Another week, another bleak… episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set in the dystopian alternate reality that mirrors 2017 a little too closely.
Our episode starts with another returning actor, playing a long-deceased character: Simon Kassianides as HYDRA agent Sunil Bakshi. In the Framework, Bakshi runs a Fox News rip-off show called The Bakshi Report, on Bakshi News. There is an “In Memoriam” for HYDRA hero John Garrett, which hurts – he was played by Bill Paxton, who recently passed away in real life.
Bakshi is selling HYDRA propaganda, stating that their recent deadly attack on the Enlightenment Center (which killed poor Jeffrey Mace, the Patriot) was actually caused by the Patriot himself, painting him as a terrorist. He reports that the Patriot died in action, and that the public should still remain ever-vigilant. (Fun fact, the scrolling news ticker at the bottom talks about John Garrett’s legacy and Daniel Whitehall’s new autobiography about his relationship with the Malick family).
In Skye’s cell (who I will now call Daisy again), a HYDRA agent enters as she burst free from her Terrigen cocoon, looking much better than she did before. May and Daisy take out an army of HYDRA agents in a badass firefight that involves May firing midair while doing an aerial (that’s a no hands cartwheel for all you gymnastics casuals). The elevator opens and Madame Hydra (Ophelia, Aida, whatever you want to call her) exits, seeing May helping Daisy escape. She remarks that even in the Framework, they can’t escape their true nature: May is a warrior, Mack is a protector, Fitz is a romantic. Daisy asks why she doesn’t make the list, before using her Quake powers to blast Ophelia out the back window of the elevator and down several stories to her apparent death, where she hits the ground hard.
In the real world, Aida disconnects herself from the Framework and glances anxiously across the other patients – where Jeffrey Mace is sadly now missing. Her guard, the LMD of “The Superior” Anton Ivanov, notices that she is uneasy. Aida tells him that May is starting to question the Framework, and the Superiorbot tries to solve the problem by putting a bullet in May’s head. Aida tells him that she programmed him, so he has the same parameters she does: he can’t harm them unless they become a threat to the Framework. Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons, however, have done just that. She tasks the android with finding them and taking them down.
Back in the Framework, in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Resistance base the Playground, Mack angrily mutes The Bakshi Report for tainting the name of a good man. Ward comments that HYDRA propaganda is like poison; you sip a bit every day and you don’t even notice it until it kills you. Mack wants to stay and help the people that Mace promised a better life, but Ward wants to find Daisy and Trip wants to take down Project Looking Glass. Coulson thinks their cause is dead; without a steady hand, good intentions don’t translate to action. Simmons just wants them to exit the Framework before anyone else dies. Mack un-mutes the Bakshi Report, and the team hears that an Inhuman made an attempt on Madame Hydra’s life. They realize that Daisy has escaped.
As May and Daisy hide, HYDRA troops mobilize. May tells Daisy that she decided she was fighting for the wrong side when The Patriot gave his life for her. Daisy sadly realizes that Mace is dead. May questions how Daisy can control her powers so well after just emerging from Terrigenesis. Daisy says she has practice, which confuses May, and so Daisy drops it. They head to their contact point to reach the Resistance.
In Madame Hydra’s bedroom, Fitz and his dad Alistair stand at her bedside. The doctor tells them that the fall shattered her vertebrae, and they aren’t sure if she will walk again. Fitz orders him to leave. Alistair (always whispering in his son’s ear) tells Fitz that he can’t afford to look weak; he needs to send a message to the people that betrayal will not be tolerated. They are all praying for Ophelia’s recovery… but Fitz is the new head of HYDRA.
Never thought I’d say that sentence.
As Fitz examines the elevator that Ophelia fell out of (and the other that Captain America famously fought in), Bakshi shows up and asks to interview Ophelia, but Fitz tells him no – no interviews. He doesn’t want the public placated, he wants them afraid. As the team at the Playground watches the Bakshi Report, Bakshi reveals that May and Daisy were behind the attacks and puts a bounty on their heads. Ward turns off the TV and angrily throws the remote, saying HYDRA is going to kill her. Mack tells him off for talking like that in front of his daughter Hope, and Ward leaves. Hope asks if they are really going to kill her and if she’s dangerous, and Mack gently reminds her that the news is controlled by HYDRA and tells her that everything is going to be okay.
Ward enters the Patriot’s office, where Coulson is packing up, and tells him to mobilize – they’re looking for Daisy. Coulson tells him that he is thinking rashly, but Ward tells him that he is just a history teacher and he’s in over his head. Coulson tells him that when he was starting out as a teacher, someone offered him to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and he refused. He could have changed his life that day, but he didn’t. Ward tells him that he was serving time for arson, when an agent came and recruited him. Coulson asks his name, and Ward tells him that her name was Victoria Hand. She told him that he could be something, but Daisy made him believe it; that’s why he needs to find her. Coulson tells him not to get hurt.
Daisy and May hide from armored trucks, and decide to steal a car. A woman sees them and runs away shocked. Daisy wonders if she’s racist, but May points out that their wanted poster is on every billboard. As they arrive by car, Daisy asks if she is sure that The Patriot is dead. May says she has the bodycam footage to prove it. They arrive to the contact point, but HYDRA does too. The team barely makes it inside with their contact wounded.
