Welcome back, true believers! On the last episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., our heroes finally managed to escape the confines of the synthetic world ruled by Hydra dubbed, “The Framework.” While most of the team escaped physically unscathed, many were devastated mentally, with Mack deciding to remain in the electronic fabrication and Fitz reeling from the fact that his tendency toward murder came a bit too easily. As Aida finally managed to create a somewhat human body for herself — that is fit to bursting with Inhuman powers — the team storms on toward their season finale. Does the show manage to keep the momentum going even though the “Agents of Hydra” has fallen by the wayside? Luckily, very much so.
“The Return” begins with Anton (Aida’s Russian right-hand man, who had a hatred for Agent Coulson believing him to be the cause of the Inhumans and all the alien influence streaming toward Earth), reading from the Darkhold. The book once again makes its presence known here as the now cybernetic antagonist makes his way toward Coulson and May, who are attempting to shake off the Framework. In what I consider to be one of the coolest actions scenes of the season, Coulson and Anton have a tete-a-tete right before Phil deploys his holographic shield, cutting off Anton’s face to reveal the cybernetics underneath. Unfortunately for the duo, Anton returns to reveal that he has several Life Model Decoy replicas of himself to swarm them with. However, Anton himself continues to simply “be there.” He’s fairly one-note, and doesn’t have the charisma of many of the villains that we’ve seen come before. While offering something of a foil to Aida, he’s far less interesting, and his modus operandi could be played for so much more than is shown here. It’s a minor quibble, but hopefully the show can can beef up the antagonists in the future — if it’s renewed, of course.
The most interesting part of the episode is the Aida/Fitz dynamic. When Aida gives herself human emotions, you would think that the standard route would be that she would become more evil, looking to satiate her physical needs and revel in her hectic emotions. Rather than going down the predictable path, which the show eventually does, the one-time Life Model Decoy instead grapples with her humanity, unable to really process all this new information that is at her fingertips. Emotions, feelings, physical sensations are all driving her mad and she is unable to cope, so she turns to the first person that she can think of: Fitz, the new love of her life. Of course, in attempting to bolster herself, she breaks down Fitz even further who is still reeling from having a direct hand in the death of Director Mace as a top agent within Hydra. Leopold’s unraveling here is some master class character work, as Aida informs him that he is truly responsible for what he did, simply living out his desires and making all the choices of his own accord. It’s a disturbing moment for sure, made worse by the fact that Fitz is attempting to negotiate with Aida at the same time to do some good now that she’s more human.
Of course, the bombshell dropped with Fitz and company is that they remember every part of their lives from within the Framework. They don’t just remember the several days they spent there, as Simmons asked if it was akin to “waking from a dream,” but rather they remember their early days to their eventual escapes. It’s a very interesting twist to throw into the mix, and even modifies the characters we’ve grown to know at this point, as examples of Coulson’s high school teacher days within the machine are explored in this episode. What’s also interesting is to see how things have changed in the real world in the short time since the heroes have been missing. For the viewers, this storyline has been several months in the making, but here, they’ve been gone for a week. Still, the U.S. army is not happy. Talbot humorously believes that everyone is a robot now, and holds the team under lock and key as they return to their headquarters.
To finish our episode, Aida, scorned from Fitz’s affections, goes haywire and begins killing everyone in sight, including nameless agents along with some military as the distraught Leopold begs her to stop. Yo Yo, angry that Mack decided to stay in the Framework with his fictional daughter, jumps in herself only to find she is strapped to a gurney. Of course, the big kicker of the episode is that after Aida vows to kill all the agents and rule the world with Anton at her side, Robbie Reyes, in full flame-head mode as the Ghost Rider, emerges from a portal back into our world. Needless to say, a lot of fast-paced events happen in “The Return,” but it works well to transition us from the world of the Framework into the Season 4 finale.
“The Return” gives us a humorous, heartbreaking jaunt through the heroes’, well, return to the real world, developing the characters of Aida and Fitz while allowing the light-hearted Coulson to wisecrack us back to hilarity along the way. This season has easily been the best of the series’ run to this date, and I can’t wait to see where the finale goes.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Agents of M.I.S.C.E.L.L.A.N.E.A.
– Fitz realizing that he’s exactly like Ward was a brilliant moment.
– Why on Earth did they put Aida and Fitz in the same cell?? I thought at first they may have assumed Fitz was an LMD but that wasn’t the case.
– I’m a little confused as to how exactly Aida imbued herself with all the Inhuman powers, but whatever, it’s magic!
– Great to see Ghost Rider show up once again here and for the finale. Wraps everything up this season in a nice bow.
– That scene with Simmons smiling as she consoled Fitz was fantastic. Stop tearing these two apart!
– Rumors are swirling that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be renewed for a fifth season, though I could see it getting a smaller episode run so as not to step on the Inhumans’ toes.
– Anton: “There are actually a few funny passages in here.”
– Coulson: “She has Inhuman powers now? Can we get a break? Just one break!?”
– Coulson: “Quick version is, you can go ahead and shoot him.”
– Anton: “You are nothing without a shield to hide behind.”
Coulson: “They come in handy.”
– Coulson: “We call him the Russian because, you know, he’s Russian.”
– Coulson: “Yeah, cause you’re never robotic at all.”
– May: “So things ended well huh?”
– Yo Yo: “It was a video game!”
– Coulson: “Kill me. Yep. That’s what happened.”
– Simmons: “People don’t name themselves ‘Madame Hydra’ if they’re open minded.”
– Talbot: “You assume that every damn one of them is a C-3PO!”
– Talbot: “Where’s that Speedy Gonzalez girl?”