The more things change, the more they stay the same. The "Agents of #Hydra" arc is coming to a close, with (most of) our favorite agents returning to the real world. But they've arrived to a status quo that will seem amusingly familiar to fans — Our favorite agents are on the run, hunted as traitors and publicly condemned as potentially dangerous terrorists.
What's gone wrong? Can S.H.I.E.L.D.'s reputation ever be recovered? And will S.H.I.E.L.D. ever be considered legitimate again?
As strange as it may seem, the "Agents of Hydra" arc has only taken a couple of weeks to come to a head 'in universe'. That means it was just days ago when S.H.I.E.L.D.'s headquarters went dark. Talbot came to investigate, and found it in ruins, devastated by a mysterious explosion. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had been anaesthetised, and in the prison level, Talbot found an army of androids based on Daisy Johnson. No doubt top scientists (perhaps even Tony Stark?) have looked at the androids and been bewildered by their quantum brains!
Talbot had long held concerns about the direction that Coulson was taking S.H.I.E.L.D., but he could never have expected anything like this. Surviving S.H.I.E.L.D. agents no doubt told bewildered, conflicted tales of android replicas and unfathomable orders. Unfortunately, this all happened shortly after Daisy had the world's known Inhumans moved to new locations, refusing to reveal their new whereabouts to the UN in a clear breach of the Sokovia Accords. Worse still, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s actions probably led to Talbot to reconsider the assassination of Senator Ellen Nadeer. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D. probably didn't even have time to report back on Shockley's involvement.
The final blow — Jeffrey Mace's body washed up on a beach, dumped after he died inside the Framework. Naturally, Talbot put two and two together, but the answer was far removed from four. In fact, this all looked like the most bewildering power-play that Talbot had ever seen. No wonder he had the missing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents declared terrorists, and started a global manhunt for them.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Has Other Priorities
Let's face it, though, right now S.H.I.E.L.D. has other priorities. Aida is still out there — now a deadly, powerful Inhuman with dubious allies who are about to put a doomsday plan into action. What's more, two of their number are still trapped inside the Framework, and the team have to work out how to extract them. Unfortunately, there are only two ways to do so; either they ask Aida for help, or Daisy goes back inside, and uses her powers to open the gateway once again. Neither option is a pleasant one to consider.
Sure, #Coulson managed to brief Talbot — but it was surely a disjointed, confused account. Coulson's still struggling with two sets of memories, after all, and doesn't know what happened after he was replaced by an android. What's more, how can anyone absorb a tale like this in one sitting? Android doppelgangers, virtual realities, androids using arcane technology to become human... It's the stuff of fantasy, and poor Talbot will be bewildered. While S.H.I.E.L.D. focuses in on Aida, he's going to be watching in frustration, struggling to understand what Coulson and his team are actually doing. Their flight from the ruins of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base will only look suspicious to Talbot, and the hunt will become even more fierce.
Should S.H.I.E.L.D. Ever Go Legitimate Again?
All of this leads us to the tantalizing possibility that S.H.I.E.L.D. will never go legitimate again. And, really, should it? Season 4 has reminded us time and again of the obstacles bureaucracy and democratic oversight have put in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s way. Senator Nadeer's ties to the Watchdogs have been a constant reminder that democratic oversight faces real problems if the politicians are themselves corrupt or bigoted. After all, who watches the watchers? Coulson had struggled to adapt to the political context he was having to operate in, which was why he kept Jeffrey Mace on in the first place.
Besides, Talbot's incredulity rings true. Who could ever believe a report from S.H.I.E.L.D.? I mean, picture some of the reports:
"That's not Grant Ward. It's his reanimated corpse."
"We believe Eli Morrow is stealing matter from another dimension. I'm afraid he's created a nuclear bomb."
"No, I'm afraid you can't bring Robbie Reyes to justice. I suppose he escaped, in a manner of speaking. I think he's in Hell."
"Yes, I know I said she was a killer android, but she's now a dangerous Inhuman. No, we don't know what her powers are; she seems to have duplicated the abilities of every Inhuman she encountered in a virtual reality world."
No politician, no straight-laced military man, could ever deal with these reports. Frankly, I strongly suspect that the only reason Nick Fury got away with an element of accountability for so long was that he kept so many secrets. Ironically, those same secrets probably allowed Hydra to thrive.
Whatever the outcome from #AgentsofShield Season 4, it's clear that things can't carry on like this. When it's all over, Coulson will face a difficult question; does he head back to Talbot, allowing the government to install someone else as Director, hoping they'll believe his insane story? Or does he instead go back off the grid, once again making S.H.I.E.L.D. a secret organization that protects the world even while it is hunted? Personally, my suspicion is that we'll see him take the latter choice — particularly given that it might even allow him to bring back some old friends, Bobbi and Hunter...
Do you think S.H.I.E.L.D. should still be a legitimate organization?
(Poll Image Credit: ABC)