Friday, May 12, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 21: The Return

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and May battle the Superior, Fitz deals with the fallout from his actions inside The Framework and AIDA goes all Fatal Attraction on him as she rides a rollercoaster of brand new emotions.

I was a bit underwhelmed by this episode at first, as I was expecting Coulson & Company's return to the real world to be a bit more... epic. The more I think about it though, the more I realize it was actually pretty darned monumental. There were at least two or three episode's worth of action and story crammed into these forty two minutes. In fact there may have been a bit too much going on, as some of the storylines felt a bit rushed and could have used some room to breathe. This is a minor quibble though. I'll take too much storyline over too little any day of the week.

This week we find out that all the agents who were hooked up to The Framework remember everything that happened to them there. Not just the ten days they were actually inside, but their entire virtual lives— childhood, adolescence, everything.

That's a mind blowing revelation (literally!), and it'll be interesting to see how (or if) the writers handle this in future seasons. Will their second lives alter their personalities? How could they not?

Kudos to actress Mallory Jansen, aka AIDA, who is this season's MVP. When she first appeared on the show, I assumed she was cast because she could stand stock-still and act like an emotionless robot. How wrong I was about that!

She's an incredibly talented actress with a YUGE range. In the space of just one season she's played at least five different versions of the same character— the emotionless LMD AIDA, Darkhold-corrupted AIDA, Agnes Kitsworth (the human inspiration for AIDA), Madame Hydra and now flesh and blood batsh*t insane Ophelia.

It's an amazing series of performances, and it's been a joy watching her. Too bad she's probably gonna be leaving the show after next week!

Ever since this Framework story "pod" started, I've been noting the similarities between the simulated Hydra-ruled world and the current Trump administration. Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed this. Earlier this week, someone set up a website. When clicked, this link went directly to the official White House webpage! Snap!

Lastly, a couple days after this episode aired, ABC finally announced that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed for a fifth season! Huzzah! It's about freakin' time! Could they have waited any longer to tell us? I was honestly worried that this Framework storyline would be the series' last. Finally, some good news for a change.


The Plot:
The Superior stands inside his secret oil rig base, reading from the Darkhold as a copy of him looks on. In another part of the rig, Coulson, May and Fitz wake up from The Framework. AIDA, who's now become a real flesh and blood person, grabs Fitz and teleports away with him (which we saw happen last week). Coulson theorizes that AIDA must have used Hydra intel to give her new body the powers of various Inhumans (such as Gordon's teleportation and Lincoln's electrical blasts).

Just then the Superior attacks, and May shoots him several times. They realize he's an LMD when he keeps on coming. He attacks Coulson, who activates his arm shield. The electronic shield slices off the front of LMD Superior's face, which I have to admit was pretty darned cool. Several more LMD Superiors come down the hall, and Coulson locks the door and shorts it out.

Coulson then catches May up on everything that happened while she was in The Framework. She notes he's acting weird, and asks if her LMD self came on to him. He lies and says no, she just tried to kill him (!).

Meanwhile the Superior's forces are still attacking Zephyr One. Daisy, Simmons & Yo-yo work together to restore weapons and blow the enemy plane out of the sky.

AIDA teleports herself and Fitz to a remote beach. She's amazed by the feeling of sand and water beneath her feet. Fitz thinks about all the things he did in The Framework, and says he's gonna be sick. AIDA says she was a slave to her programming in the virtual world, but that he made all his own choices there and he's who he's supposed to be or something. She then teleports them away.

Back on Zephyr One, Yo-yo's furious that Daisy didn't bring Mack back with her. Daisy explains that he wanted to stay with Hope, his virtual daughter, and didn't remember his previous life. Yo-yo wants to enter The Framework and drag him back, but Daisy tells her that as an Inhuman, she'd be immediately 
captured by Hydra. She says they need to find Mack in the real world and protect him.

Agent Piper informs them they're about out of fuel and power. Simmons asks why they don't just land and refuel. Piper shows them a press conference, in which General Talbot labels all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents terrorists (because he thinks they're still in the LMD story arc, and all the agents are androids).

