Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 04×16 – What If…

After a long and painful hiatus, welcome back to another episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., kicking off the final arc of the season: Agents of HYDRA!

Mengele
Source: ABC. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “What If…”. Iain de Caestecker as Dr. Leopold Fitz. ©2017 MARVEL

 

 

This arc is going to be so different from anything we’ve experienced before, so there’s no need for a long formal recap of the season to bring you up to speed. All you need to know is that Agents Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Dr. Leo Fitz, Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie, Jeffrey “Patriot” Mace, Dr. Jemma Simmons and Daisy “Quake” Johnson each had one regret wiped from their timeline and are all trapped in a computerized alternate reality known as the Framework, and Simmons and Daisy are the only two who know. Sounds good? Let’s go!

This episode picks up right where the last one left off: Daisy enters the Framework and wakes up in the bath to a text calling her and her boyfriend into work. Hopeful that her heroic ex-boyfriend Dr. Lincoln Campbell is still alive in this simulated world, Daisy wakes up her sleeping man – only to realize it’s her other ex-boyfriend, the (also-deceased) traitorous HYDRA mole Grant Ward. She attempts to her use Inhuman shock-wave abilities on him – but doesn’t appear to have superpowers in this world, so Ward thinks this is just an awkward greeting hand gesture. As Daisy gets her bearings and tries to play the situation cool, she is able to deduce that her and Ward have been dating for a while, and that she still uses her nickname Skye in this world (which I will now refer to her as, just to confuse you). Most importantly, she and Ward hunt Inhumans for the agency HYDRA Homeland Strategic Defense.

On the way to work, Skye is visibly upset by the anti-Inhuman, pro-HYDRA propaganda on the radio and digital road signs. None of this prepares her, however, for the sight of the majestic former S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters The Triskelion (up until HYDRA’s uprising in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), now decked out with a gigantic HYDRA tentacled skull logo. Inside, Skye sees multiple agents beat up an Inhuman for the simple crime of Inhumanity, and tries to intervene – but Ward assures her that they can kick his ass just fine without her help. As Skye stares in awe at the HYDRA statue, Ward blames himself for her “being in another world”. He apologizes for last night, and explains that she asked him to move in with her and he refused. She agrees that it is a bad idea, and he tells her that there are simply things about him that she wouldn’t like if she knew.

Well, ain’t that the truth.

Entering the office itself, Skye decides to check her email. Ward reminds her that they have a meeting, but she says she wants to get caught up first. Upon logging in, she searches the HYDRA database for “CAMPBELL, LINCOLN”, only to find that he is an Inhuman who died during HYDRA testing. She then searches for “SIMMONS, JEMMA” – her partner-in-crime, and the only other person who is aware that they are not in the real world. She begins to panic when it lists her as deceased as well; she was a S.H.I.E.L.D. SciTech professor who was killed alongside 200 others during a contamination outbreak at the Academy. Her superior, the stone-cold Agent Melinda May arrives to pry her away from her desk and into the meeting, and recognizing that she is one of the agents that she is supposed to rescue, Skye excitedly tells her that she has entered the Framework. May thinks she is either talking about hacking or is on drugs, and demands she gets into the briefing.

In a mass grave, A dirty and sickly looking Dr. Jemma Simmons wakes up, sees two bullet holes in the heart of her sweater, and deduces that she was murdered. She makes her way to and through a chain fence, and sees the sign for the S.H.I.E.L.D. Science & Technology Academy spray-painted over with the word “HYDRA”, realizing S.H.I.E.L.D. fell. She hails a car and is picked up by a kind but startled woman named Julia. Julia warns Simmons that the ex-Academy is a dangerous area, and asks what she was doing there. Simmons refuses to answer the question, saying it is best she doesn’t push. She asks about Julia, who confides that she is boring and just waits tables and makes earrings as a hobby. Simmons is impressed by how life-like the Framework simulation is, but Julia thinks she is complimenting the earrings and tells her it’s just a way to pay for med school. Simmons is further impressed by a simulation having dreams.

The car pulls up to a HYDRA Inhuman checkpoint; according to Julia, they take forever but they’re worth it. Simmons asks if they can test for Inhuman DNA pre-Terrigenesis, and Julia is surprised that they don’t do that everywhere, stating that this stop is just to check I.D. cards, anyway. Simmons tells her that she must have lost her I.D., but Julia gets really nervous, reiterating that she absolutely needs her I.D. or they will be arrested. Simmons finds a S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. card and Julia starts to panic, kicking Simmons out of her car for being “one of them”. Simmons escapes into the woods.

