Saturday, May 20, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 22: World's End

It's the season finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

Overall this was one of the strongest seasons yet, in a series that gets better and better every year. Unfortunately this season's finale wasn't one of their strongest, as there were way too many loose ends to wrap up.

The whole episode felt rushed, and none of the big emotional moments had the room they needed to breathe. "What's that, Mack? You just lost your daughter Hope for the second time, in a heart-wrenching scene? That's too bad. Here's five seconds of screen time to grieve about it!"

It definitely should have been a super-sized two hour episode.

I wasn't a huge fan of The Framework storyline at first, but it grew on me, and became more compelling as it went on. There were a lot of missed opportunities though. The storyline allowed the writers to bring back old characters like Ward, Tripp and even Bakshi, for Stan Lee's sake. 

So I was hoping we'd get to see virtual versions of Mockingbird and Hunter pop up inside The Framework. Alas, no such luck. Maybe there was a scheduling conflict with actors Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood. Or maybe ABC approached them, and the actors told them to f*ck off after being written off the series for their own pilot that never materialized (twice!).

So far I'm a big fan of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "story pod" approach, in which they break up their season into three separate arcs of six to eight episodes each. Having these "seasons within a season" means the storylines move along at a brisk pace, eliminating the wheel spinning and filler episodes that plague other series (Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, The Walking Dead!). Hopefully they'll continue this method in Season 5.

Now for some good news and bad news. The good news is that last week, ABC finally announced they were renewing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a fifth season. Huzzah! The bad news is they're moving the show to Friday night at 9pm. Hmm....

Friday night has traditionally been seen as the "Death Slot," where older or low-rated series are sent to die. ABC denies this is what's happening (of course), as they claim they're attempting to turn Fridays into "a destination for fantasy and sci-fi fans," as S.H.I.E.L.D. will be paired with the long-running series Once Upon A Time.

Honestly I don't think a Friday night timeslot is the death-knell it once was. In this age of streaming and binge-watching, few people watch live TV anymore anyway, so it really doesn't matter what day a series airs.

One good thing about the move though—  Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is scheduled to return in January of 2018 (which sounds like a really long time from now, but is really only eight months away) and all twenty two episodes will run consecutively, with no interminable mid-season breaks! Wow! I've been bitching about the goddamned months-long breaks (in which I forget what the hell's going on with the show) for years now, so this is the best news possible!


The Plot:
Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, finds his car in the S.H.I.E.L.D. impound lot, which is apparently a thing. He gets in, revs it up and roars off.

On Zephyr One, Simmons asks Fitz if AIDA, who's now flesh and blood, is human or Inhuman. Fitz says she's both, and neither. Helpful! He tells her he's still traumatized by his actions inside The Framework, where he tortured and killed countless Inhumans. Meanwhile, Daisy tries to locate Yo-yo's mind inside the virtual world so she can extract her. She's horrified to see that AIDA's deleting The Framework, as its program slowly starts disappearing line by line.

Inside The Framework, Yo-yo's strapped to a gurney in the Triskelion. A Hydra agent enters and starts to shoot her, but Radcliffe appears and rescues her. When she asks how he knew she was here, he tells her Daisy's apparently altering the code of The Framework, causing actual yo-yos to appear in his pockets and clue him in (!). He warns her that she shouldn't have come, as things are beginning to disappear as the virtual world winds down.

AIDA and the Superior discuss their plan to use the Darkhold to make the Hydra-controlled world of The Framework a reality. Suddenly the Hell Charger roars up, and Ghost Rider emerges from it. He's there for the Darkhold, and "kills" several of AIDA's LMD henchmen. He attacks her with his flaming chain, which burns her arm before she can teleport away.

Coulson gets a call from General Talbot, saying it's time for the government's annual "Shut Down S.H.I.E.L.D." meeting, and he needs him to testify before a committee to defend the organization. Coulson politely R.S.V.P.s, saying he's way too busy to attend. Meanwhile, Daisy somehow tracks down Robbie and meets up with him.

AIDA's puzzled as to why her accelerated healing factor hasn't fixed her arm. The Superior says it's because Ghost Rider burned her, and he comes from the same darkness that made her.

