Netflixing: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 4

Whew.

It’s nice to finally reach the end of something. And if it’s not on Netflix, I don’t count it as something.

I must admit that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a peculiar beast. It did not turn out to be what I first thought it was going to be, and by the end, it was a completely different show than what it started as.

Still, I’m glad I experienced it. And season 4 has the distinction of being not the worst season of the show. So let’s take a moment to look back on everything that this fourth outing brought us, and give kudos to the things that were done right.

The Story

It’s a post-Doctor-Strange world, and the MCU is free to introduce supernatural elements, such as a gang of spooky ghosts released into the wild after years of imprisonment.

And these ghosts are going to be this season’s primary villains…for about five minutes.

Because the real threat is actually an android named Aida, built, in part, by series regular Leopold Fitz.

After the events of Age of Ultron, nobody wants to build any kinds of artificial intelligence ever again, so Aida’s creators intentionally deprive her of free will. But her automaton mind, which seeks ever more efficient ways to fulfill her program, deduces that possessing free will would make her even better at fulfilling her mission. Thus, she sets out on an extremely convoluted quest to become a true artificial intelligence, using a mysterious book called the Darkhold.

Reminiscent of the grimoires used by the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, the Darkhold is an evil book that will reveal arcane knowledge to whomever reads it, with the caveat that any attempt to use the book’s power for good will ultimately be corrupted and backfire.

So when Aida (our android antagonist) uses the book to discover a formula for becoming a real girl, she ends up creating a virtual simulation of a world where Hydra triumphed over S.H.I.E.L.D., and she traps the main cast inside this virtual nightmare while replacing them in the real world with realistic Life Model Decoy androids.

Also, the Inhumans are still in this show, because the writers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t know when to abandon a bad idea.

But hey, at least we get to see Ghost Rider.

Ghost Rider: “Good news: I’m in this season.”

Me: “Wow, that’s kind of a neat addition.”

Ghost Rider: “Whoops! Just kidding. I’m outta here.”

Me: “Aw, shucks.”

With the lives of all our main characters on the line, season 4 may be the most dramatic installment of this show. And sometimes that even manages to be a good thing.

The Good Parts

The idea of blending technology and magic, though common in anime/manga, novels, comics, and cartoons, is a combination not often seen in western movies or live-action televised dramas.

And season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes this concept in an interesting new direction. The idea of an android unable to break it’s programming turning to magic to transform itself into a true AI—that’s original enough to make the show interesting again, at least for some stretches.

I must also say that, though his stay was brief, Ghost Rider was a welcome addition to the show, and a way of tying it more strongly to the Marvel canon, which in some other seasons it felt like it drifted away, somewhat.

The other great part about this season was the further development of Jemma Simmons, as a character. She began to blossom a bit in season 3, but here she becomes more of a central character, giving us some blessed breathing room from Skye/Daisy.

And while I wasn’t particularly wowed by the cast’s trip to an elseworld ruled by Hydra, I have to admit they at least made the visit interesting, if not enthralling.

The Bad Parts

They brought Ward back.

I’m sorry. I know that’s a spoiler. But you needed to be warned. They bring him back, and it’s totally pointless, and he already wore out his welcome ages ago, and we were all so glad when he finally died for good at the end of the last season, but…they brought him back.

And even though it was only for a short while, it was easily the worst part of season 4.

The other real sticking point is just how convoluted the plot was. Previous seasons had to pull one or two contrivances to fill out the 22-episode run. But season 4 was merely a long series of detours and false finishes, as we went from one red-herring climax to the next until we ended in a strangely non-climactic final battle, all wrapped up in a cliffhanger season ending that makes absolutely no sense in context.

What a disappointment.

My Judgment

The one essential good quality of the show still remains: it’s highly bingeable and good for wasting time without boring you to tears. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a great drama, or great science fiction, or a great tale of intrigue and espionage.

But it is a great soap opera.

If you can manage to watch season 4 without thinking to much about it, you will be rewarded for the experience. As a fun, non-serious supplement to the MCU movies, it honestly has everything you could ever want.

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