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Recap / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S4 E21 "The Return"

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Coulson and the team's victory in the Framework is short-lived, as an even deadlier enemy looms against them all.


Tropes in this episode:

  • Actually a Doombot: Ivanov was already a remote-piloted LMD, but when Coulson decapitates him with his energy shield, another Ivanov LMD comes in. Apparently he made more copies, all of which are under the control of his Brain in a Jar.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Invoked by Ivanov while he's reading the Darkhold. We don't know what it is telling him, though.
    Ivanov: There are actually a few funny passages in here.
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  • All Your Powers Combined: The reveal of Project Looking Glass — create an Inhuman body for Aida complete with every Inhuman ability she researched in the Framework. So far she has displayed teleportation, electrokinesis, super strength and regenerative abilities, with potentially hundreds more in the wings.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: You'd think Talbot would have realized by now what kind of crazy supernatural world he lives in, and would be a little more willing to believe Coulson's story.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After fighting two of Ivanov's LMDs, Coulson tells May that he hasn't been totally honest with her about what she missed, implying that he's about to admit to the kiss with LMD May. Instead, Coulson admits that he drank the bottle of Haig he and May were saving. May is incredibly pissed off.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Aida quickly regrets making herself human, as she doesn't have experience with any kind of emotional pain. The only thing that seems to give her even momentary comfort is making others feel that pain if she must.
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    • Yo-Yo wanted to be with Mack, but he wants to be with Hope. So Yo-Yo jumps into the Framework alongside him — and wakes up Strapped to an Operating Table unable to move.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: What Yo-Yo accuses Daisy of when she finds out Mack is still in the Framework. She's understandably upset that they left him there until Daisy tells her about Hope, at which point she visibly deflates.
  • Berserk Button: Simmons's itchy trigger finger moves almost as soon as she sees Aida with Fitz. She was using an ICER, but still.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: After Ivanov is no longer restricted, he and Aida seem on a more equal footing now.
  • Big "NO!": Aida lets out a string of epic ones after Fitz tells her that he chooses Jemma over her.
  • Bond One-Liner: Coulson gets one after beating the first Ivanov-bot.
    Ivanov: You are nothing now, without a S.H.I.E.L.D. to hide behind.
    (Coulson activates the force-shield in his artificial hand, slicing off Ivanov's face.)
    Coulson: That's not all they're good for.
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  • Brick Joke: In the previous episode, Radcliffe stated how Aida has acted like a terrible teenage daughter. Here, her breakdown upon Fitz's rejection looks like a spoiled teenage girl who becomes very angry when she doesn't get what she wants.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Aida, now human, can feel empathy, and doesn't want Coulson, Mack, or May to die. She orders Ivanov to call off his attack on the oil rig, but he informs her that since he completed her objective, she can't control him anymore. Furthermore, he's hidden his organic head in a secret location to prevent anyone from stopping him. He may be powerless to stop her, but she now has no means to stop him.
  • The Bus Came Back: Just before The Stinger, Ghost Rider emerges from the interdimensional transporter.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: May doesn't recognize Ivanov as one of the mooks she beat up in a mission that took place twenty-plus years previously, any more than Coulson did. Bonus points for being played by Ming-Na Wen, participant in the original Trope Namer.
  • Call-Back:
    • After Aida unleashes her superpowers, an exasperated Coulson looks up towards the heavens and begs, "Can we get a break, please?!". At the end of the episode, his prayers are answered; not by Heaven, but by Hell in the form of Ghost Rider; much like Robbie Reyes's own prayers during the crash caused by the Locos.
    • While debating what to do with Aida, Yo-Yo offers to chop her head off, like Mack did in "Broken Promises".
  • Cardboard Prison: Even through she's put in what is said to be a Tailor-Made Prison for Inhumans, it only took Aida a few seconds to get out of it. They failed to anticipate her having multiple powers.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Coulson knows exactly where and what Ivanov's base is, not from any S.H.I.E.L.D. briefing, but from being a history teacher in the Framework.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Aida's body is practically stuffed with Inhuman powers from Framework Fitz experimenting on Inhumans with those powers and finding a way to duplicate them. She has Teleportation, Super Strength, Shock and Awe, and a Healing Factor. There may be even more than that.
  • Curse Cut Short: May calls Coulson a "piece of sh—" for drinking the bottle of scotch Fury gave him without her, which is cut off by Ivanov firing torpedoes at the oil rig.
  • Cutting the Knot: Rather than keep trying to kill Coulson and May, Ivanov just has two copies make a token effort while he leaves in the submarine and then sinks the entire rig behind him.
