Major spoilers for the [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](tag:722469) Season 3 finale, and Captain America: Civil War follow:
SHIELD's battle with the Lovecraftian ancient Inhuman/Hydra deity Hive ended in dramatic fashion as reluctant agent Lincoln Campbell sacrificed himself to "fulfill his purpose" and jettison Hive and the weaponized chemical bomb (tweaked slightly from the comics to cause forced transformation of all exposed humans into Alpha-Primitives) into the upper atmosphere where the bomb detonated, preventing global catastrophe.
With the immediate threat destroyed, (along with much of what remained of SHIELD's infrastructure) it is clear that things are about to be shaken up in a big way. The subsequent 6 month time jump at the end of the episode offers some tantalizing hints at where we might be headed when Agents of SHIELD returns for Season 4 this fall.
Thus here are 3 hints/predictions for Season 4 of Agents of SHIELD.
Repercussions for Coulson
The appointment of Phil Coulson as Director of a (fittingly) resurrected SHIELD has been a large point of controversy in the world of the MCU ever since Nick Fury first handed him the Toolbox. Having faced immense opposition from both former allies and ancient alien death cults, Coulson has had a hard job, on even the good days.
Some true SHIELD loyalists such as Commander Robert Gonzales were suspicious of Coulson's unnatural resurrection with the alien GH.325 Kree formula--going so far as organizing a coup within SHIELD to ensure that the director was not compromised. Still other former colleagues like Felix Blake have gone to even more radical lengths concerning their disapproval of Coulson's connection to alien elements and cooperation with Inhumans.
You use them, unleash them. You've got those freaks working for you. Hell Phil, you are one. Makes me sick... And what has SHIELD done in the name of protection? We brought the Chitauri to Earth. I was taken out by one of your cybernetic recruits. And the latest and greatest idea? The Avengers created Ultron. - Felix Blake
Blake's bitterness about the fall of SHIELD to Hydra and experiences with dangerous Chitauri weaponry, combined with his near-death run-in with the enhanced cyborg Deathlok (who broke Blake's spine, leaving him paraplegic) contributed to his already developed hatred of alien technology and further aggravated his fears about Coulson's methods and the impending Terrigen outbreak.
All of this lead to Blake creating The Watchdogs, a bigoted militia group formed around the paranoia of alien contagion. However this "nationwide" movement is more than just the ravings of radicalized xenophobes, symptomatic of the contemporary MCU's growing global awareness of alien technology, and enhanced beings.
The government is keeping secrets, things we don't know until cities fall out of the sky. The Avengers, more like them every day, protected, hidden. Not anymore! We want this information released, a list of who they are, where they are or you will have war on your hands. We are the Watchdogs. You will obey. - Watchdog Alpha
The Watchdogs' public demand for the truth mirrors Daisy Johnson's (formerly Skye)'s past stint with the anarchist hacker group: The Rising Tide, demonstrating the circular notion of fear and paranoia that arises when confronted with the unknown.
The secret is out. For decades your organization stayed in the shadows, hiding the truth. But now we know: they're among us. Heroes, and monsters. The world is full of wonders. We can't explain everything we see, but our eyes are open. So what now? There are no more shadows for you to hide in. Something impossible just happened, what are you going to do about it? How will you come at us? From the air? From the ground? How will you silence us this time? How can you? The truth is in the wind, it's everywhere. You cannot stop the Rising Tide. You will not find us, you will never see our faces, but rest assured, we will rise against those who shield us from the truth. - Skye
This general outcry for public disclosure, government oversight, and accountability concerning enhanced beings of course culminated in [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) with the ratification of the Sokovia Accords.
The Sokovia Accords were introduced as a means of outlining the registration and deployment of enhanced individuals, namely the Avengers, under United Nations jurisdiction. This paradigm shift however is just the tip of the iceberg, as public fears surrounding the increasing prevalence of enhanced peoples has been well documented throughout the MCU. And while Jessica Jones and her "99 Friends" might not be running into the Secret Warriors any time soon, it is clear that public tolerance for undocumented enhanced peoples is at an all-time low, or is atleast utterly polarized.
