“The Return” is episode twenty-one of season four of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the previous episode, “Farewell, Cruel World!”, Coulson, May, Fitz, Daisy and Simmons all finally managed to escape the Framework (Mack stayed inside with his Framework daughter). Fitz was duped into this by Radcliffe, as Framework Fitz wouldn’t have done this himself. Despite Radcliffe telling him it wasn’t his fault before pushing him through the exit and Coulson saying the same on the other side, Fitz did not feel good when he remembered – as himself – all the horrible and evil things he’d done as the Doctor inside the Framework.
Coulson had severed Aida’s head, but Aida was already transferring herself into a constructed body. Which is, as Coulson pointed out, flesh and blood and easier to damage, but May wasn’t able to get off a shot because a still-traumatised Fitz was in the way. Possibly May is in poorer shape physically due to how much longer she has spent not moving than the others, which would be why she wasn’t able to move for a better shot. Aida then grabbed Fitz and disappeared – an Inhuman power that HYDRA had apparently collected in the Framework.
Simmons and Daisy have their own problems, as they came out of the Framework to find Zephyr One under attack by Ivanov’s forces and not doing too well due to having not much power left.
This episode opens below the drilling platform (in what is a secret former Soviet submarine refuelling facility). Ivanov is reading a book, the Darkhold, commenting that there are some funny passages, whilst a largely unseen figure is playing with a hammer. Ivanov is talking to the figure, and makes a Pinocchio reference about Aida. He says that he is tired of talking to himself and decides to go and take a look for himself and arrives just as Aida teleports away with Fitz.
Neither Coulson nor May are in the best condition, especially when Ivanov enters and attacks, as they don’t know that he has a robot body now. However, whilst pinning Coulson, Ivanov makes a comment about Coulson no longer having a shield to hide behind. Such a straight line cannot be passed up, so Coulson activates the shield built into his robot arm, removing the front of robot Ivanov’s face.
May is totally out of touch with things, having been in the Framework for such a long time. She wants to know what happened between Fake May and Coulson, and how quickly the fake was discovered. Which wasn’t very fast. What did happen between Coulson and Fake May is kind of awkward too, so Coulson jumps on it when May suggested that here replacement tries to kill him.
Mack is still plugged into the Framework and cannot simply be removed without frying his brain. So they have to take over the rig, and they’re expecting Zephyr One to arrive. Before they can leave the room where they were plugged in, Coulson and May spot several more Ivanovs. When he made the comment about talking to himself, he was being quite literal. He seems to have built himself more bodies.
Zephyr One is still under attack, so now the Framework is shut down, they need to activate weapons again. Yoyo wants to know what happened with Mack and why they didn’t rescue him as well. There are other problems, as General Talbot is hunting everyone who escaped S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters as a terrorist.
Aida is with Fitz, experience all sorts of new emotions. She tells Fitz that she only did what she was programmed to do, and that she became real so that she could make her own choices. Aida tells Fitz that everything he did was a result of his own decisions. Which really doesn’t help him, as he is still struggling to deal with what he did inside the Framework. He does try and get Aida to feel for others, to understand she has done. Especially as Aida says that she has feelings for Fitz. For, now that she is a real girl, Ivanov isn’t prevented from killing the others any longer.
Things are building up the season finale, “World’s End”, as Aida struggles with emotions, Fitz struggles with guilt and someone else is seen as well.