Daisy brings Robbie to Zephyr One. He tells Coulson there was a tear in the dark world when AIDA was created, which allowed him to escape. He says Ghost Rider wants to find AIDA and the Darkhold and send them back to the hell from whence they came.

In The Framework, Radcliffe takes Yo-yo to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ to see Mack. She approaches him, but he has no idea who she is. Mack says people and things are starting to disappear from the HQ as The Framework winds down, and tells everyone left that they need to evacuate immediately.

The next morning, Talbot attends the government meeting. The Superior and another LMD are there as well. The Superior accuses S.H.I.E.L.D. of breeding an Inhuman army, as Talbot tries to defend them. The Superior shows them the Darkhold, saying it has the power to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. and eliminate the Inhuman threat once and for all. Suddenly Daisy enters the meeting, shoots Talbot in the head (!) and immediately runs off.

Just then Coulson, Daisy (?) and the other agents arrive. They shoot the Superior and his LMD henchman and take the Darkhold. Daisy confronts her LMD duplicate, who was the one who actually shot Talbot. AIDA's there as well, chortling that she'll 
enjoy watching Daisy have to kill "herself." Suddenly Ghost Rider appears and he and Daisy take out the LMD.

Talbot's assistant examines him and says there's still a pulse (?). She calls for her guards to arrest S.H.I.E.L.D., but Coulson says it was an LMD who shot Talbot. She doesn't believe him of course, and Coulson and the others beat a hasty retreat.

Back on Zephyr One, Coulson says the video of LMD Daisy shooting Talbot will cause fear and distrust toward S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans both, creating the fascist state of Hydra that existed inside The Framework. Coulson asks Robbie if he can borrow the Darkhold to use as bait against AIDA. He's reluctant, but agrees. Coulson says their only hope now is to return to their ruined S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ to defeat AIDA once and for all.

In The Framework, Mack, Hope, Yo-yo and Radcliffe are on a bus, trying to make it to safety. Suddenly the bridge in front of them disappears. Yo-yo tries to convince Mack that The Framework is dying, and he has to come back with her to the real world. He refuses to leave Hope, of course. Suddenly Hope screams, and they see everyone in the bus except for the four of them has disappeared. Yo-yo asks why they're still alive, and Radcliffe says Daisy must be temporarily protecting them.

At S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and May wait for AIDA. He finally tells her that her LMD duplicate made a move toward him, and she says maybe it had the right idea (!). Daisy tries to program a backdoor out of The Framework for Mack and Yo-yo. FitzSimmons lock themselves in the server room, to keep The Framework running as long as possible (so... so it's inside S.H.I.E.L.D.?). Suddenly AIDA teleports into the room.

She grabs Simmons and jabs a screwdriver partway into her chest. She taunts Fitz, saying she'll make him pay for what he did to her by killing everyone he loves. Fitz begs her to stop, saying he'll do anything she wants. AIDA electrocutes Simmons and teleports away (!).

Back in The Framework, Mack returns to his home with the others. Yo-yo tells Radcliffe that she can't believe Mack is ready to die for a daughter who isn't real. Hope overhears and goes crying to Mack.

AIDA teleports to the S.H.I.E.L.D. portal room (that she created earlier in the season). She grabs the Darkhold from Coulson, and just as she's about to blast him, Simmons appears and shoots her from behind. Apparently the Simmons AIDA killed was an LMD, but don't ask me where they got it.

AIDA moves toward Simmons to kill her for real, but suddenly Coulson transforms into Ghost Rider! It seems Robbie temporarily loaned him out to Coulson for a bit. Coulson Rider wraps his chains around AIDA as she teleports away with him in tow. She teleports to various locations, but can't seem to dislodge the demon. Finally she teleports back into S.H.I.E.L.D., where Coulson Rider grabs her and burns her to ash.

Well then. That was... disappointing. Somehow I was expecting a more grandiose demise for the Big Bad who's plagued the agents all season.

