Since last dipping into the Agents storyline, we've avidly binge-watched our way through the rest of the TV arm of the MCU. As a result, I had thought I'd become used to the rapidity with which Netflix powered through plot lines and ideas, but boy was I wrong. Perhaps the crew behind Agents simply liked what Netflix was doing, but season four is one of the fasted paced TV shows I think I've ever seen. The first story arc could easily have been stretched to a whole season, and I would have still considered it fast-paced if it had lasted until a mid-season break, but having now watched the whole arc it almost seems inconsequential.
It is completely to the credit of the writers, then, that I never felt lost or hurried along; the pacing is noticeably quick but still feels organic. Indeed, taken as a whole the story of season four is wonderfully interwoven within itself and neatly ties together at the close. I never felt like elements were being brushed to one side and most big setups had internally consistent payoffs. Ultimately, there's so much to unpack here it seems almost foolish to try. In one season Agents takes a better stab at Ghostrider than most long-term comics writers do, completely eclipsing all previous visual media attempts, whilst also covering the Darkhold, Elias Morrow, LMDs (Life Model Decoys), A.I. in the wake of Ultron, and the Framework virtual reality. The show also positively advanced the Inhumans plotline in a post-Sokovia Accord world, actively developed all the major characters, introduced several more and, wonderfully, brought back several from the show's past, both for fan service and to shine a more mature light on previous plot lines. Frankly, Fitz's self-realisation of the similarities between his own actions within the Framework and those of the real world Grant Ward is justification enough for the season, walking a much deeper philosophical path than a show ostensibly about super spies has any need to (but that's what makes it so great).
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that season four was the best series Agents has produced so far, standing as one of (if not the) best TV series from any of the branches of the MCU. It's consistently clever, never dull and the brilliant dialogue is brought to life by a cast that are finally beginning to flex their characters in new directions. Daisy is perhaps a little left behind in this sense, getting even less character progression than the (currently) dead Ward (which feels a little unfair), but even she is ultimately left in a stronger position than when the season began. There's a part of me that wishes they had brought back more of the characters we have lost in seasons past; the Ward/Lincoln switch-up was fantastic and getting to see Trip again was a lot of fun, but I want to know where the likes of Bobby and Hunter were in this 'alternate' universe?
Season four also made some big strides in diversifying the stories that Agents can tell. The introduction of the Hell dimension didn't just allow Robbie Rayez to appear on the small screen, it also brought magic into the Agents internal canon. Of course, the same old problems exist when a show like Agents introduces a device as powerful as the Darkhold or the Framework: where are the Avengers? Sure, right now they are a bit preoccupied and scattered, but at the very least Doctor Strange should have been hovering around. Considering how close of an eye he was keeping on Odin, the manifestation of dark magic ghost scientists and matter creators should have had him portal straight to Coulson's aid. One can only hope that such a cameo may yet happen in the future, but it's seeming increasingly less likely, which is a great shame.
As a self-contained entity, though, Agents easily stands tall at the end of season four. The initial plot was intriguing, the character work (and effects) done on Ghostrider were impeccable, and the Radcliffe arc was surprisingly nuanced, emotional and well reasoned. Even Aida was a brilliantly clever character, allowing a much more delicate overview of the problems of true Artificial Intelligence than the likes of Age of Ultron could manage in a mere two hours. It will be fascinating to see where the show goes next, though there are certainly some mysteries left up in the air, not least of which is the senator's brother. Hopefully, season five comes sooner rather than later, and hopefully again, Fitz and Simmons get a season off from being the main source of emotional tension!
Season four is a roller-coaster of brilliant storytelling, fantastic characters and surprisingly well thought out science fiction. It's still a Marvel property at the core, but Agents has slowly become one of their better IPs.