Friday, April 21, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 18: No Regrets

This week in a jam-packed Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., an old favorite character makes a surprising return, a new character makes a shocking exit, we meet a member of Fitz's family and The Framework story arc finally starts picking up steam.

There're so many events and ideas crammed into this episode that's it's hard to know where to begin.

Last week I said this Framework story arc was OK, but so far just wasn't doing much for me. That all changed this week! In this episode the storyline's finally jump started, as it gains a brand new urgency. It's about time!

Due to a timely reference on the show last week, I wondered just when this current crop of episodes was actually filmed. Well, now we have a clue. This week's episode contains a blatant reference to the "Nevertheless, she persisted" incident involving Senator Elizabeth Warren back in February of this year. 

Apparently the answer as to when these episodes were filmed is "sometime between February and now!" That's a pretty quick turnaround!

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!

We got the surprising return of Trip this week, as well as our first ever look at Fitz's long-lost father. Odd that the first time we see actually Alistair Fitz on the show, he's not even a real person!

This week cracks begin to appear in Agent May's steely exterior, as she begins to question Hydra and her place in the organization. Eh, I felt that her sudden
 change of heart seemed awfully abrupt and unearned. 

For the past two episodes she's been marching around like an SS officer, then suddenly this week she sees a couple kids in danger and does a complete 180Âș turn. I suppose part of her turn could be chalked up to the shock of the situation causing her to remember the real world and her real self. Still, it seemed a bit too quick. I guess that's only natural though, as the season (and possibly the series) is rushing to its conclusion.

We got to see The Patriot go out like the true hero he always wanted to be, in a surprisingly touching scene.

TV shows don't get much better than this, guys. It's a shame more people aren't watching. Actually I'm kind of worried that the series isn't going to be renewed for a fifth season. See, this fall ABC plans to air an Inhumans TV series, but rumor has it it'll be completely separate from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continuity. 


That seems odd (and a bit of a slap in the face), as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been featuring and setting up the concept of Inhumans for the past three seasons.

The fact that this new series has nothing to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't bode well for the future. It's be really confusing if they had TWO different series about completely unrelated and contradictory groups of Inhumans. I'm afraid ABC's gonna scuttle the show so it doesn't step on their fancy new series. Hopefully I'm wrong.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Coulson and Mace stage a car crash on the route of a Hydra prisoner transport bus. Coulson believes they're attempting to rescue Daisy, but Mace says he's hoping to acquire a more important prisoner. When the bus stops, Coulson and Mace dispatch the drivers. They search the bus, but all they find are corpses in body bags. Fortunately Daisy's not among them. They commandeer the bus and return to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ.

At Hydra, Fitz interrogates Daisy. He says he knows she's from the Other Side and somehow replaced the "real Skye" as part of a plot to take over the world. Daisy realizes these are the lies AIDA's been feeding him. Fitz tells her she won't succeed, as he and AIDA plan to go to the Other Side and conquer it.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Mace tells Mack to switch the plates on the Hydra bus and wipe its GPS. He wants to use it to rescue an important operative with valuable info from a Hydra "Enlightenment Center." Mace and Ward don't quite trust Simmons, so they sit her down for a talk. She tells them about The Framework, and how nothing inside it is real. She says Mace is wasting his time and risking his life on pointless missions that don't matter in the real world. Mace refuses to believe this, saying he has an entire past that he remembers, and every mission he goes on is important. After Simmons leaves, Mace orders Ward to investigate her story and find out if she's lying or not.

AIDA tells May they have a weapon that may be able to defeat Mace, aka the Patriot. She warns May that there may be risks, but she volunteers anyway. May reports to a Hydra doctor, who tells her he's created a super-soldier serum (which is likely the same one that Calvin Zabo, aka Mr. Hyde, aka Daisy's dad used in the real world). May notices there are Terragen crystals in the lab (Plot Point Alert!. The doctor assures her the serum is non-Terragen based, and injects her. She grimaces in pain as the serum takes effect. The doctor tells her she'll now have super strength for about an hour.

AIDA meets with Daisy, who asks why she would make such a hellish virtual world. AIDA says all she did was remove one regret from every person hooked to The Framework, and the resulting world is a natural extrapolation of that. She tells the beaten and tortured Daisy she can make all her pain go away. All she has to do is tell her where she is in the real world, and she can live out the rest of her life peacefully inside The Framework with her ex, Lincoln. For a moment Daisy actually looks like she's considering the offer.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson volunteers to go with Mace to rescue the important operative. Simmons is reunited with Mack, who doesn't remember his life in the real world. He introduces her to his daughter Hope. Simmons watches Mack interact with Hope, and smiles. Ward asks her if she still believes they're all nothing but ones and zeroes. He asks her why she dislikes him so much, and she tells him it's because he's a murdering psycho. He apologizes to her for whatever happened in the real world.

