Now THAT was one hell of an episode, True Believers. Let’s discuss.
We’ve had four weeks to mull over the cliffhanger from the last episode, which ended with Eli Morrow granted seemingly Molecule Man-like superpowers while Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie disappeared in a mysterious explosion. Now we pick up right where we left off. Mack and May come bursting in to the compound, and look just as confused as we are at the absence of their teammates. Some S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts aren’t so lucky. They run into Eli, who uses his newfound powers to murder them using the carbon in their own bodies.
Later, watching security footage, Mace and the team correctly surmise they’re outmatched by Eli. Most have an even more negative outlook — Daisy is the only one who thinks Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie might still be alive. Seeing Eli’s heel turn, May guesses he may have been the one who hired the Chinatown gangsters to steal the ghost boxes way back in the premiere. The team decides to contact Simmons and come up with a plan before making a move. Unfortunately for them, Simmons currently has a bag over her head and a top-secret mission to boot: She’s been recruited to solve the mystery of why Sen. Nadeer’s brother is still trapped in his Terrigenesis cocoon.
In her absence, May wants to use the newly recovered Darkhold to try and rescue their missing friends. Mack thinks that’s a bad idea, but he’s getting a little antsy himself. Mace tells him to chill out (“First we sharpen the axe, then we chop the tree”) and lies about contacting Simmons.
If you’re wondering how Gabe is taking the news that the two most important people in his life are either evil or missing (or both), the answer is: Not well! He blames himself, and wishes he’d had the chance to talk things over with Robbie before it all went to hell (literally, but more on that in a moment). Luckily, Gabe has Daisy there to cheer him up. Daisy is well-acquainted with loss at this point, and knows the feeling when someone’s gone — this isn’t it. Gabe notes that if Robbie were here, he’d go straight after Eli. Well, Robbie may not be around right now, but Mack certainly is, and he’s tired of waiting. Mack suddenly grabs Robbie’s motorcycle and rides it out of the plane, managing to punch one of Mace’s lackeys on his way out.
NEXT: There they are!
Then there’s a slight shift in sepia color tone, and we finally get our answer to where Coulson and Fitz are: Right there, next to you! Eli’s explosion altered their state of being to the point where they’re now invisible to their friends, even when standing beside them and screaming in their faces. We now begin a process for the rest of the episode of watching the same scenes twice — once from the normal perspective, and once from the ghost perspective (which helpfully explains lots of mysterious things from the first go-round). It’s a really fun effect.
Coulson, Fitz, and Eli are kind of like Lucy and the other ghosts now, except worse, because at least Lucy was semi-visible. Fitz has been struggling all season to match scientific logic to the magical nonsense going on, but eventually he comes up with an analogy: Our dimension is like a raft on water, and Eli somehow managed to punch a hole in it. Now, the three of them are getting sucked into the hole. There’s a lot to freak out about here, but Fitz naturally worries most about Simmons. He has no idea where she is, and she has no idea what’s happened to him — confirmed as our ghost friends watch Mace fail to contact Nadeer’s team. On top of that, Fitz knows the last conversation he and Simmons had was an unresolved fight, so he’ll definitely have to make it back to her before getting sucked into this interdimensional abyss.
The Ghost Rider spirit, however, is not even taking that chance. It leaves Robbie and goes into Mack — which explains the motorcycle and the slight super-strength in that punch from earlier. Daisy takes Robbie’s car and heads out in pursuit. Robbie invisibly hops in beside her, deciding this might be his last best chance to take out Eli.
In Simmons’ absence, Mace has sent the relevant technology and information to Radcliffe and AIDA. May passes along the Darkhold as well, but Radcliffe takes one look at the dark book and freaks, saying it’s too much for a human mind to bear. May asks if he would like to be the one to offer Simmons that excuse, but Radcliffe is adamant: “if the Internet is a garden hose, this book is Niagara Falls” in terms of blasting the universe’s deepest, darkest thoughts. Finally, AIDA steps forward and offers to read the book herself. She reveals her android nature to May, as well as her purpose: To save lives and act as a shield. It’s an Eowyn-killing-the-Witch-King type loophole: Human minds may not be able to handle the Darkhold, but AIDA is no human. May tells her to go for it. She doesn’t seem to quite understand the whole android thing or the whole evil-spellbook thing — she just wants Coulson back.