In The Framework, a door appears in the wall of Mack's house. Radcliffe says Daisy must have programmed an escape for them. Yo-yo begs Mack to come with her, but he still refuses to leave Hope. She says if that's what he wants, then so be it, and sits down beside him, so they can all die together. Mack hugs Hope, but she vanishes in his arms. He wails in agony, as Yo-yo tries to comfort him.

Yo-yo wakes up inside Zephyr One. Daisy says she can't see Mack's code anymore, and that they've lost him. Suddenly Mack gasps and wakes up.

Coulson thanks Robbie for loaning him Ghost Rider. Robbie asks if he knows why the demon made the deal, and Coulson says he does, but he'd like to keep it between them "for now." Robbie says goodbye to everyone, takes the Darkhold and uses his chain to open a portal. He steps through into the Dark Dimension, Doctor Strange-style.

Mack & Yo-yo discuss what happened in The Framework. They receive word that Talbot somehow survived, but is in a coma (?). Oh, and the government is coming after S.H.I.E.L.D. Fitz tells the others to go, and he'll stay behind and take the fall for them, as penance for what he did in The Framework. Daisy tells him to forget about it, saying they're all in this together. Coulson suggests they all get a bite to eat before what's coming.

In The Framework, Radcliffe sits on a beach, watching the sunset. He starts to toast his old flame Agnes, but suddenly winks out of existence.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sit in a diner, enjoying their meal. Suddenly the lights go out, and a squad of soldiers, lead by a shadowy figure, appears behind them. The shadowy man uses a glowing device to freeze everyone, and tells the soldiers to hurry, as "the window closes in two minutes."

Some time later, Coulson wakes up in what appears to be a cell. He pushes a button and opens a window, revealing he's in outer space, an asteroid field in the distance. He stares at the view a moment, then says, "All right, Phil, enough sight-seeing. Get back to work."


• I'm still VERY confused as to actual physical location of The Framework in the real world. It's a sophisticated simulation of the entire Earth, so one would expect it would be stored on a massive server somewhere.

A couple weeks ago we finally found out that AIDA had the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hooked up to The Framework inside the Superior's secret oil rig headquarters. So I simply assumed The Framework server was in that location as well. Seems logical, right?

This week though, AIDA starts shutting down The Framework, causing people, places and objects to start vanishing inside the virtual world. FitzSimmons announce that they're locking themselves inside the server room at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ to keep The Framework running long enough for Yo-yo to rescue Mack and bring him back. 

So... so I guess that means The Framework has been running on a server at S.H.I.E.L.D. all this time? Does that seem right? 

Daisy also works feverishly to program a new backdoor into The Framework so Yo-yo and Mack can escape, which again implies that it's stored there at S.H.I.E.L.D. But if Daisy can start messing with The Framework's code NOW, why couldn't she have done that weeks ago, and rescue the various agents that way instead of risking her life by entering it herself?

I'm very confused here. And I get the feeling the writers aren't even sure where The Framework is either, and just hope the audience doesn't think about it.

• Welp, so much for AIDA, I guess. She's been plaguing the cast for the entire season, and then Coulson Rider grabs her arm and burns her to a cinder in two seconds! That certainly seemed... anticlimactic. Somehow I was expecting a much more epic demise for such an awesome and interesting supervillain. 

Would it have killed them to have had AIDA and Coulson Rider punch each other a few times before he incinerated her? I'm betting this was a budget issue. Those flaming head effects probably ain't cheap, so they just couldn't afford a prolonged battle. Still, AIDA's death was way too easy and abrupt, and she deserved a better sendoff.

On the other hand, Radcliffe's "death" inside The Framework at the end of the episode was absolutely perfect. He sits on a beach and simply vanishes. All things considered, simply winking out of existence doesn't seem like a bad way to go.

• By the way, how awesome was Coulson Rider? When he first appeared I thought Robbie had somehow gained the power to disguise himself as other people, and simply made himself look like Coulson. Then I remembered that way back in Deals With Our Devils, Mack was briefly possessed by Ghost Rider, implying that the demon can jump from person to person, or be loaned out like some sort of garden tool.

At the end of the episode Coulson returns Ghost Rider to Robbie, and thanks him for the loan of his demon. Robbie says "You know why he made the deal in the first place, right?" Coulson assures him he does, and asks him not to mention it to the others.

