Spoilers ahead for “World’s End,” the season finale of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: Ghost Rider returns to help the team take on Aida. Turns out, the Darkhold magic that created her human body also ripped a hole in the hell dimension he was trapped in, which allowed him to escape. The Framework collapses, but Mack and Yo-Yo escape in the nick of time. Ghost Rider, riding in Coulson’s body, manages to torch Aida. Oh, and then Coulson wakes up … on a spaceship?
The good: Ghost Rider’s return, the twists, Mack’s story, that ending
Bringing Robbie Reyes back into the story of a virtual world and a sentient AI was a bit on the awkward side, but using the Darkhold as the connective tissue was a clever move. The Ghost Rider fit nicely into this world, and after seeing Aida terrorize everyone for a few weeks, it was nice to see someone put the fear of God (well, you know what I mean) into her for a change. That’s the price of being human — she now has a soul that can burn.
The dynamic between Ghost Rider and Quake was fantastic, and seeing them team up for an action scene was something that could’ve fit just fine on the big screen (even if poor Coulson did miss it). The effects work this week was on point, and you could tell they were looking to blow it out for the finale. There’s also some smoldering chemistry between Daisy and Robbie, and even though we all miss Lincoln, that could be something they explore next year (if Robbie comes back, of course). Leaving a bit of mystery about the Rider’s time in “hell” was a good move, and leaving it at Robbie’s explanation about different dimensions and worlds was a clever play. Not to mention showing the Rider rock some portal magic straight out of Doctor Strange. Never forget: It’s all connected, even when it’s not, all that much. Also: Ghost Rider Coulson FOREVER.
Mack’s story really became the emotional cornerstone of the Framework story, and building his world around his late daughter was a gut punch that really felt earned. Having a character want to stay and die in this virtual world wasn’t a plot contrivance. Many parents would’ve been just as tempted as Mack to stay and be erased with their child, instead of leaving them scared and alone in a world falling apart. FitzSimmons might be the love story at the heart of this show, but Yo-Yo and Mack are giving them a run for their money. It played out the only way it could to get Mack out alive, with Hope vanishing and a near-miss escape before the world is erased.
Now, let’s dissect that ending: Dr. Radcliffe’s final scene was a perfect farewell to the character, as he toasts this broken experiment and does what he can to say goodbye and take responsibility for what he’s done. Radcliffe really turned into a well-rounded, tragic figure this year. He could’ve just been the Token Mad Scientist who puts this stuff together, but Radcliffe had real heart and motivation. It was some excellent writing for what is essentially, barely a supporting role.
As for Coulson and the gang? There’s really no way to parse it. They’re taken by a mysterious group (while having a team dinner that echoed the shawarma scene from The Avengers), which was almost certainly not Talbot’s forces. Then, Coulson wakes up in a small room … that is apparently on a space ship or station, which is flying through an asteroid belt (or something). Then, Coulson opens the door to “get back to work.” What? Is? Happening? Here? Aside from Simmons’ extended vacation on an alien world, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t dealt with space all that much (neither has the Earth-based corner of the MCU, really, outside of Guardians of the Galaxy). With a full fifth season ordered, the writers will thankfully have the time and space to pay all this off. But, at this point, it’s hard to imagine where this story could be going. Is it real? A simulation? Some super-secret space mission for Coulson’s team? The possibilities are endless, and we have all summer to theorize. But, this show is earning its place in the MCU, and then some.
The bad: It did feel a bit rushed, Aida’s defeat, the end of the Framework
This episode was action-packed, and a whole lot of stuff happened in it. Almost a bit too much. The stakes of Aida’s plan and attack felt really rushed, as she attacked a government meeting on S.H.I.E.L.D. to try and discredit the agency and make Quake a fugitive (again). We’ve seen it before, and in more fleshed-out terms, in the past. Aida was an excellent villain, but she needed a bit more direction. Which, obviously, her emotional rage was kind of the point. But, still — that doesn’t make for a great season-ending baddie when they’re trying to execute a half-baked plan.
Also, it’s established pretty quickly that the Ghost Rider is capable of taking out Aida with his nifty soul-burning abilities. It’s just a matter of getting her trapped. Having the Rider jump into Coulson to pull it off was epic, but it all went down rather (well) easily, for the most part. She keeps coming around, and all they have to do is grab her, essentially.
This episode also saw the Framework deleted, and that virtual world erased from existence. Which makes sense, though it’s a shame we’ll never get to see any of those alt-universe characters again. That version of Ward? That’s a guy I’d like to get a beer with, and have on my super-team when push comes to shove. It was a great farewell for the character. But still — that all seemed to be wrapped up really quickly and conveniently.
Last thing: The scene where Aida (seemingly) kills Simmons was an emotional roller coaster, and they did a great job with it, but it comes off a bit cheap with the LMD reveal. Yes, you’re obviously guessing this is a fake out, but they play it almost too straight. These two have been through enough (heck, Simmons already killed a Fitz LMD earlier this season!), we don’t need anymore fake out deaths within FitzSimmons.
Lines of the night:
“I missed it, didn't I?” - Coulson
“You know, Robot May was way more supportive.” - Coulson
“I don't wanna die. I wanna be real.” - Hope
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a --" - Radcliffe
We’re left hanging on a few comments between Robbie and Coulson in regards to some type of deal Coulson cut with the Rider to jump back into Robbie, and that’s apparently a question that’ll have to wait until next season (which means Robbie will be back, right? Right?!). Could it be related to the spaceship cliffhanger? Or something else entirely?
Up next: A long summer, though we will have some more Marvel TV to check out on Netflix thanks to The Defenders. See you next season!