At Hydra, Fitz meets with his father Alistair, who's alive and well inside The Framework. It doesn't take long to realize he's a horrible bastard, and the reason Fitz is a Bond villain in the virtual world. Fitz tells Alistair about killing Agnes last week, and wonders if it was necessary. Alistar berates Fitz, saying that's his mother talking, and Hydra doesn't have the luxury of sympathy. He then tells Fitz about a security breach in Project Looking Glass (Another Plot Point!), which will become important in a few minutes.

Daisy hears Radcliffe sobbing in the next cell. She says she has no sympathy for him, since he created The Framework in the first place. He tells her it wasn't supposed to be like this. He tells her there's a secret back door out of The Framework, one that AIDA doesn't know about.

Coulson drives the stolen bus to the Hydra Enlightenment Center. A suspicious guard inspects the bus, and finds a body bag in the back. Mace pops out of the bag and punches the guard. They infiltrate the building, and find a room full of people locked in small cages. Mace breaks them out, and we see one of the people is Antoine Triplett, aka Trip, who died in the real world back in Season 2!

Here in The Framework, Trip is a member of the Resistance, working for Mace. He infiltrated Hydra and took photos of something called Project Looking Glass (told you it would become important!). Trip hid the film in his boots, and begins searching for them. He finally finds them on a dead Hydra goon and recovers the film.

Coulson sees a Hydra classroom full of kids who're being "reeducated," Clockwork Orange-style. He spots two of his former students in the class, including Burnell (the kid who loaned Simmons his car in What If...). He tells Trip to go on, as he's going to stay behind and rescue the kids. Outside, Trip hands the film over to Mace, and tells him Coulson stayed behind. Mace gives the film to Burrows (Um... where'd he come from? Was he in one of the body bags too?) and tells him to get it back to S.H.I.E.L.D. on the double.

Burrows radios S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and tells Ward that Mace needs backup. Ward mobilizes a team, including Mack. Simmons sees Mack with Hope, and realizes that virtual world or not, she doesn't want anything to take him away from his daughter. She volunteers to go in his place.

Mace heads back to the building to help Coulson, but is attacked by Super May. They have a brutal fight that eats up several minutes of screentime. Mace asks her why she's attacking, and she calls him a terrorist and a thug. Eventually Mace defeats Super May, and heads into the Enlightenment Center. May radios Hydra and tells them Mace got away. AIDA orders a Hydra Quinjet to open fire on the building, and bring her the body of Mace.

Inside, Coulson and Trip free the kids. A few of them get out before the Quinjet attacks the building, bringing half of it down. May runs into the building and sees kids struggling to get out of the collapsing building. She's shocked that Hydra would deliberately murder kids in order to terminate Mace. Ward and Simmons arrive, and also rush into the weakened building.

Inside they see Coulson, Trip and Mace trying to rescue the last of the kids. A beam falls from the ceiling, and Mace jumps under it, saving one of the kids from being crushed. May enters and tells them all to stop, but Coulson angrily tells her to snap out of it. He and Trip pull the kid from the rubble, and then try to rescue Mace. He tells them there's no time left, and to get out of the building. They all flee, except for May, who stays behind for a few seconds. She and Mace exchange meaningful looks, as she realizes he's not a thug after all, but a hero. She runs from the building. Coulson and the others load the kids onto their stolen bus. They hear a rumble, and turn the see the building collapse into rubble. The Patriot is dead, but he finally died being the hero he never got to be in reality.

Back in the real world, AIDA reviews the row of captive S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hooked up to The Framework. She notices Mace's vital signs have flatlined, and shuts off his monitor. Just like Freddy Krueger's dreamworld, when you die in The Framework, you die for real.

Later, May visits Daisy in her cell. She asks if it's true that she's an Inhuman. Daisy tells her if she had her powers, she could bring down the whole Triskelion. May says, "I hope so," and throws a Terragen crystal at Daisy's feet. The gas escapes and encases Daisy in a cocoon as she smiles.

Thoughts:
• The second that Mace started infodumping his backstory to Simmons, I should have known his number was up. That's the same trick The Walking Dead uses on practically a weekly basis. Secondary character suddenly starts telling someone their life story? BOOM! They're walker food by the third act!


