Screenshot: ABC

Leopold Fitz can take a lot of punishment, but there’s one thing you really don’t want to do around him: Criticize his soccer team.

And with the introduction of a brief yelling match between two die-hard fans of the sport, Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter (still tough to say which of those names sounds more like a fictional private detective from the ’80s) returns to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Since Lance and Bobbi left the show in spectacular fashion, it sounds like the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has been up to exactly what that cancelled spinoff ABC initially planned for Blood and Adrienne Palicki, Marvel’s Most Wanted, would have been about—namely, mercenaries for hire, the two of them on the run, disavowed by the agency, and staying alive while trying to do some good in the world. And continuing the Sam-and-Diane-like bickering of an off-again, on-again couple, of course. Sure, it may have just been a way to get Fitz into a cryo-chamber and let him sleep his way 74 years into the future, but damn, it was fun to see Lance again, even with that hairdo.

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“Rewind” provides exactly as much as it needed to in the way of backstory, while operating primarily as a chance to fuse a criminals-on-the-run narrative with the opportunity to get into Fitz’s head and see what kind of damage was done from his days in the Framework. During the all too brief time Fitz and Lance are together, the latter turns out to have a surprisingly accurate assessment of what’s going on in the former’s head. (I’m not sure season-three Lance would have been quite so insightful). Poor Fitz is haunted by the memory of who he was in that virtual world—his sadistic and violent streak, coupled with an ability to sever morality from the equation of his behavior. “That came from inside me,” he says quietly, and you can almost hear the crushing weight of his guilt.

Photo: Eddy Chen/ABC

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But that’s exactly what Lance identifies as the dark internal compass everyone possesses. Fitz had just never drawn on it before, so to see it wholly take him over in that alternate reality was even more upsetting than it would have been for someone like Coulson, who is plenty familiar with the darker side of his psyche. Approvingly referencing Fitz’s sudden transformation into badass action warrior when the military attacked them onboard the quinjet, Hunter openly states the theme of the episode, in case it wasn’t already super-clear to everyone watching: The darker sides of ourselves are the necessary corollary to our goodness, the ugly and baser elements of our personalities that are nonetheless sometimes vital for people in their line of work. When life-or-death decisions fall on your shoulders, those burdened with the responsibility of taking out people who would cause others harm have to go someplace unpleasant, mentally. Any soldier who’s seen action (or anyone who knows one) is familiar with this internal conflict. But as Hunter reassures the tortured scientist, it’s something inside everyone. The question is what you do with it once you learn it’s there.

Fitz’s demons are all over the plot of “Rewind” right from the opening minutes, when he fears that he was left behind because his teammates were afraid of him. Luckily, his capture, interrogation, and time spent inside the secret military facility provide plenty of funny asides while catching us up to date on the current state of the world. S.H.I.E.L.D has been defunded and dissolved, with the world (and Fitz’s interrogators) believing Daisy shot Talbot, no matter how many times he explains Life Model Decoys to them. Our lovelorn agent spends six months in that cell, scribbling on the walls and driving himself batty with anxiety for Jemma and the rest of his teammates. However, you can’t help but suspect that part of Fitz wants to be there. He feels culpable for the death of Jeffrey Mace, and despite sending letters to the soccer fanzine which eventually lead Hunter to break him free, he can’t stop punishing himself. “I will pay for my sins,” he assures his captors, and his guileless manner conveys that feeling.

Screenshot: ABC

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But enough about the Leo Fitz Sadness Parade. Let’s talk Enoch, the sentient Chronicom (sp?) who has spent 30,000 years on Earth as a passive alien anthropologist, watching our species slowly evolve. Like a less impressive version of Marvel’s comic-universe Watchers (I assume there’s a reason they went another route, and budget may have a little something to do with it), Enoch is tasked with detailing our history—or at least, he was until the seer came along and predicted an extinction-level event for humanity, necessitating his interference. While I still find it a little odd he would go for a swim in his skin suit and then remove it to take a shower (doesn’t he just need to rinse the chlorine off it, then?), everything else about the character works wonderfully, a deadpan affect whose twist reveal as a willing source of assistance upends expectations, at least until you remember Virgil and his surviving elder associates in the future must have been the ones to receive the monolith’s travelers on the other end. In other words, there’s a group of people on earth here and now who will keep the faith, knowing what Enoch has done, and are responsible for keeping that information alive for three-quarters of a century.

Likewise, the reappearance of Polly and Robin Hinton is a nice payoff for attentive viewers that remember back in season three, when Robin’s father—cursed with the Inhuman ability to foresee death every time he touched someone—saved Daisy’s life, and she in turn promised to help look after his family, a promise we last saw her keeping in the season-three finale. Poor Robin seems to have received a far more shattering version of her father’s powers, and thanks to a way-too-early terrigenesis, it’s fractured her mind. It’ll be interesting to see if the show keeps her around going forward, as someone our heroes can periodically turn to in order to try and interpret future threats and how to solve them.

What it doesn’t do, however, it provide a way for Fitz to return home, now that he’s spent 74 years in cryo-sleep, and awakened 365 million miles from the Lighthouse, where Enoch has presumably developed the plan to sneak him in under the guise of a bidder on Quake. All the little stylistic flourishes of this episode were a lot of fun, from Enoch’s ability to freeze everyone in the vicinity so that they could make an escape to the best getaway pilot Hunter’s money could buy having his chopper downed instantly, to the return of the quinjet. None of it ever felt superlative, but it was a strong and entertaining episode that caught us up to the current arc in the story and showed us just how much Fitz still fears the idea that he and Jemma are destined for unhappiness, no matter how many times people like Lance point out that’s bullshit. Fitz is letting not just his darker side creep into his persona—the formerly level-headed scientist is starting to get a rather fatalistic view of the world, which is worrying for someone so rational. Maybe a trip into a dire space-future is just what’s needed to show him things in our time aren’t so bad, after all.

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Stray observations:

  • “Release the ferrets.” Episode high point, right there.
  • Ironically, Fitz gets it right at the very moment the military captors give up on him. “They were abducted by aliens.”
  • That evil new military lady is clearly going to be a season antagonist, right? She just seemed like another anonymous goon, until she shot her underlings in the head.
  • I liked the simple explanation for why Enoch would suddenly reveal the existence of his pod as a way for Fitz to get into the future, when before he said it was impossible. “It’s prophecy now.”
  • God bless Lance and Fitz for reenacting the end of Empire Strikes Back so appropriately. “I love you.” “I know.”
  • Leo in ass-kicking mode is something I’m pleased to see is now possible, five seasons in.
  • “Distance is our curse.” Hang in there, Fitz.

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