The most I can say for AGENTS OF SHIELD’s season four finale is that it didn’t screw up too badly. Beyond that, it’s a lackluster succession of action sequences that doesn’t do much except wrap up open storylines. Honestly, it’s much better than I expected but overall? Underwhelming.
For those of you who haven’t been reading my every review for years, I have a long-standing vendetta against screenwriter Jeffrey Bell. When I saw he was writing this episode a few weeks ago—I kid you not—I sobbed for at least seven hours straight one afternoon. I knew this episode would destroy everything and there wouldn’t be anyone to clean up his mess before the end of the season. In truth, it wasn’t that bad. The previous two episodes did essentially all of the emotional and character work that I was dreading them leaving to Bell. So, while “World’s End” doesn’t warrant the buckets of tears I shed over it in advance, it’s just not great. That’s not a crime, but when you hold it up to the rest of this season it looks awful by comparison. Now, for most of this review I’m going to rip this guy pretty hard and there’s nothing new in that. I do it almost every time he pens an episode. But I do want to note that I really don’t evaluate his episodes by a different metric or any more harshly than others. I just know that the things I find lackluster here are things that Bell does on a regular basis and that those things consistently don’t work for me.
Largely, this episode is action sequence after action sequence. Non-stop action doesn’t really work without giving them an emotional charge and leaving a few breathers, you know? That’s a Bell thing that I’m used to. Another thing about his action scenes is that they often don’t logistically make sense. He goes for the biggest shocker or the most outlandish reveal that he can in every case no matter whether those twists actually logically follow. I did enjoy that there was an international inquiry into SHIELD that Talbot was trying to front for them. I also accepted the logistics of why and how Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider would come from back from wherever he was. The messiest part of this episode is that Aida suddenly has not just one Russian that she’s copied but two. There’s a completely new guy here that we’ve never seen before who is integral to her plot to make Inhumans hated by all. This new guy (or the multiple copies of this new guy) is apparently some sort of Russian ambassador. What also doesn’t quite make sense is I’m pretty sure Ivanov is a known terrorist and yet he’s sitting in this international relations committee. Plus, no one ever found that man’s head in a jar. Are we gonna leave that hanging forever like the Terrigen vaccine or will that be important in the future?
I love Talbot and I’m glad he’s not dead even though he’s been frickin’ shot in the head, but even with that turn I was more excited there was a Daisy copy than upset that Talbot got shot. I’ll get the various LMD copies in a second though because this episode climaxed very strangely. The highest point was the reveal that Coulson had made a deal with Ghost Rider. That was excellent and I didn’t see it coming. Past that was just… deflating. Once Coulson has Ghost Rider, the conclusion is foregone. Unfortunately, my dear Aida was beyond help so I guess they had to kill her but then they had weird moments with Fitz which just made no sense. Didn’t we establish that he’s singularly devoted to Simmons? Like? What are you doing here? You can’t have the entire emotional climax of this whole plot arc turn on who Fitz is in love with and then try to walk that back one episode later for cheap melodrama points. If that was a Bell attempt at emotional authenticity I almost want to laugh out loud.
Which brings me to my main issue with Jeffrey Bell and that’s that he is just incapable of writing emotional authenticity. I can tell that he tried here, and it’s honestly better than usual, but he shouldn’t be left to do any kind of conclusions. I’m presuming that the stuff between Mack and Elena was supposed to provide the emotional balance for all the non-stop action scenes. I appreciate that he tried for balance, but you have to give everyone some breather moments, not just rely on one plotline for all your character work. The emotional beats here were servicable, if a bit overwrought. Elena was more believable than Mack in this situation. Mack’s insistence that he stay behind was basically just a contrived plot wrinkle at this point to provide an extra bit of drama apart from Aida trying to kill everyone. The moments between May and Coulson were appropriately subdued and I’m glad they spoke about what went down between them when she was a robot. I did enjoy whatever is up between Daisy and Robbie. That’s more interesting in fifteen seconds than Daisy and Lincoln ever were. Honestly, I think that’s largely due to the dark chemistry between Bennet and Luna but I’m fine with that. Dark chemistry is my (second) favorite kind of chemistry. (Quirky precious nerd chemistry being my favorite, naturally.) In both cases no one hammers too hard on the thing between them, so it works. Elena and Mack were always pretty saccharine so I don’t have many complaints about them either.
Fitz and Simmons, though. All right, a few things here. What on earth are we doing hammering on how they have “things to work out?” That… doesn’t even make sense. They’re not mad at each other. They’re having emotionally complex trauma to work through. Are we implying that Simmons is somehow pissed off with Fitz? Can Jeffrey Bell just… not. Like. Not. He’s not allowed to touch her. Ever. Just stop. Those two don’t actually need words for things to be okay between them. I was pretty sure Simmons holding Fitz while he sobbed on her was a healthy chunk of their reconciliation so just… stop, Mr. Bell. Stop. See, I’m of two minds here. The lack of Fitz and Simmons in this episode is one of its glaring flaws, and yet I’ve had a ban in place for years on this screenwriter touching them at all. Simmons in particular he just cannot do. This is the man who decided that Simmons had outright rejected Fitz after season one—apparently the only writer to not get the “this entire relationship exists in subtext” memo. He’s the only one who tried to force her into a romance with Trip. He’s the one who makes her do really weird things that just aren’t in line with her character for no reason that I can discern because it’s usually not even for dramatic purposes. It just causes tension in me. I’ll be honest, the first time I looked this man up and saw his entire filmography, I didn’t realize the same guy was responsible for so much television that I hated over the years. After I learned that, I started lurking in agony waiting to see which episode of SHIELD he’d write and dreading every one. The man is like a pilot who can only do stunts but can neither keep the stick level nor land the damn plane.
