With ratings down and the writers prepping the end like it could be The End, there’s a decent chance this could be the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If that is the case, there’s little doubt this series will be going out on a creative high — and with a team that could be absolutely shattered by the time it gets there.
Spoilers ahead for “The Devil Complex,” the latest episode of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which aired Friday, March 23, 2018.
“I really don’t know where we go from here.” - Fitz
This is a show that moves quickly, with Coulson and his team barreling from the Framework to the far-flung future and back to a world where they’re being hunted and brutalized by a rogue general. And that’s just the past season or so. Though everyone has been through the wringer, few characters have been beaten down and battered as much as Fitz —he’s had brain damage; been turned into an evil version of himself in the Framework; lost the woman he loved (a few times, though he eventually got her back); and dealt with all types of psychological trauma along the way.
All that damage has finally caught up. Since returning to the present, Fitz has been hitting a wall when it comes to solutions on not just stopping that apocalyptic future, but also closing the rip in space and time that’s allowing manifestations from a fear dimension to spill over into the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Sure, it’s an obvious narrative tool, but the writers used it for one hell of a twist in this one. The version of Fitz from the Framework reality, Leopold, shows up and starts causing chaos among the crew. He was essentially the Big Bad for the first half of the season, a version of Fitz who grows up to be a Hydra general who ruthlessly tortures and studies Inhumans. When Fitz returned to the present, he still maintained the memories of that entire virtual life, including all the misery he inflicted upon his friends and loved ones.
Leopold sends a robot that shoots Mack, which clears the board so he can kidnap and butcher the power inhibitor out of Daisy’s neck to restore her Quake powers. It’s played as if Leopold is simply another manifestation from the fear dimension, but the truth is so, so much worse. There is no Leopold — only Fitz. Under the stress of the world on his shoulders, Fitz essentially breaks and manifests a split personality to deal with the problems. He believes the only way to close the fear dimension is to use Daisy’s powers (which might also be what eventually causes the world to break apart). It’s a solution Fitz can’t even bring himself to verbalize, so he surfaces Leopold to do it for him. No matter the consequences.
The moment where Simmons walks in to find Fitz talking not to Leopold, but himself, with Daisy crying and bleeding on the makeshift operating table, is simply brutal. Fitz has finally snapped, and you have to wonder if he can ever really be forgiven or trusted after this. Daisy certainly makes it clear she will never forgive him for unleashing her abilities again, and the look in Simmons’ eyes when she realizes what’s happening is absolutely killing her. To see her husband, the love of her life, so broken.
Despite the pain, it ends on a note that can only be described as simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking. Deke comes clean to Simmons that he’s figured out they’re his grandparents, and tells her sweet stories of what they’re like as parents heading into their future. But, sitting on the floor while Fitz sits in a cell, it’s hard to imagine ever seeing a future of any kind beyond that moment.
Fitz is broken, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pulling no punches in telling the story of how years of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse have finally broken a good man.
*We learned a good bit more about General Hale, most notably that she’s working with the Russian from last season. It seems Hale is the one pulling the strings, though, with the Russian simply providing all the robot soldiers as fodder. We also get Crusher Creel back into the mix, though not a whole lot in the way of metal men fights.
*Though Piper is apparently working with S.H.I.E.L.D. now, her allegiances are still a bit in question. She was the one who arranged the pick-up of Hale, which it turns out Hale actually knew was happening. So did Piper tip her off? Or was she simply manipulated into it? The questions linger.
*It was an ugly journey there, but the fear dimension rift is officially closed. So will that help avert the end of the world? Or does closing the dimension play a role in leading things down that path to destruction? Has the team broken the cycle?
*So Hale apparently reports to a group called the Confederacy, which drops a “Hail Hydra” during a mysterious meeting with Hale in the episode’s stinger scene. There doesn’t seem to be a very clear connection to that group and the comics. At least not an obvious one.