Welcome back to the series where we recap the three complicated arcs of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4. We already covered the mystical inferno that was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Ghost Rider, and the paranoid technological conspiracy of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: LMD. The arc we will discuss today is the third and final arc, Agents of HYDRA.


Source: ABC. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “What If…”. ©2017 Marvel

As we left off, the team was trapped in The Framework, an advanced digital alternate reality created by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Dr. Leo Fitz and his girlfriend Dr. Jemma Simmons, and perfected and expanded through magical means using the mystical book The Darkhold by Dr. Holden Radcliffe and his android assistant, Aida. Simmons and her Inhuman colleague Daisy Johnson, a former vigilante known as Quake, enter the Framework to retrieve their friends – only to find that life here is not what it seems to be on the outside.

In the alternate universe, Daisy discovers that she doesn’t have Inhuman powers yet, her name is still her pseudonym ‘Skye’, and she hasn’t yet broken up with Grant Ward, her deceased-in-the-real-world ex-boyfriend who was a HYDRA traitor. Worse, she discovers she too works for HYDRA in this universe, and that HYDRA essentially rules the world in an anti-S.H.I.E.LD., anti-Inhuman dystopia. She does research and discovers that Simmons is dead. Her teammate (HYDRA in the Framework, S.H.I.E.L.D. in real life) Agent Melinda May summons her to a briefing, where her and Ward interrogate Resistance member Vijay Nadeer, who is using a false identity. Elsewhere, Simmons emerges from a S.H.I.E.L.D. mass grave and hails a car, only to be let out when it’s revealed she worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of HYDRA. She steals a HYDRA car and discovers that Director Phil Coulson is living under the identity of a high school history teacher, and she leaves to find him. She tries to convince Coulson the world they live in is a lie, and though he starts to believe her, he orders her out of his classroom. Daisy witnesses as the HYDRA mad scientist The Doctor (who is actually Fitz) conducts experiments on Vijay before she is called to capture a subversive, who she notices is Simmons. She meets up with Simmons and Ward reveals he is part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Resistance. They escape, and Daisy and Simmons try using their beacon to extract them from the Framework, only to discover it’s been reprogrammed by Aida, who is living in the Framework as Ophelia Sarkissian, Fitz’s girlfriend and the HYDRA head “Madame Hydra.” Coulson meets up with Daisy and reveals that he is starting to remember the real world.

Simmons, Daisy and Coulson discover that Radcliffe is still alive in the Framework, and decide to find him to help them escape. Daisy goes to HYDRA for more information while Simmons and Coulson enter the S.H.I.E.L.D. secret base The Playground and meet their leader Jeffrey Mace, an Inhuman named The Patriot and one of their friends from the real world, and his right-hand man Agent Burrows, who is dead in the real world. They decide to fly to Ogygia, where Radcliffe lives with his girlfriend Agnes Kitsworth, another real consciousness who was uploaded into the Framework before dying in the real world. “Mack” Mackenzie, another team member trapped in the Framework, is living a calm, normal life with his daughter Hope, who didn’t die in this world and is 10 years old with a passion for robotics. She steals a HYDRA drone for parts, but she decides to take it back after school so she isn’t arrested. However, her and Mack are arrested by a S.T.R.I.K.E. team led by Daisy and May. May and Ophelia use Mack to trick Daisy into admitting she is working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and she is arrested before Mack and Hope are set free. Simmons, Ward and Coulson arrive on Ogygia but are told by Radcliffe that there are no other exits. They hide as Ophelia and Fitz arrive and confront Radcliffe about the team escaping. Radcliffe tries to convince Fitz that’s he’s a good person in the real world, but Fitz kills Agnes to prove him wrong. Simmons screams alert HYDRA to their presence, and they barely escape. Radcliffe is taken to a cell adjacent to Daisy. Mack joins the S.H.I.E.L.D. Resistance.

Fitz discusses his regrets over killing Agnes with his father Alistair, who is present in his life in the Framework and drove him to be the asshole he is today. Alistair convinces him that regret is for women. After he tortures Daisy, Ophelia offers her the chance to live within the Framework with her memory wiped and her ex-boyfriend Lincoln Campbell restored to life. Daisy refuses and Ophelia leaves. Radcliffe tells Daisy that Fitz killed Agnes, and then reveals he did secretly build a backdoor to the Framework and tells her where. Simmons tells Mace that he is living in a simulation, and he doesn’t believe her, ordering Ward to keep an eye on her. Mack fixes an old radio and discovers intel on a “HYDRA Enlightenment Center”, and Mace, Coulson, Simmons and Ward leave to break out a prisoner. Fitz gives May a temporary dose of super-soldier serum, which is a copy of the Patriot serum from the real world. She flies to the Enlightenment Center to fight the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. S.H.I.E.L.D. breaks Antoine “Trip” Triplett out of the Center, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is long-dead in the real world. They attempt to evacuate the students being brainwashed in the Center when May bombs it with a HYDRA Quinjet on Fitz and Ophelia’s orders. May enters to confirm the death of Mace, but  has a change of heart when she finds the Center full of kids and S.H.I.E.L.D. helping them evacuate. May allows the agents to escape as Mace stays behind and is crushed to death under the rubble, ensuring all the kids are evacuated safely. May sneaks a Terrigen crystal into Daisy’s cell and breaks it, unlocking her Inhuman abilities. In the real world, at the oil platform where she is keeping the team in the Framework, Aida is surprised to see Mace’s vitals flat-lining.

