‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (Season 4): A Better Class of Criminal

If there was a major problem with the first arc for this season of Agents of SHIELD, it was that a compelling villain never really came to the forefront. Lucy and her fellow ghosts were more laughable than threatening, and the relationship between Robbie and his uncle Eli never felt fully developed, not enough to make us care about the familial conflict between them. Ghost Rider was a cool character, but it would’ve been nice to see him fight a grander foe.

Fortunately, as the show moves into the LMD arc and refocuses on the core team, it seems that we’re finally seeing a better class of Big Bad return to the show. The team is faced by three major threats on two unknowingly united fronts, and each of these characters brings a unique menace and energy that fits in perfectly on a show ready to return to its spy roots.

Because make no mistake, while Agents of SHIELD has found success in the wilder sci-fi and dark horror of the past couple seasons, the show has honestly never been better than in the first half of its second season. After the fall of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the show threw the team into the deep end in a war against Hydra that was entirely built on spy games, subterfuge, and double crosses.

This isn’t to say that the show has been bad since the introduction of the Inhumans, but the espionage focus was what most set Agents of SHIELD apart, offering a specific sort of storytelling not available anywhere else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As such, it’s hard not to see the show get back to big secrets, hidden identities, and undercover infiltrations and not feel excited for the series again.

Getting back to the villains, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the show is offering some of its best of the whole series, ones that manage to tie the sci-fi and spy elements together so smoothly. Senator Nadeer finally puts a compelling face on the Watchdog/anti-Inhuman threat, with her motivations going far beyond simple hatred and intolerance. Whatever her brother’s specific power set is, just the fact that he’s Inhuman is enough for her to turn on him, and it shows how dedicated to protecting humanity from the perceived threat of the Inhumans she is. She’s a monster, but a compelling one.

Radcliffe, meanwhile, is another complicated figure. He falls into the classic “mad scientist” mold, but he legitimately believes that what he’s doing with the Life Model Decoys is for the good of humanity. It ties back to his introduction last season as a transhumanist, while also allowing him to be motivated by – in his eyes – a noble goal. Plus, this is a character that did seem to genuinely value his friendship with Fitz, meaning he’s at least somewhat conflicted by what he’s doing. Of course, he clearly values his scientific ambitions more, but his ties to the team make him a villain as instantly engaging as the traitorous Grant Ward.

And while Aida may not be sentient and influenced by the Darkhold, she remains a force to be reckoned with. There’s certainly more to her than even Radcliffe suspects, as she’s not afraid to reinterpret his orders as needed to justify any action. Moreover, she’s actively torturing/manipulating May within a mental prison, which is perhaps the darkest thing happening to any character on the show right now.

Overall, the show’s gone from a lack of compelling villains to an abundance of them, and I can’t wait to see how these storylines develop throughout the rest of the season. I’m sure the show has more than a few twists and reveals left to throw our way.