AIDA teleports Fitz to an oceanside home. He asks her if she has empathy, and can imagine how others feel. She says yes, and that she only wants to make him and everyone else happy. She suddenly remembers the Superior, and says he's going to hurt Fitz's friends.

On the rig, a couple of LMD Superiors break into The Framework room and attack Coulson and May. When one of the Superiors stands in a puddle, Coulson tosses a live wire into it and fries him. May simply crushes the other one's head by beating it repeatedly with a hammer (!). Coulson wonders why the Superior didn't just flood the rig. Just then, the Superior floods the rig. He and several LMD copies take off in a sub and fire torpedoes at the underwater base.

Water floods the base, as Coulson and May struggle to escape. May says they can't leave the comatose Mack, who's still hooked up to The Framework. Coulson tells May he'll help her to the surface and come back for Mack.

AIDA teleports to the sub and pleads with the Superior to let the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents go. When he refuses, she threatens to kill him. He tells her to go ahead, as his body is just an LMD copy controlled by his human head, which is in a secret location. She teleports away.

Coulson and May make it to the top of the oil rig, just as Zephyr One lands. Yo-yo rushes to Coulson and asks where Mack is. Before he can answer, an explosion destroys the elevator shaft, preventing them from going back in. Suddenly AIDA teleports onto the deck with Fitz and a waterlogged Mack. Simmons shoots both AIDA and Fitz with an ICER.

Everyone piles into Zephyr One and returns to what's left of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ (if you'll recall, LMD May blew it up real good back in Self Control). They place AIDA in an Inhuman-proof containment unit so she can't teleport away. For some reason they put Fitz in with her as well, which makes no sense, but whatever. Simmons hopes Fitz can come back from his Framework ordeal and return to normal.

Fitz comes to and sees AIDA looking at a screen displaying a landscape. He mopes about the horrible things he did inside The Framework. AIDA tells him that all she did was fix his regret of never knowing his father, plus she made sure he met her on his first day at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy instead of Simmons. Fitz says he's exactly like Grant Ward, and all it took was a little nudge to turn him evil. He wails that Simmons will never be able to look at him again. Unknown to Fitz, Simmons sees and hears all this on the security monitor, and bursts into tears.

Fitz goes on, saying his future with Simmons is dead. AIDA hugs him, saying she can finally understand what he's going through, and how it feels to lose the love of your life. He says there's only room in his heart for one person. AIDA nods, holding him closer, as Fitz says, "Simmons."

AIDA immediately goes all Crazy Ex Girlfriend. Her emotional immaturity causes her to lash out and threaten Fitz. Simmons moves to pull him out of the room, but just then Talbot shows up with a squad of soldiers, still believing all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are LMDs. He tells his squad to shoot anyone who moves a muscle.

Meanwhile AIDA tries to teleport out of the room, but can't. Piper and a couple of other agents enter the containment room and rescue Fitz. AIDA uses Lincoln's electricity bolts to fry the circuitry in the room and teleports away.

Coulson tries to explain everything to Talbot, who of course doesn't believe him. They hear one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents yelling, "She's everywhere!" and Daisy rushes off to help. AIDA teleports behind an agent and shoots him in the head. Another agent shoots her, allowing Fitz and Piper to get away. AIDA quickly recovers, as she apparently has a Wolverine-like healing factor now. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents all board Zephyr One and take off, as Talbot lets them go.

Inside Zephyr One, Simmons finds Fitz sitting alone. He can't even bear to look at her. She sits down and holds him.

AIDA returns to the Superior, who's... somewhere. He says he plans to use the Darkhold to turn The Framework into reality, to make Coulson and the others suffer. AIDA says that's what she wants as well. She chugs a bottle of vodka and mounts him (!). Instead of having sex with him though, she crushes his skull. Another Superior looks on.

Talbot and his men retreat from the ruined S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. The second they're gone, the portal that AIDA built (back in Deals With Our Devils) opens up, and Ghost Rider steps out, in all his flaming vengeancey glory.

