The last time we saw Coulson and the gang, he, along with Fitz and Robbie were being sucked away into God-Knows-Where. The unavoidable hiatus has been a little too long, unfortunately killing some of the momentum in the process. However if you saw Doctor Strange in the interim, it gives you a little primer for the conclusion of the cliff hanger, even though Strange isn’t mentioned directly. Coulson, Fitz and Robbie have been trapped in a kind of multiverse, invisible the rest of the team, despite living out events in real time. The twist being, this unseen dimension is hell-bent on pulling them into Hell.
Jeez, Ghost Rider meets Doctor Strange is scary.
The episode is based around a sci-fi trope of old, passed down from Granddaddies like Star Trek (this episode remind anyone of the way Trials and Tribbleations was set up?) While events play out in real time in the real world, we also get to see what happens in the invisible dimension that half our heroes are trapped in. It’s used to good effect, even if it’s a trick we’ve seen pulled out of the hat time and time again.
The half-and-half setup does allow for some clever twists in the episode too, as certain unusual events can occur, seemingly without reason, in the real world and the explanation can be held off until we go back into the other dimension. The delayed cause and effect storytelling is done right and we get a few good surprises because of it. The biggest, and most entertaining, of these being Mack’s possession. It’s badass, fun and unexpected all at once and what initially seems like an uncomfortably out of character decision, in which Mack runs off half-cocked to motorcycle his way to victory, is later explained in the alter-dimension. Unable to let go of its fury for even more than an episode while in the other dimension, the Spirit of Vengeance has entered Mack for a while. It’s a surprising turn for this adaptation of the Rider, but for Robbie’s Spirit to even momentarily possess another team member was a lot of fun and also delved us deeper into some of Mack’s darker shades, which may raise their heads again later on.
A quick side note about the Spirit relating to this week’s title that is particularly interesting: We get to see the kind of revenge pact that Robbie made with the Spirit. The intertwined nature and destinies of the Spirit and Robbie Reyes is fascinating and seeing more of the collaboration, as well as the dissent, between them is great.
On the other side of this episode’s equation is the real-world team’s efforts to bring Coulson and co back. While everyone except Daisy believes that they are dead (May, particularly hardened, takes this strongly and we really get to see the depths of her devotion to Coulson), the Darkhold still provides some, dangerous, hope. AIDA has been a bit of a useless lemon so far this season, waiting to be apparently relevant, which finally happened this week. Allowing her to read the Darkhold can surely only end in tears as the Marvel Universe hasn’t exactly endeared us to the idea of AI systems with insane amounts of knowledge. It was something of a Catch-22 in which the bad idea was all that could save the rest of the team, and impossible situations with repercussions, while being the show’s most exciting moments, are often the team’s downfall. Given Marvel’s past history with villains such as Ultron, it wouldn’t be a big leap to assume that there may be a murder-bot shaped bad guy in the near future.
On the subject of looming villains, Simmons’ side mission this week saw her breaking the Senator’s cocooned Inhuman brother free. It’s not quite the payoff of the mysterious cliff-hanger we were left with before the hiatus and it seems a little irrelevant. Out of all the things the show is juggling, this one seems to have been dropped and then picked back up again without any clear aim so far, but it’s still early days to tell what this new Inhuman will bring to the story.
More interestingly, Fitz’s frustrations this episode far outshined Simmons’ side story. Fitz is a character that, for a long time now, has been an emotional centre for the show and actor Iain De Caesteckerhas has had spectacular moments, particularly where Simmons has been involved. In a season centered on righteous fury, it’s Fitz’s anger that actually steals the spotlight in this episode. Fitz is angry about several things, from being unable to communicate with Simmons (both in this dimension and the alter-one) and at Coulson’s “betrayal” of stepping down as Director. It’s a complex anger, one that doesn’t have a concrete answer, not when Coulson believed he was doing what was best. It only comprises a few short moments of the episode, but it was a well calculated scene all the same.
The return from the hiatus was worth the wait it seems and Agents of SHIELD managed to freshen up even the oldest of sci-fi hand-me-downs. Perhaps the show might benefit from more of the Fitzsimmons, not only because their relationship has been on a real back burner this season but because they have story lines that don’t seem to be progressing quite as quickly as everyone else’s (AIDA and this new Inhuman being examples). A solid episode with some great storytelling has brought the show back with a bang.
“Deals With Our Devils” gets 4 shadowy, future murder-bots.