I know, I know. I forgot to mention “Project Looking Glass” last episode even though it sounded really important. What is Project Looking Glass? We don’t know. Something Madame Hydra is working on to make contact with the real world. Sounds evil. Let’s move on! It’s sad episode time!
If you haven’t been keeping up with this arc (shame on you), the team is trapped in an virtual-reality-simulation-turned-alternate-reality, with most of them having their memories rewritten. HYDRA has taken over and S.H.I.E.L.D. leads the Resistance. Daisy (aka Skye), Coulson, Mace (The Patriot), Mack, Simmons, Radcliffe and Ward are the good guys. May, Ophelia (Madame Hydra, aka AIDA) and Fitz (The Doctor) are not. Let’s go!
On a bridge, Coulson and Mace are setting up a staged car crash using Mace’s super-strength. They are trying to force a HYDRA bus to stop so they can board and enter a HYDRA “re-education camp” so Mace can rescue a prisoner with intel, and if Skye happens to be aboard the bus, bonus. Mace questions Coulson about Simmons, and Coulson says he believes she is truly on their side and that Fitz is really brainwashed, when Burrows radios them and tells them a “squid-mobile” is on the way. (Yes, he uses the word “squid-mobile”.) Coulson hails the bus for help, but when the driver exits Mace jumps down and kicks all ass. They board the bus and pray that Skye isn’t aboard; there’s nothing but body bags.
At the Triskelion, Fitz enters Skye’s torture chamber/cell. He reveals everything he “knows” about the other world, which are all lies fed to him by Madame Hydra. He asks for the whereabouts of the others, and she says she would tell him where Simmons was – she’s the only one that could snap him out of it. She’s real and they loved eachother, instead of a HYDRA murderbot. Fitz beats Skye and says that they will not take his home from him.
As May reads the list of kids who died in the Cambridge Incident, Ophelia approaches and tells her not to dwell on the past. May lets her know that the Patriot hijacked a HYDRA bus, and Ophelia tells her that they discovered a way to defeat him – that is, if May is up for the sacrifice. May has nothing to lose; of course she is. Hail HYDRA.
In the Playground hangar, Ward, Coulson, Mace and Mack observe the bodies in body bags. Ward confirms that Skye is not among the bodies. As thanks for taking him and his daughter Hope in, Mack offers to help. Mace asks him to switch the plates, GPS tags on the Squidmobile outside. Mace asks if Ward got any more information out of Simmons, and he admits that he did not.
In the lab-turned-barracks, Coulson is helping fetch blankets for the Inhumans staying there. He tells Simmons they found bodies, but she scolds him and says that binary numbers can’t die or feel the cold. Coulson warns her not to go around telling people that their world is fake, and she disagrees with the sentiment and says she needs to tell Mace. Coulson doesn’t think Mace will buy it (especially not the mind-control soap – oh, Coulson). She says that they are wasting time with pointless dangerous missions; Ward and Mace are different than Coulson because they don’t have fragmented memories. Especially Ward. Coulson questions why he feels like he has hives every time he looks at Ward.
Simmons tells him that he crushed his chest with his cybernetic arm and left him for dead on an alien planet, so no, they did not get along. Mace approaches and asks for a word with Simmons.
In the HYDRA lab, HYDRA agent Kenneth Turgeon (Remember him? From when Simmons was undercover? Just me? Okay.) gives May augmented supersoldier serum made from metabolic enhancers, gorilla testosterone, a dash of peppermint. The same thing Mr. Hyde and the Patriot’s serum was made from in the real world. May notices Terrigen crystals growing in the fridge, but Turgeon eases her mind; it’s definitely not Terrigen-based. Best of all, one dose will give her super-strength for an hour.
At the Playground, Mace laughs at the ridiculous catchphrase “A team that trusts is a team that triumphs”. Simmons told him everything, and he doesn’t believe that he’s just a boring businessman in the real world. Ward leaves to get a drink, and Mace asks where he’s from “in the real world”. Simmons admits that she doesn’t know Mace that well. He tells her he’s from Brooklyn, never married, never had kids. He plays Little League, says “soda” instead of “pop” and likes his barbecue sweet not spicy. She doesn’t know him at all. He then tells a sad speech about how he has buried more friends than he can count, friends fighting for a cause they believed was real. Their mission matters, and there is nothing Simmons can say to convince him otherwise. Simmons leaves and Ward asks what Mace thinks; delusional, PTSD? Mace admits there could be a grain of truth to the story and tasks Ward with figuring it out.
Fitz talks with Ophelia and says that they have been unable to break Skye. They tried everything, and nevertheless she persisted.
Oh, Fitz. “Make Society Great Again”? “Nevertheless She Persisted”? You really are a villain for the 2017 audience, aren’t you?
Ophelia enters the torture chamber, saying they have different methods. Fitz offers to watch, but she tells him to check on Project Looking Glass instead, suspiciously. She enters the chamber and Skye says their prison sucks. Ophelia tells her that it isn’t a prison; she just fixed one regret in everyone’s life, and this is how it played out, just like Radcliffe always intended. From the next cell, Radcliffe screams “This isn’t what I meant, you sadistic witch!”