Back on Zephyr One, Daisy wonders where Yo-yo went. She runs to the lab and sees she's hooked herself up to The Framework to save Mack.

Yo-yo wakes inside The Framework, strapped to a table in a burning room.

• Why is everyone suddenly referring to The Superior as "The Russian" this week? Did the writers forget his name?

• Speaking of The Superior Russian, how's he able to casually leaf through the Darkhold?Doesn't anyone who reads it go insane? Is he unaffected by it because he's already nuts?

• Coulson activating his arm shield to "deface" the Superior may be the coolest thing I've ever seen on this show! Kudos to whoever thought of using it that way.

Note that after his face falls off, we see that the android Superior has the trademark glowing "woven brain" that all LMDs have, like the one AIDA created in Deals With Our Devils.

• For months now I've been
 trying to figure out just where AIDA's Framework machine was located. After last week's episode, I was about ninety percent certain it was underneath the Superior's oil rig. This week we get one hundred percent confirmation of that, as Coulson and May exit The Framework room and climb to the top of the rig.

So why all the confusion as to its location? Was it just poor writing and blocking, or were they trying to keep it a mystery from the audience until this week?

• A couple weeks ago when AIDA revealed the true purpose of Project Looking Glass— to construct a flesh and blood body for herself in the real world. As soon as I heard that, I was certain that Framework Ward would use the device to turn himself into a real boy. It would have been an awesome, and completely logical way for the character to return to the show. Welp, after the events in this week's episode, it looks like that's not gonna happen (unless the machine's somehow still working and can build him a real body hundreds of feet under water!). Too bad.

I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Framework Ward though. He never got a proper sendoff, as he didn't even appear in last week's episode where Daisy and the Gang left the virtual world. Mack and Yo-yo are still inside The Framework at this point, so I'm betting they'll encounter him next week.

• Where'd AIDA get the oceanside home that she teleports Fitz to? Does it belong to Radcliffe? Or did she kill whoever owned it and move in?

• A few weeks ago in Identity And Change, AIDA started calling herself "Ophelia" inside The Framework. I assumed she named herself after the Ophelia in Hamlet, which would be an odd thing to do, considering what happens to the character.

In Shakespeare's play, Ophelia starts out OK, but she's constantly ordered around by her father, brother and boyfriend. Eventually this drives her nuts and she ends up drowning. Note that she doesn't kill herself, she just falls in the water and doesn't do anything to survive.

This actually fits pretty well with AIDA's storyline She claims Radcliffe abused her in the real world by keeping her in a closet and shutting her off when he didn't need her. There really isn't a brother figure in her life, but she most definitely has a boyfriend in Fitz, and he most definitely drives her into madness. Inadvertently, of course!

• I'm a bit confused by AIDA's rescue of Mack.

Earlier in the episode, he was the only agent still hooked up to The Framework machine, as he refused to leave the virtual world. The Superior then torpedoed his own oil rig base, flooding it. Poor comatose Mack was doomed as the water rushed in around him.

Then suddenly AIDA appears and teleports him out of the Framework room and onto Zephyr One. Hooray!

Note that Mack doesn't wake up after this teleportation. Somehow his mind is still inside The Framework, even though he's no longer hooked up to the machine!

Or is he? When we see him on Zephyr One he's got some kind of hi-tech gizmo wrapped around his head. Is THAT what's keeping him hooked up to The Framework? And how does Yo-yo enter it at the end of the episode?

Just where is the server that's hosting this virtual world? I thought it was inside the Superior's oil rig. That seems unlikely though, since the entire thing was just destroyed. Daisy and Simmons hacked into The Framework a few weeks ago with some equipment on Zephyr One, but I got the impression they just kind of remotely plugged into it somehow, similar to how you access a web page. There's got to be a protected computer somewhere that's running this vast simulation. Or is The Framework like some kind of massive wifi signal that can be accessed remotely? Maybe it's "in the Cloud?"

I'm betting the writers haven't quite figured this out for themselves, and are hoping we don't think about it too hard either.