I'm here because the President sent me. The Sokovia Accords are the law of the land now, and he is concerned you may have some undocumented enhanced assets working for you... It's time for SHIELD to come in from the cold, re-legitimize. - Glenn Talbot
Coulson made clear his stance on the Sokovia Accords when he told General Glenn Talbot that the forced revealing and registration of his Inhuman assets wasn't going to happen. Although Coulson's resistance to the Accords may have been given a temporary free pass while the immediate threat of Hive was still looming, tolerance for his non-conformity will not last in the aftermath.
Thus with the Hive crisis now finally subsided and with Hydra's remaining infrastructure destroyed, Coulson will step down from the position of Director.
As explicitly stated in the penultimate scene of the Agents of SHIELD Season 3 finale, come fall, SHIELD will have a new director in charge. Phil Coulson, while still working for the titular agency, will no longer be calling the shots.
He's paying for all of our mistakes - Phil Coulson
Coulson knows his actions have resulted in a cascade of tragedies: from the assassination of Rosalind Price, to his vengeful killing of former agent Grant Ward, culminating with his failure to keep Hive from making it back to Earth, fulfilling a goal true Hydra cultist believers like the Malick family had been trying to accomplish for centuries.
You're agents. I'm the director. I brought Hive to this planet, it's up to me to stop it. - Phil Coulson
Despite his best efforts --including a very Steve Rodgers-esque leap from a quinjet into an alien portal-- Coulson could not prevent Hive's disastrous homecoming. As bodies started dropping in Hive's wake and when Daisy's mind was claimed by the "Ward Reboot Nightmare Hell-beast" Coulson blamed himself. In a final twist of the knife, Coulson didn't even get to make amends and be the one to take Hive down in the end, with a young agent taking the fall instead.
Now, with Lincoln's premature death on his conscience, along with mounting pressure from President Ellis, the ATCU, General Talbot, AND with the establishment of the Sokovia Accords, it is time for Coulson to relinquish the position of Director and disband his Inhuman assets, the Secret Warriors.
Knowing SHIELD saved the world from a horrific fate (having seen firsthand the results of Hive's "harmony" on Maveth), Coulson will likely be somewhat accepting of his demotion and the repercussions of his hard choices. However there remains one loose thread, which will likely be his most motivating factor in Season 4...
Recovering Daisy Johnson
Daisy has been through the ringer, having lost both her mind (as a result of Hive's parasitic sway) and now Lincoln. Wracked with guilt over her treatment of the team while under sway, her attacks on Fitz and Mack, and of course Lincoln's sacrifice, Daisy will have a hard time settling back in at SHIELD. Additionally, after enduring fearful bigotry of Inhumans in the public sphere, if the anti-Inhuman bias emerges within a re-prioritized SHIELD, it may be the last straw to send her off on her own, paralleling her introduction in Season 1 as distrustful of and disillusioned with authority.
It is currently unknown whether the jurisdiction of the Sokovia Accords extends beyond the Avengers themselves, but assuming it does, Steve Rogers and his jolly jailbreak crew may not be the only ones on the run from the law.
The time jump shows Daisy, now publicly known as the vigilante Quake, at large and pursued by SHIELD (and probably others) while trying to make amends for her perceived sins. Daisy's insistence on keeping her promise to take care of Charles Hinton's widowed wife and young daughter demonstrates her quest for penance, and shedding of her former allegiances.
Having outwardly acknowledged his own paternal feelings toward Daisy, it goes without saying that Coulson will not take her departure from the SHIELD lightly. Whoever Coulson's replacement as Director may be (wink wink), they will likely be motivated to come down harder on enhanced beings in light of the new precedent created by the Accords.
With Daisy Johnson on-the-run and acting as a vigilante, there may be more than one conflict of interest at play here. Phil Coulson will likely take liberties within his new rank to obsessively pursue his prodigal surrogate daughter, and perhaps bend the rules in her defence or in the defence of other Inhuman or enhanced peoples. Himself a (re)creation of alien technology, Coulson shares a connection with Daisy, and the marginalized people she represents, something that will likely continue to be their bond.