A dark moment of humor in the darkest timeline.
Ophelia refuses to restore Skye’s powers, but does offer to restore the one thing she wants most: Lincoln Campbell. No fears, no regrets. Memories wiped, living a happy life together off the grid. All she needs to do is tell Ophelia where they are in the real world. Skye refuses, saying Ophelia is just the puppet master. Ophelia questions why giving people a happy life and what they want is wrong, and Skye says that what people want isn’t always right for them, and asks what she’s even getting out of this. Ophelia says that she gets the same thing everyone else gets: a choice.
Burrows and Mace prepare for the mission, and Mack tells him that the work on the Squidmobile is done; plus, he hacked a HYDRA frequency so they can listen in to their conversations as well. He offers to drive as well, but Mace says that Coulson already volunteered. In the barracks, Simmons and Coulson talk about how Mace took the news of being in a digital world. They mention Fitz, and Mack’s daughter Hope overhears and asks if it’s the same Fitz from her history book. Coulson, a history teacher, warns her about the validity of history books, and Hope tells Mack her newfound revelation that history is a lie. For the first time, Simmons sees Mack in the Framework. Mack introduces himself and Hope, and goes off to get food for the pair. Mace pulls Coulson aside and gives him a forged HYDRA ID card: Agent Jamie Flugelman. It was the only one he could clear from HYDRA’s database. Mount up, Flugelman!
In his office, Fitz is getting a report from an old grizzly Scottish dude, Alistair. They caught an agent with contraband antique camera and shipped him off to the “Enlightenment Cultivation Center” for a brief on protocol. Alistair asks if Fitz is alright, because he seems troubled. He guesses it’s woman problems, and Fitz is surprised that it is that obvious. Alistair says that it is too early for a pint, but they can get some tea – and Fitz can tell his dear old dad all about it.
Grizzled old Scottish dude! I should have known! Alistair Fitz, you monster, you ruined (y)our poor baby Leopold!
At the Enlightenment Cultivation Center, “Flugelman” arrives and says he’s new and filling in. He makes small-talk with the HYDRA agent about an Inhuman with lion paws (John Horton, the Griffin, Yo-Yo’s dad and S.H.I.E.L.D. prisoner in season one?), and says it was a news story he saw on Bakshi News.
Ha, like Fox News. But Sunil Bakshi. Got it.
Coulson is cleared for access and enters.
In his cell, Radcliffe throws a bit of a tantrum and smashes everything. He screams that they should kill him; they already took his home, his dignity, his pride. He starts to cry. They took his Agnes. Skye, from her cell, tells him that he’s getting everything he deserves for creating the Framework, but Radcliffe says she can talk all she wants – nothing hurts anymore after what Fitz did to Agnes. Confused, Skye asks what happened. Radcliffe tells her that he killed her right in front of him. Skye refuses to believe that one regret could change an entire life like that.
Get ready for the saddest line ever in the show.
“Of course it can. One person in your life, one decision, one sentence has the power to change you forever. One single sentence like ‘I love you’. Or ‘we’re having a baby’.
….Or ‘she’s gone’.”
Fitz, you killed an innocent pregnant woman? For no reason? You monster.
Radcliffe says that depending on the circumstances, everyone is capable of everything. Luckily, he built a backdoor and AIDA can’t destroy it. He tells her to listen carefully.
Walking down the steps of the Triskelion, Alistair asks what’s bothering his son. Is he having troubles with Ophelia? Fitz denies this, and Alistair says that it was about a woman. Fitz says he regrets killing Agnes, and Alistair asks what the problem is. Fitz wonders if she was innocent; if he didn’t need to kill her. Alistair dismisses this as his mother talking. He says that in a hard world, they can’t afford sympathy or “womanly sentiment”. Fitz asks what kind of man he’d be without his dad.
A much, much better person. Infinitely so.
In the center, a HYDRA officer boards Coulson’s bus and sees the body bags. He unzips one and Mace pops out and chokes him out. He says they need to rescue their inside guy for intel – a quick get-in/get-out mission. Coulson says he is doing this because he regrets letting kids get taken from his class. They enter the center and see people in cages. Mace breaks the locks and frees the prisoners. One hugs him and says he thought he was a goner. This must be the inside man.
“Phil Coulson, meet Antoine Triplett.”
Holy shit. Trip. Trip is back! Trip is alive! Trip knows Mace!
Mace calls him Trip, and he says he hasn’t heard that nickname since high school. Coulson says it felt right. Trip says they need to get his boots before they leave – it’s not about the boots, but what is in them.
May and Fitz find an unscheduled drop at the Center and deduce it must be the Patriot. Fitz injects her with the serum and she flies a HYDRA Quinjet to the Center. He warns her not to waste her hour of augmented strength, but he injected pre-flight.
