Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Debrief Season 4, Episode 14: “The Man Behind the Shield”

I wasn't wrong!

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Okay, okay, I’ll say it up front: I did say last week that this was going to be the last episode of the season. Turns out I was wrong (thanks, Wikipedia), and there’s actually another episode lined up for next week: “Self Control.” And honestly, with the way this episode went, I’m glad, because I have no hecking idea how this one’s going to turn out. Buckle in, kids, because things just got real.

Spoilers. Spoilers! It’s a recap. I don’t know why you’d read a recap if you wanted to avoid spoilers. But here’s your warning anyway. Spoilers!


Last week was kind of a “meh” episode, and like I said then, it felt a lot like it was mostly closing up loose ends in preparation for a solid final few episodes. We got some really solid payoff here in “The Man Behind the Shield” as the writers made pretty good use of intertwined flashback storytelling to provide context to current goings-on without slowing down the entire episode.

Fitz introduced the Framework to Coulson, Daisy, and Mack, the first two of whom had a bit of an interesting spar in a simulation of the training room back at headquarters. It got really Danger Room-esque in there, and it was pretty neat when Coulson froze time a bit after Daisy kicked him. Mack’s not cool with the Framework, though, and he opens up a real big ethical debate that’s actually quite topical for the tech future we live in now: “This gear has been used for some really bad things. You have to think about the implications of what you create.”

Of course, Fitz maintains that he only wanted to help (and he does, the poor guy), and honestly, for the rest of the episode he’s just wracked with guilt over wondering whether it was his fault that they’re in this mess. Though Mack is a bit of a luddite, he does have a point: there’s a time when one has to take some responsibility for the things they’ve created. While it wasn’t Fitz’s fault that his creations were corrupted into something so heinously destructive (we can thank Radcliffe for that), it isn’t too much of a stretch to understand why he’s feeling so guilty.

As Fitz and Simmons are tracking down where May can be, Coulson and Daisy head to Russia to follow up a lead: the tracking on Mace’s suit is still live. On arriving, they find a classic red string conspiracy board, all focused on Coulson.

aos s4e14 conspiracy board

A few episodes back, the Superior revealed that he’s hunting for Coulson because he believes it’s all his fault that the Inhumans and the aliens are “corrupting” Earth. Thus, vendetta (in that way that bad guy vendettas make a weird kind of twisted, bonkers, nonsensical sense).

From there, they find that they’re going to have to go back to an old Russian mining facility. It’s connected to Coulson specifically because—and here comes a flashback—it was one of Coulson’s first field missions. We’re shown that he wasn’t always quite the cool cat we’ve known him to be, and he totally fumbles through a lot of weird Russian mistakes with a guard at the mining facility.

aos s4e14 coulson cats

It’s kind of cute to watch him try so hard, and when things start to fall apart, he’s rescued by none other than May…

aos s4e14 damn may

… who is sporting much longer hair and a really sassy attitude. She’s still a newer Agent as well, and the flirting between the two of them is honestly the cutest thing. May gives Coulson so much shit it’s awesome.

Over at the bad guys’ place, Mace breaks out of his chains and escapes his cell. But on his way out, he’s stopped by some random henchmen and the Superior, who he challenges to a fight. Mace—at this point all wiped out and lacking serum—gets handled pretty easily by the Superior, and dragged back to his cell.

aos s4e14 mace cell

Back in the flashback, Coulson and May are trading verbal jabs at each other, poking fun at their behaviors during past missions and such. Apparently there was a mission where Coulson had to pretend to be May’s husband, and he had a heck of a time removing her bra in a show of intimacy between the two. Coulson said he was just “being a gentleman,” at which May (and everyone sitting at home) laughed and laughed and laughed. It’s totally excellent to see the two of them let go of the “super dark, super serious” attitudes they’ve picked up over the past couple of seasons, and they absolutely play off the whole humorously amateurish unprofessionalism of youth quite well.

In the present time, it seems the Superior is working to turn Mace, to get him to renounce S.H.I.E.L.D. and turn traitor. Of course Mace refuses, and the Superior tortures him (and we get to watch, oof) by slicing his chest up a little.

aos s4e14 n o p e

It’s a real tense moment, and it’s enough to prompt Aida to say something to the Superior after they leave Mace behind to think about things. They have a strange, creepy exchange about how “even filth has a purpose,” and the Superior strokes Aida’s cheek and honestly that just makes my skin crawl.

Over in Russia, Coulson’s visited the mining facility, so many years since his mission there with May (which was to pick up an 084, of course). In the vault where the 084 was originally stashed, Coulson and Daisy find three skeletons in SVR military uniforms. One of them has a cell phone in its mouth (which starts ringing), connected to the Superior. Apparently Coulson ran afoul of the Superior when he carried out this mission so long ago. The skeletons are the other members in the Superior’s old SVR unit, and they were tortured and killed when their superiors found out that they failed to capture Coulson and the 084. The Superior (note the capital s) feels Coulson is to blame for this, and… well, I said it earlier, but here it is again: thus, vendetta.

In fact, in a continuation of the flashback, Coulson is shown going out to intercept the patrol of SVR soldiers while leaving May behind to extract the 084. Coulson, still ever so awkward, doesn’t exactly sell it, and it all kind of goes awry when May makes a fast exit with the asset in the S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle, leaving Coulson behind. Ouch.

