We need to talk about Fitz.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has been torturing characters ever since Fitzsimmons were thrown to the bottom of the ocean, and Skye found out her S.O. was Hydra. As the stakes raised over the years so did the emotional reactions from both characters and fans. However, as the trauma got worse, realism in the results of that trauma suffered. Simmons spent six months on an alien planet, but only showed signs of PTSD for two episodes after her return. Coulson lost an arm in combat but adjusted to having a robotic one rather quickly. May saw her ex-husband murdered only to turn around and casually hit on Coulson.
The emotional heart of the show, as portrayed by Iain De Caestecker, has been Leopold James Fitz. He provided the first of the show’s dramatic screams, way back in FZZT (see above) when he watched Jemma try to dive towards an early death to save the rest of the team. After he and Simmons escaped from the underwater pod, he suffered brain damage and spent most of season two recovering both physically and mentally. He was the first to hold Skye/Daisy after discovering she’s inhuman, to tell her it’s going to be alright, to offer friendship and empathy instead of fear.
In season three, he went action-hero-crazy and scoured the earth trying to bring Simmons back from Maveth and helped Bobbi through her own recovery, albeit largely off-screen. Fitz’s heart grew heavier with every Agent who defected, or was killed, or betrayed the team for one reason or another. He was the first to say “I love you”. Fitz is the only character to struggle with the reality of working in the field long after it’s become routine.
The Framework was a Nightmare–But Returning Was Worse
Normally, I’ll watch SHIELD live and then again once or twice before the next episode airs. But ever since the Framework, I would watch and then actively avoid SHIELD until the following Tuesday. I couldn’t figure out exactly what unsettled me, but I knew it radiated off of Fitz.
Framework Fitz wants one thing: power. But he doesn’t want it for himself. Every single thing Framework Fitz does is for the two people controlling his life: his abusive father, and his manipulative girlfriend Ophelia/Madame Hydra. When Fitz is named Head of Hydra, there is no satisfaction in the moment. It’s a private, verbal exchange between himself and his father, who couldn’t be more proud. But as soon as Fitz begins to assert himself in his new role, his father intimidates him back into submission. Ophelia acts as though she and Fitz are equal partners, but when he questions her methods she, too, gets aggressive and orders him to divert his attention.
When you are manipulated by another person, even in the real world, it’s not easy to get out. The manipulator will tell you that you acted of your own free will, and they were an innocent bystander. You may try to appease the other person, just to have your head ripped off later. Often you’ll either think or be told that the negative reaction was your fault, so you try to atone. Once you figure out you’re in a toxic relationship and start your escape, the road is often bumpy and loops back on itself.
Fan reaction is historically strong when Fitz goes through his trials–many have gone so far as to call the relationship between Fitz and Ophelia non-consensual and noticed Fitz’s Dad used language which insinuated he may be physically abusive. For most of the Framework, I felt the same way the majority of fans did. I was sad, and shaken, and illin’ for an episode without Fitz and Simmons pointing guns at each other. Finally, the team returned and Fitz had another signature breakdown. The fans were FURIOUS, and I figured out why this story arc had me avoiding one of my favorite shows.
There Are No Strings On Me
The last thing Framework Fitz does is torture and threaten to kill Simmons. Then, he returns to the real world gasping for air, and shaking from the memories of the lives he ended. When he sees AIDA, his first reaction isn’t anger or fear–it’s wonder. He was in the Framework long enough that he doesn’t know who he is without her. This is where many fans started getting upset. First, Fitz abuses Simmons, then neglects to mention her and flocks to his captor once he gets his memory back.
Without getting into details, I can say with confidence that I understand this reaction. It’s a horrifying kind of Stockholm syndrome–you are not physically held captive, but you don’t know who you are emotionally or psychologically without your manipulator. You’re free but isolated and there’s nowhere else to go. Worse than that, this feels normal. You could try and leave, but how will it be different? It won’t–you think YOU are the weak link, not the other person. Fitz returns from a lifetime of manipulation. He returns from one nightmare to another–from a digital world to the “real” one where he now must face the aftermath. Worst of all, he feels he must do this alone. It may have been more satisfactory for fans if his first reactions were about Simmons, or if her name was the first word from his mouth, but it wouldn’t have been as realistic.
So no, Fitz did not shrink away from the only person in the room that he felt would forgive him. Instead, he flocked towards her in what might not have been a conscious decision. Simmons, the only other person who may have been able to stop him, wasn’t there. And even if she was, as he laments in the clip above, how could she forgive him?
Forgiveness…Can You Imagine?
Also in the above clip, you can see that Fitz’s fear of repercussions is very real. He is honest with AIDA after she can no longer control him, and she goes berserk. She is only empathetic when it benefits her. Once she no longer gets the reaction she craves, she punishes Fitz as though it were his fault she is having this negative reaction. This was another bone of contention with fans–the fact that Fitz was honest with her, and opened up instead of recoiling and searching for Simmons.
Again, this was realism at its finest. Fitz returns from the Framework with two sets of memories in his head, meaning that his experiences there still have a hold on him. AIDA still LOOKS like the woman who controlled his life, who he thought he loved for just as long as he’s loved Simmons in the real world. That kind of connection doesn’t disappear overnight. It doesn’t even disappear just because you want it to. A lifetime’s worth of thinking you’re the problem means you’re still stuck thinking “maybe this time will be different”. For Fitz, a scientist before all else, there are enough variables between Ophelia and AIDA that he thinks this time MUST be different. Now that she has free will, she understands empathy, she’s saved Mack. Now she’ll be able to appreciate free will in others, as well.
“she takes his hand. it’s quiet uptown.” pic.twitter.com/2YBHqijpYh
— fs madeline / 97 (@DOCTORSlMMONS) May 10, 2017
The Fitzsimmons reunion, unlike others, was 30 seconds of silence with no eye contact between them. This incensed fans even further, as they were hoping for words of forgiveness or love or smooches. But then, if you’d done everything Fitz did and seen everything Simmons has–how would you respond?