MARVEL’S Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Seasons 4 & 5 (again!)
I had posted about seasons 2, 3 and 5 earlier, and was gonna post again as soon as I finished Season 4. But dammit, it was so good that I launched into a re-watch of Season 5 and it was totally fulfilling now that I had all the references and seen the full character arcs. The Netflix shows get most of the praise and the Cinematic Universe all of the money, but I daresay that AoS improves some of the weaker aspects of the MCU and even one-ups its big brother at Marvel Studios a few times, especially with regard to its villains, romance, representation and music. The show is also a bit more violent than the movies and definitely explores its subject matter more deeply.
Season 4 is broken into three pods–Ghost Rider, L.M.D., and Agents of Hydra. Gabriel Luna stars as the Robbie Reyes iteration of the Spirit of Vengeance, and there’s a nice hand off from presumably Johnny Blaze for those obsessing with continuity from the forgettable Nicolas Cage movies. The first pod has thematic tie-ins to Marvel’s Mystic Universe mirrored in that year’s release of Doctor Strange. The special effects of the Rider and his tricked out '69 Dodge Charger are movie quality. Reyes motivation is vengeance for his disabled brother, but the show continues the theme Coulson learned in Season 3 when the little brother says to Robbie, “That’s you. Don’t put that on me.” This gives the Season 4 an anti-hero more than a hero or villain. The MacGuffin introduced is the Darkhold, a book of soul corrupting magic that enables some mind bending and blowing technology. Set in East L.A., it’s a shame Ghost Rider did not become another Marvel TV Series as Gabriel Luna does a great job with the character (he’s now cast in Terminator 6), and it would have made a marvelous backdrop for a universe that often visits SF and NY.
L.M.D. stands for Life Model Decoy. The show runners held off on addressing this aspect of Marvel comics until after Age of Ultron, and they’ve crafted a far better villain in AIDA perfectly played by Mallory Jansen. Her arc goes from android, to ally, to crazy unhinged ex-girfriend Inhuman human that makes her one of the best baddies in the entire MCU. The shows takes on A.I. skin job robots differs from the usual tropes of the movies agent Mack often quotes (“Has no one seen Terminator? Robots always go bad!”) But it’s not that simple as these are designed by Dr. Holden Radcliffe, affably played by John Hannah, to protect humans by being an actual decoy for them like a bodyguard. The technology is made possible via the Darkhold book, but not all of them are bad, or programmed to be that way. Indeed, it’s the Melinda May L.M.D. who saves the day at the end of the second pod by truly modeling Agent May’s actual feelings, even more so than the human Melinda does.
The third pod, Agents of Hydra, sees most of the gang go into an alternate reality, but as before has a new twist to this Matrix style setting. Whereas LMD’s are artificial life forms in a real world, the Framework lets human beings live “forever” in an artificial world. This vision of eternal heaven from Dr. Radcliffe is again made possible by the Darkhold book at the hands of AIDA. Each entrant gets to erase a regret from their life, and it’s Melinda May’s Bahrain incident where she regrets having to kill an Inhuman girl that flips the Framework’s world upside down, once again installing Hydra as the reigning society. The shows social commentary in these episodes is relevant and on-point. The characters retain the memories of their actions and explores what-ifs, one of which shows the different arcs of Agent Fitz and Agent Ward to be heavily influenced by their father figures. So yes, Grant Ward is brought back again but is given a redemptive arc even better than Loki’s. And Fitz’ alter-ego of The Doctor becomes the big bad. Other characters develop traits that pay off in the next season, particularly Mac and Yo-Yo. Each pod has threads that tie them together, and Ghost Rider’s return brings the whole thing back full circle. Just when the last problem is solved, the season ends on a cliff hanger propelling us into the fifth season.
Season 5 is set in space. Mac’s movie quotes are now “Aliens? Haven’t any of you seen the
Alien movies. Aliens are always bad!” The first ten episodes take their time to set up, compared to the speed of Season 4, but the story is sharp. Alien villains Kasius and femme fatale Sinara would be worthy MCU movie villains, but they’re not quite as multi-dimensional as Ghost Rider, Ward, Aida, and Fitz’ The Doctor, as Leo Fitz appears to have developed a Jekyll and Hyde problem. Whereas earlier seasons centered on themes of fate and revenge, this one explores choice and utilitarian philosophical debates of ends justifying means. The needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the few, but can the few be sacrificed for the good of the many?
Fun episodes here are “Rewind” where Agent Hunter makes a welcome return, and the 100th episode “The Real Deal”, loaded with Easter eggs from past seasons for die hard fans. The finale ties in with Infinity War but also evolves a known character into the villain Graviton, perhaps one who could have defeated Thanos were it not for the gravitonium driving him insane. The resolution also dovetails with one of the main themes. Whereas the Avengers failed to defeat Thanos this time (and presumably need time travel to do it the next), the Agents of SHIELD succeed in their time loop conundrum. The last episode delivers a far happier ending, though not without its costs. It’s so dense and layered, I watched the last 20 minutes three times each time I view this episode, and it delivers an emotional wallop every single time.
Season 6 starts filming next week, but won’t air until after Avengers 4. Story wise this makes sense as it’d be difficult to pack 13 episodes into the hours elapsed between the third and fourth Avengers movies. While it’s exciting to see if Agents of SHIELD can once again up the ante, they’d be hard pressed to pull off another finale as good as season 5’s. It was planned as a series ending, but there’s just enough loose ends to pursue in another season, especially if some agents get “dusted” in the season premiere.