Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 14
“The Devil Complex”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD continues to explore the team’s greatest fears as more details of General Hale’s plan start to come to light.
The stakes have never been higher than they have in this season. At this point the team are frantically working to stop the Earth from being torn to pieces while dealing with the notable handicap of having no idea how it actually happens. Not knowing where to focus their energies is problematic especially when there are a number of possible options. Daisy’s powers are one possibility and the recent appearance of the rift to the Fear Dimension is another potential cause. General Hale and whatever her plan happens to be is definitely on the list as well so there’s a lot to deal with.
Stakes at this level risk becoming completely meaningless as the characters are often lost in the chaos of the events. Thankfully this isn’t the case here with everything always coming back to the characters react to the situation and what it means for them as people. It helps make the stakes meaningful and the real drama comes from the people involved.
The focus here is Fitz who has been unravelling ever since returning to the present day because he has decided to shoulder the responsibility of saving the world all on his own. He hasn’t quite isolated himself in that he still interacts with the others but he has definitely cut himself off in terms of accepting help from anyone else. Everyone is advising him to rest with Daisy being the one to remind him that everyone has the same objective. It has been well established that the team identify as a family which is reinforced here through genuine concern on everyone’s part when it comes to Fitz’ obsession with closing the rift. He isn’t sleeping and becomes more irritable as the solution eludes him.
Things get worse when the Fear Dimension appears to create a manifestation of Framework Fitz to terrorise the team. Up until this point none of the characters have really taken the time to deal with the potential for Fitz to become this dark, tyrannical and morally bankrupt version of himself. During his time in the Framework Fitz made choices that ended actual lives and caused suffering for those he cares about. Of all the characters Fitz was the most radically changed in the Framework with pretty much everyone else doing different things with their lives but still embodying the basic personality traits that the audience associate with them. This was really clever as it sends a clear message that Fitz has the potential to become a complete sadist somewhere within him. It’s an interesting internal struggle for him to deal with and the fact that it has been left open all season makes it even more tense that the problem manifests now.
The accepted belief by Fitz is that the other version of himself he sees was conjured by the rift which means that there’s a dangerous version of himself running around the base trying to kill everyone he cares about. It’s a massive concern because everyone remembers what Fitz was like in the Framework and is really concerned about what the other version of him might be capable of. It doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s after Daisy because of his obsession with Inhumans in the Framework which means that there is a very deliberate and sinister goal.
This episode has an excellent bait and switch moment when it is revealed that Framework Fitz is actually Fitz embodying that persona rather than a manifestation of the Fear Dimension. Callbacks are made to Fitz’ brain damage that he was dealing with during a large part of season two as justification for seeing himself and making that assumption. I was very impressed by this as I had all but forgotten about the brain damage. It seemed like Fitz had somehow recovered from it despite claims that it was permanent so bringing it back in this way both works as a surprise and as internal consistency.
In essence Fitz has aggravated his condition because he has gotten himself so stressed out by the impending Apocalypse and hasn’t taken any time to rest or think about anything else. When taking into account that no time has been taken to process recent events because they constantly move from crisis to crisis then it’s easy to accept that Fitz’ mental state has deteriorated to the point where the side of himself he tries to keep hidden comes out.
Iain De Caestecker is simply excellent in this episode playing two entirely different versions of the same character in radically different ways from scene to scene. As Framework Fitz he’s cold, detached and sinister with a clear sense of purpose that justifies his actions in his head but as normal Fitz he’s frustrated, strung out and completely failing to hold himself together. One of the first things Framework Fitz says is that he’s there do what Fitz is unwilling to do which proves to be true when he restores Daisy’s powers because it’s the only way to manipulate the Gravitonium into sealing the first. Framework Fitz sees the ends as justifying the means and isn’t weighed down by his conscience.
This would never occur to Fitz because he would never do something that goes against the wishes of those he cares about. Daisy is happy to leave her powers inhibited because that means the possibility of her destroying the world is removed. This gives her comfort and Fitz doesn’t want to get in the way of that so drives himself insane looking for another solution. Framework Fitz has a bigger picture outlook and doesn’t consider how others feel in this scenario. The only way to save everyone is to compress the Gravitonium and the only way to do that is with Daisy’s powers so when the entire world is at stake as far as he’s concerned her personal feelings aren’t important. He takes it upon himself to force the solution by basically torturing Daisy as he removes the inhibitor to restore her powers.
To see this play out on screen is really brutal stuff. Chloe Bennet’s performance is heart breaking as Daisy lies helplessly waiting for whatever Framework Fitz has planned for her. The declaration that she will never forgive him for this comes across as both pained and sincere indicating that their relationship has been permanently damaged by his actions. This will likely create some animosity over the coming weeks as Fitz has to process what he has done to Daisy. The biggest takeaway from this episode is that Fitz can no longer feel secure in the belief that he’s a good man who innately does good things. Now he has the capability to be a cold and calculating monster who does what he considers the right thing no matter the cost. This side of him might be buried underneath the more altruistic version but it is always there and will remain a possibility.
Another complication to this whole thing is that Fitz essentially admits that he agrees with what was done because it was necessary to remove the problem of the rift. He admits that this darker version of himself was entirely him and not some evil duplicate or something similar. It’s something that everyone will have to deal with and there’s no getting around that fact. He admits that even though he injured Mack and tortured Daisy he feels that what he did was the right thing though he doesn’t see it as a good thing. Forgiveness from them isn’t something he expects because he doesn’t feel like he deserves it.
