Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Return Review
ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 4, episode 21, ‘The Return,’ might as well have been titled ‘The Hangover;’ but it was too smart for that comparison. The events of the last few episodes amounted to a very hard act to follow; but ‘The Return’ managed to hit the ground running.
Coulson (Clark Gregg) & May (Ming-Na Wen) didn’t skip a beat, from their LMD arc dynamic, despite May’s intuition failing to completely lock on to the key details Coulson withheld. I imagine the emotional minefield of that chapter will be something for the actual pair to work out, at some future point (that I look forward to); but the whole episode amounted to one, big, emotional minefield that had to be crossed.
For anyone who thought Real Doll Aida (Mallory Jansen) ‘bampfing’ away with Flesh Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) was an attempt to stretch the resolution, well, it turned out to be a good thing – and far from stretching things out. Quite the contrary, Aida’s quality time with Fitz – now as a fully functional, real, live girl – set everything on impulse power.
First indications of that pacing came from Yo-Yo’s (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) reaction to Mack (Henry Simmons) keeping Hope alive (setting up another valuable lesson, about taking your eyes off persons that can do a lot of mischief, in the time it takes to take your eyes off them); but there was also the intermediate bit, about Anton, the Superior Man (Zach McGowan) wanting to be unleashed all over the Framework AWOLs.
One solid take away from the first Matrix film: when Agent Smith emerges from the train you just left him under, you take the flight option. Can’t be mad at them still being forced to fight, though – Coulson keeps putting his prosthetic hand to damned good use (budget permitting).
A juiced Matrix May going all-out, against the Patriot (a season highlight episode that got a blink-and-you-miss-it shout-out, this ep), left me with a taste for May going all-out for any reason. A juiced Main May going all-out, against the Robo Russian, may have left me with a taste for May juicing. Don’t judge me – Maxed-out May has been awesome.
Her surviving security team members – the May Flowers – weren’t too shabby, either. Turns out one of the perks to being a May Flower is a bit of ‘tude. Maybe Piper’s (Briana Venskus) colleagues aren’t just high profile Red Shirts, after all. Hey, I even got to remember their names – makes it easier to keep track of their future appearances.
I’ll give the showrunners some credit, here. They knew any post-Framework redemption would be a heavy lift – especially regarding Aida. Isolating Aida & Fitz, then pitting his guilt against her emotional flood was an efficiently expedient way of getting them past their parallel histories. He was in no position to judge, and she was too hooked on feelings to be anything but eager to please.
All easy enough for us to process (it was, right? You guys not still mad, ‘n stuff, right? Right?); but then there was Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge)….
Well, just as useful was the throwback to Ward. The Ward redemption was very well handled (there, I said it. Ward has officially been redeemed – you Ward fans can get off my lawn, now); setting a precedent for Daisy (Chloe Bennet) & Simmons to draw direct parallels to Faux Fitz’s conditioning, and allowing for a there vs here distinction.
On the other hand, how do you solve a problem like Emo Aida?
With the emotionally charged act of redemption out of the way, all that remained was Aida being emo. Her newfound understanding of Fitz allowed her to run right into a classic Human pitfall: the woman scorned. No amount of understanding can overcome that new emo flood; so maybe the emotionally charged action wasn’t quite over, yet. Maybe we were due to see what being an Inhuman cocktail brings to the boiled pet rabbit scenario.
Hey, triggering a full emo is about as close to unleashing a killer android as it gets (cheaters, jerks, emotionally clumsy, and bad judges of character, amirite?); so add super powers, and this was full-on monster rampage. That, and me being a little premature about the May Flowers (I just learned the extra names – so this is what knowing the guy with the newborn/ 2 days to retirement feels like…. )
The fact that I was really premature about the Aida redemption just underscores the emotional roller-coaster the episode was going for, I guess. That, and the fact that there isn’t enough season left to dwell on real-time processing/ decompressing. A part of me actually wanted the Aida story to end anti-climatically – it seemed like it would be a bolder step to take – but getting Aida & the Superior Men back on the same page (play nice with your rebounds, people) takes the burden off of the Superior Head carrying the finale on his… uhm, shoulders.
Ultimately, the big take away of the episode was impulse control – the need to both have it, and manage it. Of course things wouldn’t be nearly as interesting had Fitz, Aida, and Yo-Yo done as much. In fact, Yo-Yo left us with a reason to see how things in the Framework worked out. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it seems, isn’t about to just walk away from old arcs – not even the one that launched this season.
That was me not squealing like a fan-boy, at the closing scene.
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