Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episode 21 review: The Return

Judging by this pricy-looking penultimate episode, Marvel is planning to end this season of SHIELD with a bang...

This review contains spoilers.

4.21 The Return

And things seemed so hopeful.

Now that SHIELD has escaped the Framework (all but poor Mack), you’d think there would be a second to breathe. Oh hell no, things are more intense than ever..

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Let’s start with the best big bad in the series’ four year history. AIDA/Madame HYDRA is absolutely terrifying and if the series does end after next week’s finale (please no), our team is going out on a bad guy high note. This week, AIDA fully realises her humanity as she experiences heroism, love, and pain for the first time, proving herself to be the greatest and most complex threat SHIELD has ever faced. After she takes human form (and I must admit an error on my part here, I assumed AIDA was powered by the Darkhold but it turns out her new human body has been grafted with a whole heap load of Inhuman DNA), AIDA reunites with her beloved Fitz. Now, there was a moment there when I thought Fitz might choose AIDA over Simmons. After all, Fitz’s Framework love for Madame HYDRA is still fresh in his mind. This became even more profound when AIDA saves SHIELD from the HYDRA submarine. With this act of altruism, AIDA learns the power of selflessness and it seems like SHIELD could have a new powered member.

Oh, not so fast.

Fitz made a profound realisation tonight that should leave a long-time SHIELD fan breathless. Within the Framework, he was essentially the same as Grant Ward, and with just a few wrong turns in his real world life, he could have been Ward. This is a stunning bit of character work that utilises the show’s back-stories to the fullest. Remember, Ward crippled Fitz for a time, but now Fitz realizes that the darkness that turned Ward exists in all humankind.  

Fitz confesses all this to AIDA and with Simmons watching, Fitz explores his love for AIDA, but of course rejects her for Simmons, because duh, of course he does. I did a nerdy little fist pump, but AIDA did not take this news well. In a moment that in all honesty blows Ultron’s awakening in Age of Ultron away, AIDA finds humanity lacking and goes on a rampage that takes out a whole load of SHIELD agents.

This week’s episode sure looks expensive. With a huge action piece set on the HYDRA sub and a SHIELD versus AIDA battle that has all sorts of bells and whistles, it seems like Marvel wants to end this season with a bang. This week, we are treated to an enhanced May taking on multiple copies of Anton Ivanov, AIDA going all Predator on SHIELD’s B team (don’t worry. Piper survives), and multiple dog fights and super powered shenanigans.

Through it all, we get to see May and Coulson’s bond continue to evolve as now that the real Melinda May is back, Coulson has to come to terms with the fact that he hooked up with android May before the Framework adventure. Of course, real May doesn’t know any of this and Coulson has to tread pretty carefully. In all honesty. All this just takes the May and Coulson a step deeper and I think we need to now officially ship them. Cay? Moulson? Yes, we’re going to go with Moulson just for the love of Canadian beer. So as all hell breaks loose and AIDA rises into godhood, at least we get to watch Moulson clumsily find their way to romance.

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Speaking of romance, how freakin’ star-crossed has Yo Yo become? Mack is the only agent not to emerge from the Framework, and Yo Yo has to deal with the fact that she has been forgotten and abandoned for a video game world. If we know anything about Yo Yo, we know that she is a woman of action and doesn’t take all this lying down. Instead, while AIDA attacks SHIELD in her jealous rage, Yo Yo inserts herself into the Framework to save Mack. Hey, if this lets us see Tripp as the new Patriot, I’m down with it.

So we have all that relationship drama, we have a robot-turned-human moment that would make Westworld politely applaud, we have Fitz declaring his undying love for Simmons, we have May kicking clone ass, and we even have the revelation that Anton Ivanov has been turned into a robot clone army! Agents Of SHIELD continues to fire on all cylinders and I would be very shocked if the series isn’t on the ABC schedule with Inhumans next year.

With one episode to go this season, the questions we are left with are – What are Ivanov and AIDA’s plans now that AIDA has gone full-out Inhuman Darkhold batshit crazy? Will Fitz and Simmons find peace after all this drama? Will Moulson be a thing? Will Yo Yo find Mack? And oh, who emerges from hell at the end of the episode? Hell yeah, it’s Ghost Rider! Back for a final episode blow out! Next week is going to be something.

Read Marc’s review of the previous episode, Farewell, Cruel World, here.