• Now that I think about it, was there any reason why Mace constantly wore his Patriot costume inside The Framework? He's the leader of an underground resistance in the virtual world, so one would think he'd want to keep a low profile. Kind of hard to do when you're wearing a faux Captain America suit!

• At Hydra HQ, Agent May stops to stare meaningfully at a plaque dedicated to the those who died in the Cambridge Incident. 

This seems to be the event that destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. and allowed Hydra to rise to power inside The Framework. The Cambridge Incident occurred because in the virtual world, May didn't kill Katia, the Inhuman girl she encountered in Bahrain several years ago.

I looked closely at the names listed on the plaque, but I don't recognize any of them. If I had to guess, I'd say they're probably all names of producers, crew members and even friends and family of whoever made the plaque.

One last thing about this plaque— the text isn't laid out very well. The first line ends with "The," and then line two starts with "Cambridge Incident." Nope! In typography you never want to separate a name like that, and should always keep it on the same line if possible. There's more than enough room to move "The" down and keep "The Cambridge Incident" all on one line.

I realize this is some pretty hardcore nitpicking, but graphic design is what I do for a living, so it drives me nuts when I see bad typography like this.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets very philosophical this week, as it examines the metaphysics of The Framework. Simmons constantly dismisses the lives and loves of the virtual people surrounding her, saying they're not real, and don't matter. Ward disagrees after watching Mack dote on his daughter Hope. He challenges Simmons' attitude, noting that the love Mack feels for his daughter is real, even if she isn't.

It's an interesting idea, and one that Simmons seems to start accepting by the end of the episode.

• The series also gets surprisingly political this week, as The Framework is filled with thinly disguised issues and references to the current inhabitant of the White House (or more accurately, Mar-s-Lago).

For example, Hydra runs several brainwashing facilities, that it tastefully dubs "Enlightenment Cultivation Centers." This is reminiscent of our the current leadership, who drafted a Muslim Travel Ban that they insist isn't really a travel ban and doesn't target Muslims. Or the failed Affordable Care Act replacement that they honest-to-god called "World's Greatest Healthcare Plan Of 2017." It's doubleplus ungood!

Later on Simmons and Mack flip through Hope's Hydra-approved history book. Mack says, "Hydra had a plan. I'll give them that. Scare everyone, take over the media, rewrite history. You know what's not in that book? The Trail of Tears. The Holocaust. Martin Luther King Jr." Simmons replies, "I can't believe it. The blatant lies, the complete disregard for historical or scientific fact." 

This is most definitely a nod to our nation's recent puzzling attitude toward science, in which the public disregards proven fact when it interferes with their personal beliefs. 

Lastly, after Fitz finishes his torture of Daisy, he reports to AIDA. He seems almost impressed with Daisy's resolve as he says, "Beaten to within an inch of her life. Nevertheless, she persisted."

This is a direct shoutout to February of this year, when Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to give a speech criticizing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Warren was interrupted and silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” said McConnell. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

If you've ever sat down in front of your TV on a Tuesday night and thought, "Say, I wonder what the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. writers think of Donald Trump and his administration?" you need look no further than this episode.

• A couple of old Hydra agents get name-dropped in this episode. Hope's history book features a chapter all about Daniel Whitehall. Long time viewers will recognize his name— he was a Nazi officer in WWII who became a prominent leader of Hydra. He was captured by the Strategic Science Reserve (the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D.) in 1945. He was sprung from prison by Hydra operatives in 1989, and used organs and DNA from Jiaying (Daisy's mom) to de-age himself. He was killed by Coulson in the Season 2 episode What They Became.

Later at the Enlightenment Center, Coulson makes small talk with a guard and says, "How about that story on Bakshi News the other day?" Once inside the Cener, he finds a room full of students being brainwashed by a recording of Bakshi's soothing voice.

Sunil Bakshi was also a member of Hydra, and Whitehall's right hand man, helping him retrieve the Obelisk. He was later kidnapped by Evil Ward and brainwashed (ironic!) into working for him! Bakshi was killed by Simmons in the Season 2 episode The Dirty Half Dozen.

• Radcliffe explains the underlying principle of The Framework to Daisy, saying, "An entire life, an entire personality, can be permanently altered by just one sentence."

Eh, I dunno about that. I agree your life can be altered by one sentence. Sometimes even one word ("GUILTY!"). But your entire personality? I don't think so.