Of course the rest of the team will be worried for Daisy and hurt by her complete departure, namely Mack, who also fulfills a familial role as her surrogate brother and partner in the field. As someone who has historically been a vocal skeptic of alien technology, frequently erring on the cautious side when it comes to Inhumans, it will be interesting to see what lengths Mack will go to to save his rogue friend, especially in light of the new world order established by the Accords.
But for all of the growing fear and prejudice surrounding enhanced individuals, there are also those who revere the transcendence of the limitations of the human form...
Newton's Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Whether or not you choose to observe this law beyond the realm of physics or reserve Taoist principality for spiritual cultivation, there is certainly something attractive about the notion of counter-balance.
Whereas the bigoted, fear-mongering of The Watchdogs lies at one end of the spectrum, the zealous quest for self-enhancement of the Transhumanist movement lies opposite.
First introduced in Season 3 Episode 18 "The Singularity", the Transhumanists believe that the logical progression for human kind is to self-modify and evolve into something greater. Through the application of emerging technologies acquired from the black market, and cutting edge scientific methods of genetic manipulation, Transhumanists compulsively chase an idealized form, with cybernetic implantations, prosthetics, and other man-made means of bodily advancement.
The foremost member of this high society is Dr. Holden Radcliffe, a GT Agrochemical researcher whose unorthodox theories and experiments on Transhumanism got him fired from the company, but earned him respect amongst Transhumanists. His own personal modifications included a set of avian-hybrid enhanced prosthetic eyes, but he dreamed of becoming even more, and was fascinated when offered the prospect of studying Inhuman biology. Radcliffe desires power, and like many Transhumanists, is addicted to the prospect of self-improvement.
Birds' visual acuity is superior to mammals... I was envious.
When Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons attempted to recruit the doctor's brain for his research into parasitic resistance, Hive intervened and took Radcliffe for his own machinations, giving him the means to experiment with Inhuman and Kree DNA. Under immense pressure, Radcliffe could not perfect the formula Hive requested and instead created the means to transform humans into Alpha-Primitives; a brute Inhuman sub breed with little intelligence but all of the susceptibilities to Hive's control that was required. Although Radcliffe was largely coerced into performing Hive's work, he was certainly thrilled with the scientific possibilities as much as he was terrified.
However by the end of the finale, Radcliffe was back in SHIELD custody, and as shown in the final scene, seemingly wanting to bring Fitz into the fold on his newest project. Both Radcliffe and Fitz share an aptitude and passion for science, as evidenced by Fitz' earlier desperate appeal to Radcliffe's curiosity:
If it's discovery you want, and the science behind it... - Leo Fitz
Fitz understands what drives Radcliffe, and so the expansion of their professional relationship will prove interesting as the doctor starts to cross ethical and philosophical lines. This progression is hinted at with the big reveal that Radcliffe will be working on developing Life Model Decoys from designs based on an old SHIELD program.
Life Model Decoys are robot doppelgängers that have been around in Marvel Comics since 1965, and now their official introduction in the MCU raises some big questions.
How will the advent of Life Model Decoys affect the narrative? In addition to being excellent plot devices for bait-and-switch twists, LMDs will also continue to expand on the question of what it means to be human, a thematic through-line that touches everyone from the Watchdogs, to the Transhumanists, to the Inhumans themselves.
The final frame of the finale teased the creation of a synthetic body for Radcliffe's AI assistant AIDA, and surely points to major Season 4 plotlines concerning the advent of these robotic lookalike clones. Besides relative-newcomer the Vision (the infinity stone-powered android child of JARVIS, Ultron, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner) the notion of artificial intelligence and synthetic life has been largely unexplored in the MCU, and will surely become a point of conflict as Dr. Radcliffe's pursuit of scientific achievement ventures towards arrogance, similar to Tony Stark's own tendencies.
Even Coulson owes a piece of himself to Transhumanist innovation in his advanced prosthetic hand (something Radcliffe openly admired), but his status lies beyond other Transhumanists considering his also having shared alien Kree biology with Inhumans, and is in a unique position as such.
So there you have it!
Who will replace Phil Coulson as Director of SHIELD?
Would you like to see Felix Blake and a resurgent Watchdogs return?
How will Life Model Decoys and the Transhumanist movement factor in?
Agents of SHIELD Season 4 starts this fall.