All of this season's story lines come together in an explosive final act
Credit: Jennifer Clasen/ABC
ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three

So at last we come to the end of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s magnificent fourth season — and what an explosive, jam-packed finale it was. After setting up chess pieces all season long, this episode finally brought together the season's two disparate strands: Ghost Rider's hellish vengeance spree and AIDA's toying with artificial life.

Their first meeting is certainly fiery. Fresh out of the dark dimension, our old friend Robbie Reyes makes a beeline for AIDA and the Darkhold. When her robotic henchmen get in the way, Ghost Rider literally curb-stomps their heads off. After a season of going to hell and back, our heroes have a lot to get off their chests in this episode, and they do so violently. Just check out that gross-looking burn on AIDA's arm after contact with the rider's chain. Nobody's holding back, although a timely teleportation from AIDA puts off the final conflict for now.

Afterward, Robbie explains that he escaped the dark dimension when AIDA's body was created. Using the power of the Darkhold to give herself human flesh apparently opened a portal, through which Ghost Rider was able to escape. This is why AIDA can't heal from Ghost Rider's attacks — they're both made of the same dark material. And to hear Robbie tell it, the Spirit of Vengeance wants to destroy AIDA more than it's ever wanted to kill anyone.

Yo-Yo can certainly relate to wanting something more than anything, since she just threw herself into a dangerous alternate dimension with no backup plan just to find Mack. The first person she finds is Radcliffe, who helpfully shoots her assailant so she can escape that burning lab we left her in last week. Radcliffe explains that AIDA is shutting down the Framework, and now the whole virtual world is collapsing in on itself. Even the people committed to the reality of that world can feel it; when they find Mack at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, he's in the middle of organizing an evacuation. Yo-Yo runs into Hope, who tells her she has a funny name, and then Mack, who doesn't recognize her at all. This is gonna be tougher than she thought.

Back in the real world, S.H.I.E.L.D. has problems of its own. After finding one of AIDA's LMD goons familiar, they run a check and find out he's one of the analysts attending the intelligence community's S.H.I.E.L.D. inquest tomorrow — which General Talbot warned Coulson to be at, or else. Initially hesitant, Coulson and crew now race to that meeting — but not in time to stop AIDA's Daisy LMD from shooting Talbot in the head. Don't worry; this is a Marvel show, so he survives. Even better, Talbot's able to fire off some choice one-liners before going down. When Ivanov tries to sell the meeting attendees on the wonders of the Darkhold, Talbot remarks, "I smell a lot of L. Ron Horsecrap." And when S.H.I.E.L.D. successfully chases AIDA's minions away, they leave the Darkhold behind.

Getting a Daisy lookalike to shoot Talbot on camera is AIDA's first attempt to change the real world into the fascist Hydra state we saw in the Framework; this is her new "Cambridge Incident." Since she used Daisy's visage for the hit, it even knocks out two birds with one stone, simultaneously inspiring fear of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. Her plan even seems like it's working when Talbot's right-hand woman accuses them of culpability and tries to detain them. Coulson, however, is about three light-years beyond being done with this nonsense; he holds up a gun and just tells them, "Don't."

AIDA again chooses to teleport away rather than face Robbie, so he and Daisy are left to fight her robots again. As compensation, viewers are treated to some truly epic superpower combos. They give the Superior a perfect send-off: Robbie chains him up from behind and then hurls him in the air as Daisy quakes him to pieces. An alley-oop so good Coulson is legitimately sad to miss it.

Rather than take on that superpowered maelstrom, AIDA decides to take on her real enemies: FitzSimmons. As AIDA holds her romantic rival at knifepoint, Fitz begs her to tap into her newfound human empathy. She declines, instead opting to both stab and electrocute Simmons. Told you this episode was violent!

As this show's romantic flagship couples go, Coulson and May are having slightly better luck than FitzSimmons. Although peeved to discover Coulson drank the bottle with her robot duplicate, May acknowledges that the feelings he felt doing that were real, and worth pursuing. They reach a compromise: After this is all over, they'll take a few steps back, catch a breather, and then, when they're ready, they'll open another bottle together. Thus agreed, they take their separate stations for the final act.

Having apparently killed Simmons, AIDA teleports away to finish the job. She finds Coulson and mocks him, since (as we all know) only Ghost Rider is capable of stopping her. But that doesn't mean getting machine-gunned from behind by the real Jemma Simmons doesn't hurt! Leave it to the science babies to turn AIDA's beloved LMDs back on her. Unlike the Rider's chain, AIDA is easily able to regenerate from bullet wounds, which everyone expected; Simmons just really wanted to do that. AIDA moves to finish her off, apparently not realizing that the whole game has changed. Coulson grabs her, and he becomes Ghost Rider. Once again, AIDA tries to teleport away, but there's no dislodging him – they jump through New York City streets and subways, and Ghost Rider Coulson holds on tight. When at last they end up back at base, Coulson uses Ghost Rider's power to burn her into oblivion as Fitz and Simmons watch.

Of course, AIDA's defeat wasn't the only task at hand. Mack still needs to be saved, and as long as Hope's around, he's not budging. Despite Yo-Yo's pleading that all his friends are waiting for him on the other side, all Mack needs to know about the real world is that Hope is dead there. Even as all the virtual people around them are deleted, Mack refuses to budge. Much to Radcliffe's frustration, Yo-Yo decides to stay with them, proving that she cares about him as much as he cares about Hope. And then, when Hope vanishes as well, she's there to comfort him – and to finally bring him back to Earth. Without a body to return to, Radcliffe stays behind, drinking on the beach until he too vanishes. He may not have achieved immortality, but he had a good run in the end.

Presumably, Coulson was able to bond with the Rider because he, too, has come back from the dead with a vengeance. He did pay some unspoken price, though, and asks Robbie not to tell the others about it. When it's time for Robbie to go his own way with the Darkhold in tow, he and Coulson both tell each other, "I don't envy you."

Even with that all wrapped up, intelligence agents are still hot on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s trail. Fitz volunteers to stay behind and take the blame for everything, since it is all his fault — he created AIDA, and he did the most damage within her world. Daisy, however, has learned a thing or two about what happens when you try to shoulder everyone's burden, and she convinces Fitz to stay with his friends to get the support he needs.

There's hardly a moment to breathe, however. Just as they're all sitting down to a nice meal at a diner, S.H.I.E.L.D. is frozen from behind, kidnapped by mysterious spooks, and taken into outer space. Thank god the show got renewed for season 5 this week, because this cliffhanger would be unbearable otherwise. My guess is it either has something to do with the Inhuman royal family, coming soon to a TV near you and hailing from the Blue Area of the Moon, or S.H.I.E.L.D. has just been recruited into S.W.O.R.D., the paranormal defense agency that Captain Marvel currently leads in the comics. Maybe they're setting up Inhumans, maybe they're setting up Captain Marvel, or maybe our heroes are just going on a space adventure. We'll have to wait for 2018 to know for sure.

For now, thanks for hanging with me on this long journey! I thought the show had definitively peaked last season, but now I might be changing my mind. Splitting it into three arcs instead of two halves worked really well I think, and the way each one built into the next was pretty fantastic. Agents of Hydra in particular delivered some truly standout episodes, I thought, and Ghost Rider looked really cool when he could've easily come off silly or goofy.

Until next time.

Episode Recaps

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.

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