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Recap / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S4 E14 "The Man Behind the Shield"

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Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. race to find May and Mace, and Coulson finds out that everything the Superior has been responsible for is a result of a mission he carried out years ago.


Tropes in this episode:

  • The Art of Bra Removal: In the flashback, May recounts a time that she and Coulson were Undercover as Lovers and it took him over two minutes to get her bra off.
    Coulson: That was an act! For the cameras! I was trying to be a gentleman.
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  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Ivanov is quite skilled in combat, easily taking down Jeffrey and even briefly holding himself against a power-using Daisy. Aida humors him by seeming to take his threat seriously when he tells her to unhand himself unless she wants to lose her hand.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Coulson and May in the flashback, something Coulson himself lampshades while distracting the Russians. They were flirting way back then, and both floated the possibility of hooking up if her current relationship didn't work out. Unfortunately, she was dating Andrew at the time.
  • Big Damn Heroes; Coulson and Mack rescue Jeffrey while he is receiving a pretty brutal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from Ivanov's goons.
  • Big Entrance: Daisy announces her arrival by blowing apart the blast doors to the room Ivanov has confronted Coulson in.
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  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A rare heroic example. Coulson tells Ivanov that he has no personal meaning to him, he doesn't know who he is, and the mission that has formed the basis for the Superior's obsession with Coulson was merely one of hundreds he'd carried out and he can't even recall what the 0-8-4 was that he and May were sent to retrieve. He delivers it just as cruelly and arrogantly as the villains usually do. Bonus points for this case of the trope involving Ming-Na Wen, participant in the original Trope Namer.
  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: During the final flashback scene, Coulson and May are indirectly flirting with each other.
  • Call-Back: Multiple during the flashback scenes:
    • Coulson suggests telling the approaching Russian agents that there's a biohazard and they need to clear the area. "Bio's always good."
    • May talks about her latest civilian boyfriend, a shrink — almost certainly Andrew Garner.
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    • Coulson and May needle each other over their respective S.H.I.E.L.D. Academies (Coulson was Communications, May was in Ops), referencing what we saw of the Academy system way back in Season One.
  • Call-Forward: In the earlier flashbacks when Phil Coulson was a much lower level field agent, May criticizes his inability to maintain eye contact when telling a lie, suggesting he wear sunglasses. Aviator shades would be a trademark of the character from at least Thor on.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Aida rescues the critically injured Ivanov because he's still of some use.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Two examples:
  • Combat Pragmatist: Daisy isn't shy about using her powers against Ivanov, making an otherwise challenging battle a Curb-Stomp Battle for her once she gets pissed enough.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Ivanov is convinced that Coulson has been running a decades-long plan behind the scenes to render Earth vulnerable to alien threats. Mace seems flabbergasted that Ivanov could be that stupid, while Coulson seems mildly amused.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Ivanov became what he is because he encountered Coulson when the latter was a rookie agent on a mission.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: No matter how much of a Badass Normal Ivanov is, it's quite clear from the beginning how much out of his league he is against Daisy. She briefly stops using her powers, making the battle a little even for a short while, but then seriously injures him with another shockwave.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ivanov was obviously quite attached to his old unit, referring to them as his "brothers".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While not quite "evil" per se, even a self-proclaimed non-judgmental AI like Aida is thoroughly disgusted by Ivanov and his pointlessly brutal actions, calling him filth, and looks clearly pleased Daisy's beatdown left him near death.
  • Freudian Excuse: Ivanov's hatred of people he feels have had power given to them instead of earning it came from being a boy in the Soviet Union who watched his father kowtow to another man just because that man's father was a rich aircraft designer while his father worked hard for little pay as an oil drill operator.
  • From Bad to Worse: At the start of the episode both May and Mace are in enemy hands. By the end of the episode, they're still in enemy hands, but now along with Coulson, Mack, and Daisy, and these five now have LMD replacements who have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. The only plus side is that the Watchdogs side of the enemy faction seems to have been dealt a crippling blow, although Radcliffe's Framework is now growing, so effectively he's getting stronger.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: When Fitz is worried about Simmons going after Aida on her own, she counters by saying she'll take one Agent Davis with her. Fitz says that only makes him feel slightly better, to which Davis — who's standing right in the doorway — gives a deadpan "Thanks".
  • Internal Reveal: The Watchdogs learn that Mace isn't really Inhuman.
  • Ironic Echo: Ivanov constantly threatens and looks down on Aida, at one point telling her "Even filth has a purpose". At the end of the episode, Ivanov is unconscious and at her mercy, and she whispers those very words into his ear.
  • Irony: As Jeffrey points out during the interrogation, Ivanov is making up conspiracy theories about Coulson while having orchestrated one himself against the Inhumans.
  • It's Personal:
    • Ivanov hates Coulson because his unit was punished for failing a mission due to Coulson's interference.
    • Daisy is more than happy to hand Ivanov a beatdown for his role in creating the Watchdogs.
