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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Debrief Season 4, Episode 20: “Goodbye, Cruel World!”

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Hey gang! I’m sorry for the lack of recaps lately. I’m hoping this latest one will help keep you busy as things gear up for the next final few episodes of this season!

And really, what an episode. I know I find myself saying that a lot lately about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that’s a good thing, I think. The show’s certainly deserved a lot of praise, and it’s running an excellent master class in how to handle “what-if” alternate universe scenarios in superhero shows—and comics, for that matter … you watching, Nick Spencer? Good. Take notes. Class is in session.


The Good:

The episode sets us up pretty well, reminding us just where things are up in the real world outside of the Framework. Remember: Daisy and Simmons are aboard a cloaked jet with a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Yo-Yo. At the end of the last episode, we found out that they were spotted, and that some jets were moving in to destroy them. It’s a pretty great setup to an episode that honestly left me feeling like everything was running down to the wire. The tension alone was enough to keep me occupied, but when all the other major developments happened, I knew that this was building to a wonderful, wonderful season finale.

It sucked—a lot—to know that we would have to say goodbye to Trip real soon. As a character, the man is a hero, and B.J. Britt totally brings some joy into the role. His exchange with Daisy about who he’s “with” outside of the Framework was delightful (“You sure this is a world you want to go back to?!”), and made the impending escape all the more bittersweet. Like, the man knows that he can’t go with them. Trip’s been somehow super cool about hearing Daisy and Simmons out about the other world, and it was a surprise to see him so readily accept the idea when Simmons previously brought it up. He supports them, just about wholeheartedly, and that is nothing short of excellent. It just reminds me how much I miss Trip, I guess!

That aside, if this really was the full end of the Framework experience (and I have my doubts about that, but more on that later), then it is good to know that the world of the Framework is in good hands with Trip, as Daisy pitched the idea of him becoming the next Patriot. That’s a page taken more or less from current-day Captain America, when the shield passed to Sam Wilson to take over for Steve Rogers. We might never get to see Trip actually suited up as the Patriot, but… well, actually, who knows. Stranger things have happened.

Finally, how about Radcliffe? The man has had quite the journey, and his shortcomings notwithstanding (anybody would be losing it after taking a peek at the Darkhold), he really came around right at the end there. I don’t know (and I strongly doubt) that his plan was to bring Fitz to the portal all along, but him spilling the beans to Fitz to bargain for his life had me going for a little while. Then, when Fitz had Simmons down on her knees, threatening to kill her for killing his father (I have many thoughts on that), here comes Radcliffe to the rescue. I’m very sad that Radcliffe can’t come back to the real world with them (maybe), and it makes it even harder to think about that knowing that there’s still (and always was) a core of good to him. He saved Simmons from Fitz, for crying out loud. The man believes in true love, and he tried to remind Fitz of what Simmons meant to him (despite, you know, Fitz not buying it at all anyway). I’m going to miss the hell out of Radcliffe, especially as he was a father proxy that Fitz never had. In one evening, the poor guy lost two father figures. That’d throw anyone for a loop.

Oh, and how about that back door? Like, I get hiding it and all, but for Aida to hide it under a steel mill? That’s some Terminator 2-ass shit right there, let me tell you.

The Bad

I’m kind of frustrated with how Simmons played her hand in this episode. She obviously didn’t want to lose Fitz, and sure, a small part of me understands the whole “I would do anything to save you” vibe, but wandering right into the lion’s den and confronting Fitz’s father? That’s a little much, don’t you think? Like, that could have gone completely wrong from the start, and I want to believe that Simmons is so much smarter than that. I’m hesitant to completely buy in to what’s being presented as a “love made me forget a lot of my training” thing, because Simmons just… really is so much smarter than that. Or maybe I’m being too harsh, and Fitz really is her kryptonite. I don’t know. All I know is that it made a bad situation worse, and I guess that’s some piled-on drama for you here. It didn’t detract from the whole episode so much (it was, after all, what made Fitz chase her and the team to the back door), but it was odd enough that I had to say something about it.

Aida’s a good villain. Not like, good as in sympathetic or understandable (though her motivation to do what she’s doing because she was denied being seen as more than just “a thing” is relatable), but good as in she’s a worthy matchup against the team. She’s smart, she’s capable, and above all else, she’s ruthless. It’s not that she doesn’t feel—not by the end of the episode, anyway—but rather it’s because she just is the type of being to go after what she wants at any cost.

Here’s the horrifying thing about Aida: despite being an android, she represents some of the more magnificent yet all-too-frightening aspects of humanity. Specifically, what I find most frightening about her is in how she is so driven that she finds a way to justify literally anything to herself. It’s one thing to be fiercely dedicated in pursuit of a cause (become human in a search for equality, protect your creator at all costs, or in a more general sense, protect humanity), but what Aida (and many humans in our own real world right here and now) seems to forget is that how you go about achieving your goals is just as important as the goals themselves. At first, she justifies being evil because it’s for the greater good, and that slowly becomes more and more corrupted as she becomes more and more selfish. Save for her component parts, Aida is very much a human already, if only in attitude.

The Ugly

The only ugly thing I’ve got here is the ugly cry I had on my face when Mack said he’s not gonna be going back to the real world with the team. The man knows that everything around him is fake, but he wants to stay in the Framework just for Hope. Even after Daisy tells (okay, hints) to Mack that there’s somebody waiting for him on the other side, the only thing on his mind is his daughter.

You and I and all of us already knew that there was going to have to be someone who stays behind, someone who remains in the Framework. We’ve already had one death (R.I.P. Director Mace <3), so it seemed fitting that someone stay behind willingly. It says so, so much that Mack has found one reason as to why he should stick around in a Hydra-infested world. It’s downright poignant.

Watching everyone make it out into the real world slowly but surely was a beautiful thing, and the ugly cry certainly didn’t stop after watching Coulson get fucking shot (“This seems somehow familiar.”), only to go tumbling backwards into the back door. Watching May wake up suddenly right after him just brought so many feels, too.

And Fitz. Poor, poor Fitz. The kid wakes up and is immediately saddled with the horrible, horrible things that he had done in the Framework. He broke down after taking a look at the empty bed where Mace once lay, and he loses it because he realizes he’s the one who ordered the airstrike that killed him. I mentioned last recap that it’s really, really hard to see how any of them can successfully bounce back from all of this, and I really don’t know if I expect any of them to do so. There’s so much heavy weight being passed around, and how they don’t come out of this completely shattered as a team is just beyond me.


Quick Takes

  • “I don’t want to live in a world without Hope.”
  • Aida: if you wanted to be human, how are you going to go around giving yourself teleporting powers, too? Come on.
  • I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of Mack—or Trip, for that matter. After Aida teleports away with Fitz at the end, she leaves behind the Looking Glass machine (which was what constructed Aida’s body in the real world). Essentially, the door’s left open for any of these characters—Trip, Hope, and yes, even Ward—to come through and enter the real world. That Pandora’s box alone seems like reason enough for Coulson to move to have the machine destroyed, but I’m willing to bet that the season-ending cliffhanger might have something to do with someone crossing over from the other side. I’m just saying. (Or, you know, it could be destroyed at the beginning of the next episode. Whatever.)

(image: Marvel Studios)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.