Daisy emerges from her Terrigen cocoon with all her Quake powers, and her and May fight their way out of the HYDRA headquarters the Triskelion. They are stopped by Ophelia, but Daisy quakes through the window and she falls several stories, crippling her. They make their way to a S.H.I.E.L.D. extraction point. In the real world, Aida is stunned that May would betray her, but she and her assistant “The Superior” Anton Ivanov are programmed to be unable to intentionally kill the team as they are in the Framework. In the Framework, Trip, Ward, Mack, Simmons and Coulson find out via a HYDRA news broadcast (led by deceased-in-the-real-world HYDRA agent Sunil Bakshi) that Ophelia was attacked and Daisy and May escaped. Fitz leads HYDRA while Ophelia recovers and orders a broadcast of the identity of Daisy and May. Alistair tells him that they have been spotted and a HYDRA team is after them. The injured Ophelia asks Fitz to build their secret project, Project Looking Glass, instead of looking for Daisy personally. Daisy and May fight off the HYDRA team and are extracted by Burrows, Coulson and Mack. Daisy confirms to S.H.I.E.L.D. that Simmons stories of the world being fake are true. Fitz explodes on Alistair for letting the agents escape, and Alistair takes out his rage by beating Radcliffe. He discovers that Radcliffe and Daisy spoke before she escaped. S.H.I.E.L.D. breaks into the HYDRA newstation and holds Bakshi hostage. Coulson takes over the broadcast and reveals HYDRA’s lies, showing May’s body-cam footage of Mace dying saving kids. Fitz finishes work on Project Looking Glass.

Aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. jet Zephyr One in the real world, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Agent Piper, Agent Prince, Agent Davis and “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez are forced to turn off the cloaking in order to keep Daisy and Simmons alive while in the Framework. Ivanov discovers their location and makes plans to shoot the plane down. In the Framework, Simmons tells Daisy that Project Looking Glass is to build Ophelia/Aida a flesh-and-blood body in the real world. Daisy tells Simmons that a backdoor was built. Deciding they are unable to save Fitz at the moment, they make plans to return Coulson, May and an unaware Mack to the real world with them. Fitz interrogates Radcliffe about what he told Daisy, but he refuses to cooperate, stating he has nothing to live for now that Agnes is dead. Fitz offers him immortal life in the real world again with Project Looking Glass. Simmons learns from May that Alistair is the reason Fitz is a monster, and interrupts Daisy’s plans by leaving to find him. Simmons tries to force Alistair into coercing Fitz to cooperate, but they fight and Simmons ends up accidentally killing Alistair while Fitz hears over the phone. Fitz swears to get revenge on Simmons. Ophelia begins to build herself a body in the real world. Mack, Trip, Coulson, May, Simmons and Daisy arrive at the steel mill that serves as the coordinates for the backdoor, but find that Aida has built a molten steel smelting vat over the portal. Daisy uses her powers to uncover the portal, and Coulson goes to jump in. He is shot several times by HYDRA agents, but manages to fall into the portal and wakes up in the real world unscathed. May follows him. Fitz and Radcliffe arrive at the mill, and Fitz shoots Simmons for killing his dad. Radcliffe disarms Fitz and throws him through the portal, and Simmons follows. Mack realizes he has been deceived into leaving the world, and refuses to leave because his daughter is dead in the real world. Daisy jumps through without him. In the real world, at the oil platform, Coulson and May try to calm Fitz who is having a panic attack, horrified that he killed Mace and Agnes. Aida arrives in her newly created human body, grabs Fitz and teleports away with former S.H.I.E.LD. antagonist Gordon’s Inhuman powers that she acquired from HYDRA testing in the Framework. The Zephyr is attacked by Ivanov’s men.