Back in the present, the skeletons’ uniforms were apparently enough to allow Daisy to track down where they may have been stationed, and there was one place in particular that seemed interesting enough (because it had a submarine dock, which they already knew was in play). As everyone gets ready for the touchdown, Simmons has a chat with a distraught Fitz, who’s still antagonizing himself over the fact that he feels like it’s all his fault.

aos s4e14 dont cry fitz oh no

That doesn’t sit well with Simmons, though, and she reminds him that he is a good scientist with a good heart, and that he shouldn’t let Radcliffe’s corruptions take that away from him. “Wrongs have been committed, and now we make them right. Together.”

Excuse me, I’m tearing up over this lovely ship. Phew. Okay.

In the flashback, Coulson’s black bagged and carried away to a truck, and we’re shown the Superior is the one who locked him up in the back. They start to drive off with Coulson, but their vehicle is sideswiped by another car. After making quick work of the unit, May ends up freeing Coulson. C’mon, you know she wouldn’t have just left him hanging, right?

So back in the present day, the Superior tries one last time to turn Mace. He refuses, and in a tiny twist, the Superior lets him go, saying he can respect someone who sticks to their truest beliefs. But when he opens the cell door, some other henchmen come in to beat up Mace in the Superior’s stead.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew on the Zephyr breach and make their way into the base. Coulson ends up coming face-to-face with the Superior, who basically engages in a villain monologue about how long he’d been waiting for that moment, all while spouting some real seriously bonkers conspiracy theory junk.

Coulson’s retort, though, was pure hecking gold: he shrugs and says he really doesn’t remember him at all. He calls the Superior just another red shirt Coulson passed by in his history. “All of these things you’ve done. All of the energy spent, the hatred. And you know what the funny thing about it is? I have no idea who the hell you are… You’re just another red shirt, like so many others who tried unsuccessfully to stop me from saving the world. Cause that’s what I do. So… cool origin story bro. But this means nothing to me.” Damn, Coulson. That’s some cooooold blooded talk right there.

It’s about here that Daisy shows up, quaking through the blast door. Coulson leaves, figuring Daisy would like to deal with the Superior (the head of the Watchdogs, mind you) herself. The two of them duke it out in a knife fight that would make Captain America and the Winter Soldier more than a little bit proud. In fact, I think Daisy must have studied some tapes or something and borrowed a move from Bucky—after a block, she drops the knife to her other hand and continues the attack.

Ultimately, Daisy ends up using her powers to knock the Superior back into one of the stone columns. She then brings down the ceiling on him, and he’s crushed by the rubble… mostly.

Mack finds Mace’s cell, where he’s still being beaten up by the henchmen. He runs in, shotgun-axe a blazin’, and he (along with Coulson, who shows up partway through the fight) ends up saving Mace, who’s just barely alive. Fitz and Simmons, meanwhile, come upon a communications room, and they surmise that it’s not high tech enough to be supporting Radcliffe’s Framework, so May must be held elsewhere. As Fitz works to extract data and find any clues that could help them find May, Simmons leaves him behind to chase down an Aida sighting.

Unfortunately her and Agent Davis are too late to stop Aida from escaping on the submarine. Simmons keeps commenting that she can’t get in touch with anybody, that their comms seem to be blacked out. But luckily, they end up reuniting with everyone as Fitz, Daisy, Mack, Mace, and Coulson find them all on the dock.

aos s4e14 mack mace coulson

Simmons still finds it interesting that she couldn’t get in touch with anybody. And when Coulson suggest that they pull out to tend to their wounded and “live to fight another day,” it’s extra weird.

Back at HQ, as Fitz is futzing with the data he extracted, Simmons still can’t get over the comms blackout and lack of response from anybody else during that part of the mission. She gets an alert on her laptop, which notifies her that someone had tampered with the LMD scanner, deactivating it just then. That’s not necessarily the bombshell twist, though, oh no.

Turns out that she has backup reports sent to her e-mail account, and guess how many LMDs the scanner actually found? Four. Daisy, Mace, Mack, and Coulson are all LMDs now. Everybody’s an LMD up in here, and guess who has two thumbs and was right to be paranoid about everyone being an LMD? That’s right, this girl right here.

In the after credits sequence, Aida looms over the Superior, who’s still alive. She says she still has a use for him, repeating his “even filth has a purpose” line that he originally directed at her.

aos s4e14 aida no aida stop

And, back at HQ, Coulson reactivates the May LMD, saying, “We’ve waited around forever. I think that’s long enough.”


Quick Hits:

  • Wow, what an episode. After the last one, which was—like I said—pretty “meh,” I got worried about the rest of the season. But this one has me squarely back on board for the ride.
  • I especially liked how they made use of flashbacks to add context. It didn’t slow down the episode at all, and it made for some really memorable moments.
  • Young Coulson and Young May are aaaadoooorableeee together.
  • Young May is apparently all facial expressions. And hair
  • Honestly, if I were in the room with them, I’d be that person who just keeps telling them to get a room already.
  • Has Daisy never read a comic? You never pronounce someone dead unless you’re like, absolutely, positively sure he’s d e a d.
  • Poor Fitz has been getting more and more teary-eyed every episode. But it’s so nice to see that he has Simmons and that their relationship seems as stable as ever. After the Aida incident, I really worried about them.
  • Everyone is LMDs and I cannot stand it anymore how will this all end?!

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Author
Image of Jessica Lachenal
Jessica Lachenal
Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.