Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 10
Agents of SHIELD reveals a secret that Jeffrey Mace has been keeping from the team when an attempt on his life is made.
Up until this point I had no real reason to doubt that Mace was an Inhuman. There were things about his past that obviously didn’t add up but him being an Inhuman made as much sense as anything else given the framework of this show.
The best reveals tend to be the ones you don’t see coming and that’s why this works so well. Mace has always been able to talk a good game so he certainly had me fooled when boasting about his accomplishments and projecting his authoritative persona. Revealing that his powers come from a serum and wear off is representative of the flimsy web of deceit that has been constructed to make this work.
Talbot’s explanation of the reasons for doing this feels valid as well. In a world where people are wary of those with powers it makes sense to have a reliable person in authority to reassure the public that powered people aren’t inherently dangerous. The original plan was to use Captain America but the events of Captain America: Civil War made that impossible so an alternative had to be found. As Talbot said, finding the next Captain America is no easy task but Mace is able to embody enough of those qualities. Events in his past have been manipulated in such a way that he comes across as an American Hero that people can rally behind. It’s a solid plan from a public relations perspective and the serum does the rest. This entire reveal is also a meaningful nod to Mace’s comic book counterpart.
The beauty of all of this is that Mace isn’t entirely a fraud. It’s established that he is taught enough to make do with his powers doing the rest but his ability to appear confident when terrified and bravery in the face of death shows that he actually does have what it takes. Coulson is the one to point this out to him and it allows Coulson to genuinely respect him for the first time since he was appointed director. Coulson clearly believes that respect has to be earned and Mace has started to do that now.
We see the beginnings of a changed dynamic between them when Coulson retakes his position as director but lets Mace be the face of the organisation. Coulson has never been interested in the spotlight so Mace is welcome to it as far as he’s concerned but he is very interested in leading his people and keeping them safe as best he can so now he gets to have the best of both worlds and Mace still gets to handle all of the public relations. Whether this arrangement will work or not remains to be seen but it seems like a good idea on the surface. I have no doubt that there will be problems along the way but we’ll see how that all plays out.
There is another side to the fiction crafted around Mace that is represented through how people react to learning the truth. Coulson points out the absurdity of trying to gain the trust of Inhumans by lying to them to Talbot and he doesn’t agree because he believes in what the American government did. His line about spies being able to understand when to keep a secret is a really powerful one as it shows how committed Talbot is to the project as well as how much Coulson has changed. He used to buy into things remaining classified and information being withheld to protect people but his experiences have taught him that it tends to do more harm than good. Talbot is a lot like Coulson used to be albeit a lot less personable.
It should be noted that Talbot is really good value in this episode and his presence made a lot of sense given the situation. With Mace and Coulson missing someone of his authority level would be brought in to handle the situation. We are reminded that he has direct contact with the President and he is generally able to handle difficult situations while keeping control of S.H.I.E.L.D in a time of crisis. Beyond that his flowery descriptions such as “about as strong as a paper bag in a rainstorm” are always hilarious.
Simmons continues to impress as someone not to be messed with. She instinctively tries to take charge in the absence of authority figures that she recognises. A running subplot in the part part of the season was the altered beaureacracy that Mace introduced to the organisation. It was played off as a joke about corporate buzzwords and transparent attempts to make people feel valued when they really aren’t but it also began an important development point for Simmons. Her plan involved gaining Mace’s trust so that she could work her way through the ranks to the point that very little is hidden from her.
Her plan worked really well to the point that she is the most senior agent on the base with Mace and Coulson missing. This means that certain information becomes available to her no matter what Talbot does to keep it hidden. This gives her a lot of power as she can simply read Mace’s file and find out the truth so Talbot has no choice but to come clean. This was a really clever way of abusing the new structure implemented by Mace and showing how poorly thought out the project really is.
Simmons gets another great moment when she convinces the prisoner to talk by showing him Aida’s severed head and suggesting that the same could happen to him. The prisoner breaks a little too easily but it shows real growth for Simmons as a character.
