ByTom Bacon, writer at
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Tom Bacon

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 is only four episodes in, and already Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson is making some pretty controversial decisions. His visit to Eli Morrow (played so well by José Zúñiga) launches him on a path that could potentially tear S.H.I.E.L.D. apart...


Setting the Scene

Agent Coulson at the wheel again! Image: ABC
Agent Coulson at the wheel again! Image: ABC

Everything changed for S.H.I.E.L.D. when General Talbot told the President where S.H.I.E.L.D. was based. From that moment on, S.H.I.E.L.D. was on a course that would ultimately bring them out into the open once again. Coulson made the difficult choice of stepping down, and recommended that an 'enhanced' person be put in charge — someone the public could trust. That person was Jeffrey Mace, played by Jason O'Mara.

Mace recognized that Coulson's team were too tightly-knit, and he realized that Coulson's judgment isn't always sound when it comes to the people he cares about. Mace broke Coulson's team apart, assigning each member to a different department, and had Coulson and Henry Simmons's Mack working as some of his best field agents. He still viewed Coulson as an invaluable resource, and as one of his top advisers, but Mace also demanded reporting lines and accountability.

Season 4 kicked off with Coulson rejecting that accountability in order to pursue Chloe Bennet's Daisy Johnson. With S.H.I.E.L.D. focused on 'enhanced' individuals, Daisy had gone rogue; her public campaign against the Watchdogs had led to her being viewed as a dangerous terrorist. Although the Director pulled Coulson off of Daisy's case, Coulson still jetted off to hunt her down.

Some Ominous Decisions

Robbie Reyes at *his* wheel! Image: ABC
Robbie Reyes at *his* wheel! Image: ABC

Episode 4, "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire", sees Coulson make some pretty tough decisions. He begins by successfully capturing Gabriel Luna's Ghost Rider — who, it's worth noting here, is a known murderer — but rather than bring him in, Coulson proposes an alliance. Coulson has his own agenda; he's more interested in the 'ghosts', and he's willing to use Ghost Rider to get to them. Here's the thing, though; he doesn't report this in.

By the end of the episode, Coulson has another ally — he's reunited with Daisy, and he's clearly intending to work with her too. You have to remember that, she's viewed by the public as a terrorist. She's one of the most wanted 'enhanced' beings on the planet right now, and even though Coulson is off the case, there's probably another S.H.I.E.L.D. team hunting her down even as he's teaming up with her.

A PR Disaster

Quake in action. Image: ABC
Quake in action. Image: ABC

Mack may have dismissed PR issues in "Uprising", but for Director Mace, the optics of all this will be a real problem. S.H.I.E.L.D. has a bad reputation; it's known for bringing Helicarriers raining down out of the sky in Washington D.C., and for playing the unwitting host to a conspiracy that nearly conquered the planet. S.H.I.E.L.D. has only just gone public again, and a lot of people — and governments — will be watching it cautiously, just waiting for a slip-up.

Now S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top agent (a former Director, no less!) is teaming up with a known murderer and a super-powered 'Robin Hood'. Sure, the decision not to report this in gives Director Mace the protection of deniability, but it's clear that Coulson isn't just expecting to keep the Director out of the loop.

Jeffrey Mace will not be happy. Image: ABC
Jeffrey Mace will not be happy. Image: ABC

Coulson knows that Simmons faces regular lie-detector tests. He still makes her part of his project, though, and the end of "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" makes it clear that Simmons intends to lie to the Director about what's going on. Coulson isn't just 'failing to report' — he's actively encouraging insubordination, damaging any chance of trust. All it will take is for just one person to report S.H.I.E.L.D. working alongside Ghost Rider and Quake, and the public mood will turn irretrievably against S.H.I.E.L.D..

S.H.I.E.L.D. has gotten a second chance. Coulson is risking all that.

Do the Stakes Justify This?

The Darkhold! Image: ABC
The Darkhold! Image: ABC

In Coulson's defense, as an ex-Director he's privy to a lot more information than most S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. This knowledge is ably demonstrated when he easily identifies the Darkhold, and reels off the book's history. He knows that the Darkhold was sought after by everybody from Daniel Whitehall to the Red Skull — although I suspect he's more motivated by the exciting idea of finding something even his mentor Nick Fury couldn't track down.

The Darkhold is big news. Coulson knows that it's already turned a bunch of scientists into insane 'ghosts', and he's likely familiar enough with the legends to know that's just a fraction of what it could do. From the looks of the promo for Episode 5, we're about to get more of idea about the immense and dangerous powers of the Darkhold. So Coulson understands that the stakes are greater than they've ever been before, and acts accordingly.

There's a very real problem with this argument, though. Coulson starts teaming up with these 'enhanced' assets before he knows that the Darkhold is in play. He recruits Robbie Reyes because he wants to get Eli Morrow to talk, and then randomly brings him along on a side-trip to battle the Watchdogs. He treats Ghost Rider like your standard registered asset, teaming up with him as easily as if he were working alongside Yoyo. It's true that, by the end of the episode, I actually think the stakes justify Coulson's decision. But Coulson is making this decision before the stakes are that high. His default is to act first, and seek accountability later; he figures that forgiveness is easier than permission, and continues to do his own thing, regardless of the consequences.

See also:

Director Mace is right not to trust Agent Coulson. In "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire", Coulson has taken his first steps down a very dark road - one that risks everything he has built. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all, though, is that Coulson doesn't seem to realize it. Either that, or he just doesn't care.


Was Coulson right to team up with Quake and Ghost Rider?

Poll Image: ABC


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