Tuesday, 27 June 2017

TV Review No. 62 Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Series 4

Strong Points:
Great character development and payoffs of previous seasons
Three excellent arcs/pods which joined together
Great pacing
The Framework allowing for previous characters to return
What If? scenarios - showed how easy it could've gone the other way
Surprising twists and reveals
Aida/Agnes/Ophelia/Madame Hydra
Radcliffe's moral grey area
Good references to the MCU films
Ghost Rider got better...
Sharp focus...
Superb emotion and tension
Excellent acting
AI questions but with a twist
Pop culture references
Just more of what makes AoS great

Weak Points:
Some villains were underdeveloped
Arc 1 didn't quite live up to the other two
Difficult to keep track of LMD
Some character traits were thrown in randomly for later e.g. Hope
...After lacking some fire in the early seasons
...In the later episodes
No new Inhumans (or mention of Joey)

Note: as with last season, my rating may seem higher than the individual episode's ratings. This is due to AoS being a show where the sum of all parts is a lot greater than the individual stories given the huge story arcs. Also, I'm going to rate each pod as well as the season as a whole, as Season 4 definitely felt more like a collection of mini-series compared to the previous seasons (which had two major arcs each).

In-depth Review:
We started off this season with arguably the weakest arc (but still pretty good overall). I wouldn't call it filler, but the Ghost Rider arc definitely went through 'villains' as fast as I go through tea when writing these reviews, as if they were searching for the perfect villain. Of course, it paid off as they found one in Aida later on, but for this point, we just went through villain after villain like Lucy the ghost, who had just enough backstory to make me remember them. It's a shame, as a character like Eli would've benefited from the care of character development that Aida got.

We got a couple of cameos in this arc, most importantly from Hellfire, freshly depressed and against Inhumans after losing Hive's influence. Again, it's a shame his story stopped after one episode, but he's still alive so here's hoping. The whole Ghost Rider story-line grew on me, after seeming like a gimmick early on to get more viewers, especially as Robbie Reyes (and the budget team) finally got some of the fire needed for Ghost Rider in the later part of the season. His brother was great too and again I wish we could've seen more of him!

Mace was also introduced at the beginning of the season, and much like Ghost Rider he grew on me considerably throughout the season up to a point where I'd forgotten he hadn't been here last season. From originally being a Captain America type patriotic powerhouse (which I would've been fine to keep), Mace became more human as his Inhuman powers turned out to be fabricated (with a nice nod to Cal) and his real power was revealed - his silver tongue, leading to some great politics battles (AoS wasn't afraid to reference real world political issues) between him and Nadeer.

Now Nadeer seemed to be the main baddie of the season until of course she was blown up quite unceremoniously by Shockley. I'm not saying this was a bad thing, it kept the pace up and there wasn't too much left for Nadeer to do but it would've been nice for a conversation between her and Coulson first just to explain more of Nadeer's motives. Shockley, weirdly enough for being an Inhuman hater, was one of only two new Inhumans we got this season. The other was Nadeer's brother Vijay, who they've set up, again for more episodes later on (much like Gravity Guy and Iceman from season 1).

After Ghost Rider and Eli were pulled into the Dark Dimension, the LMD story-line started with a bang as Aida kills Nathanson after he spots May in a captured state. I'm glad they didn't go the route of Aida, after reading the Darkhold, suddenly gaining sentience and becoming evil a la any robot AI movie ever (as Mack pointed out throughout the episode). Instead, we had Radcliffe programming Aida to get the Darkhold, using the team's inherent distrust (besides Fitz) of Aida to escape suspicion free. Of course, it didn't work and we had to wait until Hot Potato Soup (with the return of the Koenigs) until Radcliffe could get his hands on the Darkhold. May had also by this time fully realised she was an LMD, and Coulson also found out after sharing an intimate moment - something which they play on well as he recounts his story to the real May later on.

The Superior was hinted at throughout the first part of the series, finally being seen in this arc and he was... Inconsequential. Originally, I'd thought they'd just run out of characters and had to settle for stereotypical Russian soldier, but then it turns out that AoS still had their intelligence as it was revealed that The Superior was about as inconsequential and uninteresting to the team as us, being quickly dispatched almost like a Red Shirt. He finished his transformation by the end as he gets turned into a clone army, which surprisingly still exists by the end of the series.

We end this arc with nearly the entire team being turned into LMDs (slightly confusing) and the remaining members of Simmons and Daisy hooking into The Framework to get everyone back, but not before we had a great episode where LMD May sacrifices herself and we get the always interesting idea of a team suddenly splitting sides and having to play against each other. Anyway, into The Framework we go.

Ah, the What If? story-line, a classic trope that allows for writers to experiment with familiar characters with less of a risk of backlash - it's an alternate reality after all. They did this with the utmost finesse and respect to the material in The Framework, a world where a few different choices made Hydra win and Ward good.

We all knew AoS would try to bring Ward back somehow, he's too great of a character to just forget, but it's nice they didn't just make it so that it was the 'Hive could survive nuclear explosions but left Ward to go to someone else and he somehow survived' scenario - much like with Aida's story they made a creative solution to the problem. I'm glad they did bring him back and used the What If? scenario to its full effect - exploring what would happen if Ward had met with Hands instead of Garrett. Basically, he would've turned more into Fitz (but still a double agent) and if Fitz had been brought up by his father instead of his mother he would've turned into Ward showing The Butterfly Effect in full motion. Also, Tripp was back!

Fitz wasn't the only one to change after he entered The Framework, practically all of them did. Coulson became a slightly paranoid teacher (with Clark Gregg playing a fanboy of The Resistance to perfection), May became a commander in Hydra to repent for the Bahrain incident turning into the Cambridge incident, Mack gained Hope back (wordplay intended), treating us to an amazing scene at the end of the finale and Simmons died. Great. Thankfully, only her counterpart in The Framework died before she entered but there was a moment where I thought that was it. That also happened in the last pod when 'Simmons' died but it turned out to be an LMD - seriously can they stop doing that to me. Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Mace, which is a shame as he definitely grew on me throughout the season, but at least he was able to be the hero he always wanted to be! *sniff*

Mallory Jansen was one of the standout newbies this season and for good reason - she had to play five separate versions of Agnes and she played it well transferring from a non-emotional robot to over-emotional toddler with ease. Aida and her counterparts were the payoffs for churning through the villains early on in the season, it gave AoS a chance to build up Aida's character and her relationships slowly and on the sidelines instead of exhausting her halfway through the season. John Hannah also shone as Radcliffe this season. Radcliffe has been the moral grey area in a genre which is normally black and white, always wanting to help people but maybe not doing the best thing to achieve this goal. His ending was also frankly amazing.

The final two episodes managed to tie all three pods together nicely, with a bit of an increased budget for special effects and actions scenes. Ghost Rider seemed to have been taking lessons from Wonder Woman in terms of slow-mo attacks and everything just looked more professional. With plenty set-up for Season 5, and an interesting hook of space to keep us, well, hooked, AoS has definitely hit its stride. Share this awesome TV show with friends or deserters from the first half of season 1, boy have they been missing out!

Conclusion: wow, that was a great season, wasn't it? Not much else to say.

Ghost Rider Arc: Rating: 87%

LMD Arc: Rating: 92%

The Framework Arc/Agents of Hydra: Rating: 97%

Overall Rating: 95%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. I couldn't list every favourite moment of mine, or I'd still be writing when Season 5 comes out. What was your favourite character, scene or moment? Let us know in the comments.

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