It was another explosive episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., both literally and emotionally.
Blindsiding audiences with a startling reveal about one character and the shocking death of another (not to mention the resurrection of an old favorite!), the show continues to go in wholly unexpected directions – so unexpected that, for some of the team, I'm not sure there's a way back.
On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Episode 18, Daisy and Simmons wrestled with the revelation that the Fitz they knew and loved in the real world was capable of becoming a cold-blooded killer in the Framework.
Aida's intention for the Framework was a world without regrets, with everyone getting everything they had ever wanted. But, why would this turn good-natured Fitz into the kind of man who could pull a trigger on a woman point-blank?
One person in your life, one sentence, has the power to change you forever.Radcliffe [to Daisy]
The other alternate reality versions of the characters make sense: Mace is the superhero he always wanted to be, Mack is a father again, Ward is fighting for the good side instead of the bad, and Coulson is essentially a professional nerd.
Even May was able to redo her biggest regret from the real world inside the Framework, and save the little girl in Bahrain (even if that didn't really work out for her, or the rest of the world, in the end).
If anyone could get you to wake up and realize this world isn't real, it's her. She loves you, and you love her.Daisy [to Fitz]
But, in the case of Fitz, one of these things is not like the other. Something changed him in a big way, and it's not immediately easy for those who know him to pin down the culprit.
In fact, at the end of the episode, Daisy and Simmons were still in the dark as to what triggered this evolution in Fitz. However, those of us watching at home were given a surprising answer in the form of Fitz's father.
Daisy: Why are you doing this, Fitz?
Fitz: It's Doctor Fitz.
Fitz's father is supposed to have abandoned him and his mother when Fitz was ten. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Episode 12, Radcliffe claimed to have met him, but Fitz found that impossible to believe.
And yet, if Fitz's father is running around inside the Framework, perhaps that's one of the few things that Radcliffe hasn't lied about.
What is it about that guy? Every time I see him, I get this weird itch. Like hives?Coulson [to Simmons, about Ward]
In the real world, Fitz grew up to be a good man – but that was without his father in his life. How would his father's presence have changed that? Would he have been better or worse off?
We don't know much about Fitz's father yet, but it's already clear from only a few scenes that he is a toxic figure. It makes sense that in an alternate reality where he would have had an influence on Fitz's life, said influence would not have been good.
It also appears that Aida is using Fitz's father to brainwash Fitz. He's a mallet, pounding her messaging into Fitz's head.
This became apparent when Fitz began to question whether it was right or wrong for him to have killed Agnes, and his father immediately reassured him that he made the right choice.
Not only that, Fitz's father also reminded him that there was only one person in the world who was truly capable of understanding the pressures and responsibilities that Fitz faced, someone who truly loved him: Madame Hydra.
Aida wants what humans have; she wants the ability to make choices without the restraints of programming. And yet, in a way, she has programmed Fitz to be her perfectly compliant colleague and lover, using his father to alter his emotional code.
Madame Hydra: I'm just trying to give people what they want. Why is that wrong?
Daisy: Because sometimes what people want isn't right for them.
It's altogether quite disturbing, and yet not even the most disturbing thing about the Agents of Hydra arc.
First, some good news: Trip's back! One of our favorite agents, who previously met an unpleasant end thanks to some Terrigen mist, has been resurrected as a member of the Resistance inside the Framework.
It was great to have B.J. Britt's easygoing charisma and sharp smile back on the show, even if only temporarily. His presence as Trip brightens what has become a very dark storyline for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Speaking of dark: in this episode, we bade farewell to Jeffrey Mace, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., alias the Patriot.
A team that trusts is a team that triumphs? That's a bit cheesy.Mace [to Simmons]
Mace sacrificed himself, using his super-strength to hold up a collapsing building so that the others could escape. It was a powerful and fitting end for a character whose arc zig-zagged back and forth from blowhard to hero through his brief run.
In death, Mace became the hero he had pretended to be in life, powers and all.
Not everyone could have kept Mace likable as he constantly showed doubts over whether or not Coulson and company could trust him, but Jason O'Mara managed to convey all of this character's inherent complexity in every scene. His acting, and his abs, will be missed.
And while some of us may have held out hope that death in the Framework didn't need to be a death sentence (yes, they told us it was, but a girl can dream), the episode ended with Aida watching as Mace flatlined in the real world.
Bee-tee-dubs, your psycho-prison sucks.Daisy [to Madame Hydra]
Mace's death was a rude awakening from an already nightmarish world, one that feels far too much like our own during some of the darkest points in its history.
The show continues to use imagery and language that echoes not only the current political climate but also, in this episode, in particular, the Holocaust, to drive home the importance of fighting fascism and having the power to make your own choices, even if you later regret them.
From the Hydra bus filled with body bags, to the use "re-education" to describe Hydra's attempts at brainwashing, to the establishment of Hydra Enlightenment Cultivation Centers reminiscent of concentration camps, this episode was not shy about reminding audiences of the real-life horrors that have been inflicted on people who are seen as different – much like Inhumans.
When Fitz came right out and quoted Mitch McConnell's now-infamous description of Elizabeth Warren's persistence in regards to Daisy, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s intentions became utterly transparent.
Beaten to within an inch of her life. Nevertheless, she persisted.Fitz [on Daisy]
It's a superhero show seeking to fight fascism. Well, it always has been, but now it's just being really, really obvious about it.
I am pro-using pop culture as a way to get a political message across, so needless to say, I am loving Agents of Hydra. But, so much about the show has changed with this arc that I have no idea how it could progress beyond this season if it was renewed.
One has to imagine that the experience of the Framework would be incredibly traumatic for everyone involved – at least if they remember any of it.
But even if, for example, Fitz doesn't remember shooting Aida, Simmons remembers him doing it, and that's still pretty huge.
The fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been by far its best because it has been so willing to take risks and to go to dark places. But, lately, it has gotten so dark that it feels as though it's gone past the point of no return.
I know no one wants to hear they're just an avatar in a digital prison, but sometimes that happens and here we are.Simmons [to Mace]
And perhaps it has. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has still not been renewed for a fifth season, and with Inhumans hovering on the horizon – not to mention the show's sagging ratings, which were never stellar in the first place – I could see this being the end of the road.
In a way, it feels right. The show deserves to end on a powerful note, and one of its own volition. I don't want to see it dragged out further for the sake of marketing ploys. Let it come to a natural creative end. I think this could be it.
What did you think of "No Regrets"? What are your theories on Fitz's father? Will Daisy be able to use her newly reacquired powers (thanks, May!) to find the backdoor Radcliffe told her about? And even if she does, will the rest of the team make it out?
Remember, you can watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. online via TV Fanatic.
Lee Jutton was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She went into retirement in July of 2017. Follow her on Twitter.