Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Devil Complex

"I will never forgive you."

Well, I need a Xanax. This episode was too emotionally distressing. Several minutes after watching it, I was still tense and wrecked. It was the best episode of the season so far and one of the best of the entire series, but, damn, did it need to hurt so much?

This episode was a master class at delivering a twist. Seriously, this was possibly the best twist since "Ward is Hydra," and I'd say even more powerful than that one, at least in the way through which it was rendered. Once it hit the screen that there was no second Fitz, the dynamics of the episode changed completely and "The Devil Complex" started to operate on another level. Up until that point, either Fitz or Jemma could defeat the apparition of Doctor Fitz and save Daisy, Fitz could still be the hero. But once it was clear that there was no apparition, that Evil Fitz was Fitz, the damage was done. The question became just how much damage there would be by the end of the hour, and the show didn't pull any punches on that regard.

Everything adds up. In season two, Fitz had hallucinations of Simmons as a result of his brain injury. He got progressively better, and during seasons three and four there were no remaining signs of his trauma. However, in season four, Fitz was plugged into the Framework, where he was brainwashed and became an alternate persona, and Fitz retained the memories and darkness of that persona after he left the Framework. This season began exploring that issue in "Rewind," an episode in which Fitz explicitly said that his brain trauma might have been exacerbated by the Framework, and that he could have suffered from schizophrenia. Do you hear that sound? It's the writers laughing at our collective faces. Because now Fitz is suffering from schizophrenia, as a result of brain injury, brainwash and lots and lots of stress.

The setup for the twist was perfect. The first scene of the episode shows an entity from Simmons' fears coming to life – the dead astronaut from Maveth. Later, she says that that wasn't her biggest fear, and Daisy immediately shoots a glance at Fitz: she knows Simmons' greatest fear is Framework Fitz. So, when Doctor Fitz shows up, you are certain that he is an apparition from the fear dimension. During my second watch of the episode I noticed some of the hints to what was really going on: Fitz is the only one who sees Doctor Fitz, Doctor Fitz refers to himself as the real Fitz a couple of times, Doctor Fitz has the same goal as Fitz (that was so confusing on the first watch, I kept asking myself why an entity from the fear dimension would want to shut down the rift), Jemma realizes what is really going on when she mentions Mack's injury and, the most obvious one, Daisy asks who Fitz is talking to.


My heart goes out for Daisy here. This season alone, she has been forced into a "destroyer of worlds" narrative to the point that she bought it, had her powers suppressed, returned to her original time against her will, and now had her powers activated again, also against her will, in a horrible, gruesome manner. The scenes of Daisy lying on the table were excruciating. The second time through, when you know that there is only one Fitz, is even harder to watch. One of her closest friends has dosed her, tied her to an operation table and is performing a surgery on her without proper anesthetic, while also having a mental breakdown and arguing with himself. The toughest line of the episode for me was Daisy's "who are you talking to?", leading up to the reveal that there was no second Fitz.

Where do we go from here? Fitz is schizophrenic and had a psychic split, but that's not the worst of it. When Simmons confronted him and had him realize what was happening, he still chose to walk the path of his dark persona. That was so disturbing, I don't think any other scene of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was as tense as that one. De Caestecker nailed the two personas and the combination of those personas into one Fitz as he cornered Simmons and Deke and proceeded to operate on Daisy. It was nerve-wracking.


By the end of the hour, Fitz had one of his friends shot, tortured another one and had the love of his life held at gunpoint. I don't think there is a coming back from that, not even if you take his mental illness into account. To make it even worse, he said "I still believe it was the right thing to do," full aware of how awful that mindset was. Fitz is broken, maybe beyond repair.

I do have a couple of reservations with this development, though. First of all, I feel somewhat manipulated. This was traditional Whedon storytelling: let's make the couple super happy and then pull the rug from under them. Fitz and Simmons never discussed what happened in the Framework. Never! And they got married without having that pivotal conversation. I mean, if my brainwashed boyfriend shot me in the leg in a simulated world, once we returned to our regular world I'd totally check with him if that guy who shot me in the leg was gone. Looking back, I don't know if Fitzsimmons got engaged and married super quickly because the writers thought that was the natural course for their relationship, or if the writers just wanted this episode's twist to hurt that much more.

Also, I don't want Simmons to be the woman that is super understanding and calms the monster in her man. Don't get me wrong, if we perceive this story as the tale of a man who is mentally ill – and to be fair, Fitz did not ask to have an alternate persona inserted into his brain, on top of an injury – then, yes, I'm interested to see Simmons help her husband recover. But I don't want to see Simmons making excuses for Fitz, he is not making excuses for himself.

