NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are present in this review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have brought the series outside of the Framework at this point, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the show is slowing down before Season Four’s big climax! “The Return” showcased the immediate aftermath of events in the Framework, including the now-human Aida snatching Fitz, Coulson and May trying to escape Ivanov’s underwater base while Mack remains trapped in the Framework, and Daisy and Simmons waking up to discover that the Zephyr is being targeted.
It feels like there’s still plenty of story developments for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to try and juggle even now, and that became especially apparent in this particular episode. Since this is the season’s penultimate episode and it has to be in this state, the storyline felt very rushed, and had to gloss over several big turns, for want of quickly moving everything into place for next week’s season finale. There was still plenty of excitement for sure, especially due to the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew only having a limited time to get everyone out of Ivanov’s base unharmed, most notably Mack, but Aida still having to be a big bad while the show has left the Framework led to a threat that feels rather forced, especially since it has to bring in another force from earlier in the season to likely put it down in next week’s season finale.
To start, Aida, who is now fully going by her human identity of Ophelia, honestly seems like she’s turned over a new leaf since her time in the Framework. Being overwhelmed by human emotion and thought, Ophelia becomes consumed with a desire to live, and to profess her love for Fitz, with said love apparently being the only reason she did anything as Madame HYDRA in the Framework. Fitz, meanwhile, is still highly disturbed by his actions in the Framework, which even has his own team questioning his loyalty back in the real world. Having the team distrust Fitz, and having Ophelia seem like a genuinely benign and good-natured person, now that she’s human, are all great ideas that the show just doesn’t have time to explore properly. That’s a real shame, since Ophelia probably won’t survive the end of the season next week.
Since the show still needs a big bad for Season Four, it also really has to strong-arm an excuse to have Ophelia suddenly become a colossally terrifying threat for S.H.I.E.L.D., if not the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, even in being a flesh-and-blood human now. This threat comes by way of Ophelia giving herself many of the best powers from her time experimenting on Inhumans as Madame HYDRA in the Framework. I guess the Darkhold just made that part of her new body, maybe? Still, Ophelia’s absurd array of abilities, which include teleportation, super-strength, electric blasts and a healing factor (notice how some of these powers are taken from familiar dead Inhumans like Gordon and Lincoln), make her virtually unstoppable.
Ophelia is also a forced excuse to save Mack in this case, as Coulson and May have to fight their way through the LMD Ivanov’s to the best of their ability, while Fitz simply talks Ophelia into teleporting into the base and bringing Mack out. Somehow, ripping Mack out of the sleeping pod doesn’t fry his brain either. At the very least though, the action scenes with the multiple Ivanov’s are at least pretty cool, and Coulson slicing off one of their faces with his electronic shield made for a badass highlight moment! Even though Mack’s escape felt fairly contrived, Coulson and May having to fight tooth-and-nail to leave with their lives, with Daisy and Yo-Yo managing to bail them out and bring them back to the Zephyr, was a lot more engaging.
We also suddenly get Talbot back in the picture in this episode, which finally explains just why the media has been denouncing S.H.I.E.L.D. again for the umpteenth time. Turns out, Coulson’s crew is being blamed for the destruction of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, with all of them being mistaken for LMD’s and labeled as terrorists, which feels like a bit of a stretch, especially with how clumsily Mace’s death is addressed in there, but whatever. Basically, Talbot meeting Coulson’s crew again served as a way to bring the government up to speed on the recent crazy events with the Framework and the LMD’s, along with Aida/Ophelia using the Darkhold to become a real person. It also served as an excuse to let Ophelia loose with her powers, as she slaughters several of Talbot’s men and escapes, despite feeling a rush of satisfaction from saving Mack’s life mere moments earlier. Talk about a heel-turn!
The idea of Ophelia being overwhelmed with emotion and become unstable isn’t a bad one, though again, forcing this at the very end of the season feels too hurried and clumsy. Iain de Castecker and Mallory Jansen both had several exceptionally great dramatic scenes throughout this episode however, especially when Fitz and Ophelia are both captured and contained in Gordon’s old Inhuman cell, and Fitz tearfully confesses that there’s only room in his heart for one person, and that’s Simmons. This revelation immediately has Ophelia turning into a full-blown murderous psychopath, which is a pretty considerable stretch, like I said, even for someone who is only now settling into a human brain and heart. Frankly, Aida was a better threat when she was subject to programming, and operating as Madame HYDRA. Turning her into a lovesick head case feels a bit cheap, not to mention very, for lack of a better word, “CW-esque”, if you will. This scorned woman hook just feels out of place on a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and feels like it would make more sense on a show like Supergirl or The Flash.
Fortunately, even considering the huge threat of Ophelia still being at large by the end of the episode, Yo-Yo suddenly diving into the Framework to rescue Mack, and immediately spawning into her captured avatar, made for another great bit of promise in next week’s season finale. The same is true of the dimensional portal suddenly activating again, and Robbie Reyes returning from it, in full Ghost Rider form, even if this really felt like it came out of nowhere. Frankly, with sudden events like this, “The Return” existed purely as a lead-in episode to the season finale next week, leaving it to haphazardly lob an array of story developments around, without any real sense of flow, or even logic at times. The drama and excitement at least didn’t disappoint, but Ophelia’s been somewhat deflated as a threat now, since getting her heart broken by Fitz feels like a bit of a dumb motivation to be a mass murderer. Maybe this will be realized better in next week’s season finale, but for now, it’s just making me miss Madame HYDRA and the Framework. Still, with S.H.I.E.L.D. back together, and Ghost Rider back among them, hopefully Season Four of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will still close out on a high note next week.
- Tense underwater base escape for Coulson and May
- Standout dramatic scenes with Fitz and Ophelia
- Yo-Yo taking a big risk by going after Mack in the Framework
- Ophelia's psychotic breakdown is too forced and ridiculous
- Mack's rescue is contrived
- Sudden Ghost Rider return comes out of nowhere