Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is wrapping up the final arc of Season Four. Except for Mack and Yo-Yo, all the agents have returned from the alternate reality of the Framework. But the former Life Model Decoy alternately called Aida, Ophelia, and Madame Hydra has also returned from the Framework. And in her incarnation as a human being, she has been infused not only with the powers of the dark dimension, but also of every Inhuman who fell into Hydra clutches in the Framework. Aida is assisted by the Superior, a disembodied head with murder on his mind, who can control any number of LMDs. Fortunately, Aida’s creation has also allowed the Ghost Rider to return to Earth, so he can give his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D. a hand. If the situation sounds crazy, that’s because it is—once again, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and only the plucky Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their allies stand between us and destruction!
First things first: There’s some good news to pass along for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans: Disney and ABC have renewed the show for a fifth season, so tonight’s show is a season finale, not a series finale. While ratings in the 10 PM Tuesday time slot were not good, the show has many fans who record it and watch it later (heck, if I wasn’t reviewing it, that’s how I would watch). In fact, recording is how most people are now watching. The show also generates revenue when it appears on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and the streaming services are probably the reason that this season was divided into three smaller “binge-worthy” arcs. In any event, it looks like the network still has faith in the show.
There are reports that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will not premiere in the fall, but will instead wait until the limited run of the new ABC Inhumans show is finished. That might work in the favor of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as the show might be able to run without interruption during their next season. There are also reports that the series will air on Friday nights, going forward—unfortunately another tough night for ratings.
In any event, for those of us who follow the show, we get another year to spend with our favorite characters. The current season has been a strong one, with good writing, solid direction, convincing special effects, and good performances. There is every indication that the show has found its footing, and will continue developing those strengths into the new season.
Episode 422, “World’s End”
The pre-show synopsis from ABC tells us, “With the surprising emergence of Ghost Rider, Coulson and the team attempt to stop Aida from ending the world.”
The episode opens with Robbie firing up the Ghost-mobile, while the Zephyr heads toward home. May is mad that Coulson shared their bottle with her LMD. Jemma interrogates Fitz, trying to figure out how to defeat Aida, while Fitz struggles with memories of the evil he committed while in the Framework. In the Zephyr, standing over the sleeping Mack and Yo-Yo, Daisy see signs of disturbance in the Framework. Meanwhile, in the Framework, someone stands over Yo-Yo with a gun, but Radcliffe shows up, shoots him in the back and frees her. He was led to her by a trail of glowing devices; she wants to see Mack. The Framework, however, is flickering, starting to shut down.
In one of their secret lairs, Aida is angry at the Superior and his LMDs. She doesn’t want to rule the world any more—she wants to burn it down and make S.H.I.E.L.D. suffer, especially Fitz. The flaming Ghost-mobile pulls into Aida’s HQ. Ghost Rider, in full vengeance mode, takes out LMD after LMD, and then uses his flaming chain on Aida, wounding her arm. He wants the Darkhold. Aida hits him with her shock powers, but he does his flaming head thing, she shows fear for perhaps the first time, and then she teleports out to avoid his flaming chain; Ghost Rider screams with frustration.
Jemma reports that the Framework will be gone within 12 to 24 hours. Coulson takes a phone call from Talbot, and tells him that his people were killed by a being made of matter from another dimension. When Talbot asks if he thinks he can put that in his report, Coulson reminds him that he has a cybernetic hand and has been to another planet: “This stuff happens in S.H.I.E.L.D.” (These exchanges show why everything is better when Talbot’s around.) Talbot says there won’t be a S.H.I.E.L.D. soon, and wants Coulson to attend an international intelligence inquiry in order to defend S.H.I.E.L.D. Daisy reports to Coulson, telling him that Robbie pulled his Ghost-mobile out of an impound facility, and then goes to pay him a visit.