  • Just Think of the Potential: Mack accuses Radcliffe and Fitz of being so blinded by this that they forgot to consider their inventions' potential for misuse.
  • Kirk Summation: Coulson delivers a nice one to the Superior in Evil Plan.
    Coulson: As far as I'm concerned you're just another redshirt, like so many others, who tried unsuccessfully to stop me from saving the world. 'Cause that's what I do. So cool origin story, bro. But this means nothing to me.
  • Knife Nut: Ivanov shows off once again how skilled he is with knifes, both in combat and for torture.
  • Literal Metaphor: Coulson says Ivanov seems to have "more than a few skeletons in his closet." While standing in a closet in which Ivanov has literally left the skeletons of his former team.
  • MacGuffin: The 0-8-4 found in the Russian mine. Its sole purpose is to be something that S.H.I.E.L.D. and the SVR have to fight over. Coulson doesn't even remember what it was in the main storyline.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Coulson's Russian in the flashback scenes is... spotty. That security guard doesn't have "cats" or worry about their safety.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jeffrey is on the receiving end from Ivanov's goons; they pound him and then stomp on him, repeatedly, until he is unconscious and then continue.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Shown both during the flashbacks, when May rescues Coulson, as well as during the present, where the main objective is to get both May and Jeffrey home safely.
  • Not So Different: Mack is worried that Fitz might lose himself like Radcliffe in his scientific obsession, which greatly angers Fitz. Simmons later assures him that they are actually Not So Similar.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mace when he wakes up and sees Aida looking at him. FitzSimmons' reaction upon learning that Coulson, Daisy, Mack, and Mace have been replaced with LMDs.
  • Origins Episode: Ivanov's, though not in a particularly obvious manner. He was one of the mooks that May beat up towards the end of the flashback. It's not even immediately clear to the audience which one, since they all have similar builds, looks, facial hair, and the scenes with them are shot in low lighting.
  • Properly Paranoid: Simmons arranged for the records of the base's LMD detector to be sent to her directly in addition to being recorded and stored. Turns out, good thing she did.
  • Reality Ensues: Ivanov might be a competent fighter, but he's still a non-powered human. Even though he briefly holds his own against Daisy before she cuts loose, once she does, he's almost killed.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jeffrey delivers one to Ivanov during his interrogation about how much good S.H.I.E.L.D. does and how little Ivanov himself matters.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Coulson tells Ivanov he's just another redshirt trying to interfere with Coulson's efforts saving the world.
    • Mack refers to The Framework as The Matrix.
    • When Simmons mentions the place being like a labyrinth, Davis wonders if they'll meet the Goblin King.
    • During the mission brief, Coulson tells the team that they need to be prepared for anything, even sharks with lasers.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Daisy gets one when he calls her a cheater for having powers. She counters that he's just playing by the old rules and uses her powers to collapse the ceiling on him.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Despite all the Shut Up, Hannibal! and Kirk Summation speeches he got, Ivanov persisted in believing his theories, even until his defeat.
  • Spotting the Thread: Even before she receives the LMD alert, Simmons realizes something was wrong with the mission because the timing of when everyone re-assembled didn't make sense, based on what the others reported they did and where they had been.
  • The Starscream: Radcliffe successfully turns the tables on Ivanov, and doesn't even have to lift a finger to do it. Ivanov's own actions lead to his downfall, then Radcliffe steps in to fill the void.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Even though he knows Aida is a superhumanly strong robot and literally saw her punch a man in the stomach up to her forearm, Ivanov still has the balls to threaten her. Twice. He also tries to best Daisy in a straight fight, assuming that she only relies on her powers and not realizing she was trained by one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the MCU. Result? He is critically injured and would certainly have died if Aida didn't still have a use for him.
  • Tracking Device: Director Mace's Patriot outfit is fitted with a tracking device. When the team locates the tracker, they find the suit, but not the man who was wearing it.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ivanov is clearly furious when Coulson tells him that, despite his Motive Rant, he's "just a redshirt". However, he doesn't go into a rage.
  • The Unfought: Between Coulson and Ivanov, justified given that Coulson has agents to deal with "red shirts" for him. (see But for Me, It Was Tuesday).
  • The Un-Reveal: The 0-8-4 that a young Coulson and May had been sent to retrieve from the Russian mine is never used, shown or described. Thinking back on the mission in the story's present day, Coulson can't even remember what it was. The effect is that the audience themselves don't really care about what the mission was about, giving the same reactions that Coulson has in the episode.
  • Villainous Valor: Despite being obviously at a disadvantage against Daisy, Ivanov still insists on fighting her rather than trying to even the odds somehow. He also does this earlier against Mace, though he insinuates beforehand that he knows Mace's powers are wearing off, and correctly judges that Mace doesn't have his level of combat training.
  • Villain Respect: Ivanov holds some degree of admiration towards Jeffrey for refusing to denounce S.H.I.E.L.D. even under torture.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The image on Simmons' screen that says "LMDs detected" when Coulson, Mack, Daisy and Mace are on screen. Then it follows with a second, "four detected". All four of them were replaced.
    • LMD Coulson reactivating LMD May.
  • You Have Failed Me: Ivanov's unit was punished severely for failing to secure the 0-8-4 before Coulson and May did. Ivanov holds Coulson responsible for it.

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