To be honest, I had one concern at the end of the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Ugh, how long is it gonna take Fitz to get over being an evil Nazi Hydra dude?” And I say that as a huge fan of Iain De Caestecker, going back to his delightfully strange little one-season BBC show called The Fades (which also starred Daniel Kaluuya!). I mean, I understood WHY he would be mopey. Finding out that you could easily have become a wonderfully nasty, cold, murderous villain is bad enough. But thanks to his time in the Framework, he got to see exactly how that would have played out. How ruthless he can be. How cruel. And he has to carry those very real memories around with him for the rest of his life. And also the ones where he was in love with an evil robot and not Jemma.
So — I get it. But still, I wasn’t looking forward to wasting another chunk of episodes watching him process his feelings by shutting himself off from his friends and particularly from Simmons. Because you just KNOW that’s how it would have gone down.
Which is why one of the greatest delights in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 has been just how neatly they sidestepped that entire “Mopey Fitz” quagmire they wrote for themselves. Instead, they hit fast-forward and gave us Undercover Space Pirate Fitz, the best of all possible Fitzes!
So let’s break this storytelling master class down into steps, and see how AoS just made Fitz the most interesting character on the show.
Step one: Slow Burn
It helps that we have four previous seasons to watch Fitz grow. Season one Fitz was funny and nerdy — one half of the lab-rat duo known as FitzSimmons. He always was a core member of the team, but he started as a sort of shallow caricature that took on more depth over time. He became an skilled asset in the field. He got over his “will they or won’t they?” with Jemma. While Coulson lost his hand or Daisy gained powers, in the background some of the strongest character growth was happening to Leo Fitz.
Step Two: Break Him
Admittedly, the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Goes Hydra” thing had been done before (lookin’ at you Grant Ward, you glorious bastard). But the magic of Season 4’s Framework pod was that it took the team and dropped them into an alternate, simulated reality where Hydra wasn’t skulking in the background — it was running the world. The Agents found themselves living their best lives, or at least the lives they would have had if their biggest regrets had been… well, fixed. Mac had it easy. He was able to live a quiet life with his daughter. For Agent May, killing that young Inhuman during the Bahrain incident was her biggest regret — but NOT killing her actually lead to the rise of Hydra and May’s own role in it.
Fitz’s biggest regret was that his father walked out on his family when he was a child. The pain of that loss made him the lovable Fitz we’d grown to know over the seasons. So instead, Framework Fitz grew up with his father’s influence — and the pain of trying to live up to that asshole made him a nefarious Hydra doctor and all-around unrepentant villain. In some ways it’s not just the memories of what he did on behalf of Hydra, or how good he was at killing people or hurting his friends that haunts him. It’s the fact that, in some weird way, he wanted it. That if it weren’t for his greatest regret, if it weren’t for losing his father — that villain is the person he ALWAYS would have become. And he’s got to live with that somehow.
Step Three: Leave Him Behind
So the agents win the day, and head to a diner to celebrate. They take the time to enjoy this quiet moment together before having to face the messy aftermath of all the AIDA/Darkhold/LMD shit, right? Until the lights go out and they’re kidnapped… and sent to space. That was the end of the season 4 finale. With season 5 we discover that they were sent to space AND the future, which is a hell of a way to get out of dealing with an entire season’s worth of repercussions. But it gets better… because Fitz was left behind. So for the first four episodes of the season, we follow the wacky space adventures of Coulson and Co. with no hint of what is happening with Fitz on Earth/in the past. Episode 5, appropriately entitled “Rewind,” goes back to that pivotal diner scene and follows Fitz instead, as he discovers his friends are missing and winds up in government custody. Basically, Fitz wasn’t allowed the time or luxury of wallowing in his pain too much. It was overshadowed by new, more pressing crises (and the return of Lance Hunter).
Fitz being Fitz, he rises to the fucking challenge — and gets himself cryogenically frozen on a space ship so he can find his friends. This step works on the character level, but it also works for the audience. That long break from Fitz, plus the new problems facing the whole team, mean the events of the Framework feel even more distant in our minds. We’re ready to forget about it, because dammit — Jemma needs to be saved from the Kree!
Step Four: Harness That Pain
So the show ditched Fitz for a few eps, then brought him back and rapidly sped through his re-integration into the story. But even if we aren’t watching him process his trauma, what he went through still matters — and needs to be reflected in his character. Which is where I gotta tip my non-hat to AoS because… well, fucking Space Pirate.
See, he wakes up in the future and has to go undercover to infiltrate the station where his friends are being held. A station run by the Kree, who are keeping the remains of humanity hostage and then selling any who prove to be Inhuman to the highest intergalactic bidders. So he adopts a persona as a ruthless marauder with a lot of money and plans to buy Daisy, the big-ticket item on sale. And to convincingly portray his new cover story and bond with the other evil slave-trading bastards on deck, he pulls from all the knowledge he earned in the Framework. How to use pain and fear to keep people in line, and other fun dinnertime conversation starters. That ruthlessness IS a part of him, and in fact it’s a part of him that he can harness. He has learned how to slip into his Hydra mentality when needed, wearing it like a coat — and then slipping out of it in time to propose to Jemma.
The episode ends with a Big Damn Hero moment for Fitz, followed by him accepting Simmons’ proposal because LOVE IS REAL PEOPLE. And just like that, I think the days of Mopey Fitz are a thing of the past!
Now we just have to see how exactly Daisy becomes the Destroyer of Worlds — and whether she could maybe NOT quake the Earth in half.