Agents of SHIELD” gets back to business in the real world as the remaining agents try to deal with the Framework fallout in reality. AIDA is now Ophelia in the flesh, and she has plans for Fitz, but he might not be as willing a participant as he was when he was The Doctor. In “The Return,” the team will have to unite and deal with Ophelia in the real world.

Piper and Davis deserve promotions

It’s rare for the audience to get to know any of the SHIELD agents milling around in the background of the base. I’m glad both Davis and Piper not only got names but got to participate in pivotal scenes this season. In this episode, in particular, we get to see that there are other valuable agents in SHIELD outside of Coulson’s core team that we know so well, and they have earned their paycheck.

Honestly, I was more interested in the B team with Jemma, Daisy, and Elena on the Zephyr One than I was in Coulson and May having to fight their way out of an oil rig, and that’s saying something since so few secondary characters hold the attention of the audience. Bonus points to the group for having the foresight to save Fitz from Ophelia/AIDA while everyone else is busy as well!

Davis is probably no more, but let’s make Piper a regular!

AIDA is a real girl

I know that much of the fandom hates AIDA with the fire of a thousand suns, but Mallory Jansen is so exquisite in this role that I love to watch her - even when she’s manipulative and ruthless. Her joy at experiencing the ocean, at the sun on her face, at the sand underfoot was breathtaking to watch. Her rationalizing the decisions she made in the Framework equally so, but for different reasons.

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AIDA is awful, even if all she wants is to be allowed to be her person, but her actress can do no wrong.

Better than her feeling for the first time is seeing Fitz get through to her, at least a little bit, as he attempted to teach her about empathy and recognizing the bad things she was doing to his team, appealing to her wish to be human and even calling her Ophelia. Ophelia experiencing the high that accompanies a heroic act and the crushing disappointment and rage later when she doesn’t get what she wants as Fitz refuses her?

All amazing to watch. Mallory Jansen deserves to be praised for her role this season, though most fans likely won’t want to see beyond her role of a roadblock to Fitz and Simmons finding their way back to one another.

Fitz and Simmons don’t need words

Proving, as they do every single week, that Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are the emotional powerhouses of the show, Fitz and Simmons get a scene that gives the audience all the feels - and they don’t even say a word.

Fitz, crushed by the guilt at the things he did in the Framework, and Jemma, terrified, that he won’t feel the same way about her or be the same person she knew, don’t even talk to one another in the entire episode, save for Fitz’s “Jemma…” right before she shoots him with an ICER when he appears with Ophelia. Fitz talks about her with Ophelia and Jemma spends the time, in tears, listening in. But the best moment in the entire episode is the two of them - finally - in the same room, crying.

They are both tentative and terrified, and some members of the audience might have wanted to see a sweeping romantic reunion or at the very least, see them talk to one another about what happened, but their sitting side by side crying together is, as Ophelia would say, a beautiful kind of pain.

They don’t need to talk for the audience to see their every emotion. It's heartbreaking to see them that way, but heartwarming to see them physically in the same place after being separated for so long. Lesser actors wouldn’t do the scene justice, but “Agents of SHIELD” lucked out with de Caestecker and Henstridge.

Ghost Rider and Elena

Ghost Rider reappears in the wreckage of the SHIELD base, which is a welcome addition, but how? He’s sure to play a role in taking down Ophelia next week.

Elena decided to plug herself into the Framework to get to Mack, but she’s trapped in a crumbling Triskelion, so will she survive the season? Let’s hope so!

The verdict and what’s next

Easily my favorite episode of this pod so far, “The Return” brought everything that makes “Agents of SHIELD” great - emotional heartache, fight scenes, tense thrills, and a hook for next time.

4.5 out of 5 stars

In next week’s season four finale of “Agents of SHIELD,” Ghost Rider will be on hand once again to help save the day as the team has to stop AIDA from enacting a world-ending plan.