Director Mace's secrets are finally revealed

By Christian Holub
January 17, 2017 at 11:00 PM EST
Jennifer Clasen/ABC
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Even at his most altruistic, Jeffrey Mace has always seemed like he was hiding something as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this episode, we finally found out what that was. Let’s begin.

The episode started with one of Mace’s nicer moments: He gave a press conference officially celebrating Daisy’s public integration into the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Things quickly go south, however, when Daisy and Coulson notice that one nearby rooftop is distinctly lacking a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. A sniper suddenly emerges and opens fire. Mace is able to block the shot by lifting the podium as a shield, but the bullet is apparently an explosive, so he has to hurl the podium into the air before it detonates. As the crowd devolves into a panic, General Talbot initiates a contingency plan that sends Coulson, Mack, Mace, and the director’s trusted lackey Burrows (now carrying a mysterious suitcase handcuffed to his wrist) onto a Quinjet, bound for a safe house. Meanwhile, Daisy shoots herself up onto the roof and grabs the sniper.

As the crowd devolves into a panic, General Talbot initiates a contingency plan that sends Coulson, Mack, Mace, and the director’s trusted lackey, Burrows (now carrying a mysterious suitcase handcuffed to his wrist), onto a Quinjet bound for a safe house. Meanwhile, Daisy shoots herself up onto the roof and grabs the sniper.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, scientists are still investigating the aftermath of the AIDA incident. Simons is none too pleased to see the robot’s dismembered head on the table, kept there at Fitz’s insistence and foreshadowing that the AIDA divide between FitzSimmons may be deeper than we thought. With both Coulson and Mace gone, Talbot has taken up temporary leadership of the base. He assigns May to interrogate their new prisoner and Simmons to determine whether or not Burrows was on the Quinjet (apparently, that’s a matter of some secret importance to the S.H.I.E.L.D. leadership).

Fitz is at Radcliffe’s house commiserating about the assassination attempt on Mace. Fitz is bummed because, in his mind, preventing these kinds of things is exactly what they designed AIDA for. Nevertheless, Fitz tells Radcliffe to stay away from headquarters for a few days while everyone continues to assess the AIDA aftermath. This poses a problem for the dark doctor, as he tells his new AIDA after Fitz leaves. This leaves the May LMD on her own, which makes it more likely she’ll be discovered before she can retake possession of the Darkhold.

Daisy’s interrogating the prisoner. She has a lot of information at her disposal (the guy’s background in both KGB and Hydra, as well as the nature of his exploding bullet) but none of it is from him. He’s not telling her anything. May comes and whispers with Daisy about their game plan. Daisy whispers something about how his plan didn’t even work, prompting the would-be assassin to declare his operation actually was successful. Now they’re getting somewhere.

Burrows is, in fact, on the Quinjet, and he’s a little more chipper than his comrades. He’s a PR guy, and the PR optics turned out alright here: Mace looked like a hero blocking that assassination attempt. Unfortunately, the attempt’s not over. As Burrows stands up to try for more bars on his cell signal, something hits the plane and he gets sucked out the side. The pilot loses control of the plane and the whole thing crashes into a forest.

When Mace, Coulson, and Mack get their heads together, they quickly surmise the pilot is dead and that this attack is somehow connected to the earlier assassination attempt. Mace immediately wants to head out and look for Burrows. Mack isn’t sure about that plan, but as Coulson puts it, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, stay close to the guy with super strength.”

Radcliffe and AIDA check in on the real May, who is alive but not doing so well. She’s strapped into a whole bunch of gadgets. They’re supposed to be keeping her calm and sedated, but it’s not exactly working. She keeps twitching and sweating and her vital signs are off. Radcliffe instructs AIDA to improve the simulation if she can, and also instructs her not to kill anyone else (Nathanson, you are gone but not forgotten).

NEXT: Project Patriot

Talbot assembles the agents on hand to discuss the plane crash. Simmons wants to look through Mace’s history and see if there are any clues to potential enemies, but Talbot insists she focus on finding a “science-y” way to reconnect them with Mace and company. He also wants May to squeeze their prisoner “like a lime wedge on Dollar Beers Night,” and updates her security clearance so she can. Talbot also gets a call from the president (complete with “Hail to the Chief” ringtone) and has to tell him they still don’t know where Burrows is.

Mace and Co. are certainly looking for Burrows’ location. Mace insists they’re just looking for a body, but Coulson and Mack suspect something fishy. They soon catch a glimpse of their enemy as a truck outfitted with Hydra technology wheels by. Coulson and Talbot wiped out the last of Hydra’s infrastructure, but that just sent the rats scurrying. Looks like their remainders have joined up with the Watchdogs, and that’s how these guys have the technology that’s certainly short-circuiting the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew.

Now we get a FitzSimmons, and it’s clearer than ever the Science Babies are starkly divided on the AIDA question. Fitz is still despondent about her betrayal and death and thinks the program still had good potential. Simmons insists it was obviously a mistake — Nathanson’s death is proof of that. Fitz still thinks there’s a solution, like if Simmons got involved she could help avoid the same mistakes, but she’s not buying it. She tells Fitz to let AIDA go.

