We are fast approaching the endgame for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season, and I am not ready.
To recap, S.H.I.E.L.D. ally Dr. Holden Radcliffe used the mystical tome called the Darkhold to perfect The Framework: an alternate dimension virtual reality that transcends death. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Melinda May, Dr. Leo Fitz, Phil Coulson, Jeffrey “Patriot” Mace, and Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie were kidnapped and placed in the simulation, alongside the now-dead Radcliffe, with one regret erased from each of their timelines, completely altering the world so that the evil organization HYDRA has taken over and outlawed Inhumans. With the help of Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez, agents Daisy “Quake” Johnson and Dr. Jemma Simmons have entered the bizarro world to rescue their friends – only to find that evil android AIDA 2.0 has entered the Framework as the corrupt director Madame Hydra and erased their escape route.
May’s regret of killing Inhuman little girl Katya Belyakov in Bahrain was erased, and it caused an incident at a school for HYDRA to take control with May on their side. Coulson’s regret of joining S.H.I.E.L.D. was erased, and now he is a propagandist high school teacher. Mack’s regret of letting his daughter Hope die was erased, and now he is living a quiet life with her. Fitz’s regret of not being closer with his deadbeat asshole dad was erased, and now Fitz is a heartless head of HYDRA known as The Doctor. Daisy no longer has her Quake powers, is known as Skye, and is a member of HYDRA, dating deceased-in-real-life Agent Grant Ward, who is a member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. resistance. Simmons never left S.H.I.E.L.D. and was assassinated during a HYDRA attack, only to be resurrected when the real Simmons entered The Framework.
This episode starts with high school teacher Mr. Coulson recapping everything we have learned so far to Daisy (whom I will now refer to as her Framework nickname “Skye”), to make sure he understands it. He is ecstatic, as he knew HYDRA was up to something all along. A student interrupts to complain about her dad, but Coulson forces her to leave. (This is only worth mentioning because she was played by Clark Gregg’s real-life daughter Stella.) Coulson starts listing examples of HYDRA corruption before outing himself as a bit of a conspiracy theorist, claiming that he makes his own soap because HYDRA is using brainwashing chemicals. Skye gets a call from her boyfriend Ward saying HYDRA is on their way to pick up Coulson, so Skye tells him to find a substitute.
In his home, Mack is racing to repair drones with his young daughter Hope, who never died in this world. She fixes her drone before he does, and does little to reassure him, telling him the human brain peaks at 24. He asks her what parts she used, and she admits that she borrowed parts from a HYDRA D.W.A.R.F. that she found near her school – spy drones created by The Doctor. Mack scolds her, saying that they keep their heads down and never mess with HYDRA, and tells her he will return the parts and then they will work on his drone together. Hope gets her bag and gets ready for school.
Outside waiting for the bus, Hope has her eyes closed as Mack gets her to guess the model and engine of a passing motorcycle just by the engine, which she does successfully. Mack calls her “Sparkplug”, which is cute but also was Dr. Lincoln Campbell’s nickname in the real world, which is weird. HYDRA agents arrive for an Inhuman spot check, when Hope remembers that she has the drone in her backpack; she was going to return it after school so Mack didn’t have to. Luckily, the agents are distracted as a potential Inhuman makes a run for it and leave without inspecting the bag.
Skye and Coulson arrive at Skye’s apartment and greet Simmons, Skye’s partner-in-crime from the real world. Coulson apologizes for calling HYDRA on her, but she is just glad that he is on their side. Coulson, on the other hand, is just excited that he has a robot hand in the real world – and warns Simmons to make her own soap. Simmons wants to talk to Fitz and convince him to come around, but Skye is positive that Fitz may be too far gone. Simmons disagrees, saying that regardless of circumstances, Fitz is still Fitz, and doesn’t like Skye’s plan because she doesn’t trust Ward. Still, they go with her plan: to meet with Ward’s S.H.I.E.L.D. resistance to find Dr. Holden Radcliffe, the designer of the simulation and key to getting them out of the Framework. Coulson reveals an article he clipped, saying that Radcliffe was a HYDRA scientist working on an Inhuman cure before he went missing.
In her office, Ophelia Sarkissian (aka Madame Hydra, aka AIDA) is working on finding the subversive Jemma Simmons. Ophelia’s boyfriend Fitz (aka The Doctor) enters and asks why she is keeping the search for Simmons from him; he just wants to help. Ophelia tries to convince Fitz that Simmons is no one and doesn’t matter, before finally giving in and showing him her photo. He shows no reaction and sends his team to get her. Ophelia is shocked that Fitz would do this for her, and he says he would cross the universe for her. They kiss passionately.
