‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Recap and Reaction: “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics”

James Akinaka

Season four of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been nothing if not unpredictable, and its first major chapter is over. This is the first season that hasn’t featured Hydra, the longtime antithesis of S.H.I.E.L.D., and instead has the freedom to branch out in other directions. But our previous recaps have discussed how season four got off to a rocky start, with the season’s first few episodes lacking a strong trajectory. Nevertheless, “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” did a commendable job of bringing season four’s first chapter to an end. Check out our highlights of the 2016 mid-season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

A Different Kind of Winter Finale

Eli Morrow, "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

There’s a lot that set this year’s winter finale apart from those of past seasons. Since “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” is season four’s eighth episode, the series only had seven episodes to set up this year’s winter finale, instead of the usual nine episodes. “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” also had a drastically different tone from that of last season’s winter finale, “Maveth,” which sent Leo Fitz, Grant Ward, and a rather unhinged Phil Coulson on a high-octane journey to another planet.

In comparison to “Maveth,” this season’s “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” felt more intimate. There were life-or-death stakes like always, since Eli Morrow‘s mad antics jeopardized all of Los Angeles. But even with Eli’s stab at power, none of the series’ characters found themselves significantly in harm’s way during their climactic battle — everyone except Robbie Reyes, who sacrificed himself to take down his Uncle Eli instead of grabbing a lifeline from Coulson. Still, Coulson seems confident that Robbie will be back. Robbie is nothing if not a survivor, and his tenacity would certainly help him find a way back to our dimension.

As for Eli Morrow, I hate to say it, but I still found him underwhelming as a villain. Based on what he told Robbie and Coulson, Eli has an inferiority complex, which is why he went to such extreme lengths to attain his powers. And I’ve been impressed with how actor José Zúñiga has portrayed Eli’s internal conflict, between his lust for power and his care for his nephews, Robbie and Gabe. But it never felt like Eli received enough character development to be a compelling villain. With Eli gone, hopefully the series can return to crafting better characters.

Everyone vs. Director Mace

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Nice suit, Jeffrey.

The other main focus of “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s evolving team dynamic. Several of this season’s plot threads have revolved around the changes that Director Jeffrey Mace has brought to S.H.I.E.L.D. As Coulson so aptly tells Melinda May, Mace is a political animal. And despite the fact that he brings diversity to S.H.I.E.L.D. as an Inhuman, he’s also made several questionable decisions — which makes him difficult to trust.

It was refreshing to see Coulson and Mace come clean about the secrets they’ve kept from each other. Previously, I’ve written about how Coulson still feels like the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., even though he isn’t. By contrast, Mace has been the outsider to S.H.I.E.L.D. since he’s one of the agency’s least experienced members, even though he’s also its highest-ranking leader. It will be worth seeing how Coulson and Mace’s working relationship continues to evolve, especially since everyone now knows that Senator Ellen Nadeer, known for her hatred of both Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D., blackmailed Mace.

In many ways, “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” reset S.H.I.E.L.D.’s team dynamic to its original state. Coulson, May, Fitz, and Jemma Simmons have all been mainstays since season one, and Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie and Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez have also proven to be valuable recruits. (And Mack and Elena finally kissed!) Now, Daisy Johnson has all but rejoined the agency. The episode’s most touching moment was when Coulson says, “I thought the new face of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be an Inhuman. Didn’t mean [Mace], though.” Coulson looks right at Daisy, who chuckles and says, “Yeah, right. Maybe in the comic book version.”

May Gets Body-Snatched

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Yet, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t the same — and never will be. The best moment of “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” was also the most terrifying one. In classic Marvel fashion, the episode’s final scene reveals that Aida has built another Life-Model Decoy like herself, and the L.M.D. has replaced Melinda May. The real May sits in Aida’s chambers with a ghastly neck injury, and it’s unclear whether she’s alive or dead. She does have some sort of IV line, though, so maybe she’s alive?

Aida apologizes to the inert May, darkly saying, “I’ll have you cleaned up in no time.” Meanwhile, the L.M.D. May drinks whiskey with Coulson and remarks, “I’m right where I belong.” It’s a chilling moment, one that parallels Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Even though May’s replacement scared the crap out of me, it was an impressive moment. It was certainly a fitting cliffhanger for the mid-season finale to end on, much like how last season’s “Maveth” ended with the revelation that Hive was alive and possessing the late Grant Ward’s corpse.

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Besides the unclear status of whether May is alive or dead, the other main question is what Aida’s motives are. Even though May’s ghastly neck injury indicates that she didn’t go down without a fight, perhaps Aida’s replacement of May is in good faith. May does tend to take the brunt of attacks during field operations, so out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s roster, she’s the agent who is in the most danger of dying. There’s also the question of whether Aida’s creator, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, is involved with replacing May with an L.M.D.

At best, May is being held prisoner, and Aida has replaced her with an L.M.D. in good faith, without any intention of further harming the real May. At worst… Well, we might have another Ultron on our hands thanks to Aida’s knowledge of the Darkhold. I also wonder if Agent Nathanson will get an L.M.D. as well since Aida brutally snapped his neck (with a single hand!) after he saw the real May held captive. Whatever the case, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended its winter finale on an awesome moment, which will drive fans mad until season four returns on January 10, 2017.

Yo-Yo Stars in Slingshot

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If you can’t survive the five weeks between now and January 10, never fear! A six-part digital series is coming this Tuesday, Dec 13. Slingshot stars Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), with the rest of the series’ main cast in guest roles. Set prior to season four, the spin-off — consisting of six episodes, each 3–6 minutes long — follows Elena as she embarks on a personal mission that conflicts with the fact that she must sign the Sokovia Accords.

Slingshot isn’t the first superhero spin-off web series. In recent years, The CW has added two digital series to its Arrowverse: Blood Rush, a spin-off of Arrow that premiered during the series’ commercial breaks and streamed online; and Vixen, whose digital-only format is identical to that of Slingshot. However, Slingshot is the first starring role for Cordova-Buckley, who also becomes the first woman of color to headline a Marvel TV series.

Stay tuned to Fandom as we cover Slingshot next week. And come back in the new year as Aida and her new fellow Life-Model Decoy begin to menace our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agents!

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.