‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 4: This is How the Framework Ends

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As we close the quinjet doors on another season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, congratulations are in order, as the show has been renewed for a fifth season. Interestingly, the show will move to Fridays, where it will not air until the spin-off “Inhumans” finishes its eight-episode run. On the plus side, according to ABC, it will get a full 22-episode season, so there’s that, despite the seeming downgrade to Fridays.

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This is great news as, despite the show having its ups and downs over the years, I don’t think any fan would argue that the show seemed creatively invigorated this season, thanks to a later time slot, more risk-taking in its storytelling, and a unique three “pod” format, which allowed for more ambitious and comprehensive- but still clearly linked- ongoing plotlines. In fact, I’d argue that this was my favorite season to date, when all is said and done.

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A large part of that was undeniably the whole LMD/AIDA storyline, though the Ghost Rider thing was also a lot of fun. Indeed, as the fourth season came to a close, everything came around full circle, thanks in part to the return of Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), who helped save the day in the end, as the team finally came together as one to work to combat the evil Aida, aka Madame Hydra, aka the quasi-human Ophelia (Mallory Jansen, who will be missed).

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Indeed, if I had one complaint overall, which the show itself wryly commented on within the narrative of the final episode, it was that it took most of the season for the team to come back together in its entirety again, save a brief reunion relatively early on in the season, in the episode “Lockup,” if I remember correctly. Still, the whole set-up required precisely that to happen by design, and fans can take comfort in the fact that, in the end, at least, they did come back together finally.

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But will it last? Hard to say, given that eye-opening ending. We’ll get to that in a moment, however. First, we need to unpack the final run of episodes, beginning with where we left off, episode 20, “Farewell, Cruel World!” This was an exciting, emotional roller coaster in which most of the characters made it out of the Framework- but not all of them. And the ones that did were decidedly changed by their experiences, and not for the better, in many cases.

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First and foremost, there was Fitz (Ian De Caestecker, killing it this season), who, much to all our collective horror, went terribly, horribly, no good, very bad indeed within the Framework. It turns out “correcting” his biggest regret- his lack of a solid relationship with his father, Alistair (David O’Hara)- turned him into a veritable monster, as he killed Agnes (Jansen) without compunction and very nearly killed his normally beloved Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) to boot, all the while engaging in an unholy relationship with Madame Hydra.

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In the end, attempting to make up for what he’d done, however unintentionally to a certain degree, Radcliffe (John Hannah, also doing solid work throughout) booted Fitz back into the “real” world, where Fitz barely had time to register what a monster he’d become before a newly-humanized Aida joined him and took off with Fitz, exhibiting Darkhold-abetted, Inhuman-style, newfound powers that allowed her to teleport out of potential danger, but hardly stopped there, as we’d soon discover.

HENRY SIMMONS

In addition, Mack (Henry Simmons, also killing it this season) opted to willingly stay behind in the Framework, despite coming to terms with the fact that it wasn’t real, and by extension, neither was his daughter. Deciding he didn’t want to live in a world in which his daughter no longer existed, he refused to budge, wanting to stay with her, even though his very existence- to say nothing of hers- would soon be in decided jeopardy sooner than later, as we discovered in subsequent episodes.

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Of course, this also meant leaving behind his beloved Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), who was stunned to realize Mack not only had no memory of her whatsoever in the Framework, but that he’d insisting on remaining behind. Naturally, she wasted little time in going after him, though, as we’d see, that had somewhat disastrous consequences, albeit necessary ones. Nice work all around on this mini-arc from both Simmons and Buckley, who managed to stuff an entire season’s worth of pathos, drama and heartbreak into a matter of episodes.

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In “The Return,” the team dealt with the fallout of said return, as Fitz played upon Aida’s newfound emotions to get her to help him rescue the team from potential death to make up for what they’d both done within the Framework. In the end, she did rescue Mack’s body from being submerged and killed for real, so the potential for good was there, but alas, it was all-too short-lived when she realized that the non-Framework Fitz only had eyes for Jemma, not her.

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Needless to say, this did not go over too well. Hell hath no fury like a robot-turned-human-with-inhuman-powers scorned. Determining to burn the whole world down, she and her army of Ivan-bots, along with a few key others, set about doing just that, beginning with the Framework, which started caving in on itself- with Mack, Radcliffe and the rest trapped inside, clueless about what was going on.

Seriously, though, Jansen’s turn here was Emmy-worthy and whiplash-inducing, as she rapid-fired her way through becoming human, only to realize it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be- especially if you were used to being emotionless and coldly-calculating. This might not have been as big a deal as it could have been had she not been imbued with powers by the Darkhold, which gave her the resources to go completely and totally ballistic, taking out anyone and everyone in her path.

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In the aptly-titled “World’s End,” Aida began her reign of terror in earnest, as the Framework continued to collapse in on itself, taking everyone involved with it. Thankfully, Mack was able to get out at the last minute, along with Yo-Yo, who nearly blew it completely when she accidentally blurted out how frustrated she was that Mack was going to give his life up to something- and someone- that wasn’t real, in front of his daughter Hope (Jordan Rivera), who was stunned and overwhelmed to learn she wasn’t “real.”