Simmons is looking over the blueprints that Trip stole, and mentions that she always wanted to ask Trip about his Howling Commando grandpa. He points out that they just met, but she saves it and says he is well-known in the Resistance.
(No more Trip/Simmons flirting! I thought we were done with this two seasons ago! Fitz can change!)
Simmons sees the plans for Project Looking Glass, and notices that Aida is looking to build a quantum battery like the one Eli Morrow used to build matter from thin air. The blueprints depict a larger one, and Trip mentions that he overheard something about a drilling platform in the Baltic Sea. Simmons realizes where Aida is looking to build Project Looking Glass. They decide to take the Quinjet on a recon mission. No one is there to tell them no, after all.
Does this mean Ghost Rider is coming back?
Burrows rushes through the base and asks where Ward is. Mack and Coulson tell him he is looking for Daisy. He asks about Trip. Off on a recon mission with Simmons. He tells them that one of their agents made contact, but they weren’t sure it was Daisy because gunfire opened. He is panicking because Mace used to make these calls. They go to check it out. Mack asks a nearby woman to watch Hope for a few hours, and tells Hope that he is going away for a bit. She asks to help, and he tells her to help the other kids fix the radio.
Daisy barricades the warehouse they took cover in as May tends to the wounded agent. May warns them that HYDRA will order an airstrike without hesitation, and Daisy asks if that’s what they did with the Patriot. May comes clean; she ordered the airstrike that killed Mace. Daisy consoles her, saying she didn’t know. If they are able to broadcast the bodycam footage, more people will come around to the truth.
In Madame Hydra’s room, Alistair approaches and asks Fitz how she is doing. He says there was no change. Alistair tells him that the public has been tipping them about May and Daisy’s whereabouts and they are investigating a location. Ophelia wakes up and weakly tells Fitz to finish it. Fitz tells her they have their location, but she tells him to finish Project Looking Glass. With the machine complete, she won’t need her body. Alistair leaves to take care of Daisy and May while Fitz goes to handle the Project.
HYDRA agents enter the warehouse, and May and Daisy take them out. Another guard approaches and Mack takes him out. Mack, Burrows and Coulson are on the scene! Daisy and May go to run with him, but he refuses to take the gun off May because she held Hope hostage. Coulson steps in front of the gun and talks Mack down, saying they have to trust her. Burrows leads the team through hidden tunnels back to the base.
Aboard the Quinjet, Simmons shows Trip something on the laptop: the drilling platform appears to go deeper underwater than they expected.
Of course HYDRA has a secret underwater base.
Simmons and Trip make it to the drilling platform, and find the door to where the team’s bodies are being held in the real world. The Superior LMD picks up a knife. They kick down the door – and nothing is there. They’re in the Framework, of course, and their friends are in the real world. Simmons realizes that Aida is building the battery there, but in the other world, and now she knows why. Aida has found a way to generate living tissue. She wants to make herself into a real person. In the real world, The Superior tries his hardest to slit Coulson’s throat, pressing a blade into it, but his programming won’t let him do it. He promises that as soon as Coulson is out the Framework, he will kill him.
Simmons explains to Trip that they are in a simulation and that Aida is trying to pull from the real world, and Trip believes her; that story is way too crazy to make up. He warns her that when he was captured, they were a week away from finishing Project Looking Glass – and that was a week ago.
At a HYDRA lab, Fitz assembles the pieces of a machine on a hologram simulation. Alistair enters and tells him that May and Daisy escaped and killed seven agents. Fitz throws things and says he doesn’t care if they have to kill 100 agents. They broke Ophelia’s spine and he wants them dead. Alistair tells him not to snap at him, and Fitz recoils like he is going to be hit. He warns Fitz not to show weakness. Fitz says if he can’t show weakness, he can’t tolerate failure; even from his own father.
What a loving father-son relationship.
Mack, Coulson, Burrows, May and Daisy arrive back at the base and Daisy is amused to find that their secret base is… well, their secret base in real life. Burrows and Coulson leave to analyze May’s bodycam footage and Mack goes to check on Hope. Ward comes up and greets Daisy, really happy that she is still alive but trying to hide it.
It’s cute and I hate that I care for Ward.
Daisy says she needs to go talk to Simmons, but Ward tells her she is on a recon mission with Trip. Trip being alive is the best news Daisy has heard all week. Ward confesses that Simmons told him about the “real world” and asks if Daisy believes it. Daisy tells him that she does, and knows a way to get back. Ward sadly realizes that by “getting back”, they don’t mean him. He admits that he secretly hoped Simmons was wrong, and dejectedly tells Daisy that it’s nice to see her.
Goddamn it, stop making me feel so bad for Ward. It’s Ward. Grant Ward!