At the Playground, Mack and Simmons discuss how terrible the blatant lies are in HYDRA’s history book. Hope calls her dad over to watch her play the stick-and-ball game, and Ward and Simmons watch amused. Simmons is upset by Ward being happy, and Ward asks what he did to piss her off so badly in the other world. He asks if he hurt someone, or killed anyone. She says it was more than one. He says that, whatever he did, he is truly sorry.
Goddamn it Ward. Don’t make me like you.
He then points out that the love between Hope and Mack is real, and that must make their world real. They then get a call that HYDRA has breached the Center.
At the Center, Trip can’t find his boots. He hid an antique camera in them, from his days when his grandpa was a Howling Commando. He used it take photos of The Doctor’s secret Inhuman-killing project in the HYDRA labs. Coulson sees his student Chris being boarded into the Center, and he refuses to let that kid down again. Trip returns to Mace to tell him, and they see May’s Quinjet land. Mace goes to get Coulson, and Trip and Burrows return with the camera.
At the base, Ward is going to extract Burrows and decides to take Mack. Simmons offers to go in his place, not wanting to take Mack from his daughter, but claims it’s because Mack is “different” and if he dies here, he dies in real life (also true). Ward sees through her bluff, but takes her anyway.
May arrives at the Center and her and Mace have a really damn cool super-strength fight. Revenge for when he knocked you out in the real world? Trip goes after Coulson while Mace holds her back, mocking her for “joining them because she couldn’t beat them”. Mace wins the fight and runs off.
Coulson and Trip enter the Enrichment Center and see students with their eyes taped open A Clockwork Orange-style, watching the HYDRA Faustus brainwashing tape narrated by Bakshi.
May radios Fitz and Ophelia, saying that she lost The Patriot. They authorize her Quinjet to blow up the building with Coulson, Trip, Mace and several students inside and May makes the order. The building blows up.
Ward and Simmons arrive and run into Trip, who tells them that everyone is trapped inside. He takes them in, where Coulson and Mace are helping children escape from the wreckage. Coulson warns Simmons to leave, because the building is about to collapse, when they see Coulson’s student Chris trapped under some debris. Mace jumps in and shields Chris from from the falling rocks, perfectly mirroring his “Patriot” photo in the real world (except not fake).
You are truly becoming the hero you always wanted to be, Jeffrey Mace.
The ceiling collapses and crushes Mace and Chris.
No. If he dies, we riot.
Outside, May grabs a gun. She needs verification that the Patriot is dead. She activates her body cam and runs in. She encounters some students, and the black kid puts his hands up and tells her not to shoot. Coincidental or political? At this point, it’s hard to tell. At any rate, May is very distressed to find out that she just bombed a building full of kids. She enters the main room and Coulson tells her to put the gun down; there’s a kid trapped under the pile of rock.
Struggling, Mace lifts up the collapsed roof like a hero and orders them to pull Chris out of the wreckage. May orders no one to move, but Coulson refuses to comply – he tells her to help or leave. Coulson pulls Chris out of the rubble, as Mace struggles to hold up the collapsed roof. Trip and Ward find a cabinet to prop up the roof, but Mace tells them it won’t hold. As the building comes down around them, Mace quietly tells Coulson to go. The weight of the collapsing roof brings him to his knees, and he shouts at everyone to go.
No. No, please. Mace. Don’t do this. This is real. This matters.
The team escorts and carries out a screaming Simmons as Mace struggles to hold up the wreckage, giving them time to escape. May stays and pulls her gun on him, but finds herself unable to do it. She gives him a knowing nod and exits the building. As the team makes their way to the bus, they turn back as the building completely collapses behind them.
Okay, now I’m crying. You were a hero, Mace. You were a true patriot and you will be greatly missed.
Fitz, Alistair and Ophelia toast to a job well done.
In the real world, AIDA is doing her routine check, observing the patients strapped into the Framework. She approaches Jeffrey Mace and is shocked and confused to see his vitals flatlining.
Subject Unresponsive – No Life Detected.
She disengages him from the Framework.
Still crying. Godspeed, Mace. Godspeed.
After the credits, May enters Skye’s cell and asks if she’s really an Inhuman. She says she’s powerful enough to bring the damn building down. May pulls a Terrigen crystal out of her pocket and says she hopes so. She smashes it and Skye inhales the mist. As her heroic Quake theme plays, she grins as she enters her Terrigenesis cocoon, gaining her powers for a second time.
Dear lord what a roller coaster of an episode.
A few humorous and happy moments cutting through the bleak with Mack and Radcliffe, and a glimmer of hope with May and Skye. Trip’s back, we met Fitz’s dad, we saw the real world again, Ward apologized. All of this is undercut by the insanely depressing and heartbreaking moments including Radcliffe’s speech and, of course, The Patriot’s heroic and permanent sacrifice.
What an episode.
This is a 9.5/10. It’s about as great as you can get while remaining so bleak and heartless. Yet I will let you torture me more, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – of course I will.
Until next week.