Fitz, of course, knows nothing about Radcliffe’s second AIDA, whose ability to contain the real May is weakening. May actually wakes up in her prison and starts ripping off equipment. She manages to kick Radcliffe a few times but is ultimately stopped and again sedated by AIDA. Radcliffe asks what kind of simulation they were giving her, and AIDA says it was just a hot stone spa. Radcliffe’s antsy, though, which is starting to irritate AIDA, who just tries to follow his orders and gets yelled at anyway. Maybe this is a sign of greater fissures in this relationship, too.

The LMD May, for her part, is hanging out in Coulson’s car Lola, which seems like a sign to Daisy. Daisy wonders if she missed any important interpersonal developments while she was gone, but LMD May remains coy. Getting close to Coulson is obviously central to LMD May’s plan for rediscovering the Darkhold, but I do feel bad for all the actual #Philinda shippers getting mercilessly teased here.

Simmons discovers Project Patriot, a top-secret program and the whole reason Talbot wanted her doing communications work and not digging around in Mace’s files. Before they reveal the details, though, we get to see them firsthand. Mace has finally found the suitcase Burrows had with him and opens it, revealing a couple of mysterious vials and needles. Before he can do anything else, Mace is attacked by a Watchdog, who manages to destroy the vials and injure the supposedly indestructible S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Coulson and Mack come to the rescue, but the cat’s out of the bag.

Mace is not an Inhuman and, in fact, never had natural super-strength at all. He simply took a “drug cocktail” to create his super-strength, and the assassination attempt happened to land right when he was supposed to need another injection. As Talbot explains to FitzSimmons, there was a general consensus in the wake of Civil War that the new director needed to be enhanced or Inhuman. Unfortunately, no one fit the criteria, so they made their own superhero based on the formula from Daisy’s father, Mr. Hyde.

FitzSimmons are eager to point out the potential downsides, but the injections weren’t supposed to be constant — just whenever Mace needed to show off for a photo opportunity or to impress a curious congressman. The now powerless director heads for a nearby cabin with Coulson and Mace to plot their next move. Their advantage is that while Mace doesn’t actually have his super-strength, their enemies still think he does.

NEXT: Solving problems, creating more

Thanks to a clever bit of science and theater — in which she horrifies the Watchdog assassin with a head in a box — Simmons is able to both confirm the Watchdogs were behind the attack and discern their location in Virginia. Mace, meanwhile, implements his plan of distraction. He walks out in his black super-suit and claims his case contains a cure for Inhumans — probably what Senator Nadeer is actually after. Mace’s charade goes on long enough for Mack to disable the nearby Hydra truck and revive their own technological connections, allowing Coulson to use his hand’s energy shield to protect Mace from Watchdog bullets. They barricade themselves inside the cabin, but luckily the cavalry is there to help. Daisy and LMD May make short work of the remaining Watchdogs, though the LMD gets cut on a nearby table in the fight.

Human May needs her own enemy to fight, Radcliffe has discerned. The reason she wasn’t taking to the earlier simulations is because they were too calm, and May needs struggle. They need a much harsher simulation for her. Radcliffe isn’t the only one working with AIDA anymore, however; back at S.H.I.E.L.D. base, Fitz has revived the decapitated head and is keeping it in his locker while he recovers her data. This is obviously a bad idea, and the fact that he’s keeping it from Simmons means AIDA probably will drive a major wedge between them by the time this season is done.

Coulson confronts Talbot about the Mace secret. Talbot argues World War III is going to be won by whichever side has more enhanced people on it, so they had to make a few of their own. (This is an intriguing meta-arms race story line, one that used to bubble in the early years of Marvel’s “Ultimate” comics line but unfortunately never came to fruition. It would be awesome to see them do more of that.) Anyway, a disgraced Mace explains his Vienna heroism was just because someone happened to snap a photo of him hiding behind debris during an attack. It simply looked like he was shielding others, which gave him enough of a heroism boost to qualify him for this whole experiment. He offers to resign and reinstate Coulson as director, but Phil has another solution. Mace is a good “face” for S.H.I.E.L.D., so he’ll continue in that role. It’s a moment reminiscent of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Watchmen (“print the lie”), but Coulson gets something in exchange: He gets total control over operations. Now things are really kicking into gear.

The fascinating bookend scene features LMD May examining her wound and discovering some of the android metal beneath her skin. This seems like a tantalizing new direction. If LMD May is able to blossom into her own character and hit some Pinocchio or Frankenstein thematic beats as she reaches for her own self-consciousness, that would be great.

There were some very interesting plot developments and character beats in this episode, but it ultimately would’ve felt like more of a payoff if Mace’s secret had previously been hinted at. We knew there was something fishy about the Vienna incident (and about Mace in general), but a twist like this could’ve used a little more buildup. It was good to see some developments with FitzSimmons, though. Even if it looks like there’s more tension to come, that relationship is really the heart of the show — and coming up with new plots there helps maximize the show’s strengths.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.
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