At the HYDRA offices, May starts her brief. They have an Inhuman suspect that needs to be interrogated who is of interest to one of the heads of HYDRA called “The Doctor”. The Inhuman is named Jason Rajan, and HYDRA believes he is funneling Terrigen to “subversives” – people who don’t support HYDRA. Skye recognizes the man as Vijay Nadeer, the Inhuman brother of Senator Ellen Nadeer in the real world. May realizes that Skye appears to know him, and makes her and Ward lead the interrogation.

In the interrogation room, Jason is tied to a chair. Ward warns him that Inhumanity isn’t a crime, but lying about it is; however, HYDRA is more interested in what he is doing than what he is. Skye reads the report and begins questioning him, uncovering that he is an Inhuman from Edison who runs a trucking company, but one of their shipments is missing. He claims it was stolen, and they question why he didn’t call the police. Jason states that it is because he is an Inhuman, but Skye gets a text from May that they aren’t grilling him hard enough. Skye reveals that she knows his name is Vijay Nadeer, and asks who supplied him his fake HYDRA citizenship card. He repeats that his name is Jason. Enraged by his lying, Ward punches Vijay out.

A man is playing Backgammon in a café when Simmons enters and sits down at a nearby table, picking up a copy of the HYDRA Observer. She notices that everyone is amusing themselves with games and newspapers – no one has a smartphone. She stealthily steals the car keys of a nearby man and goes to make her escape when she bumps into two HYDRA agents, concerned by her disheveled appearance and not buying her story that she tripped while hiking. They demand to see her I.D., and after putting on a show, she decides that she must have lost it in the fall. They take her to the car and search her name on the HYDRA database. At first they think she’s lying about having a dead person’s I.D., but then they realize that it is her picture. Before they have time to react, she slams one agent in the car door, takes his gun, shoots the other with a taser gun that is definitely not an I.C.E.R. (a S.H.O.C.K.E.R.?) and then shoots the first agent, stealing their car.

Can I just say, I know poor Liz Henstridge was recovering from a nasty cold while filming this episode, but damn does her raspy “I’m a zombie” voice sound cool.

In his classroom, Mr. Phil Coulson teaches his high school class about the history of HYDRA’s rise to power. After a dangerous little Inhuman girl was rescued in Bahrain by S.H.I.E.L.D., she was brought back to the United States and placed in a classroom (Good job, May.).  That little girl then massacred the school, causing what is known as the Cambridge Incident (Bad job, May! Bad job!). HYDRA stepped up and put the good of the state of individual freedom, and educated the world that Inhumans were a threat to be contained. One of his students, Burnell, asks if HYDRA came from Nazis, but Coulson denies this and tells him to never say that. Burnell points out that HYDRA was the Nazi science division, but Coulson tells him that they originated centuries ago and this is just propaganda. Before the Cambridge Incident, there were over 1500 newspapers, after all! Class is interrupted by HYDRA agents looking to run tests on a student named Chris Adler, but Coulson doesn’t let this disturbance derail his lesson.

May bursts into the interrogation room and wakes Vijay up by splashing water in his face. He recognizes her and says all Inhumans know her from the Bahrain incident. He points out that the world blames Inhumans, but it was May’s mistake. She pulls a gun on him and Skye talks her down. She has Skye take him upstairs so The Doctor can run tests on him, a thought which horrifies Vijay. As soon as they get in the hallway, Skye tells him that she can help him escape, but he tells her to watch out for cameras. She looks where he motions and he punches her out and runs, only to be hit with S.H.O.C.K.E.Rs and taken to The Doctor. The cold, cruel, Mengele-like “Doctor” enters the room – Dr. Leopold Fitz. He calmly reminds Skye that she lost control of the prisoner, and tells her to follow him.

In the park at Simmons’ and Daisy’s rendezvous spot, Simmons uncovers a stone to find the button they created to pull them out of the Framework whenever needed. When Daisy/Skye fails to show up on time, she carves an X into the bench to let her know she was there. She runs back to her car and searches “JOHNSON, DAISY” on the database to no avail. She then searches “FITZ, LEOPOLD”, but it is restricted information. Lastly, she searches “COULSON, PHIL” and sees a photo of her ex-director, dressed in an ugly suit and glasses. She tells him that she is coming.

