“The Man Behind the Shield” is episode fourteen of season four of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the previous episode, “BOOM”, although the Watchdog Inhuman (and what a contradiction that is) Shockley was captured by S.H.I.E.L.D., Director Mace was also captured by Ivanov’s men as he ran interference for the others so that they could escape the trap. Of course, Ivanov doesn’t know that Mace is actually not an Inhuman. The fact that Mace’s powers come from drugs probably won’t make Ivanov respect Mace; Ivanov seems to only respect abilities that are gained through hard work and dedication. Coulson’s plan to get Aida’s inspiration to help them catch Radcliffe failed, as the latter offered her a way of surviving her terminal brain tumour. At least, a virtual version of her will survive in the framework Radcliffe and Aida developed for Agent May. It didn’t look like Radcliffe made it clear that the real live person wouldn’t survive.
This episode opens with Coulson examining his arm before punching Daisy in the face. The two of them are sparring, but it turns out they aren’t sparring in real life, but in something Fitz calls a framework – just like Radcliffe does. The framework is a training simulation intended to help agents, but it appears that Aida has taken it even further. Fitz says he should be able to track down Radcliffe’s version by looking for the code – needed, because Coulson realised that May must be inside it. Mack is less than impressed with it, and tells Fitz he needs to think about what he’s creating, because both Aida and Radcliffe’s framework resulted from Fitz’s actions. Which does give him some doubts.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has tracked down the GPS from Mace’s suit in Alaska. Naturally, Mace isn’t there; what is there is a stalker-wall of pictures focused around Coulson. It’s been left as a clue so Coulson can continue towards Mace. One of the clues links to both Ivanov and Coulson, a mission from Coulson’s past where he had to recover an OA4 from a facility in Russia. A mission that May also came along on, resulting in much banter between the two, especially as Coulson’s Russian left a little to be desired. Clips from this mission occur throughout the episode, including the post-logo scene.
Ivanov himself, who is addressed as the Superior for the first time (looks like he is the boss of the Watchdogs), wishes to speak to Radcliffe, but it seems that the latter may have become a bit addicted to using the framework himself. Something which is a definite possibility with virtual reality. Ivanov doesn’t want to solely deal with Aida, as it seems he has little liking for her. What Aida thinks of Ivanov is a bit harder to discern. Director Mace is being used as bait, naturally enough, and it seems Ivanov does know about the drug, and as a result has less respect for Mace than he does for Inhumans. Ivanov has a very long-standing grudge against Coulson, and has built him up with a rather extreme conspiracy theory. Ivanov has his own idea as to what the truth is – which he wants Mace to admit to – and, like any good fanatic, has no flexibility in this matter. What he believes to be the truth is the truth. And that’s that.
More going on behind the scenes in this episode than can be spotted. Everyone knows that S.H.I.E.L.D. is heading into a trap, but what, exactly, is the trap?