NO. THAT’S WHAT YOU DID FOR SIMMONS.
Skye arrives in the HYDRA offices of the Triskelion, and starts researching, when Ward tells her it is not safe. She ignores him and pulls up Radcliffe’s coordinates from Madame Hydra’s restricted files, and he accuses her of going crazy. She claims the soap made her do it and they leave. As they head of the building, May and a S.T.R.I.K.E. team apprehend them and order Skye to go with them. Ward is ready to fight, but Skye plays it cool and complies.
Waiting outside in a slum, Simmons and Coulson watch a D.W.A.R.F. drone monitor the area. According to Ward’s intel, it should leave in five seconds. Coulson asks if Ward is a friend of theirs in the real world, and Simmons admits he was but it didn’t end well. A man exits a nearby building and says “For the season, it’s been unusually rainy.” Coulson responds that “Rain or shine, the man with the umbrella is always ready”.
This is a fun nod to Peggy Carter’s S.S.R. passcode in Captain America: The First Avenger:
– “Wonderful weather this morning, isn’t it?”
– “Yes, but I always carry an umbrella.”
The man handcuffs them and a black van drives up. They have black bags put over their heads and are loaded into the vehicle. That didn’t go as planned.
The duo are unmasked and find themselves in the abandoned Playground – the S.S.R./S.H.I.E.L.D. base that serves as their real world headquarters. The leader of the resistance turns around and welcomes them to S.H.I.E.L.D.; a stubbled and utterly bad-ass looking Jeffrey Mace in full Patriot armor. Dude knows how to make an entrance.
Mace apologizes for the hoods, saying that Ward vouched for them, but you can never be too safe. Simmons introduces herself, but Coulson is starstruck. In the real world, Coulson is obsessed with Captain America; in The Framework, it’s The Patriot. He fanboys over Mace and his suit. Mace explains that the Playground is their secret base secured by Agent Billy Koenig, who died in the process. (In the real world, it’s Eric Koenig who is dead.) Coulson gushes that he likes Mace’s “Rebel Alliance” look and Mace thanks him, though in the real world, Mace admitted he sees the Empire as the good guys.
Mace takes them down the hallway, where dead S.H.I.E.L.D. agents names are carved into every brick as a makeshift Wall of Valor. A stubbly, combat ready Agent Burrows (hardly the clean-cut P.R. guy from before) informs Mace of casualties fighting the good fight. Simmons enters the lab to find it converted into barracks to house families of potential Inhumans hiding from HYDRA. Ward returns to the resistance and informs them that HYDRA got Skye.
At the Triskelion, May tells Skye that they have a mission, and Madame Hydra requested her specifically. The enter the conference room where Fitz briefs the team on capturing Simmons and authorizes lethal force. In a not-so-subtle dig, he assures them that the will Make Society Great Again.
At their house, Hope asks her dad if the Inhuman man that HYDRA caught was bad. Mack admits he doesn’t know. Hope asks if they hate Inhumans, and Mack says no – they’re just people. Hope questions why they’re all being arrested if they didn’t do anything wrong, and what would have happened if they looked in her bag. Mack warns her about asking this kind of stuff and offers to put on a movie. Hope wants to watch Chopping Mall, the killer robot movie that real Mack admitted was his favorite. Mack tells her that he is fast-forwarding through the bad parts.
They’re so cute. What could possibly go wrong?
At the Playground, Simmons asks if Skye got Radcliffe’s location first. Ward refuses to give it to her, saying that Skye hasn’t been the same since Simmons showed up, and asks what she’s really after. She laughs that a double agent is doubting her loyalty, but Mace reminds her that she’s only there because Ward vouched for her. Simmons says that she was at the Academy massacre and took a bullet when S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, showing Mace her S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. card. Mace apologizes and Ward gives her the coordinates. Simmons demand they form a team immediately, but Mace says they don’t have the men. Simmons and Coulson volunteer, and Mace refuses, but Ward offers to pilot and supervise and the op is approved.
On their way to the job, Skye comments that sending in the entire S.T.R.I.K.E. team, May and her for one subversive seems a little extreme. May shushes her. They kick down the door and the agents subdue not Simmons, but Mack. Hope screams and tries to save her dad, but May pulls her away and arrests her, as Skye watches the scene in disbelief with tears in her eyes and Mack screams that she is just a kid. At the Triskelion, May is interrogating Mack, saying that people who don’t break the law don’t end up there. Mack again says that Hope is just a kid, but May remembers Bahrain and says that that doesn’t mean she’s innocent. Mack begs, saying he will do anything.
