When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 began, fans were left with a mystery; why had the beloved Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson stepped down as Director? Because Season 4 is set six months after Season 3's climactic end, we didn't get to see his decision — nor did we see the transition, as Jason O'Mara's Jeffrey Mace took over. That said, dialogue through the series has gradually hinted at the story...
The End of Season 3 Changed Everything
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 saw S.H.I.E.L.D. working against the twin threats of Hydra and Hive, and frankly Coulson's overall strategy was a tremendous success. Unfortunately, towards the end of the season Coulson made a single mistake.
Adrian Pasdar's Glenn Talbot was acting as a liaison between Coulson and President Ellis (played by William Sadler). With tension building between the two men, Coulson chose to bring Talbot into the loop on the threat of Hive. In doing so, he revealed S.H.I.E.L.D.'s base. As a result, a high-ranking officer in the US military, who reported directly to the President, knew where S.H.I.E.L.D. was based.
The Sokovia Accords added a further complication. If S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't register its #Inhumans under the Sokovia Accords, then the US Government would be required to shut S.H.I.E.L.D. down. There were already rumors that S.H.I.E.L.D. and the US had reached an accord, and President Ellis simply couldn't allow them to continue unchecked if they didn't register. But in the event that S.H.I.E.L.D. did register under the Sokovia Accords, they'd inevitably be brought out of the shadows and given legitimacy once again.
The Problem of Phil Coulson
Director Coulson chose to register, and left the President with another problem. When S.H.I.E.L.D. inevitably went public, Coulson's life would be examined under a media microscope. With a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets now public knowledge, it wouldn't take people long to point out that he was confirmed dead, and the mystery of his resurrection would be a subject of intense debate.
Politically, Coulson's position was indefensible. In the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been officially shut down and US military task-forces had even tried to round up any loyalists as potential Hydra agents. Coulson had taken charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. in open defiance of the US Government's wishes, and ran an illegal organization that even deployed Enhanced metahumans in the field. There was no way Coulson could be left in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.; even a cursory investigation would leave Coulson and his core team facing criminal charges. It seems that Coulson himself made the decision to step down.
Enter Jeffrey Mace
A political journalist for International Affairs, Jeffrey Mace was on hand in Vienna for the signing of the Sokovia Accords when Zemo launched his terrorist attack in #CaptainAmericaCivilWar. Mace became something of a hero in the aftermath of the bombing, as he worked to save lives and make a difference. He already had strong political ties, he was popular with the public, and — most significantly to Coulson — he was secretly an Inhuman. Coulson met with the President, agreeing to step down, and proposed Mace as his replacement; he believed the new Director needed to be a trustworthy Inhuman, in order to help the public learn to trust the world's superheroes once again.
There have been some amusing nods to the comics, where the original "Civil War" led Tony Stark to become Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.; he was ultimately replaced, first by Norman Osborn, and then by Steve Rogers. Dialogue has suggested that, in the #MCU, Coulson would have preferred having Steve Rogers take over S.H.I.E.L.D. - but, with Rogers on the run after the events of the Civil War movie, this simply wasn't possible.
Of course, the irony is that Coulson didn't choose a trustworthy Inhuman. We know that Mace is hiding something — something about Vienna. That secret may well ultimately come to undermine Mace's leadership.
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The story is finally clear. Dialogue running through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has now told us everything we need to know; with S.H.I.E.L.D. becoming legitimate once again, there was simply no way Coulson could remain in charge. Jeffrey Mace seemed to be a wise choice and only time will tell whether or not he truly was.
Who do you think should be running S.H.I.E.L.D.?
(Poll Image: ABC)