differences in their personalities that are played for laughs and the uncertainty of not knowing which is which is a constant source of comedy for the episode.
Using the Koenig brothers to hide the Darkhold by way of a game of “hot potato” -hence the title- is a good idea as it allows those trying to find it to become confused by the multiple identical looking people. It also keeps the audience guessing as each Koenig is able to talk about how they passes the Darkhold onto someone else. It’s a fun but frivolous mystery that carries throughout the episode.
Patton Oswalt was born to play roles like this. The Koenigs are all different enough that he is able to bring some individual flair to each of them. My favourite was Thurston and his routine about how everyone is a slave to entertainment and technology. It’s somewhat preachy coming from a TV show that relies on people being a slave to it to keep it on the air but I feel that the episode is self aware enough to have it work.
The episode dives right into the meta commentary with Sam fanboying over meeting Quake. When she was Skye that wasn’t enough to interest her but he talks about the fan fiction starring her that exists on the internet including some slash fiction involving her and Black Widow -a ship known as “Quack” that he has obviously never looked at. It’s a nice little nod to the world of fan fiction that surrounds the Marvel characters and actually helps this feel little more real. These characters are in the public eye so it makes sense that the public would either warm to them or be hostile towards them. Fan fiction is a thing that would definitely exist in this world and allowing the episode to allude to that is a really nice touch.
Patton Oswalt’s presence is good for the rest of the cast as it allows them to dust off their comedic chops. In every scene where one of the cast shares the screen with one or more Patton Oswalt’s they get to play the “straight man” in the situation and it always works. The best example of this is Chloe Bennet who is always better used when she is being funny. I love the way she rolls her eyes at the behaviour of the various Koenig’s and the way she calls out Sam for being the cowardly one is just hilarious because she delivers her lines so matter-of-factly that the comedy naturally comes through.
This episode unfortunately answers the mystery surrounding the Koenigs. I say it’s unfortunate because the answer is a really boring one. It turns out that they are simply brothers and there’s nothing more to it than that. There is also a sister named L.T. Koenig (Artemis Pebdani) who fits into this dynamic fairly well. She’s really tough and uncompromising which contrasts with the gentle nature of all of her brothers. I did like how the episode plays around with the tease of S.H.I.E.L.D. having an abandoned Life Model Decoy project that the Koenigs served as technicians on. Everyone assumes that they are all replicas of the original but the most boring and obvious answer is the correct one in this case. Sometimes a mystery just doesn’t need to be solved. The fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. were working on their own L.M.D. project clears up how Tony Stark would know the term when he pretended to be one to get rid of Coulson in The Avengers.
Speaking of Coulson, he finally learns that the May that he has been interacting with isn’t the real one and in true TV Drama fashion he learns it after feelings are admitted and they kiss. It’s a fairly contrived reveal but Clark Gregg sells the emotion associated with learning that the original may have been lost. LMayD thinks and acts like May but isn’t her and that’s the important thing to bear in mind. Coulson has to look at the face of someone he just admitted he loves and know that it isn’t really her. It’s an emotional gut punch and it’s clear that the reveal has broken Coulson.
It’s especially brutal when LMayD is programmed to act on the feelings that May has for Coulson and then betray him when she has the Darkhold. It’s all in her programming but Coulson feels betrayed anyway. Of course he hasn’t really been betrayed as this out of character behaviour symbolises loss. Coulson has lost May as far as he knows and might never get her back so the LMayD’s betrayal allows for the realisation of that fact.
Even though LMayD is definitely a machine I can’t help but feel sorry for her. She mimics human behaviour perfectly which means that there’s a tragic edge to her that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Dr. Radcliffe saying that she wasn’t built to last feels brutal and seeing her lie lifeless at the end of the episode as Coulson can’t let go of the only tie he has left to May is very powerful.
Fitz and the Radcliffe LMD have really interesting interactions throughout the episode. The writers clearly have a lot of fun playing around with the fact that it is Radcliffe but also not so there are moments where the behaviour is human enough and consistent with the Radcliffe we know but also moments where the behaviour couldn’t be further from human. It’s a fine line to walk in terms of performance but John Hannah absolutely nails it and Iain De Caestecker does a lot of heavy lifting as an emotionally drained Fitz.
The mention of his father and the fact that Radcliffe went to school with him does feel a little contrived but the acting manages to sell it. Radcliffe’s duplicate knows Fitz well enough to know what his weaknesses are and looks to exploit them. It works for a time but Fitz is able to come around to the fact that letting it get to him would be playing right into Radcliffe’s hands and that’s not something he can allow. I doubt the daddy issues are over for Fitz but he has shown an ability to use his intelligence to rise above the mind games.
Simmons is able to offer a buffer for this as she knows him much better than Radcliffe does. Her words resonate with him because she encourages him to rise above it and be proud of his intellect that developed in spite of the way his father treated him. Fitz has a lot to be proud of in his life and he does realise that on some level. I’ve said this before but it’s hard to believe that Fitz and Simmons are the same characters as before.
This episode brings the reveal of a new villain, Anton Ivanov – also known as “The Superior” (Zach McGowan). He is best described as “old school” in his methods and beliefs. His belief is that humanity have become soft and rely too much on machines where he would rather do things in a more visceral and organic way. Obviously he still needs machines to do what he needs to do but it’s clear that he will opt for older models and only use what he feels is necessary.
One major thing that he will become known for is his hatred for Inhumans because they represent impurity and the way he puzzles through Coulson’s involvement in the rise of the Inhumans is really methodical. The use of pictures from previous films showing him on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe show how much thought and research he has put into this. In some ways it acts like a fan theory in that he is viewing unconnected events and putting a pattern that may or may not be there over them. He’s an interesting character so far and Zach McGowan has lots of charisma.
Using a single character to tie together the various plots is a good idea and it gives the team an antagonist that will do the things that Radcliffe can’t. For all his faults and obsessions Radcliffe still doesn’t believe in violence but the Superior isn’t held to that same restriction so together they will make for a formidable presence especially now that Radcliffe has the Darkhold.
For all that this episode did well it was just far too busy. The light hearted Koenig plot was very overpowering which meant that the rest of the narrative suffered a little. Introducing the Superior and revealing LMayD to the team could have been left for a later episode with the focus in this one being Koenig and the Radcliffe duplicate. Nothing about this was bad but the pacing felt far too quick and at times it was difficult to keep up.
Another strong outing that lightened the tone a little with a Koenig story that delivers a boring answer to the mystery surrounding the multiple versions of him we have seen. They were used well in the episode with the enduring mystery of which brother had ended up with the Darkhold in the end carrying much of the episode. The comedy was on point with Chloe Bennet being particularly impressive in her comic timing.
Fitz working with the duplicate Radcliffe allowed for some fascinating insight into his past while revealing what fuels his own self confidence. John Hannah tows a fine line in his performance by seeming human enough while also being artificial. The same applies to the LMayD who is just human enough to be pitied and for the reveal of her true identity to Coulson feeling enough like a betrayal that becomes loss once the truth sinks in. It’s powerfully acted and rises above the contrived nature of the reveal. The introduction of the Superior is well done as well as he seems like a really interesting antagonist. There was a little too much going on in this episode even though it was all good. At times it was hard to keep up with the various events.