See, the final scenes of this episode were powerful and left me conflicted at the same time. Simmons is trying to make sense of all of the things that just happened, unable to see Fitz for who he really is now. It's called denial, a stage of grief, I understand that. But I still thought it was too much of Simmons to suggest that a conversation could work things out. With Mack, maybe. But Daisy? It would be disrespectful of Fitz to say he is sorry so soon after everything.


Then Simmons is crying, all alone, and enters Deke to cheer her up. He unleashes a monologue on the greatness and complexity of Fitz, and you know whose opinion of Fitz I'd rather be listening to? Daisy's. I mean, Fitz is great, we have four and a half seasons of proof, but he was not his best in this episode, people, and I don't need to hear how great he is right after he violated his friend. Leaving my cynic side apart (that might be my Doctor from the Framework persona), the scene was beautiful and made me cry. Yes, I wanted Deke to stop talking about how great Fitz was, but Jeff Ward did a really good job, okay? And I get that Simmons is trying to save the man she loves and Deke is protective of the idea of his grandparents. It was the right moment for Deke to reveal to Simmons that he is her grandson and infuse her with a hope that she desperately needed.

Intel and Assets

- Hale's goal is to save the world or so she says. She even offered Coulson to show him what they are really up against. Lady, you are very confusing. Yes, she could be playing him, but her intentions seemed genuine this time, so much so that Coulson agreed to go with her, despite May's protests.

- May cracked me up a few times. I loved when she took Coulson aside to talk him out of accepting Hale's proposal, was annoyed by his answers and by his suicidal behavior, and turned back to Hale to say "he's all yours" with her trademark deadpan.

- Ivanov, a.k.a. The Superior, is working for Hake, and echoed Hale's speech of saving mankind.

- Whatever Hale is involved with, it appears to be a Kree Hydra. In fact, that alien guy who appeared in the end could very much be Kasius' father.

- Yo-Yo is already working to gain control of the robot arms, but it hurts a lot.

- When Mack said that the future they visited isn't guaranteed, that Yo-Yo could still die way before her future self did, did you catch the look in Yo-Yo's eyes? She even told Mack that if she died then they would have broken the loop. I wouldn't be surprised if she sacrificed herself as a way to ensure the future won't be the same.

- Fitz said he didn't deserve forgiveness, to which Jemma replied "just like you don't deserve me?", referencing his wedding vows.

- My stages of reaction when Simmons said to Deke "you are our grandson" and vomited: was crying, burst out laughing, went "oh my god, Simmons might already be pregnant."

- Gold acting stars to Chloe Bennet, who did an excellent job channeling Daisy's fear and disorientation.

- Gold acting stars to Elizabeth Henstridge, who did an excellent job channeling "damn it, it's only my second week of marriage and my husband is already mentally ill." I kid, but her acting skills are no joke.

- Gold, platinum, plutonium and gravitonium acting stars to Iain De Caestecker, he did his best work on the series to date, and that's saying a lot.

- My compliments to Matt Owens, the writer of the episode, and Nina Lopez-Corrado, the director, for delivering this great hour of television.

Simmons: "What would your wish be?"
Fitz: "An extra day between Saturday and Sunday."

Deke (to Fitzsimmons): "Please be careful. Just because we keep putting ourselves in increasingly perilous situations, which is worrisome, and I just don't want anything to happen to you... Your... To your brains. 'Cause they are so smart that if... we need those to survive."

Deke: "They're gonna be fine?"
Daisy: "They'll figure it out. Have faith. Or a, you know, Xanax."
We all need a Xanax, Daisy!

Piper: "Feels like you'd be safer if you just tossed me out of the plane."
May: "We should at least consider it."

May (to Ivanov): "You turned over a new leaf? Or just another Russian infiltrating our democracy?"

Fitz: "If I could have just worked out how to shut the rift sooner, then my greatest fear wouldn't be here."
Simmons: "Who says it's your greatest fear?"
Yo-Yo: "Who cares whose fear it is?"

Coulson: "This is unavoidable."
May: "It's suicidal, which is now a recurring theme for you."

Coulson: "You're not the one calling the shots here. What happened, bro? Hale must have your balls in a vise."
Hale: "Actually, it's his head in a jar."

Deke: "I don't know really what to say."
Simmons: "That's a first."