At another location, Aida wonders why her healing powers aren’t working on the arm damaged by Ghost Rider. Robbie meets Coulson and tells him he is back from the dark dimension because Aida’s creation created a rift; the Ghost Rider spirit wants both Aida and the Darkhold returned to the dark dimension. The Superior and one of his minions are in suits, and Aida tells him not to fail. In the Framework, Radcliffe introduces Yo-Yo to Mack and Hope. Mack doesn’t even recognize Yo-Yo. Coulson realizes that the Superior and another LMD will be attending the intel inquiry dedicated to discussing the fate of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Superior tells everyone that the problem is S.H.I.E.L.D. and their secret Inhuman program; Talbot has no patience for the Superior’s “commie double-cross.” The Superior shows everyone the Darkhold and when Talbot says he smells a load of “L. Ron Horsecrap,” Daisy strides in and guns him down, apparently having no patience for snarky humor.
But that wasn’t really Daisy, because here she comes with Coulson, May, and Robbie. Ghost Rider goes after the fake Daisy. Coulson and May burst into the intel meeting, and try to gun down the Superior and his other LMD, but they take a licking and keep on ticking, and head out the door. Talbot still has a pulse, and at least for the time being, S.H.I.E.L.D. has recaptured the Darkhold. Daisy and Ghost Rider confront Aida and LMDaisy. Aida is still mad that Daisy quaked her out of the window of Hydra HQ in the Framework, but an unrepentant Daisy tells her to consider therapy. Ghost Rider takes out LMDaisy with his flaming chain. Then Ghost Rider tries the same thing on Aida, but she escapes with her teleportation powers. Soldiers try to detain Coulson, but he also escapes. Daisy and Ghost Rider take on Aida’s LMDs. Daisy uses a steel plate like a Captain America shield to run into gunfire, smashing the plate into the LMD’s chest. Ghost Rider, presumably using the power tool skills he developed while working on his car, uses a drill to kill another. The Superior arrives, hitting Daisy with one of his throwing knives, but Ghost Rider grabs him with his flaming chain while Daisy quakes him into pieces. Coulson comes in and geeks out, disappointed that he missed a great teamwork moment.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team gathers again on the Zephyr, and they realize that what happened at that intel meeting will look bad—Inhumans are going to be blamed and hated again. Coulson wants the Darkhold to use as bait. The Zephyr is running out of power, and Coulson decides to take the fight back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. In the Framework, traffic is locked up, electronics don’t work, and things are coming apart. Yo-Yo confronts Mack, and tells him that this is not his world. He realizes Yo-Yo loves him. Then everybody on the bus except Mack, Yo-Yo, Radcliffe, and Hope suddenly disappears. Hope is scared. Mack tells her he will take her home. In the real world, May tells Coulson coming back to base is a stupid plan, and he replies that robot May was way more supportive (Really, Phil? No wonder your relationship kept stalling out). Robbie opens up to Daisy about the dark dimension, which sounds terrible. Fitz and Jemma are confronted by Aida, who has teleported into their midst.
In the Framework, Yo-Yo grapples with the fact that Mack doesn’t recognize her, and his refusal to leave Hope. Radcliffe tries to comfort her, and Hope hears them talking about her not being real. At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Fitz tries to reason with Aida, but she is so full of hate that she’s not listening. Fitz offers to go with her to save Jemma. Aida says there are too many feelings, so she is focusing on vengeance, “hot and clean and sharp like a knife.” She stabs Jemma and tells Fitz to beg. Meanwhile, Coulson and May talk about taking a few steps back, and opening another bottle together. Aida wonders why torturing Jemma makes her feel better, and drives the knife deeper. Fitz says he will get her the Darkhold if she lets Jemma go. But Aida blasts Jemma with electrical power and says, “I’m going to kill everyone you love right in front of you, and there is nothing you can do.” (shades of Fatal Attraction here, and Jemma looks very dead.) Aida then finds Coulson, and asks if he really thought he could keep the Darkhold from her. Coulson tells Aida she needs to learn about teamwork, and Jemma blasts her from behind with a machine gun. It turns out Aida had just killed an LMD Jemma. And when Aida attacks Coulson, it’s not him—it is Ghost Rider in disguise, and he goes all flaming head on her.
