Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Season 4- Framing the Hydra

Agents of SHIELD is that really good comic based television show which not too many people are watching and it’s a damn shame. AoS has quickly become one of if not the best network drama currently being produced and season 4 was an example of a show once again getting better.

There will be spoilers to season 4 of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in this review.

I’ve been a big AoS fan for a while now (just in case you didn’t catch that in the intro) and the show deserves a lot of plaudits. In the age of cable based dramas dominating, it is nice to see a network produced show be as good as AoS is. What’s so great about AoS is their ability to do something different with each season which passes but also do something different within those seasons as well.

Season 4 followed on from the changes which happened at the end of the third season with Daisy being a vigilante and a newly demoted Coulson and Mack trying to hunt her down. This led into the first of three major story arcs which the season followed, which introduced the Darkhold, the one connection which linked all the stories together throughout the season but also to Ghost Rider (sadly not the Nick Cage rendition).

Robbie/Ghost Rider was a great addition to the first third of the season, adding a bad ass tweener who looked awesome and blurred the lines between right and wrong. The Darkhold story felt more like a Ghost Rider mini series with the AoS guys as guest characters and to be honest there is nothing wrong with that. If a show can introduce new interesting characters to the series then why wouldn’t you maximise that? When Robbie came back through the portal to deal with Aida it was a fuck yeah moment, the fact that Robbie was only in eight episodes before returning tells you what a great job they did of building his character.

In the background as the Ghost Rider story was taking place the foundations were being laid for what would turn out to be the best story arc of the season. It was great to see that Radcliffe had been added as a series regular as John Hannah was fantastic in the last season and he can bring a level of comedy which is hard to replicate. His creation of Aida and their relationship with Fitz was building in the background as the bigger story unfolded.

In the second third of the season you got the great story arc of Maybot undercover and Radcliffe’s scheming in the background to try and get his hands on the Darkhold. Radcliffe being propelled forward as the main antagonist of the story was welcome as he’s the sort of villain who beats his opponents with his intelligence rather than his powers or strength. What made Radcliffe such a tragic villain was that he was created by SHIELD when he was forced to read the Darkhold and was brought down by his own creation in Aida, not really a true villain, more one who has found themselves in unfortunate circumstances.

It was a fun arc as Radcliffe is a great character who above all else is a scientist and wanted to create something spectacular, greater than real life. He’s not an out and out antagonist but uses questionable means to get where he wants to go. The Superior being one of those questionable means and a more traditional bad guy who hates people who are different…and is Russian.

I enjoyed when Radcliffe had managed to switch out a number of the main characters with LMDs and we got that moment of who was and wasn’t an insurgent and the tragic moment between Jemma and Fitzbot. There is a massive degree of irony in the idea that Maybot was the one who saved the day, showing more emotions than regular May ever actually has in the show.

Two massive story arcs in a season would generally be a good showing from any TV show, to then add a third act and one which is better than the two which preceded is what makes AoS such a fun show to watch. Comic based shows and movies often dabble in the idea of alternate universes or timelines, the use of the Framework allowed AoS to do this and do it marvellously.

It’s an interesting concept that by changing one moment in someone’s life you can have such a major impact on how they end up, yet that’s where they went. By doing so Aida was able to change the world into a totalitarian state where Hydra ruled the world with an iron fist. It gave the audience great moments as we saw characters who we have come to know so well having at times wildly different circumstances and personalities within the Framework.

Coulson being a nark, Fitz being a twisted lead scientist in Hydra and the genius reintroduction of Triplett and Ward were all clever little switches to what was expected. I loved the use of Ward in the Framework, having him by the mole inside Hydra was a simple nod to what had previously went on in the series and once again the writers found a neat way of having Brett Dalton involved in the series.

The Framework worked so well because there was that level of danger that if you died within the Framework you died in real life. Mace was sacrificed for the cause to raise the stakes and with Aida actively seeking Daisy and Jemma there was always that risk that something could go wrong. It felt like the guys were playing against an opponent who was using cheat codes, you always felt on edge that something could happen because Aida was all powerful.

Speaking of Aida/Ophelia/Madame Hydra, Mallory Jansen was fantastic this season, a great addition to the show and in so many ways it is sad to see her go. She had to show such a huge range this season as her character grew more human based emotions. It’s interesting to see where she was at the start of the season where she is completely robotic to then see where she was at the end of the season when Aida became an actual human and showed a vast range of emotions when Fitz told her he wanted Jemma not her. It was brilliant how well the character developed over the season and the portrayal of receiving emotions which Aida had never experienced before, which when you think about it it must be pretty weird to experience for the first time.

In previous seasons the focus of character development has been more on Daisy and Coulson, this season looked to develop some of the other main characters, in particular Fitz, Jemma and Mack. Fitz’ arc in the Framework was very interesting as you saw how his relationship with his father could have been like if he hadn’t been abandoned by him and the impact that seemed to have on his character, now a brutal cold person instead of the lovely cuddly Fitz that we’re used to. Fitz’ disgust at himself when he came out of the Framework was completely in line with what you would expect from the character.

This season did a really good job of looking into Fitz’ childhood (or what it could have been) and whilst doing so also took a really strong look into the relationship between Fitz and Simmons. It’s cute how despite being in real danger Fitz can’t just play along but instead blurts out that he doesn’t want Aida when he talks about professing his love for a person. This season further cemented that Jemma and Fitz are most definitely the power couple of SHIELD, move over Coulson and May!

Mack is my favourite character and I don’t think there is another character who received a crueller run in the Framework than he did. It was heartbreaking to see Mack told that this world wasn’t real but see him refuse to live in reality because he wouldn’t have his daughter there was like being stabbed right in the face. Poor Mack, I don’t think the show has ever been so cruel to a character as it was right there, what made it so clever is that despite it being a ridiculous decision to make you can totally understand why he made it. They dangled the idea that Mack may never leave the Framework and he would be deleted as it began to shut down, which was heartbreaking, then we had the moment where Hope disappeared in his arms and that took our previous heartbreak and kicked it right in the nuts. I’m glad Mack made it out of the Framework but he was brutalised in there, it will be interesting to see how this affects him going forward.

AoS does a great job of interweaving different plots together seamlessly, to the extent that despite it being a 22 episode season it couldn’t feel like anything but. So often when a show has so many episodes there are a string of rest episodes where things go a bit slower, the plot isn’t really progressed and it very much feels like filler, AoS is the opposite as very little screen time is wasted. With every season which passes they try to do something bigger and grander and they try to tackle more and more and with each season which passes they achieve it. Having a season which has three separate stories to tell but tells them together whilst also being apart is quite the achievement.

A plot which barely wastes a minute of screen time, likeable characters who have good chemistry together, an ability to introduce multiple interesting antagonists, interesting set ups for the next season and multiple plots which get better as the season goes along, it’s easy to see why Agents of SHIELD is a really fun show to watch. I think it says everything about AoS that they are able to lose major characters like Hunter, Bobbie and Ward (to an extent) from last season yet are able to continue without missing a beat.

The saddest thing about AoS is that the viewing figures are mediocre at best, it feels like it is constantly on the verge of being cancelled and that in a way is incredible for a network show which is putting out near cable levels of quality episodes on a regular basis. I don’t know how long the show will be able to last but I hope they are able to get a proper send off (not the Agent Carter treatment) when it does because the series really deserves it.

If you are looking for more reading about Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD then check out my review of season 3.

So what did you think of season 4 of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD? Are you wondering if we’ll see more of that hot head Robbie? Why did Coulson take that janitor job in space? Or maybe you just want to know why Fitz is such catnip for the ladies? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts.

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