Tuesday, May 16, 2017

All The Elements Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Come Together For The "World's End!"

The Good: Performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Obvious seeding, Telegraphed resolutions, Incredibly problematic ending, Surprisingly light on big character moments for everyone but Mack
The Basics: "World's End" resolves the Framework, Ophelia, and Ghost Rider to finish off the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a way that places a huge burden on Season 5!

The fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is reaching its climax with "World's End." "World's End" seeks to bring the fourth season together by returning Ghost Rider to the narrative and for those who were not particularly invested in his arc at the season's outset, there is something instantly unnecessary about his return. And in "World's End" his return is far less important than the return of the Dark Hold.

"World's End" picks up right after "The Return" (reviewed here!), which climaxed with Ophelia going crazy and murdering one of the Russian's LMDs and Ghost Rider returning to our world. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have returned to the real world, where they are deeply shaken and now are facing Ophelia, who appears to be invincible with the variety of Inhuman powers she absorbed within the Framework. "World's End" is set up with a massive conflict built-in and it bounces between the real world and the Framework to build the season's resolution.

Robbie Reyes, returned from another realm, takes his car out of S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters while Simmons tries to learn from Fitz just how Ophelia was created. Coulson and Daisy try to find a way to rescue Yo-Yo and Mack from the Framework, while inside the Framework, Rodriguez and Radcliffe find that the Framework is collapsing. When Robbie Reyes comes for the Dark Hold, he is able to damage Ophelia's LMDs and wound Ophelia. Unleashing Ghost Rider only provides Ophelia with a chance to escape with the book.

While Coulson and his team try to avoid Ophelia's rampage, Talbot requests Coulson's aid in defusing an anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. Conference. At that meeting, Daisy appears to kill Talbot, though Coulson quickly determines that the would-be assassin is one of the Daisy LMDs Ophelia recovered from S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters. Recovering the Dark Hold, Coulson devises a plan to lure Ophelia out of hiding. As the Framework world begins to collapse, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Ghost Rider must unlock the Dark Hold's secrets to save the world from Ophelia's wrath.

In "World's End," Ophelia makes the transition from uncertain and shocked to full-on over-the-top comic book-style villain. Coulson referring to Ophelia as "AIDA" seems strange given how distinctive Ophelia has become. "World's End" quickly establishes the essential premise of the season finale; only Ghost Rider has the ability to defeat Ophelia given that the Rider and Ophelia are both made out of the the same Dark Hold-based materials.

Inside the Framework, "World's End" also quickly establishes its premise by seeding the one way that Yo-Yo can rescue Mack. If Henry Simmons is going to remain on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. past "World's End," the solution to Mack wanting to stay in the Framework seems obvious. People and things are disappearing from the Framework; when Hope disappears, it seemed pretty obvious that Mack would be open to hearing Rodriguez's approach in a way he wasn't able to before.

"World's End" has a lot of threads to try to tie together and the return of Ghost Rider offers the only real chance for resolving the dangling plotlines. Ophelia's initially-mad campaign in the real world is to discredit S.H.I.E.L.D. by using LMDs to frame Daisy to explode the anti-Inhuman sentiment brewing on Earth. Ophelia's plan is over-the-top and appropriately villainous, but given that she has Inhuman powers, it seems ultimately self-defeating.

Similarly strange about "World's End" is that the big advantage displayed by Ophelia goes unchallenged. Fitz had a way to neutralize Gordon's teleporting powers at the end of the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Why Fitz does not set up the teleporting dampeners on the Zephyr seems like a huge continuity fault in "World's End."

On the character front, Coulson and May struggle with actually being honest about their feelings while under siege from Ophelia. Ophelia chooses to experience vengeance alone and that puts her into a murderous rage whereby she attempts to torture Fitz. And Fitz, poor Fitz, spends "World's End" suffering.

Unfortunately, "World's End" plays its "kill everyone (but not really)" card way too early on. Talbot is shot in the head by the LMD Daisy. . . but miraculously survives. So, when Ophelia brutally attacks Simmons, the eventual reveal is not nearly as surprising or audacious. "World's End" does feature one big surprise from Coulson . . . but that ultimately seems to be a function of plot convenience and seeding a future conflict for Coulson.

The performances in "World's End" are dominated by Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Mallory Jansen, and Iain De Caestecker. Those four lead the emotional core of "World's End" through incredibly dramatic performances.

"World's End" is very much a final chapter for the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the recurring sentiment in the episode is "S.H.I.E.L.D. is being framed for everything bad on Earth, this might be the end of S.H.I.E.L.D." The episode lays the seeds for the next season, but in a somewhat nonsensical way. Proving Talbot was shot by an LMD is a pretty easy thing to do and even that is not entirely necessary; Talbot was in a secret meeting when he was shot. How could anti-Inhuman sentiment truly be inflamed by anything that happens within a top secret government meeting?! And do the producers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. honestly believe that the population at large is so unprincipled and stupid that a single attack like that would make everyone suddenly sympathize with the racist Watchdogs?!

"World's End" does tie things up nicely, though in an overwhelmingly disappointing way. Because the plot is telegraphed with early seeding, there are few surprises outside the most absurd of reversals. The show misses a tremendous opportunity to tie-in with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe in its climax (it's not like Benedict Cumberbatch does not "do" television!) and it sets up a fifth season that starts at an inherently preposterous place. After all, either Coulson and his team pulled off the best-ever use of LMDs to the most moronic secret organization ever or Stark Industries developed a radical new gulag that went utterly undetected by S.H.I.E.L.D. and (let's face it because it would have taken years to make) HYDRA. And the eyeball . . . WAY over the top!

The result is something of a ho-hum finale that does what it promises, but feels very much like it is getting there without finesse and it falls apart under increased scrutiny.

For other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finales, please visit my reviews of:
"Beginning Of The End"
"S.O.S. Part 2"

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the fourth season here!


For other television or movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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