Of course this is the reasoning the show's using for Fitz's transformation into a supervillain. I just like to think that it takes more than a few words to switch someone from good to evil.

• At first glance, it seemed like serum that Hydra gave May was probably the equivalent of the one the Patriot used in the real world. But I'm ninety nine percent positive it's actually the one that Calvin Zabo used a couple seasons ago to become Mr. Hyde.

Too bad they didn't give May the "Cro Magnon" brow they applied to Kyle MacLachlan's head when he played Hyde!

• Dear god, could Fitz's dad possibly be more of a miserable, conniving, manipulative asshole? No wonder poor Fitz turned evil. Kudos to actor David O'Hara for playing such an evil, evil character so well.

• Fitz tells Daisy that he and AIDA are going to enter the real world and destroy it. That'll be quite a trick! There are only like six real people inside it, and only two of them (Fitz and May) work for Hydra. Everyone else in The Framework is a simulation! Surely they can't enter the real world? Is AIDA planning on taking over the real world with an "army" of two?

• I was not expecting to ever see Trip on the show again, so his return this week inside The Framework was a welcome surprise. 

So how do you suppose Trip can exist in The Framework? It's unlikely Radcliffe programmed him into it, as I don't think the two ever met. Maybe The Framework scans the minds of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hooked up to it, and populates it with people from their minds, living and dead?

So far we've seen the return of both Ward and Tripp. We'd better freakin' see Mockingbird and Hunter return before the season's over, or I'm gonna be pissed!

• Inside the Hydra "Enlightenment Center," Coulson finds a classroom full of kids being brainwashed by some kind of hypnotic A couple things here:

When Coulson looked at the screen, for a second I was afraid he was gonna get brainwashed as well!

Secondly, there's no way in hell that putting a piece of tape on your forehead and cheeks will prevent you from closing your eyes. Go on, try it for yourself! You don't even have to use tape, just place your fingers above and below your eyes in the approximate positions of those strips of tape. Can you close your eyes? Of course you can! Maybe this is some kind of magic Hydra® Brand Hypno Tape? 

Even if the tape does keep the kids' eyes open, couldn't they just look slightly to either side to avoid seeing the screen?

• Man, that fight between Mace and Super May was brutal! Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had top notch fights and stunts, and this episode was no exception. Way to go, stunt team!

I was especially wowed when Mace through Super May halfway through abrick wall. Ouch! Of course I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out that this should have paralyzed May. Sure, the Hydra serum gave her super strength, but it's unlikely it hardened her bones. They should be just as breakable as they've always been. 

• I was sorry to see Mace go, but hey, at least he died being the hero he always wanted to be, but could never quite become in the real world. Does the fact that he died saving a bunch of kids who don't exist in the first place diminish his sacrifice? I don't think so! Real or not, he died saving them, and as Ward said, isn't that the same thing?

 When Mace dies, Simmons looks like she's on the verge of tears. Does she finally get it? Does she realize that Framework Lives Matter just as much as those in the real world? Or did she just realize that Mace is now dead for real? A bit of both?

• Just how much control does AIDA have over The Framework? If she sees that Daisy's regained her powers, couldn't she just reboot her avatar and remove them?

We should probably toss questions like this in the "Don't Think About It Too Hard" file.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Simmons: "Did you find Daisy?"
Coulson: "No, just a bus full of dead bodies."
Simmons: "Binary ones and zeroes can't die, nor do they feel the cold!"
Coulson: "Maybe we keep that part between us."

Coulson: (asking Simmons about Ward) "Okay, I got to ask. What is it about that guy Every time I see him, I get this weird itch, like hives."
(This is of course a reference to Season 3, in which Ward was possessed by an alien that called itself "Hive." Comedy ahoy!)

Coulson: (still talking about Ward) "Did we get along?"
Simmons: "Well, you crushed his chest with your cybernetic arm and left him for dead on an alien planet, so no."

May: I was told R&D has a new weapon, something that could take down the Patriot."
Doctor: "Ah, yes. Oh, no, it's not exactly a weapon, but it can make you into one."
May: "Steroids?"
Doctor: "Oh, no, not just any steroids. Augmented strength serum. The effects of which are very potent, although temporary."
May: "It's not Terrigen-based, is it?"
Doctor: "Oh, no. No, no, no. This is made from various metabolic enhancers, gorilla testosterone, even a dash of peppermint. The point is, one dose, you will have the Patriot begging for his life."


