Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Return

Man, did Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. strike it rich when they found actress Mallory Jansen. In the role of Aida, she's been thrown around from one situation to the next all season long, having to portray a huge range of scenarios. Then, this week, she had to do all of that more than ever before -- all condensed into one episode. She did this so well, it was easy to overlook how much the episode was cramming in that could have easily let this part of the Framework arc spread out at least another episode.

First, there was the Coulson and May thread of the episode. Coulson hilariously caught May up on everything she'd missed since the end of the Ghost Rider arc. They danced around the way the relationship between Coulson and the MayBot progressed in May's absence (with a true reckoning still to come). And of course, they had to deal with an army of killer Russian androids. With only one episode left in the season and Aida more than villain enough to be dealt with, I don't think the episode really needed that particular twist -- though it certainly amped the jeopardy for Coulson and May. (And gave us the great "shield" gag/kill.)

Yo-Yo struggled with Mack's decision to remain behind in the Framework, culminating in a decision to go in herself for a rescue. There's a lot of emotion in that story, and I worry that with all the villain defeating teed up for next week's season finale, the episode won't have enough time to pay that off to the fullest. But Yo-Yo is now the most logical shot at bringing Mack back. (Well... maybe second most? We had Fitz and Aida's "body making machine," that could be used to bring Hope into the real world. The machine was presumably destroyed when the rig exploded; could Fitz build another one without Aida? Is that technology you'd even want hanging around in your universe?)

It's been many episodes now since the end of the LMD storyline (and still more weeks, if you count the show's hiatus), but it was still nice to go back and see the consequences of that in the burned out shell of the base, and the cloud of distrust that now hangs over everyone. The character of Talbot is far from my favorite thing about the show, but I like that the writers found time to touch on the chaos left over from their previous big story arc.

But of course, this episode was all about Simmons, Fitz, and Aida. Again, it's worth praising just how great Mallory Jansen is, whiplashing around from emotion to emotion and convincing us that Aida really was experiencing them all for the first time. The revelation that she's given herself multiple Inhuman abilities is great. Given how ripe an idea that is, and how great Jansen is on the show, I wish they weren't about to wrap that all up in one episode.

Not to be outshone, though, Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge once again made the case for the Fitz-Simmons relationship being the best thing about the show. Simmons thought that saving Fitz (and all the others) would be as simple as getting them out of the Framework. Watching the realization come over her that everything that happened in there was utterly real to them ("a life," May called it) was to see an impossible weight crush down on her. And then we saw that weight lifted when she learned that Fitz still loved her, first and foremost. (Too bad dire jeopardy immediately followed. They never can catch a break, those two.)

As for Fitz, I was surprised how effective a moment it was for him to admit he was "just like Ward." It's not only strong there in that context, but seems like a fairly elegant and earned rebuttal to anyone previously skeptical of the idea of Evil Ward. A lot of science fiction has done this story, this notion that "in other circumstances, you'd make bad choices." It's rarely been expressed as powerfully as it was here.

Really, the only weak note for me in the whole episode was that final return of Ghost Rider. I suppose Season 4 does need to be wrapped up in one overarcing bow, but I can't help but feel like the momentum of this amazing tale they've been telling recently is going to be undermined by the return of one of the weakest elements of the season. I guess we'll find out in next week's finale. This episode, I give an A-.

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