It’s a blast! It’s da bomb? Ah, forget it.
As someone picks away on a flamenco guitar, de facto Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil Coulson sits in an outdoor restaurant in Caldes de Montbui, talking to himself – until it is revealed he is speaking via hidden communication device to his partner, Agent Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie. They are in Spain following a Australian woman named Agnes Kitsworth, believing her to be able to lead them to where Agent Melinda May is being held captive by the corrupt Dr. Holden Radcliffe and his android assistant Aida 2.0. As Agnes turns around, Mack confirms their suspicion – since Agnes looks exactly like the android Aida.
In an unknown location, Radcliffe exits “The Framework”, the virtual reality world that Aida and he built with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dr. Leo Fitz. He expresses his astonishment with it’s recent developments, as Aida has managed to make it a full simulation of our entire world with improvements. Aida has been using it to keep their prisoner May unconscious and stable, believing herself to be in a different world. He enters the main chamber of his hidden lab, deep in the underground bunker of his ally-of-convenience – the anti-Inhuman extremist Anton Ivanov, a man known as “The Superior” who controls the hate group The Watchdogs. Ivanov tells Radcliffe that against his expresses wishes, he has read the Darkhold while Radcliffe was sleeping and discovered that the way to kill all Inhumans was through Radcliffe. His right hand mand Terrence Shockley remarks that this is why he’s keeping him alive. Since the first step in their plan is to dangle an Inhuman in front of S.H.I.E.L.D., Radcliffe reveals that he has been growing pure Terrigen crystals from samples he acquired from his last benefactor, an Inhuman named Hive. As Ivanov picks it up, he informs him that the mist released by the crystals is harmless to humans, but will transform potential Inhumans into their super-powered forms immediately.
In the secret S.S.R. base The Playground (which currently serves as S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters), Fitz is working with the science team to built a detector of LMDs, the realistic Life-Model Decoy androids that Radcliffe and Aida have used to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. three times. In the lab, Fitz’s girlfriend Agent Dr. Jemma Simmons is running tests on de jure Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jeffrey Mace, and breaks some grave news: the super-soldier serum that he injects to make himself the superhero “The Patriot” is killing him. The next injection could cause cardiac arrest, and each injection raises the chance. He will never be the next Captain America. Mace isn’t happy with this answer; he’s okay with being a “team player”, but he stepped down from head coach to quarterback and now he’s being benched. Just in time, Fitz bursts in with the new Patriot costume. It comes built with a heart rate monitor and a GPS, and has a injection system built into the belt that directly delivers the serum into….. okay, bad timing. In a bout of good timing, Mace’s bodyguard Agent Cecilio arrives and tells him he is needed.
In Mace’s office, former vigilante “Quake”, now Agent Daisy Johnson, is working with fellow agents long distance on Inhuman asset relocation and acting very directorial (hey, she was Director Daisy Johnson in the comics). She is relocating Inhumans that she believes to be a target of the Watchdogs, and asks Mace to get the U.N. on their side because anti-Inhuman/Watchdog funder Senator Ellen Nadeer will want the locations of their relocation – and is entitled to that information via the Sokovia Accords. Daisy leaves and Mace calls Coulson to see how the mission is going. Coulson informs him that they’ve located Agnes, an Australian ex-pat who Radcliffe modeled Aida after. Mace is antsy and asks what else he can do to help, and Coulson admits that he felt the same way when working with the Avengers. Ultimately he just played his part and did what was right (and got an Asgardian spear through the chest). Mace thanks Coulson for his advice and Coulson approaches Agnes, who is sketching a monument. Coulson remarks that the original is in Majorca, and Agnes concurs. He presses further, asking if she knows because she knows the original, or knows something about replicas. He introduces himself and says he is interested in her former work with Radcliffe, and she tries to leave, insisting she didn’t work with him but wants nothing to do with Holden Radcliffe ever again. Mack intercepts her and shows her a picture of Aida, the android in her likeness. She is shocked that Radcliffe succeeded.
In Senator Nadeer’s office, she is ordering her assistant Zach Bynum around when Shockley enters to have a word with her. He thanks her for her service to the cause, but points out that her brother Vijay was an Inhuman and she has the same blood. Even if it skips a generation, she has Inhuman blood coursing through her veins. To prove she isn’t Inhuman, he pulls out a Terrigen crystal and smashes it with a paperweight. The mist coats the room, and Nadeer’s horror turns to amusement as Shockley begins to enter a Terrigenesis cocoon instead of her. She mocks him for thinking she is Inhuman and calls him filth, when the entire Stamford Wing of the government building explodes.
Note: In the issues leading up the Civil War in the comics, the war of accountability starts when the New Warriors fail to prevent villain Nitro blowing up in Stamford, Connecticut – a tragedy that takes out a neighborhood of 600 people including a bus of 60 children. Given the name of the wing, I think we can guess who Mr. Shockley might be.
