TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4 Episode 8 "Broken Promises"
EPISODE 9: "Broken Promises"
SYNOPSIS: Though Coulson and May are growing closer, Coulson remains unaware of the dark secret May is hiding beneath the surface. Meanwhile, Aida is unrelenting in her search for the Darkhold.
REVIEW: This time last year, we were just getting started with Agent Carter's second and final season. Now, with ABC not looking to fill the gap between halves, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back to capitalize on the momentum it displayed with the excellent Ghost Rider story arc. With the winter finale ending in a cliffhanger, we learned that the Marvel espionage series would devote the second half of the fourth season to the long anticipated LMD (Life Model Decoy) concept, something which fans of the comic book universe know far too well. While still juggling the Inhuman element introduced over the first three seasons, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seamlessly moves from the supernatural Ghost Rider arc to this more science fiction story centered on the villainous Aida and her creator, Dr. Radcliffe. Using the Darkhold as a connective device, the show doesn't try to start this second half with all new characters, which is the wisest decision the writers have made in a long time.
By not stretching either the Ghost Rider or LMD ideas over two dozen episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can devote a solid block of quality hours to tell a more vital and convincing story. Like any 13-episode cable season, this LMD arc doesn't have to pad anything and can give us the types of episodes that are of a much higher quality than many of last season's outings. The writers also capitalize on the strongest aspects of the show which are clearly on display in this episode. First off, we get a lot more Ming Na than we have in the past. One of the more talented performers on the series, Ming Na has been saddled with playing the stoic and kickass Agent May. She got a brief reprieve when she played a brainwashed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent using a mask of her face but now she gets to play in a larger sandbox thanks to the LMD version of herself. By introducing the Body Snatchers-esque plot element of the LMDs into the show, we now can see these actors cut loose a bit more than usual.
We also get to see the team back together. For the first half of season four, Daisy was a fugitive trying to redeem herself for turning on S.H.I.E.L.D. and her fellow Inhumans. I never quite bought into the story but thankfully she is back with the team where this crew can play off of one another's strengths and weaknesses. Clark Gregg is always at his best when he is surrounded by familiar faces which doesn't require Coulson to constantly be serious. The comfort level amongst these characters is back which gives the show a less forced momentum and makes them banding together all the more real. Because we now have two villains, one of whom we knew about and the other a bit of a surprise. Senator Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) is back as the anti-Inhuman voice urging on the Watchdogs and plaguing S.H.I.E.L.D. the storyline between Nadeer and her Inhuman brother doesn't seem to serve much purpose yet aside from making her more villainous, but we now have a tease that another big bad may be on the way.
The other villain is, alas, not Aida. From this episode, it may seem that all of the signs pointing at the first LMD as our new bad gal were nothing more than red herrings. Aida's fate may be sealed, but now we know that Radcliffe himself was directing his creation in service to the Darkhold. Radcliffe as a bad guy may seem a bit rote with the idea of a robot apocalypse on the horizon, but it also avoids the series from mimicking AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON too closely. There are only so many omnipotent androids that you can make your nemesis before it begins to seem stale. Nevertheless, Radcliffe was introduced last season as a bad guy and I never thought his turn towards the light would stick and it appears I was right. More than likely, Radcliffe's control over the LMDs will wane and he will either succumb to his creations or he will rejoin the forces of good to take them down. Either way, it bodes well for the series over the next half season. I just hope that the rest of the cast gets to enjoy the craziness of this arc since this episode was almost exclusively devoted to Mack making jokes about every robot-themed film or TV franchise you can think of.
I would anticipate that we will not be seeing too many new characters from here on out, at least none that will join the series for a prolonged period of time. Last season, we were promised the debut of the Secret Warriors faction led by Daisy but it ended up feeling like a waste of time. The only benefit of that team was the introduction of Yo-Yo who is getting more and more screen time thanks to her relationship with Mack and the charisma of actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley. As the newest member of the team compared to everyone else, Yo-Yo will remain the likeliest to die should a team-member have to bite the dust, but I hope to see her on most of the remaining episodes this season. If anything, she and Mack fill the void left by Bobbi and Hunter last year.
It still remains to be seen if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be returning for a season five, but this is certainly a promising start to what could be the final arc of the series. With ABC already in development on an Inhumans series, we could be seeing the last of Coulson and his team on the small screen. I am thoroughly enjoying this show consistently for the first time since the beginning of the first season. I would have liked to see more of Ghost Rider, but the move to a later time slot has kept this series edgier than it has been in the past which is good for viewers and the show's future. I just hope that the writers stay as far away from anything already tackled in AGE OF ULTRON and continue to give us an entertaining and original story.
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES: The obvious Ultron connection pervaded this hour.
NEXT ON MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: "The Patriot" airs January 17th - Separated from their team, Coulson and Mack discover a shocking secret about Mace, leaving all of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a precarious position.