Coulson and May are confronted by Ivanov, who can now kill them and tries to do so with an army of clone androids. Coulson locks them out and briefs May on everything that happened since she was kidnapped in the first arc Ghost Rider. Aboard the Zephyr, the agents are able to restore powers to their weapons now that Simmons and Daisy are awake. They destroy Ivanov’s airship before it can destroy theirs. They fly to the oil platform to rescue the others, but Yo-Yo blames Daisy for not rescuing her boyfriend Mack. Simmons and Daisy learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. is considered dangerous by the authorities (again) and that S.H.I.E.L.D. ally Brigadier General Glenn Talbot suspects Daisy in the destruction of The Playground. Aida teleports Fitz to a beach to enjoy the sensations in her new human body, and then takes him to a recreation of their Framework apartment. Fitz tries to hold her accountable for the things she did in the Framework, but she is unconvinced that she did anything wrong. He tries to get Aida to rescue his teammates from the oil platform. At the platform, Ivanov blows up the base and escapes with his submarine. Coulson and May escape as Daisy, Simmons, Piper, Prince, Davis and Yo-Yo arrive, but they were unable to save Mack, who is still unconscious and strapped into the Framework underwater. Aida teleports in with Fitz and saves Mack before Simmons shoots them both with an I.C.E.R. tranquilizer and they are held in a containment module. They return to the ruined Playground, and Fitz and Aida are put in the containment chamber. Talbot arrives with the U.S. Army and interrogates Coulson and Daisy. As Simmons listens in on their conversation, Fitz admits he thinks he ruined his future with Simmons but he still loves her and has no feelings for Aida. This drives Aida insane, and she attacks Fitz and tries to escape with him, forcing him to live with her whether he wants to or not. Piper, Davis and Prince rescue Fitz, but Aida destroys the teleportation dampeners with Lincoln’s electricity powers and teleports away, killing Prince, Davis and many of Talbot’s men. She reveals a third power: She is unable to be injured. S.H.I.E.L.D. escapes and leaves Talbot behind, and Fitz and Simmons are reunited. They discover Yo-Yo plugged herself into the Framework to save Mack, where she is strapped to a gurney in a burning building. Aida returns to Ivanov’s submarine and the two plan for world domination using the Darkhold to make S.H.I.E.L.D. (especially Fitz) suffer. At the ruins of the Playground, the Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes returns from an inter-dimensional portal to Hell.

Ghost Rider steals his car The Hell Charger from a S.H.I.E.L.D. lockup and drives it to where Aida and the Ivanov androids are holding the Darkhold. He destroys the androids but is only able to injure the now-human Aida before she escapes, noticing that she doesn’t recover from Hellfire burns. Coulson, Fitz and Simmons try to figure out how to kill Aida while Daisy monitors Yo-Yo and Mack’s vitals. She realizes that Aida is shutting down the Framework piece-by-piece, and sends Radcliffe to protect Yo-Yo in the Framework. In the Framework, Radcliffe arrives and frees Yo-Yo, taking her to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Playground. Talbot tells Coulson he is attending an international committee and asks Coulson to explain himself there, but Coulson refuses to endanger them. Daisy finds Ghost Rider and he tells her that he was able to injure Aida, who will be attending the committee. At the committee, one of the androids of Daisy shoots Talbot in the head before S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives. They steal the Darkhold and kill the androids, but Aida escapes. Talbot survives because of the metal plate in his head, but is in a coma. At the Playground, Aida teleports in and confronts Fitz and Simmons, and threatens to kill Simmons if Fitz doesn’t choose her. Fitz chooses Aida but she brutally kills Simmons anyway and teleports away to find Coulson, who has the Darkhold. Coulson distracts Aida as Simmons guns her down, revealing that the Simmons she killed was only an android. Aida taunts them, saying they can’t kill her, but Coulson proves her wrong by transforming into Ghost Rider. They fight and Coulson burns Aida to death. In the Framework, as the world is disappearing, Yo-Yo is unable to convince Mack to return with her. Yo-Yo and Radcliffe take Mack and Hope to the exit point, and Yo-Yo accidentally reveals to Hope that she isn’t real. Radcliffe is dead in the real world and can’t return, but Mack refuses to leave without his daughter and Yo-Yo refuses to leave without Mack. They sit down and resolve to die in the vanishing world, when Hope disappears. Heartbroken and sobbing, Mack and subsequently Yo-Yo return to the real world. Radcliffe sits on the beach and toasts to his creation before he too vanishes as the world is destroyed. In the real world, Mack tells Yo-Yo he wants to start a family. Coulson returns the Spirit of Vengeance to Robbie Reyes, and S.H.I.E.L.D. gives him the Darkhold. Ghost Rider returns to Hell with the book. After learning the authorities are coming after them for Talbot’s shooting, Fitz offers to stay behind. The team refuses and they all go to a diner to be caught together. A mysterious organization approaches them at the diner and freezes time. An unspecified amount of time later, Coulson wakes up aboard a space-station.

That’s it. That’s seriously how the season ends.

Now stick around for Part IV of my three-part series where I discuss my ratings for the season’s individual episodes and as a whole.