The Man Behind the Shield is the fourteenth episode of the fourth season of the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the eightieth episode overall.
Mace fights for his life while Coulson and team find themselves in a deadly cat-and-mouse game as they attempt his rescue.
Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons present a small version of the Framework to the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to explain them the kind of trap in which Melinda May is imprisoned, saying that Holden Radcliffe likely built a much more powerful version of the alternate reality. Afterwards, they receive word that the Patriot Suit's GPS signal has been spotted in Nome, Alaska. They fly to the new destination where they find the suit but no Patriot. They also discover a wall covered with newspaper articles and photographs retracing the life of a single individual: Phil Coulson. Daisy Johnson explains that a picture of a mining facility in Russia could link Coulson and Anton Ivanov, who bought the facility. In the past, Coulson was sent to this facility on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission with May.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. teams heads to Russia, with Alphonso Mackenzie and Fitz arguing about the latter's responsibility in their recent problems. On site, Coulson remembers his mission during which he had to retrieve an 0-8-4 with a much more joyful May since it was before the Rescue in Bahrain. They were discovered by SVR soldiers while cracking a safe. Coulson tried to negociate with the Russian soldiers, only for being taken away for interrogation while May escaped the compound. Fortunately, May returned and rescued him after retrieving the 0-8-4.
Jeffrey Mace is imprisoned in a naval base in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. He manages to break free of his chains and tries to escape but quickly confronts Ivanov. Without his super strength, Mace is quickly overpowered by Ivanov and brought back in his cell, where the Superior interrogates him. He then leaves the cell with Aida and tells her that each one of them has a purpose, even Mace.
Meanwhile, Coulson and his team finds the safe that he and May cracked in the past and discovers the skeletons of several SVR soldiers, with one skull containing a ringing cell phone. Coulson takes the call and finally speaks with the Superior, who blames him for the deaths of the soldiers who were in the same SVR unit as Ivanov. Ivanov then tells Coulson that Mace and May will suffer the same fate than his former colleagues. After hanging up, Ivanov tells Mace about his theory of Coulson having engineered all the alien-related events that occurred on Earth in the past few years.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team returns on the Zephyr One, where they try to locate Mace and May. Using the intel provided by Ivanov, they learn about the Krasnoyarsk Krai naval base. They immediately fly to the base and infiltrate it, with Fitz and Simmons taking over the communications room while Coulson, Johnson and Mackenzie search for their friends. Coulson quickly encounters Ivanov, who tells him the story of his unit which was executed for not being able to retrieve the 0-8-4. However, Coulson dismisses his speech as being irrelevant to him since he only cares about finding Mace and May. Coulson then lets Johnson fight Ivanov while he leaves. Coulson and Mackenzie find Mace, who is being beaten up by several Watchdogs.
Though Ivanov is a tough opponent, Johnson is able to overpower him thanks to her Inhuman powers and buries him under a pile of rubble. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons learn that Aida is present at the base. Simmons decide to go to her with agent Davis while Fitz remains in the communication room. While their communications are briefly cut, Simmons figures out that Aida fled with the submarine. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents finally gather and Coulson orders to leave and go back to the Playground.
However, Simmons struggles to understand the timetable of the mission, feeling that something does not seem right. While sharing these impressions with Fitz, she receives an alert from a Life-Model Decoy detector of the base which indicates that Coulson, Mace, Johnson and Mackenzie have apparently been replaced by androids while battling the Watchdogs in Russia. Meanwhile, Aida retrieves Ivanov, who is barely alive, and Coulson's LMD reactivates May's LMD.