Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21 brings the life-and-death stakes of the Framework into reality. Here are a few hints for “The Return!”

Aida’s evolution accelerates

The arc of Aida/Ophelia’s evolution — a story that began in the closing moments of season 3 — has been the unifying arc of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season. Now reborn into her human body, the former robot races through phases of what amounts to psychological Darwinism, with Fitz dragged along for the ride.

The results of this evolution in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21 are both unexpected and inevitable. Human life offers plenty of delights, but Aida is also in for more than a little… let’s call it “culture shock.” All the philosophy in the world couldn’t prepare her for the highs and lows of mortal existence, and “getting real” winds up with results that even Aida’s processing couldn’t quite predict.

100% FitzSimmons tears per fluid ounce

After relatively few traumatizing incidents at the start of the season, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon have put Simmons and Fitz through the bloody ringer recently. (Understatement of the year, I know.) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21 is no exception — in fact, it may become the rule.

Aida, after all, isn’t the only one grappling with new realities. Plunged back into ice-cold awareness, Fitz and Simmons’ gaping emotional wounds have never been more threatening. The once-inseparable pair are both fighting all kinds of familiar demons in “The Return,” and the fact is, there is no easy path forward.

But take heart! Ever in tune with their character’s aches and pains, the dark work of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21 allows Tancharoen and Whedon to realize the ecstatic agonies of shipping as they never have before.

Talbot returns!

On a lighter note (sort of!) Adrian Pasdar returns in “The Return” as everyone’s favorite blowhard, Brigadier General Talbot. With his customary blend of threatening interference and a few choice one-liners, Talbot brings the story of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21 back around to its own roots — in more ways than one.

Elena takes charge

Ever since her Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debut, Yo-Yo has been disinclined to follow orders — or even advice — blindly. After days of excruciating patience on the Zephyr, Elena reaches the end of her tether in “The Return.” Mack’s fate hangs in the balance, and the woman who loves him isn’t about to let him go… no matter what the consequences.

Three cheers for the B-Squad!

Finally, the spunky background crew of Agents Piper, Davis, and the rest truly have their moments to shine in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21. I suggest you take a long, lingering look at the B-squad, though; as rapidly becomes clear, next week’s season finale is definitely a job for the big guns.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×21, “The Return,” airs Tuesday, May 9 at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

What are your hopes and fears for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×21?

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