So what was Ghost Rider's mysterious deal? Was it something specific, like he made Coulson promise to be his new host if Robbie's ever killed? Or was it vague, tit-for-tat Godfather-type promise? You know, "Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day."

Could the deal have something to do with how Coulson (and the other agents?) ended up in space in the tag scene?

I'm hopeful that Coulson' deal means we'll see the return of Ghost Rider sometime next season. I have to admit that last year when I first heard he was appearing on the show, I thought it was the stupidest idea ever. A supernatural demon anti-hero on what is ostensibly a spy show? Ridiculous! It sounded like the worst mash-up concept ever! Imagine my surprise though when Ghost Rider fit right in with the tone of the series, and was the best thing about the entire season.

• At one point an LMD of Daisy busts into a government meeting and shoots General Talbot right in the middle of his head. With a real gun too, not an ICER! Amazingly, Talbot survives, although he's in a coma.

I always suspected Talbot had a thick skull, but this proves it!

So what's the verdict here? Is this another example of comic book "science," or can a person really survive a direct gunshot to the head? 

Turns out it IS possible, but extremely unlikely. Survival depends on a number of factors, like the type of gun used, the caliber of the bullet, the angle that it enters the skull and even the region of the brain it hits. 

Sometimes a bullet will shatter when it comes in contact with the skull and do relatively little damage. Sometimes it will penetrate the skull (which is never a good thing) but pass harmlessly through a non-critical area of the brain (!). There have even been cases where a bullet entered a subject's head, ricocheted off their skull and then traveled under the skin before exiting harmlessly out the back of their head, giving the impression it went clean through their noggin!

• Yo-yo asks Radcliffe how he found her in The Framework, inside the Triskelion. He says apparently Daisy altered The Framework's code, causing actual toy yo-yos to appear in his pockets to clue him in! Haw!

• So Yo-yo does her best to talk Mack into coming back with her to the real world, but he refuses, choosing instead to stay in The Framework with his fake daughter Hope. It isn't until Hope's sudden "deletion" that Mack realizes there's no point in staying any longer, and he finally agrees to leave.

I'm not a fan of this resolution to Mack's Framework storyline. It lacks any sense of drama, as he's never placed in the position where he has to make a difficult decision. He decides to stay until Hope disappears and then says, "Welp, I guess I better go back to this "real" world everyone keeps talking about."

Wouldn't it have been a hundred times better if Yo-yo's appearance had jogged Mack's memory of the real world? That way he'd have had a hard choice to make— return to the real world and lose his daughter a second time, or stay and die with her.

• Somehow, Fitz creates an expendable LMD of Simmons for AIDA to kill in the server room. Just how the hell he accomplished this, I have no idea. AIDA created an LMD of Daisy earlier in the episode, but that makes sense, as she and the Superior obviously have some sort of secret LMD-making machine in his new headquarters (wherever that is). 

But how is S.H.I.E.L.D. churning out fresh LMDs? Is there an LMD printer that we never heard about before somewhere inside S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ? 

Earlier in the season, LMD Fitz planned to replace Simmons with a robotic duplicate. Is that the one we see in this episode? I have no idea, and I don't think the writers do either. It's another one of those things they hope we don't think too hard about.

• I'm VERY disappointed that the series didn't give Framework Ward a proper sendoff. This season the writers did something I believed was impossible— they completely redeemed the Grant Ward character and found a logical and compelling way to bring him back to the show.

And then he simply walked off the screen a couple weeks in All The Madame's Men, never to be seen again. No goodbyes, no heroic death, nothing. He doesn't even go out with a whimper. He's just suddenly no longer on the show! Talk about a letdown!

When AIDA revealed that the purpose of her Project Looking Glass was to build herself a flesh and blood body in the real world, I was convinced that this is how the writers would return Ward to the show permanently. Just run him through the machine and BAM! Hero Ward's back on the team again. It would have been a clever and perfectly reasonable way to resurrect the character.

We later found out that wasn't possible, as A: Project Looking Glass was destroyed, and B: It used dark matter energy to build strong bodies twelve ways, and Ghost Rider would probably have killed Hero Ward the instant he saw him.