Her disagreement with Fitz about what to do with the severed head is a really compelling subplot. Fitz wants to study it to find out what went wrong any use that information to improve the program but Simmons would rather it be left alone so that there’s no chance of it happening again. It’s a fairly simple way of letting the debate happen but it works well enough and I’ll always appreciate any reminder that Fitz and Simmons aren’t the same entity. Their differences are more interesting than their similarities most of the time so it’s good to see those given some attention.
There is an element of delaying the inevitable here though. Keeping Fitz from studying Aida means that he won’t learn that she never actually became sentient until much later so it allows Dr. Radcliffe’s deception to run for a while longer. It’s not badly done but it is obvious why things are being delayed and I have no issue with this as it shows that the writers aren’t just burning through plot without letting things be developed.
Dr. Radcliffe is struggling to come up with his next move as he is no longer welcome at S.H.I.E.L.D. so his influence has diminished considerably. The Agent May Life Model Decoy is completely on its own without any knowledge of its true purpose so it’s highly possible that this will end up blowing up in his face. It is confirmed that the May LMD is only aware of its mission on a subconscious level so will go after its goal without knowing that it’s doing so. That basically means that the team have Agent May among them until the point she can get her hands on the Darkhold.
It’s entirely possible that the May LMD could become a sympathetic character despite the fact that she isn’t sentient. She mentions that something feels off and seems genuinely concerned when an injury causes her to discover her internal workings. All of these emotions are artificial buit it’s still difficult not to sympathise with the fact that she is being used as a tool and nothing more.
The real Agent May is having troubles of her own when her brain is hooked up to a simulation to keep her from trying to escape. Dr. Radcliffe’s first attempt doesn’t work because they choose a spa as the setting but May would never feel comfortable there so her brain rejects it. Dr. Radcliffe correctly concludes that May is more comfortable with conflict than relaxation so the simulation will be adjusted accordingly. I wonder if we’ll get to see May experiencing that in future episodes.
Aida 2.0 seems to have some problems that need to be worked out. Dr. Radcliffe mentioned that his plans had to change because the first model made a mistake by killing Agent NAME and it seems that this version has the same problem. She seems far too quick to resort to lethal methods and move beyond her peaceful programming. I would say this is a flaw in her programming rather than any suggestion of sentience but it’s interesting that Dr. Radcliffe’s earlier models would have those kinds of problems. In a way she’s following her programming too precisely to the point that she runs amok and causes problems.
It’s important to remember that Dr. Radcliffe isn’t a bad guy in the strictest sense but he is a deeply flawed one. He has been completely blinded by his convictions and his ambition to the point that he’s willing to do anything that will achieve what he thinks is “the greater good”. This does put him in opposition to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team but his desires are still somewhat understandable.
The truth will come out at some point especially now that Fitz has downloaded the data from the severed Aida head for analysis so will discover that she never became sentient. Unless of course Fitz has been replaced with a Life Model Decoy which is defintely possible since he was alone with Dr. Radcliffe. You heard it here first if so.
One notable weakness this episode had was the execution of the action. It wasn’t very well done nor was it especially exciting. Coulson and Mace defending the Ranger station was bereft of any tension and Mack’s contribution with Daisy and LMD May wasn’t all that exciting either.
Another strong episode with a reveal that was both surprising and logical. There was no reason to doubt Mace’s status as an Inhuman before now so the reveal really worked. The reasoning behind it was well done as well as we got different sides of the issue. Mace’s bravery in the face of death showed that he was capable of being a hero when in difficult situations and this allows him to begin to earn Coulson’s respect. The changed dynamic could be interesting and it’s good to have Coulson restored to his position as Director with Mace handling the public relations side of things.
Simmons is really well used in this episode with her abuse of clearance to get the information she wants and the way she bluffs the prisoner into talking. Her disagreement with Fitz on what to do with the severed Aida head allows for both sides of the argument to come through while delaying the reveal of Dr. Racliffe’s involvment. Dr. Radcliffe continues to be compelling as he has been blinded by his ambiton and his convictions which makes him willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the “greater good”. I also like that there are clearly problems with Aida’s programming since she is very quick to resort to lethal means. The only thing that lets this episode down is weak and tension free action.
- a surprising reveal that also makes sense
- the changing dynamic between Coulson and Mace
- Simmons rising to the occasion
- Dr. Radcliffe continuing to be a compelling antagonist
- weak action that was bereft of tension