Season four of Agents of SHIELD is possibly one of the most interesting in the show’s history so far. Previous seasons have split their stories into some very clear arcs before, with each season becoming more and more distinct, but season four took the bold move of squeezing three very different, yet interconnected arcs into the show. With so many different episodes to choose from, it’s proven harder than previous seasons to pick out the five best.
5. Episode 1 – ‘The Ghost’
The big draw for the fourth season was the introduction of Ghost Rider to the MCU. A character that has always had something of a niche following, yet has become iconic over the years – in some part thanks to the recent Nicholas Cage films – and he makes for an interesting addition to the MCU.
With the films embracing the more mystical aspects of comics, thanks to Doctor Strange, it was only a matter of time until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did the same. Rather than the bright and colourful visuals that Doctor Strange employed, the series took on a much darker tone; darker than anything it had done before. The slow build-up to Ghost Rider and his vicious pursuit of street criminals is, at times, downright frightening. This characterisation is coupled with frankly brilliant visual effects when Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) transforms.
Despite having had super-powered people in the show since the very beginning, there’s something extra special about having a full blown superhero and a lead in their own comic on the same screen as these heroes.
The episode also adds some other new characters into the trimmed down main cast, with Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and Radcliffe (John Hannah) taking on regular roles, as well as the introduction of the Life Model Decoy Aida (Mallory Jansen). With plenty going on, a brilliant introduction to an iconic character and mystery for what is yet to come, ‘The Ghost’ proves to be an incredibly effective season opener.
4. Episode 18 – ‘No Regrets’
The ‘Agents of Hydra’ arc of season four would have been easy to make into a throwaway thing with the events inside the framework having little impact upon the real world. Yes, there is the question of how the changes in the characters’ personalities within the simulated world would effect them once they get out, especially a character like Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), who has become a coldblooded killer, but so far nothing seems to have any real consequences.
All of that changes in ‘No Regrets’ when Director Mace (Jason O’Mara) sacrifices himself inside the framework, dying in the real world as a consequence. Mace and his team infiltrate a Hydra facility to rescue one of his agents, the surprise return of B.J. Britt as Triplett, only to discover children being held for ‘reeducation’.
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Throughout the season the audience were made to distrust Mace, suspecting him of being up to no good, then we liked him for being an InHuman willing to put himself in the limelight to protect S.H.I.E.L.D., to hating him for being a fraud. So here, where he doesn’t even remember his old life and the mistakes that he has made, he becomes the hero that he always wanted to be. He gives his life in order to save innocents. The saddest part, as well as the loss of Mace as a character, is that the people he saved don’t even really exist.
It’s hard to believe from his first introduction that you’d be sad to see the character go, but the loss of Mace is an incredibly touching moment, one that shocks and hammers home just how much danger the rest of the team is in.
3. Episode 21 – ‘The Return’
Our heroes are finally out of the simulated prison of the framework, but are far from out of danger. The episode manages to pack a lot of action and developments into its run time. Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) are trapped inside the oil platform at the mercy of an army of Ivanov (Zach McGowan) LMD’s, Yo-Yo discovers the devastating truth about Mack’s (Henry Simmons) past and the loss of his daughter, Aida tries to be a hero before becoming a crazed villain, and Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) must examine the damage to their relationship.
With the season so close to the end it’s amazing that the show is still pulling twists and turns at such a late stage, with the team having to come back together, capture the villain, face off against the military, and having to make a daring escape all in a 45 minute run time.
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Aida continues to prove herself to be one of the more interesting villains the show has had, presenting the audience with unseen qualities as she discovers what it’s like to be a living, breathing being for the first time. Her journey since her introduction at the start of the season has been a shocking one, full of twists and turns that were almost unpredictable, and she’s all the better for it.
The episode ends with a set-up for the finale as the broken remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. desperately try to stay alive long enough to end a threat they themselves made. The most exciting moment in the episode, however, might just be the sudden return of Ghost Rider, ready to go into battle against Aida and Ivanov.
2. Episode 15 – ‘Self Control’
Since the introductions of the LMD’s it was only a matter of time until the series played ‘who’s the robot?’. It might be a sci-fi trope for characters to get switched out for evil replicants, but boy does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. do it well.
While the episode tells the audience up front that Daisy (Chloe Bennett) isn’t an LMD, the fact that they keep you guessing over Fitz and Simmons is a great touch, and one that leads to an incredibly tense and chilling scene as the two of them turn on each other. This is what makes the episode great, seeing our heroes as villains, taking down their team from the inside whilst those who haven’t been replaced have no idea who to trust.
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The action in the episode is really good too, with the fight between Daisy and the fake Mack and Coulson being one of the the more brutal fights the season has given us so far. We’ve become used to Daisy being the tough, almost unbeatable agent, so seeing her struggle against robots makes for a refreshing change, plus the destruction of the Mack LMD is a moment of stunning effects work that shows off just how far the show has come.
LMD May might just be the standout of the episode, though, with her arc coming to a very satisfactory conclusion as she goes against her machine programming, remaining true to the person she believed she was. It might be a little sad to realise that we haven’t really had May in the series since the first few episodes, the emotional confrontation between her double and the fake Coulson more than make up for it. An incredibly well made conclusion to the LMD arc as the season moves into their ‘Agents of Hydra’ story.
1. Episode 22 – ‘World’s End’
As good as the penultimate episode of the season, ‘The Return’, is, and how much it managed to pack into the episode, ‘World’s End’ easily has it beat.
The return of Robbie Reyes helps to tie the final episode in with the beginning of the season, and brings together the supernatural and technology in fun and interesting ways. Whilst Aida might have started off as a machine, she used magic to help bring herself to life, and magic has consequences.
Ghost Rider coming back to balance out the universe for Aida’s manipulations is a really clever concept, and the added bonus of a Ghost Rider Coulson makes this the best episode to feature the character. Despite how far they have come since the beginning of the season it’s great to see Daisy and Robbie working together again, and raises the hope that he might one day return for further team-ups.
As well loads of action, the episode manages to cover a lot of emotional ground, bringing the team back together following the events of the framework and reinforcing how much of a family they have become, and how much they need each other. This is most obvious in the scenes with Yo-Yo and Mack in the framework as she tries desperately to save him from a world that’s falling apart.
The revelations that Mack loves his lost daughter so much that he is willing to give his life for just a few more moments with a fake avatar of what she could have been is heartbreaking, and the final tear soaked moments they have together is one of the most gut-wrenching the show has had. It shows a side of Mack that we’ve never been shown before, and sets up an incredibly strong relationship between him and Yo-Yo going forward into the fifth season.
Despite all of the emotional ups and downs of the episode, the return of Ghost Rider, the loss of Radcliffe, and all of the action, the episode manages one final mind-blowing twist in its final moments as Coulson and his team are captured by some unknown group, before Coulson wakes up on a ship in space. Season four might have included supernatural heroes, robot impostors, and their own version of the Matrix, but it already looks like season five will go in bigger, bolder new directions as the series continues to go from strength to strength.