After a decent but off-balance start to season four, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its winter break last night with “Broken Promises.” Unlike how season three’s winter premiere featured the memorable debut of Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez, “Broken Promises” didn’t introduce any major new characters. It was a wise move, since the series’ cast is at maximum capacity, especially with the Life-Model Decoys in the mix.

With so much already going on, “Broken Promises” concentrates on advancing the show’s pre-existing storylines. More importantly, the episode also provides a great glimpse at what the rest of season four has in store.

Life-Model Decoys: Letdown or Success?

The Life-Model Decoys have become the centerpiece of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s 2017 return. So far, the only L.M.D.s that we know about are Aida and Melinda May. Still, the series’ frequent plot twists increase the possibility of more L.M.D.s infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. However, I’m not convinced that the L.M.D.s are succeeding on a story level. The L.M.D. concept does have its roots in Marvel’s history, but it almost feels too Westworld — without the same creative pull that Westworld’s hosts offer.

At this point in entertainment, have robot-related storylines become too clichéd? Funnily enough, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be acknowledging that cliché, even as it plays out on the show. “Broken Promises” has no shortage of references to movies about robots like Aida rising up against their human overlords. And Elena and new beau “Mack” Mackenzie remind fans just how many robot movies there are out there.

In somewhat related news, one of the predictions that we made in our last Recap and Reaction turned out to be true. Aida’s creator, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, is the real mastermind behind Aida going rogue. Apparently, Radcliffe’s glimpse of the Darkhold back in “Deals With Our Devils” proved too enticing to pass up. As a result, Radcliffe has masterminded the whole plot to steal the Darkhold, including Aida’s kidnapping and replacement of the real Melinda May.

Sadly, the plot twist of having Radcliffe as the real antagonist feels like a letdown. The series has already gone this route last season since we previously saw Radcliffe at full-tilt mad scientist when he was helping Hive. I almost wish that Radcliffe wasn’t involved in Aida’s uprising because then she would have true agency as a character. Instead, having Aida remain Radcliffe’s assistant and partner-in-crime seems like a waste of potential for her character.

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Growing Pains

Like its titular organization, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still undergoing growing pains. The show itself has wasted no time in addressing Jeffrey Mace‘s shortcomings as the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. And “Broken Promises” wisely paired him off (story-wise) with Jemma Simmons and Daisy Johnson, for whom Mace has been a primary source of conflict. Nevertheless, the TV series has recently felt like it’s been struggling to utilize its characters to their fullest potential.

Is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. making enough use of all its characters? Ensemble shows are difficult to pull off, especially when some supporting characters don’t receive compelling storylines — or sometimes, no storylines at all. Perhaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to cut back on its characters. That would give the show a chance to really shake up its status quo, which feels stagnant even with the Life-Model Decoys running around.

As a character, Jeffrey Mace works best when he forms common ground with other characters. For instance, “Broken Promises” sent him on a mission with Daisy to target their common enemy: the Watchdogs. Nevertheless, the first half of season four made it clear that Mace is a political animal. And all politicians (at least, all fictional politicians) have secrets, so I’m sure Mace’s dirty laundry will come back to haunt him soon.

The Nadeers: One Really Screwed-Up Family

Previously, season four introduced Senator Ellen Nadeer‘s Inhuman brother Vijay, who spent seven months in Terrigenesis. However, the first half of season four delayed providing answers about Vijay and his condition for far too long. As a result, it was refreshing to see “Broken Promises” finally pull on that thread. Ellen and Vijay have a complex sibling relationship, which made for a number of compelling — and tense — moments that gave their actors, Parminder Nagra and Manish Dayal, a chance to shine.

The overarching question surrounding Vijay is whether he’s the first Inhuman to resist Terrigenesis. The answer turns out to be no since he exhibits a form of super speed that’s strikingly similar to that of Elena Rodriguez. Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing question. If it’s actually possible for Inhumans to resist Terrigenesis, then that would have serious ramifications for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe — particularly for the upcoming The Inhumans TV series.

Senator Nadeer is also a remarkably conflicted character. Throughout the episode, it was intriguing to see her caught between her care for Vijay and her xenophobia against Inhumans. My one concern about her is that she doesn’t seem to emote very much. “Broken Promises” marks her largest role yet on the series, yet she still feels like a cipher in some ways. Her single defining trait is her hatred for Inhumans, and “Broken Promises” shows that it transcends even her familial bonds. Hopefully we’ll learn more about Senator Nadeer as season four progresses.

Other Observations

agents of shield LMD title card
  • I’m really not feeling the series’ new marketing campaign. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: L.M.D. is season four’s new subtitle, but it just doesn’t have the same appeal as its predecessor, Ghost Rider. At the end of last season, we also had the Fallen Agent tagline. Do we even need a marketing title in the first place?
  • The series’ switch in marketing taglines also shows how this season has done a questionable job of balancing its villains. Between Robbie Reyes, Lucy Bauer, the Watchdogs, and Eli Morrow, the first half of season four didn’t strike a good balance between its villains. Instead, it felt like the show was juggling its antagonists. Hopefully the rest of season four improves the show’s overall pacing.
  • On the other hand, the show’s new focus on L.M.D.s makes for a cool new title sequence.
  • Director Garry A. Brown and actress Mallory Jansen (Aida) did a killer job with the episode’s opening. The sequence with Aida getting dressed, as classical music played ironically in the background, was particularly unsettling. It was a strong parallel to the season premiere‘s opening sequence, which had Daisy in that role.
  • Simmons has really become a badass, hasn’t she? Her epic takedown of Zach Bynum, Senator Nadeer’s aide, is proof that she can certainly be a field agent when she needs to be.
  • Both Senator Nadeer and the new Watchdog lieutenant, Terrence Shockley, report to a higher-ranking supervisor of some kind. It just goes to show that we still need more answers about the Watchdogs’ structure and overall threat.
  • Vijay Nadeer is nothing but a survivor. Even after his sister shoots him and dumps his body in a lake, Vijay goes back into Terrigenesis. And don’t forget that he already survived seven months in Terrigenesis. How is that even biologically possible?

Next Week: “The Patriot”

Jeffrey Mace’s shady actions at the United Nations bombing in Vienna take center stage next week. That, coupled with another appearance from General Glenn Talbot, makes for an intriguing premise. Catch “The Patriot” next Tuesday, January 17, and come back for our next Recap and Reaction here at Fandom.

James Akinaka
James Akinaka arrives at Fandom by way of Wookieepedia. He covers Star Wars, superheroes, and animation and values bold, inclusive stories. He suffers from a lifelong case of nitpicking and high standards.