Fitz and Alistair enter Radcliffe’s cell, and Alistair interrogates him. He asks where the traitors are going, why May is helping Inhumans escape, why she is betraying HYDRA. Radcliffe says if he knew, he wouldn’t be in the cell. Alistair admits that he knows that Radcliffe is from the “other world”. Radcliffe tells him that the “other world” is the real world, and in the real world Alistair Fitz is a drunken disappointment to his son who doesn’t even recognize his own genius. Here, he’s just a snippet of code rewritten so he could disappoint Fitz yet again. Alistair punches Radcliffe hard in the throat, knocking him out of his chair. He then proceeds to beat the living hell out of the poor man.
May, Burrows, Ward and Coulson solemnly watch May’s footage of the Patriot being killed. They decide to hack the Bakshi Report and broadcast it; this will wake more people up to HYDRA’s brainwashing. Daisy protests, saying it won’t change anything in the real world. Coulson points out that they can’t reach Radcliffe’s coordinates. If they do this, it will split HYDRA’s forces. The only way to leave the world is to save it.
At the Bakshi News set, Sunil Bakshi is offering sexual favors to his makeup girl. Daisy blasts open the door and the team enters. Coulson hits him with a one-liner,
I heard you were looking for some enemies of the state?
They tie Bakshi up and start setting up the footage. Bakshi warns them that he will never slander HYDRA, so Daisy quakes him. He suggests they put it on the teleprompter and he will read it. Daisy tells him that they don’t need him to read a damn thing, because the facts will speak for themselves.
Fitz completes the hologram simulation of Project Looking Glass and tells the battered Ophelia. He tells her that he had his doubts, but they will fix her body. He asks that she takes him with you. She replies that she hoped he would say that.
May fixes Coulson’s tie, and remarks that she feels like they’ve done this before. Coulson says that he feels like déjà vu means they are on the right track. Daisy states that she is unable to block HYDRA’s signal once the broadcast starts, and says they will have to flip the switch and hope for the best. Ward grabs a gun and says that he will hold the HYDRA agents back. He knows he isn’t coming with when they leave, and he needs to prove to her that he isn’t the same Grant Ward they knew. He asks if he is locked up in the real world, and Daisy says no. He realizes that he’s dead. He asks if when they leave, he will get his Skye back. Daisy says she has no idea, but she is HYDRA. He laughs sadly and says every relationship has it’s ups and downs. She tells him that she never truly understood Ward until she met him in the Framework.
Again. S.H.I.E.L.D., I implore you. Stop making me care about Ward!
Alistair walks through the halls with Fitz and said that he was unable to beat information out of Radcliffe, but he did slip up. He shows Fitz video proof that he was conspiring with Daisy; they just need to know what they talked about. Problem is, Radcliffe is ready to die. Fitz says they will just need to give him a reason to live.
The team leave Ward in the Bakshi Report studio control room as Coulson sits behind the desk. He tells them the Patriot would be proud. Daisy wishes Ward good luck. Ward hits the switch, and Coulson starts his epic on-air speech as the world watches and HYDRA mobilizes.
As you all know, a HYDRA facility was destroyed yesterday. HYDRA told you that it was an act of terrorism. They told you that an Inhuman named The Patriot murdered civilians. What they told you was a lie. We’re gonna show you what really happened.
This footage was taken from the bodycam of a high-level HYDRA operative. HYDRA used this “Enlightenment Center” to brainwash anyone who dared question them. Jeffrey Mace saved these people, but HYDRA was willing to kill them just to maintain their lie.
Once you see this footage, the truth is undeniable. HYDRA doesn’t think we’re smart enough to know when we’re being fed “alternative facts” to keep us afraid. To keep them in power.
Remember: there are more of us then there are of them, and now that we know the truth, we have a choice to make. We all have the opportunity to be Patriots. Will you take a stand? Are you going to hold them accountable?
Throughout history, we have seen empires rise and fall. Even benevolent leaders shouldn’t have absolute power, and HYDRA was corrupt from the start. They were founded by the Nazis.
Burrows enters the control room and tells Ward that there are people outside. Ward cocks his gun. Burrows tells him they aren’t HYDRA – they appear to be there to help them fight. Coulson continues.
A wise man once told me that a person can do anything once they realize that they are a part of something bigger. It’s taken me a while to understand that.
For years, I was just a face in the crowd. A history teacher who spread HYDRA’s lies. They seemed too imposing for any one person to fight. But now I’m choosing to stand up. To become a part of something bigger. I really do believe that together, we can accomplish anything.
Because the truth is, I’m not just a history teacher. My name is Phil Coulson…
…and I’m an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
Damn Coulson. Standing ovation! And nice “alternative facts” joke. Coupled with last week’s “nevertheless, she persisted” and the prior week’s “make society great again”, I think the showrunners have a strong opinion on the current state of the world.
Guarding the machine being built, the Superior LMD takes a shot of vodka and sniffs an onion. He smashes the glass, saying its not the same. Aida tells him that the machine is almost done. He asks if their parameters will be lifted when the machine is built, and Aida gives him her word. He remarks that he is eager to kill Coulson. He tells her that the found the Zephyr One, where Simmons and Daisy are. As soon as they get a lock, they will shoot it out of the sky.
Why can’t S.H.I.E.L.D. ever win?
This was a great episode that feels like we’re approaching the endgame. Also, no one died! Yay!
I give this episode a 8/10. Stay tuned for next week!