At his desk, Mr. Coulson is cutting out newspaper articles of people that we know but he doesn’t: apparently HYDRA heroes Felix Blake and Sunil Bakshi got a parade and a Lifetime Achievement Award, respectively. Simmons enters and gushes about how happy she is to see Coulson, but he doesn’t recognize her, worried that she might be an ex-student of his. She tells him that they met in the real world before he was a teacher, but he says he’s always been a teacher. She insists that he thinks he was always a teacher, but he was programmed to think that. She asks if he has moments where his memories don’t add up, and Coulson gets very serious and demands to know who she is. She repeats her name and tells him again that his memories are false – she is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he is the Director who destroyed HYDRA, and she is here to wake him up. Coulson angrily asks if this is a test, and demands that Simmons leaves. She sees the Hawaiian hula girl that Daisy and her dad had in Coulson’s office and remembers Coulson’s time in T.A.H.I.T.I., stating that it is a magical place. Stunned, Coulson asks why she said that.

Does he remember?

She says that he is Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and his subconscious remembers that. He asks her to leave again, and she tearfully begs him to remember her. Furious, he orders her to leave and she complies, but she refuses to give up on him. Once Simmons has gone, Coulson calls HYDRA and reports her as a subversive.

Outside the classroom, Coulson’s student Burnell is spray-painting “HYDRA LIES” on Simmons’ stolen car. She confronts him and he denies it, so she points out that he is still holding that can. He asks “What can?” and points out that HYDRA are Nazis and use the same tactic, lying to them every day. She rolls his eyes at the suggestion that she is HYDRA. Burnell demands that she takes him to Chris or he will find the Resistance. The fed-up Simmons calls him a rogue piece of code in a virtual world, and then apologizes. She apologizes that Coulson let HYDRA take his friend, and tells him that Coulson used to fight HYDRA, and trained her well enough to steal this car. She decides the car is no longer inconspicuously driveable and gives Burnell the keys, telling him that HYDRA are definitely all Nazis. He lets her borrow his car, and asks again if HYDRA are all Nazis. She says every last one of them, and don’t let anyone forget it. She enters the car as a drone watches from above.

In a HYDRA lab, thick mechanized needles and probes stab through Vijay’s arms and neck, injecting him with a fiery substance as Skye and “The Doctor” Fitz watch. Fitz says that this machine is a perfect way to detect transformations without any side effects. Skye points out that there are definitely side effects, because he’s being burned inside out. Fitz corrects himself, saying that he meant it wouldn’t trigger Terrigenesis. Skye calls it inhumane, and he says they are just Inhumans and tells her that she is not to give her opinion unless he asks for it. He mentions that Skye and Ward’s co-habitation application has been approved, but May bursts in and informs him of a young British woman with a S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. reported at a school by a teacher Phil Coulson. Skye asks her name, but Fitz dismisses her and orders all assets in the area to investigate.

As Skye leaves the office, Ward tries to catch up with her. He mentions that she blew him off all morning and has been terrible at work today, like she’s a complete different person. Humoring the simulation, she tells him that he said he needed space so she’s giving him space. She walks away.

Back in the classroom, Coulson sits staring at Felix Blake’s article instead of grading tests on, of all things, the American Civil War. He pulls out a folder and puts the article clipping in it, and begins to examine the other papers in the folder.

There is a clipping about a doctor from Winslow being arrested for subversion.
Daisy’s dad was a doctor who changed his name to Winslow. 

There are angular drawings of a bird-like pattern. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s logo was an angular bird. 

There is a flyer for a string quartet at the Burkhardt Theater. Coulson’s ex-girlfriend Audrey Nathan played the cello.

There’s a May 2016 calendar with a picture of a ’62 Corvette. There’s a Tahiti postcard. There’s an article about an L.A. quake. There are Inhuman carvings. There’s a drawing of a woman. There’s an article about the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy outbreak. There’s are several pieces of paper with “It’s a magical place” scribbled over and over.

I think it’s safe to say Coulson remembers something.

Meanwhile, Skye makes her way to rendezvous bench, only to find the extraction beacon gone. Luckily, she runs into Simmons and they embrace. They question one another’s status of HYDRA and deceased respectively, but Simmons assures her that she was dead but is feeling much better. She says the story is a cover-up and HYDRA murdered her. Simmons reveals that she has the beacon button, and they start to walk. Simmons complains that Coulson is now brainwashing the young, and Skye says May is #3 in HYDRA and damaged. They complain about the Framework and it’s builder, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, when they are stopped by Ward, who pulls a gun on them and says they need to talk.

Simmons expresses surprise at seeing Ward, and Ward expresses surprise that she knows his name. He asks Skye what she’s doing, and Simmons is surprised that her name is Skye again. Ward is surprised that it is not. Skye promises that she has never betrayed Ward, and as HYDRA agents approach, Ward asks if Simmons is her source in the Resistance. Skye insists that she isn’t in the Resistance, and Ward shoots the HYDRA agent and says that he is.

Always a double-agent.