Simmons: (to Mace) "No one wants to hear they're just an avatar in a digital prison, but sometimes that happens, and here we are."

Mace: "In the the real world, how well do we know each other? Are we friends?"
Simmons: "More like coworkers. But I do think of you in a friendly way."
Mace: "Where am I from?"
Simmons: "Excuse me?"
Mace: "In your world, where am I from?"
Simmons: "Uh, I'm not sure. The midwest?"
Mace: "Well, am I married? Do I have kids? Any siblings? Hobbies? Do I cook?"
Simmons: "Where are you going with this?"
Mace: "You don't know me at all."
Simmons: "Not well enough, apparently."
Mace: "I'm from Brooklyn, son of a plumber, played baseball in college and guitar, can't carry a tune. I say "soda," not "pop," and I like my barbecue sweet, not spicy. Never been married or had kids, but in the last five years, I've buried seventeen of my closest friends and family. Some of them died right in my arms believing they were fighting for something real, stopping hate. And you're telling me it's meaningless?

Fitz: "Lies. That's all she gave us. Beaten to within an inch of her life. Nevertheless, she persisted."

Coulson: "This is Jemma Simmons."
Mack: "Ah, it's good to meet you. This little girl right here, this is my daughter, Hope."
Simmons: "It's lovely to meet you, Hope."
Hope: "Nice to meet you, British lady."

Mace: "Coulson, you got a second? Pulled this I. D. off one of the bus crew. Should get you past the gate. Ward just had to swap the photo, change the name."

Coulson: "Jamie Flugelman?"
Mace: "Well, it's the only one he could clear from Hydra's database, so mount up, Flugelman!"

Hydra Guard: "Flugelman?"

Coulson: "It's Canadian."

Radcliffe: (explaining The Framework to Daisy) "Aida changed him."

Daisy: "She said she took away one regret. One regret can't change an entire life. It doesn't change who you are."
Radcliffe: "Of course it can. One person in your life, one decision, one sentence has the power to change you forever."
Daily: "One sentence?"
Radcliffe: "Yeah, that's right. One single sentence like 'I love you,' or, 'We're having a baby,' or, uh, 'She's gone."
Daisy: "I just I didn't think Fitz was capable of doing something like that."
Radcliffe: "Oh, my dear. Depending on the circumstances, anyone is capable of anything. Just look around."

Alistair: "So, what's this about a woman?"

Fitz: "Someone I had to kill."
Alistair: "Had to? You mean in self-defense?"
Fitz: "No, she was unarmed."
Alistair: "Was she an enemy of the state?"
Fitz: "Yeah. I believe she was."
Alistair: "So what's the problem?"
Fitz: "What if I didn't need to kill her? What if maybe she wasn't lying or maybe she was mentally ill or something?"
Alistair: "What if? Maybe? Now, that's your mother talking. "
Fitz: "Sorry, father."
Alistair: "There she is again. Listen, son, I don't know a thing about what you do here, the science, but I know that it's important, and I know the man I raised. Not a coward, but a man of action, a great man in a hard world. And in a hard world, we cannot afford the luxury of what?"
Fitz: "The luxury of sympathy."
Alistair: "Exactly. We don't buckle to guilt or womanly sentiment. Everyone needs the strap across their back now and again. Teaches respect. You know that. You've felt it. And look where it's gotten you. You're protecting the human race, and the only other person who understands the weight of that is Ophelia. Madame Hydra. And you love her, don't you?" Fitz: "Honestly don't know what kind of man I'd be without you, father."
Alistair: "That's why I'm here, son."
(This chilling look into Fitz's family life perfectly explains why he's such a cold, heartless supervillain in The Framework, and how reversing his biggest regret— never knowing his father— completely changed him for the worse)

Bakshi: (as a voice in the "Enlightenment Center") "
Take a deep breath. Calm your mind. You know what is best. What is best is you comply. Compliance will be rewarded. Surrender, and you will find meaning. Surrender, and you will find release. Take a deep breath. Calm your mind. You know what is best. What is best is you comply. Compliance will be rewarded. Surrender, and you will find meaning. Burnell? Surrender, and you will find release."

2 comments:

  1. This episode just aired in the UK.
    So Burrows. Is the US airing cut for time? After Patriot knocked out the Hydra guard, Burrows pops out of his bag, readies weapons and there is a dialog exchange between him and Mace. You could not have missed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, you're right! I just went back and rewatched that part and he was there all along! Not sure how I missed that. I wrote the review a few days after I saw the episode, so I guess I slept a few times in between.

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