At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, they watch the news coverage of the explosion of Nadeer’s office. Daisy insists it was not an Inhuman, as she has been monitoring the Sokovia Accords and all Inhumans are registered and accounted for. Fitz points out that it could have been an unregistered Inhuman or a sympathizer, but Daisy believes it to be a smear tactic against them – any second now, Nadeer is going to appear on the news having just conveniently missed the blast, and use it as ammo against Inhumanity. Instead, the reporter confirms that Nadeer is among the casualties. Daisy refuses to feel sad, as she tried to have Mace killed, but Mace is upset that they were unable to bring her to justice, and tells the team to suit up and show the world what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for. Mace, Fitz, Simmons and Daisy go to ground zero, and Mace plays “team mascot” which the others explore the office. Fitz and Simmons find no trace of the bomb, while Daisy pulls up hallway security feeds and finds out that Shockley was the last person to enter Nadeer’s office. They suspect that the Russian Watchdogs used the Darkhold to create an untraceable bomb to kill Nadeer, and Simmons sets out to do a Washington DC-wide surveillance scan for Shockley.
In Spain, Coulson notices that Agnes is shocked but not surprised by Aida’s existence. He asks if she was special to him, and she sneers; she thought so, but it turns out she was just the one problem he couldn’t fix. She has an inoperable brain tumor, and when Radcliffe couldn’t fix it he left her and built an android in her likeness. Mack apologizes, and Agnes tells him she came to Caldes de Montbui to avoid hearing that everyone is sorry for her. She just wants to live the rest of her life in peace, Coulson has now ruined one of her only good days left but telling her that her crazy ex-boyfriend has built an android of her. Despite Mack’s protests, Coulson demands that Agnes help them find Radcliffe. Agnes refuses, wanting nothing to do with Radcliffe ever again and points out that she is dying and not afraid of anything Coulson could do to force her to cooperate and leaves. Coulson tracks down her apartment, and Mack refuses to help; she is a dying woman at the end of her life and just wants some peace. Coulson needs her to cooperate in order to get to May, and will force her if he has to. Mack admits that he isn’t positive that May is still alive, but Coulson says that May never gave up on him and he won’t give up on her, even if he is alone.
Shockley makes his way back to Ivanov’s safehouse wearing nothing but a trenchcoat, and Ivanov chokes him against the wall. He asked for Nadeer to be brought in alive, not for Shockley to set off a bomb. Shockley twists the facts and says Nadeer turned and blew up, and he doesn’t remember how he escaped. Ivanov doesn’t trust him, but releases him after he calls him “his Superior”. Ivanov prepares to flee the country, as S.H.I.E.L.D. will be looking for Shockley. He leaves and Shockley resolves to take S.H.I.E.L.D. down with him. Daisy leads a full S.T.R.I.K.E. team to the hideout and uses her vibrational powers to blast Shockley against a wall.
Agnes opens the door to her apartment and Coulson apologizes for his conduct. He admits that Radcliffe took something from him too: her name is Melinda May, and she means everything to him. (Hold up, what about Audrey Nathan? Rosalind Price?) Agnes invites him in, and he tells her the story of how Radcliffe kidnapped and replaced May. Agnes can’t believe he would do such a thing, and Coulson confesses that he is under the influence of something dark and powerful. Agnes asks what she can do to help.
In the loading bay of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s jet The Zephyr One, Shockley comes to. Daisy interrogates him and asks him why he bombed Nadeer and if he was following Ivanov’s orders, but he refuses to answer questions for anyone but the director and points out that they hated Nadeer anyway. She asks him if Radcliffe made the bomb, but he insists that the only “freak” he will speak to is Radcliffe. She seismic blasts him, knocking his head against another Watchdog, and asks again where Radcliffe is.
In Radcliffe’s lab, Aida alerts Radcliffe that he has received an urgent message from a post-humanist sub-group marked “urgent”. Radcliffe perks up – could it be? He reads the message – it is! A message from Agnes! He tells Aida to perfect the Framework in his absence, as he is leaving immediately. She calls him out on being evasive, and he divulges to her that she is not original; she was based on someone very close to him, who needs his help. Radcliffe leaves and Aida sadly looks at the photo of Agnes that Radcliffe brought up on the screen, realizing that she is no longer unique.
In the mobile lab aboard the Zephyr, Fitz and Simmons analyze the unknown fragments found in the office and find carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and selenium – but nothing that would trigger a bomb. They realize that this is the chemical make-up of an Inhuman cocoon husk, and wonder who the Inhuman was. Fitz questions how Shockley got out alive, and they realize with horror that Shockley is Nitro as they run to the loading bay. Mace and Daisy are attempting to interrogate Shockley when he starts setting up to explode and kill the two most famous public Inhumans. Simmons bursts in and announces that he is the bomb, and Daisy quakes him against a wall. He begins to charge up again, emitting a whistling noise, and Mace begins to fight with him before he and Fitz drag him into the containment module just in time. They close the door and Simmons drops it unto the sky, and moments later they watch it explode in the air. Simmons hits Fitz, telling him never to do that again, and hugs him. Mace beats himself up over his sloppy treatment of the situation. (He “fumbled the ball”, in his fifth football metaphor.) Fitz and Simmons review the footage, and find that the noise Shockley emits is him increasing his vibrational frequency until he enters a flammable gaseous state and explodes, possibly reforming himself after. Mace asks how they contain him, and Fitz and Simmons look at Daisy, who can control vibrational waves. She protests, but gives in and agrees to try.