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Mack comforted her as best as he could as people continued to disappear one by one around him and everything went to hell in a hand-basket. In the end, Hope disappeared right in his arms, which may have been the only thing that could have happened to make him return to the “real” world. But how will he deal with losing his daughter for a second time? To say nothing of how Yo-Yo will feel about his having chosen a simulation of a real person and potential death over her. Awkward!

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Meanwhile, as it should be, I suppose, the main architect of all this madness, Radcliffe, literally went down with his ship, drinking on a beach while the world came crashing down around him. It’s apropos that he quoted T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” as it happened, as his world- and by extension, Radcliffe himself- did indeed go out with a whimper instead of a bang in the end. It seems fitting somehow that it should be this way, despite the muted exit. Well, at least he tried to redeem himself along the way, right?

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Meanwhile, Aida used a faux Daisy (Chloe Bennet) to attack and nearly kill Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) right in the middle of a meeting to discuss how to handle the seemingly-gone-rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. Needless to say, the incident didn’t do them any favors, not in the least as it was witnessed by a host of people and likely caught on camera, thus ensuring that the world-at-large would see and think Daisy was a psycho and that S.H.I.E.L.D. were a bunch of killer wack-jobs. I’m assuming that’s what led to whatever was going on in the final scene.

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Finally, we had the return of Robbie “Ghost Rider” Reyes. Call it a plot contrivance if you want, but it was still good to see him again. Besides, they had to come up with some way to defeat Aida, and, as Reyes was himself otherworldly and made of the same stuff as Aida, thanks to the Darkhold, he was likely the only one who could defeat her anyway.

The realization that she could hurt after all was an eye-opener to Aida, who scrambled to evade her would-be destroyer, but to no avail in the end, as he utterly destroyed her. Although, she did inflict some serious damage along the way, needless to say. Mallory Jansen, you will be missed. Someone hire this girl, stat!

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The action sequences, especially with Daisy and Reyes, were a beauty to behold, and pretty hardcore for network TV. At one point someone’s eye was drilled out, another body was ripped asunder in mid-air, and lots of others were flambéd and taken out by Ghost Rider’s chain of doom. Needless to say, it was all kind of awesome. Aida never stood a chance, though it would have been nice if he arrived a bit sooner, before she had a chance to frame the team for treason and attempted murder and so on.

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Whatever the case, Reyes absconded back to another dimension with the Darkhold in tow, to ensure Aida-like shenanigans would never happen again. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of him, as he’s too cool a character not to revisit again at some point. I also really enjoyed the bait-and-switch plan that Coulson (Clark Gregg) came up with to bring Aida down, even if watching her dispatch Jemma nearly made me keel over before I realized it was a fake-out. I should have known better- and so should have Aida. Oh well- too late now.

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We ended with our team, at long last reunited in full, more or less- so long Trip, aka B.J. Britt, nice seeing ya again; sayonara Jason O’Mara, aka Director Mace, aka The Patriot, glad you got to go out a bona fide hero; ditto Grant Ward, aka Brett Dalton, good to see your character redeemed, even if it was in an alternate universe. That “Last Supper” was short-lived, though, as they were all taken into custody soon thereafter.

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We ended with a oddball button, which saw Coulson wake up, seemingly on a spaceship with a nice view, and also apparently at ease with his surroundings and whatever he was preparing for in this strange new place. Has he- and by extension, the others- been brainwashed yet again to forget a lot of what came before, save whatever his captors want him to know? It sure looks that way. Also, what exactly was the “deal” Coulson made with Reyes that we never found out and does this have anything to do with it?

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Whatever the case, it was a somewhat strange way to end the season, but I trust the show knows what it’s doing, especially after this newly invigorated season. Thankfully, we’ll get a chance to find out next season, though we’re in for quite a wait, what with “Inhumans” preceding it to the punch, come this fall. Not sure what to think of that show as of yet. What clips and stills I’ve seen were a little bit dubious, but we’ll see. Hopefully, it will be better than it looks so far.

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Regardless, this was a great season of the show all around. The cast were at the top of their game, with great ongoing guest spot turns by Jansen, Hannah and Zach McGowan (as Ivanov, aka “The Russian,” because, you know, he’s Russian) this season, and particularly strong performances by Chloe Bennet and Gabriel Luna in the first “pod,” Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May) in the second, Henry Simmons and Natalia Cordova-Buckley in the third, and great dark turns from Mallory Jansen and Ian De Caestecker overall, which showed both of their respective ranges off to a stunning degree.

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I’m really glad the show got renewed, even though the ratings are low, as it has never been better, IMHO. I enjoyed all three “pods” thoroughly, and if certain things were on the predictable side, there were plenty of surprising developments to more than make up for it. The show definitely benefitted, action-wise, from the later time slot, and I really liked the sly political commentary sprinkled into the proceedings over the course of the season. In a time in which reality seems stranger than fiction, it was nice to be reminded that sometimes fiction can be more comforting than reality.

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What did you think of the overall season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”? What was your favorite “pod,” or story arc? Were you satisfied with the way the current one was resolved? Were you glad to see Ghost Rider again? What deal do you think he made with Coulson? What did you make of the final scene on the spaceship? Any predictions for next season? Are you looking forward to “Inhumans”? Are you sad the show likely won’t be back until next year? Let me know what you thought overall down below in the comments section, and thanks for reading!