With all that’s happened this season, to call a single episode “the darkest yet” would really be saying something, but this episode is certainly a strong contender. So let’s see what made this episode so dark, and what made it work.
“Trauma” would certainly be a key phrase of this episode. More than just the nightmare creatures coming through the crack (because I’m sure they can be more creative than just a zombie astronaut), we have past traumas coming back to haunt characters. Fitz’s evil self from the Framework seems to be returning, and he has to struggle with what it means for that to be part of what he is, as well as a callback to a past trauma from several seasons ago. Yo-Yo is still dealing with the trauma of losing her arms. Daisy, well, she goes through a pretty intense trauma as well.
In short, pretty much everybody left the episode a little more scarred than they started, sometimes physically as well as metaphorically.
This is a recurring idea that we keep seeing this season, and pretty much any time the concept of time travel comes up. This episode, we see it in play with Deke as he worries about ensuring his own existence through the safety of his grandparents, and in Yo-Yo’s certainty that she’ll survive whatever happens because she’s already seen herself.
We’ve explored this idea before, but this time they’re looking at how the time loop means certain characters are guaranteed survival, which isn’t necessarily wrong; destiny itself is giving them plot armor. But this also means that no matter what any of them do (see thought #5) there won’t be any consequences for better or ill.
Unless, of course, history can change, then there’ll be a whole lot of paradoxes to deal with.
I know Deke tried to use that knowledge to reassure Simmons that things will be okay with Fitz, but the idea that their actions can no longer have consequences outside of what time itself has decreed is an even more frightening idea to me.
So hey, free will is officially an illusion, they’ve got that going for them now.
3. Every Villain Is Lemons
How else can we describe the sudden reemergence of old villains? We knew the Absorbing Man was coming back, but The Superior returns as well (and he’s admittedly a villain I really could have stood to leave behind, but here we are), complete with an amusing little line about him being “just another Russian infiltrating our democracy.”
I’d have liked to see a little more time on Crusher and a little less time on The Superior, but they’re part of General Hale’s ever-growing alliance of baddies, so at least they’re getting enough screentime that we know why they’re working with her.
It’ll all pay off when we see SHIELD go head-to-head with Hale’s forces of villainy. What other antagonists have unresolved plot points? I’m sure we’ll see them soon enough.
4. Kree-Hydra Alliance?
Those last few minutes of the episode are certainly setting up some interesting points. We now know that General Hale is working with the Kree, even as she insists she’s working to save the world. In fact, given the vial of berserker juice (I know that’s not its name, but that’s really what it is) she gets, it seems likely that it’s someone related to Kasius; his father once tried to conquer Earth, after all.
More importantly, they’re Hydra too. Hale most likely is (she did get brunch with Strucker on more than one occasion) and is bringing them into the fold, and they’re in it for the ride… and maybe because of Hydra’s ancient connections to Hive, though that remains to be seen.
If this does end up being the las season, then what better way to end it than with SHIELD taking on Hydra one last time?
This part is big enough that it had to be saved for last. Throughout the episode we see Fitz himself and the Hydra Fitz from the Framework. We assume that it’s his own fears brought to life, the dark version of himself that he worries about becoming again made manifest from the fear dimension.Continued below
Then we get to the plot twist, and it grows even darker. It’s no phantasm from the fear dimension, it’s Fitz himself, undergoing a breakdown. He even anticipated his own realizing that it was a breakdown and reprograms the soldier-bots to force him to go through with Daisy’s forced surgery regardless.
This was a dark twist, and a sharp turn for Fitz’s character, but it worked oh so well. Seeing him struggling with his morality versus his need to succeed at any cost, losing it as he argues with the two halves of his own mind (great job by Iain De Caestecker there), and the chilling moment at the end where he finishes the job and seems assured that it was still the right choice… well, to say it worked wouldn’t be doing the story justice.
Of course, that also could have gone very poorly for Fitz if anyone had showed up to stop him and assumed he was the Framework Fitz. After all, he did tell everyone that his Framework self was running amuck, he could have easily been shot while he was performing the surgery. On second thought, that couldn’t have happened, because he also has future-proofed plot armor.
My only concern is whether or not there are any lasting consequences, given the predestination point mentioned earlier. But as long as there are repercussions, then this was a great twist.