Agents of SHIELD Season 4 Recap: No Regrets

In the this week’s Agents of SHIELD episode this season, we dive deeper into the topsy-turvy world of the Framework and learn what makes Evil!Fitz tick.

“Why do you still watch Agents of SHIELD?” 

I’ve had occasion to ask this question recently, with The Inhumans coming in September, and SHIELD‘s future still up in the air. For many of my friends, the answer is “I don’t anymore.” They tell me they fell away as the Inhuman storylines took over making SHIELD “too weird” for them. But for those who stayed the answer has been the same: “FitzSimmons!”

I consider both those data points to be relevant as we round into the heart of SHIELD‘s third “pod” subtitled “Agents of Hydra”. Of the three pods this season, this third one has been the most effective. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed this “back to basics” twist, with no Inhuman powered people in main roles, and Grant Ward back on the team. (Albeit this time a double agent secretly working for SHIELD to undermine Hydra.) It makes me wish the first season had been better, and the Skye-Ward relationship less of a throwaway so early. In the space of two episodes, they have become a couple I could ship easily. And this far more simple show where SHIELD is on the ropes and Hydra is in power one I could mindlessly enjoy every Tuesday. They even brought Tripp back!

Coulson: “A heads up would be nice.”

But the real heart of this final plot of the season isn’t Skye and Ward. (Perhaps the pressure off them to be the main star-crossed couple is part of why they are so easy to love now.) It’s why people still tune in: FitzSimmons. The couple who never seem to be able to make it work finally got their attraction in gear at the end of last season, and spent most of this one fumbling towards some sort of domestic bliss, with apartment hunting and awkward not telling one another about their classified work projects. Obviously, this means it’s time to throw another spanner in the course of true love. This time, the thing delivering traumatic emotional injury to their relationship is the Framework, the false reality our characters have all found themselves inside. Fitz has become a Josef Mengele type figure in Hydra (giving him the “Nevertheless she persisted” line was a nice touch), conducting gruesome torturous experiments on Inhumans, as well as Madame Hydra’s right hand man, and more importantly, her lover.

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(ABC/Eric McCandless) MALLORY JANSEN, IAIN DE CAESTECKER

Simmons, on the other hand, is dead. Well, was dead. By hacking into the Framework, she resurrected her body and is now desperately driving to bring her friends out of their brainwashed state and back to remembering reality, along with Daisy. The problem is, her refusal to “buy in” to the Framework the way Daisy does makes her seem like a crazy person–complaining that the people around them aren’t real, so they don’t need blankets or are even deserving of notice. But by the end of the episode she’s released the old Dumbledore adage holds true: “Of course it is happening inside your head…but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Simmons: “No one wants to hear they’re just an avatar in a digital prison, but sometimes that happens, and here we are.”

Earlier in the season, in an earlier “pod”, we had this episode with a subplot of Fitz struggling with the memories of his father, who abandoned the family when he was 10 years old (and was, as far as we can tell, an abusive ass before that). At the time, I wondered what in heaven’s name the point of this odd diversion was–not that it wasn’t good to fill in more character backstory, but it seemed a bit strange to dedicate so much of the episode to it–and with us already four seasons in, and never having heard about it before.

Screengrab via ABC

Said episode was only a week off from the one where we learned about Mack late child, Hope. In retrospect, both subplots were laying the groundwork for this series of episodes. AIDA has been giving back the one thing each of the character’s hearts desired–taking away that one regret. For Coulson, it was joining SHIELD at all–and never knowing a quiet life. For May, it was the “Inhuman Child in Bahrain” she killed back in Season 2. (Which AIDA then used to create a terrorist incident that created the upside down world, ironically making May’s one regret that she let the child live.) Each of them now has the one thing they wanted. Daisy has a good-hearted Grant Ward. Mack gets his little girl alive again. And Fitz gets a relationship with the father he never bonded with.

Fitz Sr: “Everyone needs the strap across their back now and again.”

….and in return Fitz has become a murderer.

Last week, he killed Agnes, whose body was already dead in the real world, meaning that her avatar was all she had left of life. This week he goes a step further and orders the death of Jeffrey Mace, the Patriot, the “Head of SHIELD” this season. And he gets it too, as Mace sacrifices himself so that everyone else may live–causing his body to die in the real world. (I had been wondering how they would resolve his presence on the show by the end of the season. And of all the characters who are in the Framework, his was the easiest to make expendable. But I’ll admit, I did not see that coming.) Last week’s killing of Agnes may have cause Simmons emotional trauma of seeing Fitz kill someone at point-blank range, but it could have, in the end, been written off as “she was just digital pixels anyway, she was already dead.” This is different. When they wake up, Mace will still be dead–and it will be Fitz who made it so.

(ABC/Eric McCandless) JASON O’MARA, CLARK GREGG

At this point, Fitz is the only main character who still remains completely under AIDA’s thumb. Mack may not have any memory of the real world, but he’s already decided of his own accord to come work for SHIELD. Mace never believed in the real world, but since he’s now dead, that’s no longer important. Coulson, Daisy, Simmons and Radcliffe know the score. And May found herself face to face to the one person who could snap her out: Coulson, who literally (and usefully) yelled at her to snap out of it. (Though the realization that Fitz and company brought down a building filled with kids they were torturing, and how little she knew of the truth of Hydra’s operations also helped.)

Radcliffe: “One person in your life, one sentence, has the power to change you forever.”

By the episode bumper, May has decided that perhaps Daisy’s bizarre story of another world might be true–or at least the “I was an Inhuman there” part of it is, and has smashed a Terrigen crystal in her cell to give the girl her tremors back. Ah well. I suppose the simple version of the world was nice while it lasted.

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