Russians galore, the Ghost Rider's return, and a virtually unstoppable Aida in latest Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Dec 18, 2018, 11:00 PM EST (Updated)

Spoilers ahead for “The Return,” the latest episode of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The short version: Coulson and May have to fight off a bunch of Russian robots, while Fitz grapples with reconciling his two lives. When Aida realizes he’s going to choose Simmons (duh), she goes straight-up bonkers and wants to destroy the world. Thanks to their research within the Framework, she’s mega-superpowered, and can probably do it, too. But the Ghost Rider strolls back in from Hell to lend a hand. Just in time.

The good: Aida and Fitz, Coulson and May

Fitz is still positively wrecked as this episode resumes, having been teleported away from the oil rig by Aida just moments earlier. The life they lived together within the Framework is something she is clinging to in her first moments of humanity, and Fitz is still so shell-shocked it’s hard to get a read on what he’s thinking. He killed real people within that virtual world, including Mace, and that’s something he has to live with. His environment was altered, sure, but that monster is somewhere deep inside him — and that (understandably) scares the hell out of Fitz. Iain De Caestecker does a fantastic job of playing that struggle, and once he finally gains his wits, he fears that he’s lost Simmons forever, because she had a first row seat to the man he became in the Framework. The scene where they finally come together, and Fitz just cries and can’t look her in the eyes, is utterly brutal. Heartbreaking. Raw. Not what you’d expect from a Marvel action adventure, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Aida also gets to go on a little journey this episode, though hers takes a turn for the worse. She just assumes Fitz will choose to be with her, after their relationship within the Framework, and even has an apartment ready for them to live together. Seeing the look on her face when she saved Mack was amazing. So, when he tells her he chooses Simmons (because, duh, FitzSimmons), Aida turns into a full-blown ball of rage. Unfortunately, she’s now outfitted with everything from teleportation, to a healing factor, to the ability to blast lightning bolts (thanks to Fitz’s Inhuman experiments within the Framework). So yeah, that’s one dangerous woman when scorned. Watching Aida go through this gamut of emotions — love, happiness, pain, anger — is an interesting story. Sure, we all kind of assumed she’d go crazy and start killing people, but it was a nuanced ride to get there.

With everyone except Mack now finally out of the Framework, we were able to get back some of the chemistry that had been missing while everyone was semi-brainwashed within the virtual world. Put simply: I forgot how much I loved having Coulson and May together in a scene. The awkward tension in the wake of her replacement by an LMD, and Coulson’s awkward way of catching her up, was a lot of fun. You can feel the friendship at the heart of this, and if nothing else, here’s hoping they can keep exploring it if the show is renewed for a fifth season. Also: Coulson chopping off the Russian’s head with his shield was awesome.

The bad: The Russian is getting old, the endgame is coming too late

Look, Aida and her version of Madame Hydra has made for an original take on a Big Bad, but beyond her Framework persona (and the crazed version we met tonight) this season has been lacking for really great Big Bads. The Russian was apparently designed to fill that void, and though it’s funny to see a whole lot of his clones get killed over and over, it’s getting a bit stale at this point. It looks like Aida is about to become a full blown supervillain, so it’ll be interesting to see where she goes over the final run to the season finale.

Speaking of which: There doesn’t seem to really be some grand scheme for the team to stop, though the Russian indicated he may have some world-ending ambitions, thanks to the Darkhold. So, I guess that’s coming? Having the team trapped in the Framework for the build-up to the finale has been a really interesting story, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time to set the stakes for the season finale. Here’s hoping it’s not rushed over the next episode, to give the team a climactic battle for the sake of a climactic battle.

Lines of the night

Tried to kill me. Yep. That's what happened.” - Coulson

Do you understand irony yet? Because this is a good example.” - The Russian

I'm just. Like. Ward.” - Fitz

Lingering questions

There are a actually a whole lot. First up, with Yoyo heading into the Framework to try and rescue Mack (and landing right in a really bad situation), it looks like we’re definitely not done with the world of the Framework. Which makes sense, considering Mack is still in there. But, don’t forget, there’s still a piece of tech that can build a new flesh and blood body out there (even though it might be buried under water now, right?). Could this resurface to bring back some fan favorites from within the Framework? Like a version of Ward who isn’t a psycho? Or the dearly departed Trip? Or even Mack’s daughter, Hope? It’ll be interesting to see if that piece of tech is swept back off the board, or if it comes back.

We knew it was coming, but it was still awesome — the Ghost Rider is back in black. Having Robbie Reyes on the board could be critical in the team’s quest to take out Aida. Because hey, now that she’s human, she should have a soul to punish, right? I’m curious to see where Robbie’s story ends this season. If they send him off on his own, or leave the door open for a return next season (assuming the show is picked up, anyway).

So, General Talbot made a gloriously hilarious return, and you’d have to think he’ll factor into the big finale, what with his soldiers still hunting down what he believes to be a rogue unit of S.H.I.E.L.D. Considering how much time we spent in the Framework, they did a good job of revealing what all had happened in the “real” world. Talbot usually comes through in the end, here’s hoping he will, again.

Up next: The season comes to an end, but all hell is about to break loose.

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