Saturday, April 15, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 17: Identity And Change

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., AIDA reveals the truth about the Other Side to Fitz, we catch up with Mack and Mace, and May sees through Daisy's cover.

I don't know exactly when this week's episode was actually filmed, but I'd bet my house that it was sometime after Glorious Leader Trump took office. The version of America inside The Framework is a brutal police state that regularly rounds up illegal Inhumans and other undesirables. There's no way that wasn't intentional, and meant as a big middle finger to the current Washington regime.

Last week I noted that it seemed more than a bit kinky that Fitz was obsessed with AIDA inside The Framework, a virtual realm that reverses your greatest regret. Welp, it turns out I had that backwards! This week we find out that it's actually AIDA that's lusting after Fitz, keeping him close and filling his head with lies about Simmons and the "Other Side."

Unfortunately, I'm just not into this Framework storyline so far. There's nothing wrong with it per se
— it's well written and all, but for some reason it's
 just not engaging me like the Ghost Rider and LMD story arcs did. 

Maybe part of the problem is I'm kind of alt-universed out right now. Legends Of Tomorrow just did an alternate world two parter a couple weeks ago, and over on The Flash they've been visiting Earth-2 and other parallel worlds off and on all season. As much as I like such stories, there seem to be too many of them lately.

As I watched this episode I started thinking that if the writers can dredge up Grant Ward in The Framework, then Mockingbird and Hunter could return as well! Hey, why not? They probably weren't "discommendated" in the virtual world, so I don't see any reason why they couldn't come back. Unless of course Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood are still pissed at ABC for promising them their own show and then canceling it before it even began filming (twice!). Honestly I wouldn't blame them if that were the case.

So far there's still no word as to whether Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be renewed for a fifth season. There're only five episodes left in the season, so the fact that they haven't made an announcement yet is worrisome. Let's hope they renew it, because I don't want this Framework storyline to be the last.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Daisy explains to Coulson that he's been brainwashed and his mind is currently living inside the virtual world of The Framework. As an avid conspiracy theorist, he easily accepts this as fact. He says he's long suspected Hydra of putting mind control chemicals in his soap, which is why he now makes his own. Get used to these soap comments, because it becomes a running theme throughout the episode. 

Coulson's still not his old self though, as only parts of his memory have returned. Ward calls Daisy and warns her that Hydra suspects something's up with Coulson, and will be coming for him soon.

Meanwhile we catch up with Mack and see what he's doing in The Framework. He lives in his old house with his daughter Hope, who, in the real world, died just four days after she was born. Hope proudly shows Mack a drone she made. He's proud at first, then horrified when he sees she cannibalized an official Hydra drone for parts. He scolds her and says she needs to be more careful.

Later Mack takes Hope to her bus stop. A Hydra van arrives and begins checking I.D.s. Mack worries they're looking for Hope, due to the drone incident. He's relieved when an Inhuman in the crowd makes a run for it and is captured instead. Hooray! Someone else will be tortured instead of his daughter!

Daisy takes Coulson back to her apartment. Simmons is there as well, and they discuss whether they can trust Ward, and how to approach Fitz and restore his memory. Simmons mentions Radcliffe, which causes Coulson to perk up. He says Radcliffe's a famous scientist in The Framework, who's working on a way to cure Inhumanism. Unfortunately he disappeared several months ago (I guess time flows more quickly inside the virtual world?).

At Hydra Headquarters, Fitz visits Madame Hydra, aka AIDA. He's puzzled as to why she won't let him help track down the "Subversive," aka Simmons. AIDA's afraid if Fitz sees Simmons, the sight of her will cause his true personality to resurface. Oh, and she's also in love with Fitz and is batsh*t insane jealous. 

For some reason AIDA decides to show FIrz the surveillance footage of Simmons anyway. He gives the image of Simmons a long, hard look, but his personality remains unchanged. He tells AIDA that he'd "cross the universe for her," which of course is what he told Simmons back in the real world. He says the Subversive is as good as dead.