It’s a hard truth but even Simmons is forced to agree with him because they are in a situation where they will be forced to make difficult and morally questionable choices in order to save the world. What that does to them is a question that isn’t easily answered and is left lingering at the end of the episode but it’s clear that the choices they make won’t be an easy thing to live with. Fitz is already dealing with that and I suspect the other characters will have their own version of this over the coming weeks.
This is great scene on so many levels. Iain De Caestecker’s performance fully sells the internal conflict Fitz is grappling with and Elizabeth Henstridge imbues Simmons with so much vulnerability as she considers the impact all of this will have on her as a person as well as her recent marriage to Fitz. On a visual level this scene plays with reflections wonderfully thanks to the glass separating Fitz and Simmons. When Fitz approaches the glass he is reflected on it showing him standing next to Simmons while also being separated from her. Seeing Fitz reflected symbolises his duality while also posing a question of which version of himself belongs with Simmons and which one belongs locked up. Similarly Simmons is reflected as she walks away making it appear as if she is walking towards Fitz while walking away from him at the same time. This is symbolic of the current uncertainty in their relationship and her own conflicted nature as she both agrees and disagrees with his actions.
Once again Deke serves as a source of levity in the sense that he is cracking jokes in tense situations. Whether that’s appropriate or not can be debated but it’s consistent with Deke as a person. He does have a much better function in the episode as a source of hope for Simmons who is at her lowest point at the end of the episode. Deke demonstrates a great deal of insight into Fitz and Simmons’ relationship before telling her that his parents would talk about their parents. Simmons is able to figure out that Deke is her grandson from this which basically tells her that things will work out for them to some degree, at least in the darker future. At some point they will find a way to move past this and have a child together. It’s a small comfort among the bleakness of the current situation but a comfort nonetheless exactly when one is needed.
Coulson and May’s attempt to capture General Hale appears to succeed at first marking the first piece of good luck for the team in a while. Naturally this turns out to be a trap with General Hale’s carelessness being carefully calculated. Hale herself seems to lack depth though there is the smallest hint of it when she apologises for Elena losing her hands thanks to an overzealous subordinate. It’s not much but it suggests that she isn’t entirely bereft of compassion and does understand that she’s playing with people’s lives for a higher purpose.
The interactions between Hale and Coulson aren’t anything special and have been done similarly over the run of this show but it is good to have them in the same room for the first time. A little more about Hale’s motivations are revealed such as her desire to save humanity in her own way, something that Coulson almost believes though stops himself when considering the other factors involved.
This part of the plot does bring a surprise in the form of Ivanov who is now under Hale’s control. He works with her against his will but seems to relish the opportunity to get his own back on Coulson and his team for messed up his plans. Zach McGowan does a good job as the returning Ivanov even though there’s not a lot to work with beyond being angry and vengeful. It is certainly enough as it compliments Hale’s villain team setup and enhances her threat level as she is someone who is able to manipulate people by exploiting a weakness.
Coulson’s decision to give himself up so that his people could go free ties into his self sacrificing nature following the reveal that he’s dying. As far as Coulson’s concerned he is living on borrowed time and every minute is an opportunity to do one last bit of good before his body finally fails him. As in “The Real Deal” he sees himself as expendable so takes the opportunity to grant everyone else their freedom by sacrificing theirs. May calls him out on his behaviour but ultimately agrees to let him go with Hale most likely because she is already planning to rescue him.
This puts Coulson in a great position as he will have more opportunity to interact with Hale, Ivanov and possible Carl Creel who serves as the muscle in this scenario. He may also attempt to bring Ruby around to his way of thinking by making her a better offer than the one she currently has. At the very least there is more opportunity for Coulson and Hale to compare notes on their various goals.
The ending scene showing Hale talking to a mysterious figure the credits call Qovas (Peter Mensah) who threatens her with retaliation should she fail her their shared mission. He refers repeatedly to the confederacy and signs off with a “Hail H.Y.D.R.A.” thickening the plot in a really interesting way expanding the connections H.Y.D.R.A. have. The details of whatever the plan is are vague at this point but this scene does provide plenty of intrigue and Qovas passing Hale a vial that looks a lot like the one used by Kasius to imbue him with increased strength strongly hints at a connection. My thinking is that Qovas is Kasius’ often talked about but never named father though he could be someone else. I suspect the answer will be revealed in due course.
An excellent episode that shows just how capable Iain De Caestecker is as an actor. Seeing him play two distinct versions of Fitz is very impressive and the surprise reveal of Framework Fitz not being a manifestation of the Fear Dimension works really well. Bringing in Fitz’ brain damage and making that the reason for his hallucination was a really nice touch and Framework Fitz affects the team in really brutal ways. He injures Mack and tortures Daisy all in service of closing the rift and solving a very particular problem. The cost is that the team all know what he’s capable of and the episode allows this to be complicated by having Fitz agree with his actions despite how brutal they were. It’s clear that relationships are permanently affected by I look forward to seeing how this plays out.
Coulson and May capturing General Hale allows for her plan to be fleshed out a bit more but doesn’t add much in the way of depth to her character. Now that Coulson has agreed to go with her there is plenty of opportunity to develop Hale as a character so the plot movement is appreciated. Hale talking to a mysterious figure at the end of the episode adds a good amount of intrigue to proceedings setting things up nicely for the coming episodes.
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