  • Darkest Hour: Team Coulson is on the run from both the military and Aida, Yo-Yo has jumped into the Framework to try and bring Mack back, Fitz's mental state is at its lowest, and Aida is a psychologically unstable Physical God planning to turn the real world into one similar to the Framework with Ivanov. And then, light comes in the form of a flaming skull...
  • Double-Meaning Title: Not only is this episode about Team Coulson and their return into the real world, but with the ending, it is also the return of Ghost Rider.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted; when Aida insists that Fitz has to love her after he rejects her, it's treated as horrifying and the moment where they need to get him out of there. He's visibly shaken after, and Jemma gets over her own discomfort following his time as "the Doctor" to console him.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Coulson's currently not aware that Ivanov's now an LMD controlled by a Brain in a Jar. Needless to say, when they have a fight, Coulson is at a disadvantage.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Ivanov makes it clear that he only ever followed Aida's command for his own gains and because of his LMD restrictions. Now that he is free, he flat-out refuses to stop going after Team Coulson when Aida tries to appeal to him. After she comes back out for the team's blood again, they seem to form a more equal partnership.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ivanov offers Aida vodka after she returns upset at Fitz's rejection. She accepts, first the shot that he pours her, then chugging straight from the bottle.
  • Entitled to Have You: As far as Aida's concerned, Fitz should love her since she's chosen to love him, and also worked her ass off in order to become human and feel love in the first place. His attempts to explain the flaws in this logic fall on deaf ears.
  • Exact Words:
    • After May remarks that Coulson will have to give her mouth-to-mouth if an epinephrine shot leaves her unconscious, Coulson gets awkward, remembering the kiss he had with LMD May. Unaware of what happened, May asks if her LMD made a move on Coulson or tried to kill him. Since LMD May did try to kill him, Coulson puts it down to that.
    • Fitz calls Aida out for trying to use this, hard. Aida tries to defend herself by saying that what she said wasn't technically a lie, but Fitz tells her that it was still manipulation and that it was still wrong. Aida doesn't see it as important now that she's human, which makes Fitz very uncomfortable.
  • Fan Disservice: Aida angrily kissing Ivanov and removing his shirt, seemingly intending to have sex with him, is already disturbing enough considering that she's now human and he's an LMD, but then she smashes his head in.
  • First Girl Wins: In the end, Fitz can only love one woman: Jemma. Aida takes it badly. Very badly.
    Aida: There's only room in your heart for—
    Fitz: For her.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In the beginning, Ivanov is seen complaining to one of his henchmen, who the camera doesn't show in full. Annoyed by the henchman's silence, he leaves, grumbling that he's "tired of talking to [him]self". A few minutes later, we see that the "henchman" he was talking to was, in fact, another one of himself, and he has more.
  • Flat "What": Aida after Fitz confesses he still loves Jemma.
  • Frame-Up: After Mace's death, Ivanov took a hammer and mutilated the body, in such a way that once the body washed up on a beach, Daisy was blamed because the damage to his bones made it look like he was quaked to death. Now the world suspects she's leading a traitorous faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Given that Talbot found the Playground nearly destroyed, filled with injured agents and LMD parts, it's not surprising that it worked.
    Talbot: Can you explain that?
    Coulson: ... I can try.
  • Gilligan Cut: A rare positive example.
    Daisy: Coulson and May just woke up with no idea where they are or what they're up against.
    Coulson: I know where we are, I think!
  • Gone Horribly Right: Ivanov has now hidden his head in a secret location and produced dozens of LMDs of himself (and can presumably make more whenever he wants), making it extremely hard to kill him... or control him, as Aida learns the hard way.
  • Good Feels Good: Aida discovers this after saving Mack's life. Although, after getting her heart broken by Fitz, Ivanov is more than happy to show her that Evil Feels Good too.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Aida, on Fitz's urging, takes it upon herself to undo the damage she had caused as far as she possibly can, despite her initial fears of death, not only directly confronting an Ivanov LMD, but even saving Mack from drowning on the sinking oil rig without considering the risks involved in unplugging him from the Framework by force. Too bad she quickly goes into full Yandere mode the instant Fitz confirms he still loves Simmons.
  • Heel Realization: Aida realizes all the horrible stuff she did after gaining a conscience. Unfortunately, it then turns into Ignored Epiphany when Fitz rejects her.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: S.H.I.E.L.D. again. The explosion at the Playground attracted the attention of the government, who found quite a few destroyed LMDs and several injured agents. The small handful of agents uncounted for are labeled as suspected terrorists and since Daisy is among them, her powers are seen as the likely cause of the mess. Also, after Mace's death, Aida and Ivanov arranged his body to be found and implicate Daisy as his killer. This is why the plane couldn't refuel or recharge. Now Talbot has no idea who to trust because anyone could be a robot.
  • He's Back: Just before the last scene, Ghost Rider steps out of the portal, literally back from Hell.