In the Playground hangar, Mace shows them their one shitty stolen Quinjet, and states his dream of a whole fleet of Quinjets one day filling the hangar. Simmons is amused by this. Coulson asks why Simmons didn’t tell them the world was fake, and she said they weren’t ready for that truth. They board the Quinjet and Coulson is excited, but Simmons assures him that he commands a fleet of much nicer ones. In the air, Ward asks if Radcliffe is a threat. Simmons, still hating Ward, passive-aggressively tells him that sometimes the greatest threats are right in front of you. Ward apologizes, and Simmons is shocked. He then goes on to say he is sorry for letting Skye get captured, and that he would die for her. The hope that Ward was making amends drains, and she leaves to sit with Coulson. He admits that he thinks his ex-wife is right and he is crazy – after all, he lives alone and makes his own soap. Simmons assures him that he is not.
But I just want to know, who is his ex-wife?
In Madame Hydra’s office, Fitz is looking at her computer. Ophelia enters and Fitz reveals that he was doing research, and Simmons was assassinated at the Academy and is an Inhuman.
Wait, what? Did I hear that right?
He asks what else she has been keeping, and Ophelia admits that Simmons is from the other world and is trying to kill her. He angrily asks why she never talks about her time in that world, and she says that S.H.I.E.L.D. ran the world, HYDRA was defeated, Inhumans were rampant and they treated her like a slave. She tearfully says that everything she does is so Fitz and her can be together. She gets a text of a security breach and leaves, as Fitz stares at Simmons photo on the computer.
Aida/Ophelia entered the Framework so she can feel emotions. Mission accomplished. You can go home now! Deactivate! Bad Aida!
In the interrogation room down a few floors, Skye is sitting with Hope, and asks her name. Upon hearing it’s Hope Mackenzie, she sadly realizes that this is the Hope that Mack lost (in the real world). Hope corrects her: he didn’t lose her, HYDRA took her. She asks Skye to let them go home, and says it is all her own fault, not her dads. She begs her to not let anything happen to her dad. Skye leaves for a breather as May leaves Mack’s room, and Skye enters. She tells Mack that Hope is safe. Mack says that they need to talk, and reveals that he knows she is Daisy Johnson and that they are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Mack knows! Mack knows! That makes this a lot easier.
Skye is as relieved as I am, and starts making plans for the two to escape and reconnect with Coulson and Simmons. She tells him that his girlfriend Yo-Yo is safe on the outside and is so worried about him, but this confuses Mack and Skye notices. Mack says he is sorry, but he has no idea what she is talking about. He just said what May told him to say. He reveals a hidden microphone.
Oh, God damn it.
Skye escapes to see May and two S.T.R.I.K.E. agents coming after her, and fights her way out of the Triskelion. May orders her agents to find her.
Simmons, Ward and Coulson touch down on a tropical island and prepare to meet Radcliffe, arming themselves. They approach the estate to find Radcliffe playing croquet. Ward arrives first and Radcliffe thinks it is Hive, when Simmons and Coulson arrive next. He realizes what is going on, even though he insists they shouldn’t be there. He tries to be all buddy-buddy with Simmons, but she isn’t having it, and demands he help them escape. He tells her that there is no escape.
Skye takes out a bunch of HYDRA agents single-handedly in a Triskelion elevator in a scene that there’s no way isn’t an homage to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. May and her S.T.R.I.K.E. team stop her on ground floor and arrest her, and beat the hell out of her.
Radcliffe claims that his life is bad, too – he’s been terribly bored watching the sunset and drinking mai-tais. Simmons offers no sympathy. Radcliffe refuses to come with them, when Ward sees a woman walk by with a painting. Simmons realizes that it is Radcliffe’s girlfriend Agnes Kitsworth, the woman that Aida was based on. Radcliffe explains that Agnes died after they uploaded her mind to the Framework, and she doesn’t know it isn’t the real world. He also admits that Aida killed him as well, using a clever loophole in her programming that impressed Radcliffe, even in death. He tells Simmons that the team is in a Russian base under a drilling platform in the Baltic, and asks her to leave the Framework and save them. He says that his exit isn’t working, so they have to leave the way they came – but theirs isn’t working either. He realizes that Madame Hydra knows they’re there. A HYDRA Quinjet lands and Radcliffe orders them all to hide, as Fitz and Ophelia descend.
Ophelia orders the island searched. Radcliffe says that they had a deal: as long as he stayed on the island and didn’t disturb anything, she’d leave him alone. She tells him that she knows he is harboring the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Behind bushes, Ward explains to Simmons that who she thinks is “Aida” is Madame Hydra. Radcliffe says that they are their friends and they should be helping them instead of turning them into prisoners. She says that she just took away their one regret- how things played out wasn’t up to her. He points out that she inserted herself into the Framework to manipulate it, angrily calling her Aida. Ophelia says that Aida is an acronym starting with Artificial, and he is to never call her that here. She tells him how degrading it is to be treated as a tool or a thing, and she is not his pet robot here. Unable to find the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, a HYDRA agent arrives with a confused and scared Agnes.
