Spoilers ahead for "The Man Behind the Shield," the latest episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The short version: Shady Russian Watchdogs Dude blames Coulson for all the aliens because he's apparently kind of dumb. We get a great flashback to an early mission with Coulson and May. Coulson gets some great lines. Oh, and pretty much the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. leadership is replaced by LMDs. Yeah, that's not good.
The good: Coulson and May's origin story, the Matrix, that final twist (whaat?!)
This episode finally brought the story of the Shady Russian Watchdogs Dude to a head, and they brought it all together with a story that proved to be the real heart of this episode: An old S.H.I.E.L.D. case featuring a much younger and less seasoned version of Coulson getting saved by a young Agent May. Turns out Coulson and May had a flirtation thing going on in the early days, and nearly hooked up — that is, until May met her future husband and the love connection was eternally put on the back burner. The tension between these two has been a slow simmer throughout the entire series, so actually seeing where it began was a great touch. Plus, we got to see a more bumbling, goofy version of Coulson. Sure, he's still a little goofy, but dude has seen some things these days. Considering the way they've threaded the relationship between Coulson and (well) the LMD version of May the past several episodes, it seems that story will continue to be central to the season. Just not in the way anyone probably expected.
The Matrix parallels with Dr. Radcliffe's Framework architecture were pretty obvious from the jump, but they went all-in this week by having Daisy and Coulson sparring in what is literally the sparring program from the Matrix. Which, hey -- if you're gonna steal, just steal from the best and own it, which is what they did here. It'll be interesting to see where they take the story of the Framework. In itself, it doesn't seem like a nefarious invention. It's just when you start locking people in it against their will (like May) that it moves into a gray area.
Last, but certainly not least: That final twist. Coulson, Mace, Daisy and Mac have all been swapped out for LMD replacements. If you thought having one LMD in the mix was crazy with Faux May, it's about to go full-on bananas. By setting up those four key team members as sleeper agents, it'll turn the spotlight on Fitz and Simmons to try to solve this problem without their typical support network. Who will they turn to for help with literally the entire team now off the board? Now that's a story we want to see told.
The bad: The Coulson conspiracy, Shady Russian Watchdogs Dude, Mace's fate
We learn the origin story of that Shady Russian Watchdogs Dude this week (complete with a mysterious 0-8-4!), and it turns out he has a bloodlust for Coulson because he was a redshirt (Coulson's word, not ours) on an early mission. Which is apparently why he thinks Coulson is the secret mastermind behind all the alien insanity that's happened the past decade. Which is, you know, really stupid. They have let the Watchdogs story string out far too long, and they're about as generic a baddie you could have. They're faceless racists. Which has the potential for some interesting allegories, but they're not really doing that. They've been teasing out a mysterious leader pulling the strings for way too long. At this point, it better be Red Skull back from the dead to make for payoff. Most likely? It's some version of Agent Ward, just to get Brett Dalton back in the cast. Or something.
So, let's get this straight: The Watchdogs capture Mace, something they make a really big deal of, and they just lock him up in a Russian gulag and randomly beat him up. This is supposed to be a terrorist organization that thrives on chaos and discrediting the powers that be. So, instead of putting Mace on camera, they just keep this little kidnapping under wraps and let Mace live long enough to get rescued. Hey, we're glad the dude's alive, but this is an epic fail for the watchdogs. If these guys are this dumb, how have they not been defeated yet?
Aside from the obvious storyline of Fitz and Simmons vs. literally everyone else, we also get a dose of Fitz dealing with the ramifications of the technology he's created. Mack (before being replaced as a robot pod person) drops some tough love on him. How will this experience change Fitz?
So Coulson's LMD is turning the May LMD back on. This is going to get really weird, really quickly. We are so in.
Lines of the night
"You should try sunglasses." -May
"Trap doors, sharks with lasers, who knows?" - Coulson
"Cool origin story, bro." - Coulson