Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Review - Demons, Decoys and Digital Realities | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Review – Demons, Decoys and Digital Realities

TV Editor Matt Dawson takes a spoiler-filled look back on the most recent season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Despite being one of the more overlooked areas of Marvel’s ever-growing Cinematic Universe, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been steadily improving over the past four years, and the most recent season is no disappointment. Fully embracing its comic book origins with the appearances of LMDs (Life Model Decoys – more on that later), alternative dimensions and the hotly anticipated revamp of Ghost Rider, even S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most loyal fans were surprised at the quality and consistency of season 4.

What makes this series stand head-and-shoulders over its predecessors is the slight change of format: the showrunners decided, due to real world events such as the presidential election potentially disrupting programming, to split the season into three “pods” – entitled ‘Ghost Rider’, ‘LMD’ and ‘Agents of Hydra’. These act as individual yet interconnected story arcs, before being all tied together in the last two episodes. This had the brilliant effect of trimming away the fat and getting rid of any “filler” episodes, one of the biggest flaws with long, 22-episode season runs of American TV shows. Now that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed for a fifth season, the showrunners would be mental not to keep this format.

Even S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most loyal fans were surprised at the quality and consistency of season 4
Opening the season with a bang was the Ghost Rider arc, with the aforementioned character being a different version to the better-off-forgotten-about Nick Cage version, instead giving Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) the spotlight. Aside from the obvious difference that his preferred fiery mode of transport is a muscle car instead of a motorcycle, Luna plays his role brilliantly, one that is centred around his Latino roots, a demographic that doesn’t receive attention in this genre of television. His relationship with his brother, Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie) adds a human depth to the character, which contrasts to the moments when the demonic Spirit of Vengeance takes over. The CGI and special effects here are flawless, especially considered that they didn’t have access to blockbuster movie budgets. One of the most rewarding things about the MCU is it’s ever expanding web of connections, and the ‘Ghost Rider’ pod continues this with the Darkhold (a malevolent grimoire) and the supernatural aspects introduced via Doctor Strange – despite this relationship between film and TV being very one-sided.

Probably the weakest story arc, yet practically without fault, was ‘LMD’. This pod explores the interesting concept of paranoia within the team, as the LMDs are extremely lifelike androids that leave the characters, and audience, guessing who are the doppelgangers. While not exactly breaking new grounds thematically (anyone familiar with the sci-fi of Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov knows what to expect here), it gave the cast to show off some of their best acting yet. Some stand-outs were Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) as she plays a conflicted android version of her character, and the dynamic between Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), as their relationship goes way beyond the cheesy levels of drama as seen by their counterparts on certain rival CW shows to become the lynchpin of the season.

The third, and probably most emotional storyline, was that of ‘Agents of Hydra’ – a Matrix­-esque alternative reality where the events of earlier seasons never took place and the world is controlled by an evil Hydra dictatorship. Set in a horrific virtual computer programme known as The Framework, the writers introduced this ‘What If?’ scenario in a conceivable way, and again, it was arguably handled better than its CW counterpart ‘Flashpoint’. This final third featured some particularly strong performances from newcomer Jeffrey Mace (Jason O’Mara) as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the heroic leader of the resistance, Fitz as a chillingly evil version of his character and Mack (Henry Simmons), who’s touching story with the daughter he never had is bound to bring a tear to anyone’s eye. Brett Dalton maintained his tradition of coming back to play a slightly different version of his character Grant Ward, but this was done naturally, and he had a heroic redemption that didn’t feel forced.

There were several unaddressed points left hanging by the finale
But probably the most impressive of all the acting was that of Mallory Jansen. Eventually transitioning to become the main series villain, her character AIDA (Artificial Intelligent Digital Assistant – this show really likes their acronyms) began as the eerily robotic original LMD, based on an ex-lover of her creator Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) before the robot is corrupted by the Darkhold. This lead to a dramatic shift as she used the Framework to resist her programming, installing herself as the despotic Madame Hydra, leading to her final rebirth as the “human” Ophelia. Jansen reaches almost Orphan Black-levels of the same actress playing different characters, and her evolution mirrored the story progression throughout the pods. Jansen’s final incarnation gave us a convincing overall villain that tied most of the seemingly disparate plot threads together, she did a better job of showing nightmarish Artificial Intelligence than Age of Ultron ever did and her petulant mood swings were some of the most terrifying scenes in the series.

Mallory Jansen gives a chillingly layered performance as the season's antagonist

Of course, there are some slight downsides in the fact that there were several unaddressed points left hanging by the finale. Some of them originated within season 4 itself (such as the fate of The Superior and Vijay Nadeer in his cocoon), whereas others have been left from earlier on that fans were hoping for more answers (like the return of Ian Quinn and Graviton, and the whereabouts of Agent Blake and his connections with the Watchdogs). Fortunately, however, the series has been renewed for another season in 2018, so here’s hoping that the showrunners will provide some long-awaited answers.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has received its best run yet with season 4. The characters have developed and come a long way since the beginning, and the people behind the camera have proved more than capable handling some of the more extreme elements such as Ghost Rider and alternative virtual realities that many initially doubted. The gap between season 4 and 5 is larger than anticipated, and the show provided a baseline for quality from Marvel TV (both from ABC and Netflix). But with the arrival of The Defenders and Inhumans to come in August and September respectfully, here’s hoping that it won’t be too painful.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Final year Modern Languages student, TV Editor, using student journalism as a post-Erasmus coping mechanism. (@mdawson_96)


2nd August 2017 at 10:30 am

Images from

ABC, Screenrant, ABC and Entertainment Access