Ward, Simmons and Skye escape in Burnell’s car and are pursued by HYDRA. Out in the open, Ward admits to Skye that he hid her test results from the screening and she’s an Inhuman. She tells him that she is fully aware of this fact. In the high-speed chase, HYDRA agents shoot out Burnell’s back window, so Skye fires back. Simmons realizes that Skye and Ward are together and that Ward is a double-agent, and declares that she is in Hell. Ward reveals that he was the one who got Vijay Nadeer his fake I.D., and knocked him out to shut him up. They pull into a parking garage to hide from drones, which Ward calls “D.W.A.R.F.S.” and says the Doctor built them. Simmons realizes that Fitz is The Doctor. They exit the car and Ward directs them to Skye’s apartment while he burns the car. Skye apologizes for giving up Vijay, and Ward asks her real name. She says it’s Daisy and leaves.

At HYDRA, May reports to The Doctor that one agent was killed and they lost the suspect. Fitz calmly and coldly reminds May that it was only one girl. May reveals that she suspects they had an inside man; the Jason Rajan I.D. card wasn’t a forgery, which means the Resistance has a mole within HYDRA. May says someone is betraying them, but Fitz says – like his father always used to say – you have to have trust to be betrayed.

So that’s Fitz’ erased regret. His father’s absence.

He reminds May that she is a failure and tells her to cut out the mole like a cancer. He asks if the suspects were recorded, and May says they the footage was sent to the Director by request.

In Skye’s/Daisy’s apartment, Simmons asks if Fitz is brainwashed like the others. Daisy says he was, and wonders why Radcliffe changed everyone like this. Simmons says he tried to take away everyone’s biggest pain: May didn’t kill the girl in Bahrain, Coulson is living a quiet life. She wonders why Fitz is such an ugly person here, and Daisy hypothesizes that Simmons’ absence is what made Fitz this way. Simmons tearfully asks if Fitz will ever remember her, because the Framework changes you. Daisy concurs, saying she looked up Lincoln and interrogated Vijay after only one day. Daisy decides they need to leave to talk to Yo-Yo and form a game plan, so Simmons and Daisy press the extraction beacon button. It doesn’t work.

Well, shit.

Someone knows they’re there.

In the HYDRA office, The Doctor approaches the Director of HYDRA: Madame Hydra, straight from the comics. The Viper herself. Green suit, green hair, everything. Only in this world, she’s also the android AIDA. She invites Fitz in, and he tells her that the subversives have a mole inside HYDRA. She has footage of Simmons, and informs him that she tightened security and eliminated the loophole for their escape. Fitz asks to see the suspect, but Madame Hydra refuses, saying his work is too important (but really just doesn’t want Fitz to fall in love with Simmons). Fitz refuses to stand by idly, saying he needs to protect HYDRA. Madame Hydra tells him that his anger won’t solve this, and they kiss.

Well, that happened.

In the post credits scene, Mr. Coulson enters his car at night to find Daisy in the back seat. She says she needs him to remember her, and he argues that she isn’t real. She demands that he tries to remember her, and he strains but doesn’t. She admits that he is the person she goes to when things get heavy, because he’s the closest she has to family, and she hoped that he felt that too.

Coulson stares at her and says “Daisy?”

WOO-HOO!

Nothing’s going to top the 11/10 episode we had at the end of LMD, but Agents of HYDRA is off to a strong start. I would give this a solid 8/10. Not as suspenseful or action-packed but a completely new look at characters we know and love. It’s also a fun nod to the Marvel line of “What If?” comics, and the possibilities are limited only by budget and actor availability. That’s exciting!

Crackpot theories and speculation

  • We haven’t seen him this episode, but I don’t think Mack is going to leave the Framework. He has everything he ever wanted here. Why would he go back?
  • So Ward is back. And he’s good again. Do you think, if they show gets renewed, they’ll just upload this version of Ward into an LMD and have alt-universe android Ward? It would fit their M.O. of having a different “version” of Ward every season.

 

 

Author: Jesse "The Clairvoyant" Rolufs

Film star. Chemical engineer. Dancer. Comedian. I am none of these things. What I am, however, is a huge geek hailing from the frigid wastes of western Canada. I couldn’t even tell you when it started - I’m told the first words out of my mouth were “I swing my +2 DEX war axe and attack the dragon.” My name is Jesse (also known as “The Clairvoyant”) and I am a big nerd when it comes to video games, board games, movies, anime, TV, RPGs - and I am possibly the one of the world leading experts on comic books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Joss Whedon. You can find me on twitter as @JesseRolufs. Don’t be afraid to check out my informative Joss Whedon-themed podcast @whedoncast, and my hilarious bargain-bin-movie-bashing podcast @BlindBuy!

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