11:00 pm EST, January 10, 2017

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×09 recap: Bleeding parts

Aida’s long game was revealed, Mace, Daisy, and Simmons tried to save an Inhuman, and robot jokes got everywhere on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×09.

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×09 recap:

Though it’s easy to miss on first watch, the opening moments of “Broken Promises” act as a primer for the deeper work of tonight’s episode. First, Aida eases off her layers of clothing and tends to her own facsimiled wounds. Then she dresses again, meticulously. Skirt over skin, jacket over bandages. A belt to hold it all together.

Layers, in short, are important. Surfaces are deceiving, and there is always another skin hidden beneath your last discovery.

Structurally, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×09 works in a similar fashion. The story splits almost immediately in two halves: Coulson’s mission to protect the Playground as Aida seeks the Darkhold, and Mace, Simmons, and Daisy’s attempt to rescue Senator Nadeer’s brother. Both storylines craftily conceal their true depths, and rely on characters who are not quite what they seem to be on the surface.

In Aida’s storyline, for example, it seems initially that the android has the uncontested upper hand. Not only can she see through and control the digital layers of S.H.I.E.L.D. security, she has a second pair of eyes hidden in the Life Model Decoy of May. Radcliffe ascribes a singular desire to Aida — “She wants to live,” he says — which may ultimately reflect more about Radcliffe than it does his creation.

Still, the potential for depth revealed is an uneasy prospect for Fitz and Radcliffe. As they work together to kill the S.H.I.E.L.D. systems, creating a low-tech barrier Aida cannot penetrate, they ponder Aida’s true(r) nature. She is a program, yes, but one flayed open by the Darkhold, grafted with layers of emotion and experience.

As S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back to life around them, Fitz and Radcliffe wonder uneasily if they may have helped to create something truly human.

That seems like a question that Coulson will also have to ask, though not quite yet. Trapped with “May” in an electronically locked room, he and the LMD have some time to kill. No romantic flame is lit just yet, but “May” (who seems to have no idea as to her own true identity) advises that Coulson start taking chances. He seems quite enamored by the idea.

And then he tells “May” exactly where the Darkhold is — concealed in plain sight in Mace’s office. Aida retrieves the book, but is confronted by the team in front of the exit which she can no longer access.

Trapped, eyes wide with her lack of control, the android seems more human than ever. She lies about the circumstances of Nathanson’s death, saying that she “regrets what happened.”

“Regret isn’t part of your programming,” Radcliffe prompts.

“The Darkhold fixed that,” Aida says. “It showed me regret and desire so many astonishing things… I only wanted to help you.”

But before regret can become a thing felt much by the agents, Mack arrives to cut through the complexity — literally. In a spray of blood and wires, he chops off Aida’s head, killing her programing. Coulson collects the Darkhold, and only Fitz is left to mourn what might have been.

This story goes deeper, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

While the Playground team has been fighting someone who seems unnervingly human, Mace, Daisy, and Simmons have been off doing something quite similar. Simmons has deduced that the Inhuman she was kidnapped to help is Senator Nadeer’s brother Vijay. After a brief fight with her assistant (during which Simmons displays her own considerable depth) they visit Nadeer’s estate, where she is keeping her brother.

The relationship between Helen Nadeer and Vijay has its own unhappy layers, of course. Their mother was killed in the Chitauri attack on New York, inspiring both siblings to feel, you know, not so into the whole alien thing. As the numbers of Inhuman grew (something Ellen views as the next stage of invasion) Vijay and Ellen promised each other to “do the right thing” if the other became “infected.”

To that end, Nadeer has brought the Watchdogs to her house to murder Vijay, but allows a stay of execution when he appeals to their bond. He insists that he is unchanged by his months in the chrysalis, and, having seen no evidence of powers, Nadeer agrees.

But as Mace, Simmons, and Daisy turn up, the head Watchdog has chosen to take his orders from a higher layer of command — someone called “the superior,” who orders him to kill Vijay. Vijay is just fine, however; his gift seems to be exceptional reflexes, and totally insane fighting skills.

Simmons and Nadeer confront Vijay at the same time, each calling him to their side. Vijay chooses to escape in his sister’s helicopter, leaving Simmons dejected. And her concern for Vijay was quite warranted; Nadeer shoots him herself in the helicopter, and wants “the superior” to take care of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Vijay’s body is dropped into the ocean, settling limply on the floor… and crusts over in a Terregenesis chrysalis for the second time.

Lo, layers upon layers.

Still, the day seems more or less like a win for the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Smiling blissfully at “May,” Coulson plans to get rid of the Darkhold, and is armed with confirmation of Nadeer’s was Watchdog affiliation.

“At least now we know who our real enemies are,” says “May.”

Ah, but do we? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×09, after all, has one last layer to peel back.

Dr. Radcliffe, it turns out, has been putting on quite a performance for us all. The zen, apologetic scientist, so wary of the Darkhold’s power, was merely a mask. In reality, Radcliffe is obsessed with the Darkhold and its promises of immortality, and deployed Aida in a desperate attempt to get his hands on the deadly book.

He has also built another Aida, and I tend to doubt his protestations that Radcliffe and the android are “just friends.”

With Aida’s failure, Radcliffe has turned to “the long game” — the May-bot, whose true purpose is to fetch the Darkhold.

“Soon enough,” he tells the real May, who is drowning in layers of coma-inducing drugs, “Everyone will get exactly what they want.”

Oh, doctor. It’s never that simple.

Tell us your thoughts on Radcliffe, the Nadeers, and everything ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×09!

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