  • Hope Spot: For half the episode it looks like Fitz is going to convince Aida to perform a Heel–Face Turn and make amends for the crimes she committed while an android by helping take down Ivanov, even saving Mack from drowning. Then Fitz admits that he's still in love with Simmons and Aida snaps.
  • Ignored Epiphany: After being rejected by Fitz, Aida throws all of her new-found empathy out the window and goes on a murderous rampage.
  • Inspector Javert: Talbot, once again, after having found the mess Team Coulson and Aida left behind. He assumes that all of the team are still secretly robots.
  • The Juggernaut: Aida becomes absolutely unstoppable after breaking free. Fitz even tells the Team to run the hell away.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: As the Zephyr is taking off to escape Aida, Daisy offers to let Talbot and his men come if they drop their guns. Thinking better of trying to test their guns against her powers, Talbot backs off and lets the Zephyr leave.
  • Large Ham: After over a season as the emotionless Aida or coldly pragmatic Madame Hydra, Mallory Jansen gets to cut loose as Aida experiences the full range of human emotion. Mostly negative ones, unfortunately.
    Aida: I clawed my way through that world, worked myself to the bone, to have a choice, to have bones, and blood, and freedom, and love! And — NO!
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: May says, "It's good to be back." Cue the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, not Agents of HYDRA. It also reflects on the episode's title, "The Return".
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Having been imprisoned in the Framework since the end of the Ghost Rider arc, May has no idea who Ivanov is, as he was introduced late in the LMD arc. She also doesn't know how the Ghost Rider arc ended. Coulson fills her in on both, while leaving out the more awkward details.
  • Mauve Shirt: Agent Prince is killed by AIDA via a Neck Snap, which is a shame, since he was given some characterization throughout the season while the rest of the team was away in the Framework. Agent Davis also is apparently killed as the scene cuts away, but it turns out that he survived, as shown during the next season.
  • Me's a Crowd: Ivanov has multiple copies of himself running around, and presumably has the means to make more. Given that Ivanov orders the copies of himself around, it appears that his head can only directly control one LMD at a time, Body Surfing between them as needed (such as when one "dies"), while the others are just drones programmed to follow his orders.
  • Mook Horror Show: Aida is this for the U.S. soldiers and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents after going on her rampage. Talbot hears on his radio that "she's everywhere!" amidst the sound of gun shots and screaming.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Aida having the powers of a lot of Inhumans makes her similar to Marvel characters like Super-Skrull, Mimic and the Super-Adaptoid.
    • Ivanov [to Aida] "We both know there are things beyond this universe, and you may, in fact, be one of them." Hinting that Aida may become a version of the Beyonder.
    • Ivanov describes himself as being "designed only for killing," as was the Marvel character M.O.D.O.K.
  • Never My Fault: Aida says that everything that happened in the Framework was Radcliffe's fault and she only ever followed her programming. Pretty far fetched, given that she murdered the man and had him trapped in the Framework (though she did employ Loophole Abuse so that it still satisfied her programming), as well as the fact that everything bad happening to the world in there was on her Madame Hydra self's watch. Strangely, Fitz doesn't even call her out on it.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Justified as Ophelia/Aida purposefully copied an unknown number of Inhuman abilities.
    Piper: At least the machinery in there will keep her power contained.
    Fitz: No, that's not her only power!
    [cue Aida throwing lightning]
  • Not Good with Rejection: Aida/Ophelia, after Fitz doesn't return her love, decides to give Abduction Is Love a try. Then comes the screams and the killing.
  • Not So Different: Fitz realizes that he's not so different from Ward — all it took was an evil father figure to strip away any goodness and empathy from him. His depression causes him to miss the obvious point: that they both had to be manipulated into full-on villainy (as proved by Framework Ward, who was recruited by Victoria Hand instead of John Garrett, and became more or less a hero).
  • Off with His Head!: Coulson activates his energy shield while it's lined up with Ivanov's face, cutting the front part of his head off. Unfortunately, there's more of him and that trick only works once.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the beginning, Aida's Heel Realization at Team Coulson's impending deaths at the oil rig.
    • Coulson's and May's reaction when Ivanov No Sells their bullets.
    • Fitz is in a perpetual state of terror once Aida loses her temper, knowing that with her powers, everyone is screwed.
    • May has this reaction upon learning that Aida has escaped and is rampaging throughout the Playground.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Seeing the normally stoic Aida overwhelmed by her feelings is already strange, but seeing her lose her temper, shouting and going on a bloody rampage is outright terrifying.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Team Coulson (sans Mack) got themselves out of the Framework in the previous episode... and into a sinking oil rig controlled by the enemy. Daisy and Jemma, meanwhile, are on the Zephyr... which has little power and is being shot down.