Mack, meanwhile, rides into the Chinatown garage in the most badass way possible, shooting the gangsters with a shotgun while riding. He grabs one poor thug and demands he talk using Ghost Rider eyes. Daisy isn’t far behind Mack and finds her former partner apparently talking to thin air: “I know where you’re being dragged down to. I’ve escaped it before. I’m never going back.”
Cue a ghost flashback, and we learn Ghost Rider is using Mack’s body to talk to Robbie, who accompanied Daisy in his car (and hilariously did a ghost version of backseat driving on the way, complaining about Daisy’s wheel skills).
NEXT: Time for some heart-to-heart
Back at Radcliffe’s lab, we see it was ghost Fitz who may have inspired AIDA to read the Darkhold. Unlike May, Coulson is furious Fitz kept AIDA’s secret, and thus begins an intense heart-to-heart between the two men. Fitz correctly points out Coulson made many similar sketchy decisions during his time as director, and Coulson reveals the consequences of his secret-keeping. The president didn’t take kindly to Coulson keeping S.H.I.E.L.D. a secret from him for those few years, and forced him to step down as director to protect his friends’ status as SHIELD agents. Fitz is still mostly mad and sad about Simmons.
Simmons, of course, is handling herself just fine. After realizing her subject’s heartbeat is racing from within his cocoon, she orders everyone else away from the lab. Once everyone’s gone, she takes off her hazmat mask and tries talking to the man calmly: “We’ll get through this together.” The heartbeat slows, and the cocoon starts to crack. Simmons helps peel some of it off, but as soon as his face is revealed, she gets bagged and dragged away again.
Coulson notices their sepia-toned liminal state is slowly getting darker. They must be getting dragged down further into the abyss. AIDA is busy reading the Darkhold in binary-code form, but her efforts to build a dimensional gateway using the book’s magic is taking some time (May and Radcliffe see her moving her hands in the air, but the ghost perspective shows her building a complex network of light energy). Suddenly, a real hole opens and Coulson starts getting dragged in. Fitz holds onto him for dear life, and May tells him to fight it (even though she can’t see him). “Let’s go home,” Coulson declares, and pulls himself through AIDA’s finished gateway with Fitz until they’re normal, physical humans again. Geez, between this and Maveth, these two guys really gotta stop getting trapped on alien planets and dark dimensions together.
Robbie, meanwhile, is trying to convince the Ghost Rider spirit they need to stop Eli. “There is no ‘we,’” the spirit responds from within Mack’s body. Robbie proposes a new deal with the Spirit of Vengeance: “Help me get vengeance on Eli, settle my score, and I’ll settle yours. All of yours.” That’s good enough for Ghost Rider, which leaves Mack’s body and disappears with Robbie. Mack crumbles, but later recovers and waits by AIDA’s portal until Robbie comes through. Robbie asks for Mack’s help settling his last score.
Now that he’s a human again, the first thing Fitz does is confront Mace about Simmons. Before he can get truly angry, however, Simmons arrives and hugs him — the first truly heart-fluttering FitzSimmons moment this season, I would say. The episode ends on a bit of a dark note, however. As Radcliffe celebrates their victory, AIDA is busy reading more of the Darkhold. So, great — not only do we still have a criminal mastermind with Molecule Man powers to deal with, there might also be an evil wizard robot on our hands. Maybe this whole artificial-intelligence experiment would work better if everyone just kept their nice robots away from the Infinity Gems and evil spellbooks.
It was a long wait, but I’d say this episode was worth it. A little light on fisticuffs, but the unique structure was complemented by important character development and several truly emotional moments.