Among the debris in an Arizona desert, a skeleton forms. It then gains muscle, then skin and finally hair, forming a naked Terrence Shockley. A car pulls over and asks if he was in an accident, and he asserts he was and asks for a ride. The driver asks him where his clothes went. The car drives to a motel (run by the dad from Even Stevens), and Shockley (wearing the driver’s clothes) enters and uses the phone to call The Superior, Anton Ivanov. Ivanov asks how he escaped S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and he confesses he is an Inhuman, but wants to remain a soldier fighting on the side of humanity. He promises him S.H.I.E.L.D. and hangs up, tells the innkeeper to run, and begins to charge up his explosive blast.
In an outdoor restaurant in spain, Agnes is sick of waiting for Radcliffe. Mack asks her to wait a bit longer, because May would have stormed off 20 minutes ago. Agnes replies that she likes the sound of May, and agrees to stay longer. A waiter arrives with a burner phone that begins ringing, and Agnes calls Radcliffe a coward and answers it. He tells her that he has people after him, but wants to help her. She is pissed that he won’t even see her face-to-face, but he informs her that he has had a scientific breakthrough and can fix her. She begins to cry tears of hope, and Radcliffe gives her instructions on where to go. She finds his car and he tells her he has cured death itself, creating a world devoid of death called The Framework – in fact, he already has one subject in there and she’s thriving! Mack and Coulson begin to run to Agnes’ rescue but she destroys the earpiece and gets in Radcliffe’s car. Radcliffe speeds off and another car pulls up and opens fire on Coulson and Mack.
Aboard, Daisy and Simmons are running controlled tests on Daisy’s ability to disarm Shockley with counter-vibrations, with little luck. Mace shows up in full Patriot gear and declares “scrimmage is over, it’s game time” and tells them Shockley blew up a motel. Fitz tells them bomb squad is ready and meeting them on the ground. Daisy meets Shockley on the street stand-off style, and confirms the location of Simmons and her team, who are half a mile away. Daisy reports that Shockley is back in one piece, and Simmons is surprised – he must exhaust a lot of energy reforming. Taking this as a cue, Daisy decides to use her shockwaves to explode Shockley – if you can’t defuse them, explode them. He reforms and remarks that if she wanted him naked, she just had to ask. She blows him up again. Mace, Simmons and Fitz get the explosion containment module fully functional (which suspiciously resembles a giant Pokéball) and prepare to go after Daisy, when a large group of Russian Watchdogs arrive. Mace realizes that Shockley was the bait and they were the real mission. As Quake and Nitro are exhausting themselves with their game of back-and-forth, Fitz and Simmons urge Mace to get in the car to flee the army coming. Mace refuses – he found his place on the team: “The Blocker”. (Is all this Patriot football stuff because the Patriots won the Superbowl?) They drive away and Mace injects himself with the deadly super soldier serum.
Patriot, you heroic son of a bitch. You are such a golden character. I swear to God, if you die right now…
The convoy of vehicles approaches and Mace sprints full force towards them, yelling out in exertion as he stops the front truck dead in its tracks with his bare hands. Yes, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The other vehicles stop around him, and Ivanov steps out with several Watchdogs. Mace starts to fight his way out, but is overwhelmed and outnumbered, and they subdue him on the ground with tasers. Daisy implores Shockley to stop, but he would rather blow them all to Hell. She explodes him again, and Simmons and Fitz drive up with the giant Master Ball, which inhales The Gas Formerly Known As Nitro before he can reform, and locks.
At Radcliffe’s lab, Aida straps her likeness Agnes into the Framework. Radcliffe promises it is painless and that she will never suffer again. Agnes is terrified but ready for a better world. Her consciousness is uploaded into the Framework. Aboard a Quinjet, Coulson sadly admits that Agnes made her choice and Mack tells him it is time to let May go. Coulson refuses – Radcliffe said he had another subject in the Framework and she is thriving. May is alive! As Agnes happily gazes at a painting in the Framework, Aida and Radcliffe euthanize her, allowing her consciousness to live on in the Framework. (Ever seen that Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”?). Radcliffe walks away, emotional. Aida glances at Agnes’ body with jealousy, and carefully removes her necklace, placing it on herself. Nearby, May’s unconscious body begins to stir.
What an end to an episode! I could write an entire post of the themes of transhumanism and artifical intelligence this arc is exploring, it’s so fascinating. In fact, I think I just might. The idea of consciousness living on forever after the body dies and the debt we owe in how we treat advanced artificial intelligence is so interesting. This episode is only a 7.5/10, but it has some really interesting themes and concepts that aren’t explored enough (outside Black Mirror). Nitro and the Civil War inside joke was also really neat, as was the heroic Mace sacrifice. Really excited by this arc and interested in seeing where they take us.