  • Pet the Dog: Ivanov is surprisingly sympathetic towards the heartbroken Aida/Ophelia, telling her that her heartbreak will heal in time while offering her a drink.
  • Properly Paranoid: Talbot may still be a Butt-Monkey, but you sure can't blame him for suspecting everyone in Team Coulson to be an android.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: What becoming human (or Inhuman?) turns Aida into is crazy and immature. While she has the capacity for reasonable and rational thought like an adult, her new emotions are as intense and unrefined as a baby's. When Fitz admits that he is still in love with Jemma, Aida screams and thrashes around like a Spoiled Brat being told "No" for the first time.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Subverted. Coulson fights an android Ivanov to no avail... all to lure it into a trap.
  • Reality Ensues: Talbot says the bomb that blew up the Playground from "Self-Control" put twelve agents in the hospital.
  • Reality Warper: Ivanov tells Aida that the Darkhold contains instructions on how to make the Framework world become real.
  • The Reveal: Aida's powers were somehow copied or extracted from the Inhumans that HYDRA captured and tested in the Framework. It gets worse when she snaps after Fitz admits he still loves Jemma, and she starts using more than one power.
  • Sense Freak: Aida showed a bit of sensory overload at the end of the last episode, but she really dials it Up to Eleven in this one. She really wasn't prepared to feel pain.
  • Shout-Out: Talbot tells his men to assume anyone can be a C-3PO until he says otherwise.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: In the Framework, Yo-Yo wakes up strapped to an operating table while the building she's in is burning.
  • The Stinger: Yo-Yo wakes up in the Framework strapped to an operating table in a collapsing building, without her powers (and even if she does have her powers, they wouldn't do her much good, as Super Speed isn't that useful if you can't move).
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Aida, after Fitz turns her down. It really comes out of nowhere and is very scary.
  • Superpower Lottery: Aida gave herself every power from every Inhuman that HYDRA studied inside the Framework. So far, she has demonstrated Teleportation, Shock and Awe, Super Strength, and a Healing Factor.
  • Super Toughness: While the Ivanov LMD's don't have the Super Strength Aida had, they sure as hell can take a lot of punishment. Robot frame, after all.
  • Talking to Themself: Ivanov even lampshades this. He keeps talking to all nearby LMDs of himself despite the fact that they are all copies of himself, not individuals.
  • Teleport Spam: Aida uses her teleportation to get behind people and kill them.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Just when Ivanov taunts Coulson about not being able to hide behind his S.H.I.E.L.D., he gets his face cut off... by Coulson's energy shield.
    • Coulson wonders why Ivanov won't simply flood the place to kill them. A minute later, that's exactly what happens.
  • Tender Tears / Manly Tears: Towards the end of the episode, Fitz and Jemma both openly cry over everything that happened to them during the Framework storyline.
  • That Man Is Dead: Aida/Ophelia refers to "Aida" in the third person, past tense. Evidently, she now considers her old robotic self to be an entirely different being. Coulson does the same, referring to his Framework self as a separate entity, despite having his memories.
  • Trash the Set: We see that the Playground is wrecked after the bomb went off in "Self-Control."
  • Triang Relations: Type 7 between Fitz, Aida, and Simmons. Fitz comes to the conclusion that he can't be with both of them, and chooses Jemma. Aida doesn't take it well.
  • Villain Has a Point: As sadistic as Ivanov's rebuttal was, he's right in that Aida, still being new to her own humanity, can't fully process complex emotions like regret, delayed/no gratification, or even her own empathy.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After Fitz rejects her, for the first time ever (well, technically the second time, but the first one was pretty subtle), we see Aida completely lose her cool. It's an absolutely terrifying sight.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: After returning to the Playground, Team Coulson debate on what to do with Aida. Daisy and Coulson think she can be rehabilitated after saving Mack, while Jemma and Yo-Yo argue that they should put her down (Yo-Yo even offers to decapitate her like before). May ultimately says that there has been enough killing, settling the matter. Then Aida goes crazy after Fitz chooses Jemma over Aida, making killing her the only option left.
  • Woman Scorned: Hell hath no fury like an android-that-became-a-woman scorned. Aida flips out when she realizes that Fitz still loves Jemma instead of her. She got loose from the cell (specially designed to keep Inhumans trapped) and started a killing spree.
    Aida: I chose you, now you choose me.
    Fitz: That's not how it works, you can't control everyone anymore!
    Aida: Watch. We will build a life together, whether you want to or not.
  • Worf Had the Flu: May is still worn out from her months long imprisonment in the Framework. She defeats an Ivanov LMD after injecting herself with epinephrine, but only just barely, and collapses immediately afterwards.
  • Yandere: Aida makes it violently clear that she will not accept that Fitz would have any other woman than herself.

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