But as we saw with the Simmons-bot in this episode, S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently has the ability to make their own LMDs. Why couldn't Daisy whip one up, and then download Framework Ward's mind into it? Sure, he'd be a robot from then on, but he'd still be back on the show.

No one even mentioned him since his last appearance. You'd think at least Daisy would have said something about the guy, considering they were living together inside The Framework. His sudden disappearance and lack of a proper goodbye is one of the worst character exits I think I've ever seen on a network TV show! They Chuck Cunninghammed him!

• Ever since Fitz got out of The Framework, he's been freaking out over the things he did there. He tells Simmons, "
I performed lethal experiments on approximately two dozen people innocent people, people we've known from this world. Lincoln Campbell, Vijay Nadeer, Gordon from the Afterlife... I can still hear the screams."

It seems like he'll be dealing with the fallout of his virtual actions for months, if not years.

Then at the end of the episode, Daisy gives him a rousing pep talk about teamwork, one worthy of The Flash. And just like that Fitz seems all better! That was easy!

• So far I have absolutely no idea who the mystery people were who abducted Coulson and the others at the end of the episode, or why he ends up on a space station.

Actually I'm not even sure it was a space station, as it looked like he was in some kind of prison cell. And is he the only one in space, or are the rest of the agents there as well? These are all good questions right now.

Many fans are convinced the mystery people work for S.W.O.R.D., another secret agency with a tortured acronym that stands for "Sentient World Observation and Response Department." They're a counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D., except they protect Earth from extraterrestrial threats. 

That's not a bad theory, except I would expect an organization that protects Earth to be orbiting the planet. Wherever Coulson was at the end, it wasn't anywhere near Earth, as there was a freakin' asteroid field outside his window.

It's also possible his outer space visit has something to do with the Royal Family of the Inhumans, who have their own series this fall on ABC. Marvel Studios swore the two series wouldn't cross over or have anything to do with one another, so that's probably not the answer.

We'll have to wait until this fall to find out. See you then!

This Week's Best Lines:
Yo-yo: "How did you find me?"
Radcliffe: (pulling actual yo-yos out of his pockets) "I kept discovering these in my pockets, in the streets. I felt like a PAC-MAN gobbling up biscuits. Somebody wanted me to find you."
Yo-yo: "Daisy."

The Superior: "Why are you so upset? You created us."
AIDA: "A decision I regret."
The Superior: "There is that word again, 'regret.' You built an empire by eliminating the regrets of others. How does it taste on your tongue?"
AIDA: "I want to burn this world to the ground."

Talbot: "Three of my finest aren't so fortunate, and I have no idea what killed them."
Coulson: "We lost good people, too. The short answer is they were murdered by a vanishing banshee made of matter from another dimension."
Talbot: "You expect me to put that in my report?"
Coulson: "I have a cybernetic hand. I've been to an another planet. This stuff happens in S.H.I.E.L.D."

Daisy: "What's new?" 
Robbie: "Nothing much. Beat up a couple dudes. Turned out to be robots."

The Superior: "This book opened my eyes to the truth about Inhumans. It contains a plan to defeat them, and you can all be a part of it."
Talbot: "I smell a load of L. Ron Horsecrap!"

AIDA: "I had a lot of time after you shattered my spine to think about what I'd do when I saw you again. I decided it might be fun to watch you kill yourself."
Daisy: "Aida, seriously, therapy. Just consider it."

Daisy: "This must be Aida's payback 'cause I quaked her skinny ass out that window."

May: "This is a terrible plan."
Coulson: "You know, Robot May was way more supportive."

AIDA: "Now I understand why humans have written so many sad songs."
Fitz: "Yeah! Hey, that's a great example. There are lots of ways to express sadness and pain. There's music and art..."
AIDA: "And smashing heads on the floor. That's the one I like the best so far."

AIDA: (after Simmons shoots her multiple times) "Your weapon can't stop me."
Simmons: "I know. I just really wanted to do that."

Coulson: (after Daisy and Robbie wipe out a room full of AIDA's henchmen) "I missed it, didn't I? You two together, and we missed it. Damn."

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