By the way, Henry Simmons, who plays Mack, had an easy time of it this week. All he had to do was lie on a table with his eyes shut for the entire episode!

• Several months ago in Self Control, Daisy was wandering around S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and stumbled upon a room full of scantily clad LMD copies of herself.

I assume this Daisy army must have been completely destroyed when LMD May blew up the base?

• Apparently AIDA incorporated Gordon's teleportation and Lincoln's electrical blasts into her new human body, which I guess technically now makes her an Inhuman. She also seems to have souped-up healing powers. I'm not sure who she got those from.

• In the S.H.I.E.L.D. holding cell, Fitz says his relationship with Simmons is dead. AIDA, who hasn't quite got the hang of human emotions yet, wrongly interprets this as an admission of love from Fitz, and moves in close to comfort him. He then says that even though Simmons is likely through with him, he'll always love her. AIDA immediately does a 180 degree turn and hisses "WHAT?!"

Wow. I don't think I've ever heard a single word laced with so much pain, anger, betrayal and malice. Scorned AIDA may have been the scariest thing I've ever seen on a network TV show. Her emotional immaturity combined with her superpowered body makes her a formidable threat indeed. 
She's definitely become one of the best villains in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (which I will admit is damning her with faint praise).

• Fitz realizing he was only a couple of bad experiences away from turning into Grant Ward was a chilling and heartbreaking moment for the character.

• At the end of the episode we see that against all warnings, Yo-yo enters The Framework to rescue Mack. I have a bad feeling one of them's not going to make it out alive... Hopefully I'm wrong, as I like both characters a lot, especially Yo-yo!

• This Week's Best Lines:
The Superior: (reading the Darkhold) "There are actually a few funny passages in here."

Coulson: (seeing AIDA teleport away) "No, no, no! She has Inhuman powers now?! Can we get a break, please?! Can we get one break?"

May: (seeing the Superior) "Who the hell is this guy?"
Coulson: "Well, you missed a fair amount, May, but the quick version is, you can go ahead and shoot him."

Coulson: "We call him the Russian. 'Cause, you know, he's Russian."
(maybe, but up until this week "we" called him the Superior)

May: (after finding out she was replaced by an LMD) "You must've spotted the decoy right away, right?"
Coulson: "Yeah, 'cause you're never robotic at all."
May: "Oh, really? How long did it take you to figure it out?"
(long pause) 
May: "Wow. I'm hurt, Phil. Guess we're not as close as I thought."

May: "So, how did things end with Robbie Reyes? Last I remember, we were chasing down his uncle."
Coulson: "Oh, you know, guy tried to become a god, so we opened up a portal beneath his quantum-power cube, then Ghost Rider dragged him to another dimension with his hellfire chain."
May: "So, things ended well, then."
Coulson: "Well as can be expected."

May: "What's up? You mad that I was Hydra in there?"
Coulson: "I don't blame you for that."

May: "Then, what? Did something weird happen with my robot self? Did I make a move on you? Phil, did I try to Kill you?"
Coulson: (awkwardly) "Kill me. Yep. That's what happened. You tried. It was messed up."

Daisy: (discussing AIDA) "She'll remain inside until we can decide what we want to do with her."
Yo-yo: "Why don't we chop off her head like last time? You need a volunteer?"
Coulson: "Let's take a moment and think about that, Sweeney Todd. She's a real person now, and she..."
Daisy: "She saved Mack."
Coulson: "She made herself real in order to escape Radcliffe's programming, so now maybe she's different."
Simmons: "I highly doubt that. People don't name themselves 'Madame Hydra' if they're open-minded."

Simmons: "What do the two of you remember of your Framework lives?"
Coulson: "As much as I remember about this life. The only difference is, I know..."
May: "It wasn't real."
Simmons: "So it's like you woke up from a dream."
May: "No. Not a dream, Simmons. A life."

AIDA: (when Fitz says he'll always love Simmons) "WHAT?"
(rarely have I heard a single word dripping with so much menace!)

Coulson: "Let's just keep our cool."
Talbot: "You shut your robot mouth, or I'll have these men weld it shut for you!"

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