But hold on—it is actually Coulson that is filled with the Ghost Rider spirit, and he and Aida teleport multiple times as they battle. Robbie is in the Zephyr with Daisy. The Coulson Ghost Rider blasts Aida to smithereens, while Fitz watches in horror. In the Framework, Hope tells her dad that she overheard Yo-Yo telling Radcliffe that she wasn’t real. Mack says he won’t leave the Framework without her. They stand beside the door that is the only way to escape. Yo-Yo says she won’t leave if Mack won’t. Then more stuff starts to disappear around them; Mack holds Hope tight, but then she is gone. He sobs (and I have to admit, I was getting choked up, too). In the real world, Daisy says the Framework is disappearing, and that they are gone. A tear flows from Mack’s eye. Yo-Yo wakes up, and calls to Mack. And he gasps for breath. The gang is back together (yay!).
Coulson and Robbie talk, and Coulson is mighty glad that the Ghost Rider spirit went back into Robbie. Yo-Yo and Mack talk, and he says he is glad he has his new memories of Hope, and he looks forward to a life with Yo-Yo. It is time for Robbie to leave, and he asks them to keep an eye on his brother. They offer to fire up their portal, but Robbie forms his own portal with his chain, grabs the Darkhold, and disappears into the dark dimension. The agents get a call: Talbot is in a coma but alive, and forces are moving in on S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Fitz offers to stay and take the rap, but Daisy makes a speech about how they all need to stick together and everyone agrees. Coulson asks if anybody is hungry. If they are all getting locked up, they might as well grab a bite first. In the Framework, on a beach, Radcliffe quotes the T. S. Eliot line about “not with a bang, but a whimper,” and starts to make a toast to his dead girlfriend, but disappears before he finishes it. At a nearby diner, the team is offered pie, but a commando team moves in. Then the leader triggers a strange device and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team freezes in place, while the team leader says, “The window closes in less than two minutes. Take them.” (Huh?)
In the stinger, Coulson wakes up in a cell, and opens some sort of blast shutters. Behind it is a window that looks out on an asteroid field and a glowing blue nebula, and he tells himself to get back to work. I have no idea what this means, which I suppose is the point—they want us wondering what’s going on until the show returns next winter.
In the time normally reserved for previews from the next episode, we get some clips of ominous dialogue while the logo for the new Inhumans show appears on the screen.
It was a good end to a good season. I thought that it might be jarring to bring back Ghost Rider after he had been gone for so long, but his presence worked well. The fight scenes were intense, and a lot of fun to watch. There were a lot of “no, it’s not so-and-so, it’s an LMD” moments, with the use of the Daisy murder-bot being very clever, and the Jemma dying moment even more clever. But the best fake-out of all was reserved for the Ghost Rider spirit showing up in Coulson for the final battle. There were a lot of balls in the air during this episode, and they all got caught in a pretty satisfactory manner.
I thought the show did a great job with the Mack/Yo-Yo/Hope storyline, which I found quite moving. Even though I knew the writers were trying to push my emotional buttons, they did it in a very skillful manner. And I liked the way Mack took comfort in the new memories he got from his Framework experience, as he got to spend more time with his daughter there than he ever did in real life.
Talbot’s presence was, as always, welcome because of his great quips, and I was actually worried they might kill him off. Aida’s defeat was very well-paced, and I will be truly sad to see her go, as she was great as Madame Hydra. We still have the Superior as a big bad who could return next season, though, and who knows—he could bring back another LMD Aida.
But things on Earth may not even matter next season, because it appears that Coulson, at least, is a long way from home. We’re left with a big mystery regarding those commandos who captured the team, as it appears they weren’t from the U.S. military, and perhaps not even from this world.
So, let’s start the discussion. And as always, I’ll end with the words of the venerable Stan Lee, “Don’t yield, back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”
Alan Brown has been a fan of S.H.I.E.L.D. from its comic book beginning over fifty years ago. He still remembers reading that very first adventure in Strange Tales #135.