Here’s my combo logistics/FitzSimmons gripe: there is no way in ever-loving hell they would kill Simmons of all people after they spent an entire season addressing every wrong they’d ever done her. Fridge much? So I called that she was an LMD once Aida started stabbing her and “Simmons” started saying awful things to Fitz. Simmons is the only one who never got to play robot and it’s implied Aida and Radcliffe had an LMD of her. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is the logistics of this entire thing. Where did they get it from? There’s no way they could have made it. They didn’t have the time or the resources. If Aida had it at the Russian’s base then that’s a no-go. If it was tucked away somewhere in the completely exploded SHIELD base I don’t quite buy that either. I’m still of the mind that there’s an army of Daisy bots and a killer Fitz bot on the loose because Coulson-bot sent Fitz-bot down to the basement to set them all for “seek and destroy” back in 4×15 before they blew up the base. How blown up is the base exactly? There was at least one Daisy copy in this episode and I thought maybe it was one of those. But instead, Aida just made an extra one? That’s using your narrative resources very poorly. Now, there could be an argument that when the base blew up all of those LMDs got fried. But then, if that’s the case, where was the Simmons one tucked away? How come she didn’t get fried too?
See. This is one of my Jeffrey Bell problems. He digs for shocks at the expense of sense and I just can’t deal with that. Previous similar problems he’s made a mess of: in 2×10 why did Trip have to kick the obelisk thing to “save” Skye who was already basically a statue? Nonsensical. The only good that could possibly have done was to get him killed unnecessarily because, well, he needed to die. That entire episode is full of things like that. The Bell-ism that drives me most batty is there is literally no way Hive could have gotten back through the portal in 3×10 without Coulson, Fitz, Mack, or Daisy seeing him do it. There was an extreme time crunch, they blew up the castle, Daisy was KO’ed, the man he was possessing was not a small person, etc. Shock and awe is great but, friends, if it doesn’t actually make sense then that’s just glittery garbage. It looks pretty but it doesn’t work. And no, I’m not complaining about Simmons not getting murdered by Fitz’s psycho robot ex. But every other time an LMD copy of someone has shown up they came from somewhere that was logistically sound. This is just a contrived narrative convenience.
My poor Aida here becomes nothing but an actual psycho robot ex. She’s a vicious, vindictive, irredeemable killer which plays so counter to the creature who believed herself capable of being loved in the previous episode that it gives me whiplash. Where did my human girl go? Even Fitz trying to talk to her while she’s going after LMD-Simmons is like copying the homework of the previous episode. It’s not actually present and it doesn’t ring that true. Hell, it barely gives De Caestecker, Henstridge, or Jansen (all of whom are monstrously talented) anything to bite in to. It’s lip service. That makes me sad. I’ll be honest, I would have had no problem with Aida sticking around forever if they could have brought her around. If they would just keep her there to torture them all like Ward did, nevermind. But they could have raised her like some sort of deranged robot daughter. That, perhaps, would have been too subversive. It’s interesting how she’s all about empathy and yet she never manages to turn that empathy towards Simmons. Why not let the robot imagine the pain she’s causing the woman she replaced? If she can empathize with people in life and death situations and she can empathize with Fitz and his love, surely they could’ve turned that on Simmons for a second. What better chance at redemption? Even forgiveness? Really, all she would have had to do would be to feel even half of what Simmons does. Oh, wait. Nevermind. For two seconds I forgot who wrote this episode. The man who can’t seem to fathom that Simmons even has feelings. Anyway. Whatever. We’ve all learned quite well what happens with “what ifs.” Also, speaking of folks we must bid adieu, the closest I came to feeling anything beyond “yeah right you just killed Simmons, yeah right” was Radcliffe sitting on the beach as the Framework dies around him. I love him so much and I’m truly sorry we can’t keep his chaotic self around forever.
One final thing that I did like was Daisy’s pep talk to Fitz at the end. Fitz, being Fitz, tries to give himself up as responsible for the entire mess. No one is about to let him do that, of course, but Daisy as the one to give him the rah-rah team talk is perfect. Simmons can’t be the only one to tend his emotional needs, and Daisy had such serious screw ups in the past that Fitz would be more likely to listen to her. Also because every time something goes haywire in Daisy’s life, it’s Fitz who is there to pull her back from the edge. He’s the one who was there for her when she got her Inhuman powers. He’s the one that brought her back after she went AWOL and turned into a vigilante. Fitz is the one that’s always there for her when stuff goes really crazy. Fitz loves Simmons, he respects Coulson, but if anyone was going to get through to him when he’s mercilessly blaming himself for every bit of pain endured in the entire season it would be Daisy. That part was perfect.
As for SHIELD going intergalactic, well. That didn’t work out so well last time, and I personally am more of an institutional spy person. But they haven’t told us much about this situation, so I reserve judgment. I’m sure I’ll be informed at some point this is some kind of SWORD thing—another organization from the comics that protects the world from alien threats. Cool. For a tag that leads into the next season, the first season finale still wins out with Coulson’s alien writing. That’s my favorite, though personally the season three tag with Radcliffe and Aida is why I gave this show a second (third? seventeenth?) chance. Whatever Coulson (and co! It better be and co.) are doing out in space? Sure. Whatever. God help us. They could not conceivably top this season anyway.
All right, in all honesty I’m ripping this episode pretty hard. It wasn’t horrendous and I’m not furious about it. I’m not even disappointed because this is about what I expect from Jeffrey Bell. It’s just… I mean, this entire season was insane. How could anything be so consistently fantastically good? And then this is the end. That’s an excellent way to deflate the SHIELD balloon.
Season 4, Episode 22 (S04E22)
Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 10PM on ABC
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor