“The Man Behind the Shield” offers some context to why Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan) has gone to all the trouble to create the Watchdogs and hunt Inhumans. Although racist, it seems Ivanov’s real problem isn’t with aliens or Inhumans but with the man he deems responsible for beginning the entire series of events (questionable logic at best) beginning with stealing alien tech from Russia years ago – Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Far from a true zealot, the episode downplays the villain as the show ends the episode moving the LMD storyline in a new direction.
An assassination attempt on Director Mace (Jason O’Mara) leads to the Director, Coulson (Clark Gregg), and Mack (Henry Simmons) being cut-off by the rest of the team and hunted by former Hydra agents. The return of (a well-funded but even less impressive version of) Hydra feels like a bit of a step back for the show. However, the episodes does include one important twist which will shake up the S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy and return Coulson to his rightful spot in calling the shots. As for Mace, even if his abilities were cooked-up in a lab, the man knows how to frame and sell a story. It doesn’t look like the public face of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going anywhere anytime soon.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. puts its Ghost Rider storyline behind as it moves forward with S.H.I.E.L.D. dealing with an out-of-control Aida (Mallory Jansen) who has replaced May (Ming-Na Wen) with an android, attacked and murdered agents, and invaded S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to get its hands on the Darkhold. Things don’t go exactly as planned for the android, who faces Mack (Henry Simmons) and all his anti-robot wisdom (from years of sci-fi movies), but the episode’s closing scenes show this storyline is far from over (and the android isn’t the one behind the search for the Darkhold).
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hits the halfway point of its season with “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” which wraps up the extended arc featuring Ghost Rider with a final confrontation between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) and the increasingly powerful Eli Morrow (José Zúñiga). The dire situation does call for S.H.I.E.L.D. to put all its meta-human resources in the field, and while Daisy (Chloe Bennet), Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), and the Director (Jason O’Mara) each have a part to play, in the end it comes down to Coulson (Clark Gregg) buying Robbie enough time to end the situation. The episode also has a odd piece of fan service with a mention of Ghost Rider’s previous host, which doesn’t seem to track with S.H.I.E.L.D. not knowing (and not believing) the truth about how Robbie’s powers work for almost the entire season. While a nice nod to fans, the scene seems completely out of place (as does the team’s bitch session about their boss in the middle for prepping to save Los Angeles from nuclear destruction).
Following the explosion in the lab, Coulson (Clark Gregg), Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) find themselves out of phase with our reality and presumed dead. “Deals with Our Devils” is an interesting episode as nearly every scene is shown twice, first from the perspective of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents working the case, and second from the ghostly pals trying to figure out how to make contact. In the end it’s the combination of two of the seasons new pieces, Aida (Mallory Jansen) and the Darkhold, which are put together to get Coulson and Fitz home. However, as we see in the epilogue, just because she’s and android doesn’t mean Aida will be immune to the book’s dark influences. Has the team created an even bigger threat?
After weeks “The Good Samaritan” finally reveals the origin story for how Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) became Ghost Rider. With a small cameo from the previous agent of vengeance (sorry, no Nic Cage) we witness Robbie make his deal with the Devil in mostly off-screen and completely underwhelming circumstances. It’s certainly not worth the wait. Just as disappointing is the episode’s twist make the ghostly scientist victims rather than the true evil behind the experiment (which raises all sorts of plot issues given their actions over the previous weeks). Adding to the tension is the new Director’s (Jason O’Mara) decision to try and bring Robbie and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) which puts him at odds with Coulson (Clark Gregg)… and the fate of the world.
“Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” begins to weave the separate storylines of the show’s Fourth Season together. Daisy (Chloe Bennet) reaches out to Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) for help finding the leak in S.H.I.E.L.D. which is supplying the Watchdogs the locations of Inhumans. Unwilling to let her injured former teammate follow the lead on her own, Simmons joins Daisy to warn an Inhuman in a move that backfires and almost gets both women killed. Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Mack (Henry Simmons) finally meet Robbie (Gabriel Luna) who agrees to help S.H.I.E.L.D. after learning his family’s history is tied to the ghosts now loose in the world (of course it is, because in Marvel’s TV super-hero shows apparently everything has to be three-degrees of Kevin Bacon or less).
“Uprising” continues the season’s trend to split the team, and focus, of the episode in several directions. This means the storyline with the biggest stakes (the life and death of a core character) is shuffled off to a subplot. Let’s be serious, at no point since her ghostly infection did Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even for a moment, make me believe they were willing to let May (Ming-Na Wen) die. And, because of the strong foreshadowing, the episode tips its hand far too much in just how Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) will save her as the blackouts effecting the rest of the country finally find their way to his lab.
Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins its Fourth Season with the Sokovia Accords firmly in place requiring all super-powered beings to be registered with the government. For Daisy (Chloe Bennet) that means life back on the run continuing to hunt down the Watchdogs. For S.H.I.E.L.D. that means increased funding, bureaucracy, and oversight and a new director who will go nameless over the course of the season premiere.