An amazing, disturbing episode. Four out of four... what? I'm exhausted, I don't know.
--
Lamounier

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Honestly at this point if Daisy were to end up a super villain by the end of the season (probably not gonna happen to completion) I would feel it were justified. To have your so called friends/family members treat you this way is beyond horrible even if you want to say the ends justify the means. I just kind of want to see her get some vengeance already.

For frig's sake writers if you get renewed take a good hard look at yourselves and lighten up. You literally can't get any darker than this without things getting ridiculous.

I kind of agree about the manipulation. It's not the worst ever but there is a tinge of that with how they set up this twist. Will this go down as the Seeing Red of the show? Who knows?

I'd say this about half of a pretty strong episode and half of a kind of meh one. The stuff with Hale was kind of perfunctory and HYDRA again? The other half obviously includes some of the best acting in the series with Iain, Liz, Chloe and even Jeff Ward doing some fine work. And there's at least some interesting moral stuff to chew on so there's that.

Yo-Yo still hasn't said anything about Coulson. It's getting kind of hard to pity her future self at this point.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

This episode is emotionally scarring. At least I had lots of Instagram stories of the actors behind the scenes at Wondercon this weekend to help ease the trauma.

Of course Fitzsimmons can't be married for 2 episodes without it all going to pieces - this is a Whedon show, after all. But, oh, the journey!

I didn't even suspect that the Doctor was all in Fitz's head. His reaction, his fear of his evil self was so strong. But, like Fitz, I can't help but see the effectiveness of the Doctor's plan - by bring Daisy's powers back to close the rift, Leopold just saved the world. But at what cost?

And if Daisy does destroy the world later, the writers have removed much of her responsibility for doing so. She tried to stay in the future - Coulson wouldn't let her (I don't fault him for this at all, any father would have made the same choice). She tried to keep her power inhibitor - Leopold removed it. Also, this is twice that Daisy has suffered at the hands of the Doctor, which is going to make it even harder for her to ever forgive Fitz.

Oh, the Russian is back - another loose end that I forgot about. At least he works better as a lackey than a mastermind. Of course Hale has his head. And now the Kree are involved. It makes sense that they'd be around since they so conveniently "rescued" humanity after the Earth cracked open. But it doesn't make sense that they would want it to be cracked - they would want to rule a whole Earth, not a broken shell.

Of course Coulson went with Hale to get answers. He does that all the time. What were you expecting, May? Just because he's dying, doesn't mean he's going to act any differently - you're the one with different priorities because of it. This also parallels with Mack treating Elena differently.

But obviously, my favorite part of this episode is Deke and his grandparents. From worrying that they're going to die to his picture-perfect reveal to Jemma. I've already rewatched that scene three times. So many little things - like Jemma adjusting her posture when this near-stranger sits next to her, and glancing at her ring. I'm really curious what the writers are going to do with their relationship moving forward, and the rest of the team's reaction. Of course, the Doctor Who fan gets the most Doctor Who storyline on the show. I love it.

meko00 said...

Lovely review! (Sorry, should get back to your previous postings to see if I can comment there.)

A couple of things:
1) Hearing or even seeing things doesn't actually make you schizophrenic. I'm European, and I know that US DSM-IV don't see things the same way, but really, hearing things does not have to be the end of the world. I mean, *I* started hearing a previous mute part of my brain due to stress and other issues, but it went away. Some people manage to live whole, productive lives while hearing voices, and I suspect that quite a few of them are writers. And there are functioning people with only one healthy, whole hemisphere. The brain is an amazing organ, and it can heal and adapt, but it does actaully need rest for it to work. Also, I think I heard a few other suggestions of what Fitz might be suffering from, both in 5x05 and in 5x14.

2) While I'm definitely not absolving Fitz, I have to say that Simmons has in the past done some pretty questionable things. So, I think they have similarities there, too. And no, I'm not actually a self-hating woman. Women can be awful, hateful, horrible human beings, just as men and those who identify as thems (or whatever we're calling it nowadays) can.

3) The Whedons probably need therapy.

4) Coulson. Coulson, Coulson, Coulson, dammit.

5) May is my spirit animal (and Ming-Na Wen is my second favourite actor in the cast).

6) The Simmons and Deke conversation was beautiful.

7) Sometimes there are no easy choices. Now, if Fitz were less stressed, sleep-deprived and traumatised, he might have been able to convince Daisy to restore her powers if the stars were right. But a part of him just couldn't countenance it.

8) Iain De Caestecker. 'Nuff said.

Patryk said...

I actually love how Fitz embraced his dark side and actually fixed the situation. Sometimes characters angst too much how they are evil etc. so embracing it to do some good was perfect.

Great episode.