At HYDRA, Hope and Mack are released and hug. They see agents carry a bloodied Skye past, and Hope is distraught – she was nice to her. May approaches and thanks Mack for his service. A broken Mack sadly hails HYDRA as Hope questions what her dad just did.
On the island, Fitz sees Agnes and notices she looks exactly like Ophelia (aside from her Australian accent). He deduces it as a trick from the “other world”. Agnes is confused, and Radcliffe says he can explain, but Ophelia cuts him off. She tells Fitz that Radcliffe is the one who enslaved her, which Radcliffe protests as “extreme paraphrasing”. She tells him that Radcliffe is trying to replace her with Agnes. Radcliffe explains to Fitz that Agnes is harmless, but Fitz pulls a gun on her.
From the bushes, Simmons tries to remind herself that this world isn’t real, and that Fitz would never do that. Ward aims his sniper at Fitz, and Simmons begs him not to shoot. Ward refuses to back down, saying that The Doctor is a head of HYDRA and a woman’s life is in danger. She starts crying and tells him that Leopold James Fitz isn’t the Doctor, he’s a good man and she loves him. She says that Madame Hydra has brainwashed him, and that if Ward kills him, she loses him forever. She promises to tell him everything, but he needs to trust that Fitz would never kill an innocent woman.
With a gun pointed at the crying Agnes, Radcliffe admits that the subversives are there. As long as Fitz puts the gun down, he will take them to them. Fitz asks why Radcliffe is acting like he knows him, and Ophelia tries to wrap things up. Radcliffe cuts her off saying that Fitz was like a son to him, working side by side and drinking and watching football – he even helped build Aida. Ophelia tries again to leave, but Fitz asks why he doesn’t remember. Radcliffe says it was in the real world, and Ophelia protests that it’s a “different version of Fitz”. Fitz asks about Simmons, and Radcliffe says they were in real, unbreakable love. Fitz even crossed the universe to rescue her.
Oh, no. Not that line.
Ophelia and Radcliffe start arguing, trying to make Fitz see their point of view. Radcliffe insists that this isn’t the real Fitz. Fitz disagrees, and says he knows exactly who he is. He shoots Agnes in the heart.
Oh, Fitz, no. There were no “backups”. This isn’t fake. She isn’t coming back.
Fitz, you can’t take that back. God damn it.
From the bushes, Simmons screams and HYDRA opens fire. Ward fires back. Ophelia is pleased, but Fitz is startled by Simmons tearful reaction. Ward tries to kill Fitz, but hits a guard in his way, allowing Fitz time to escape. Coulson defends the emotional Simmons, and they retreat to the Quinjet amidst gunfire. Simmons sits in shock.
At the base, Mace bursts in and demands to know what the hell happened: Ward had a shot on The Doctor, but Simmons stopped him because she’s in love with him. He asks for evidence that Madame Hydra brainwashed him, or if that’s another thing they have to blindly belief. Coulson tries standing up for her, but Mace tells him to step aside. Simmons says that none of it is real and leaves. Mace tries to follow her, but Coulson tells him that she just needs some time.
Burrows enters with a handcuffed Mack, who was sniffing around one of the locations. Mack says he met a woman from S.H.I.E.L.D. named Daisy Johnson, also known as Skye. He admits that HYDRA used him to trick her into catching her, and she’s not okay. Mace asks why he is there, and he says that for the first time he couldn’t look his daughter in the eye. He’s here to help.
Well, I guess that’s something good.
Skye lies bloodied in a cell, listening to Radcliffe screaming. Fitz enters, and Skye says that they were friends. He says that the other person who said that today is being tortured next door. He tells her that he reran her tests, and she’s a potential Inhuman. Guards take her to him room where he conducts sick Inhuman experiments. She tells him that he doesn’t want to do this, and he says yes, he does – I guess she doesn’t know him at all.
Oh, God. God this episode is bleak. I was sure that Mack wasn’t going to leave the Framework, now that he was reunited with his daughter, but I think that Fitz is more likely to stay or die. He murdered a woman. He murdered an innocent woman for no reason. I don’t know how they can reconcile or resolve that. It’s not forgivable.
This episode is another 8/10. It’s entertaining, even if it makes for cold, depressing entertainment. I’m so curious as to how this all plays out and who is changed forever.