Daisy goes to the Triskelion to gather intel on Radcliffe (I guess computers only exist inside Hydra Headquarters?). She meets Ward there, who tells her she's crazy for coming back. As the two of them leave, Agent May appears and tells Daisy to come with her. She gives Ward a paper containing Radcliffe's coordinates, and tells him to give it to Simmons.

Simmons and Coulson meet up with a Resistance member and give him the proper password (which I guess Ward gave them?). He places hoods over their heads and takes them to the secret Resistance base, which of course is the abandoned underground S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters. There they meet Jeffrey Mace, aka the Patriot, aka the leader of the Resistance. He gives Simmons and Coulson a tour of the base, showing them a room full of Inhuman refugees they're sheltering from Hydra.

Ward arrives and gives Radcliffe's coordinates to Simmons. She notes that they're east of Bermuda, in an empty area of the ocean. Mace says he can't spare a team to find Radcliffe, so Simmons, Coulson and Ward volunteer. They board the Resistance's one and only Quinjet and head out to locate Radcliffe. Coulson begins having second thoughts, saying he's a teacher, not a spy. Simmons tells him he's exactly where he should be.

May takes Daisy (along with a squad of Hydra goons) and raids Mack's home. They take him and hope into custody.

Meanwhile, Fitz researches Simmons, and discovers she was executed at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy and shouldn't be alive. He questions AIDA about it. She tells him about the Other Side, the evil realm from which she escaped. She says Simmons came from the Other Side to destroy their way of life. That's why she ordered Fitz to begin working on "Project Looking Glass," a portal device (I guess?) that'll allow them to go to the Other Side and destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.

Back at Hydra, Daisy questions Hope, telling her not to worry. Hope makes Daisy promise not to let anything happen to her dad. May questions Mack, who says he and his daughter have done nothing wrong. He says he'd do anything to protect Hope, which causes May to smile evilly...

May exits the interrogation room, and asks Daisy if she got anything out of Hope. May leaves, and Daisy sneaks into Mack's
 room. He seems to recognize her, calling her Daisy Johnson and saying he knows they're both S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. She's relieved at first, but then realizes it's a trick— May forced him to pretend to know her so she'd let down her guard. Daisy runs out of the room and battles several Hydra grunts as she tries to escape. She almost makes it, but is eventually surrounded by an army of soldiers, led by May. They beat her into submission, in a pretty shocking scene.

Mack is reunited with Hope. He sees a beaten and bruised Daisy being dragged into the interrogation room. May thanks him for his service to Hydra. Mack shoots her a weak, "Hail Hydra," and hangs his head in shame.

Ward, Simmons & Coulson land on a small island. They find Radcliffe there playing croquet. He recognizes them, and says they shouldn't be here. He says AIDA killed him in the real world, and his consciousness now only exists in the Framework. He tells them they need to leave, but Simmons says they can't, as their "panic button" won't work. This worries Radcliffe, as he says that means AIDA's figured out their escape route, and there's now no way out of The Framework.

Suddenly the Hydra version of Zephyr One lands, and AIDA, Fitz and a squad of Hyrda soldiers exit. Radcliffe tells Ward and the others to hide. Radcliffe is angry with AIDA for turning The Framework, which was supposed to be a paradise, into a nightmare. She tells him never to call her AIDA, and rants about how in the real world he created her and then treated her like an object, turning her off when it was convenient for him and stuffing her in a closet. Yeah, that's... kind of what you do with a robot, right?

One of the Hydra grunts finds Agnes, the real-life woman who was the model for AIDA, and now exists only in The Framework. Fitz is amazed to see that Agnes looks just like AIDA. AIDA tells Fitz that Radcliffe's from the Other Side, and how he enslaved her there and plans to replace her with Agnes. When he hears this, Fitz coldly pulls out a gun and points it at Agnes' head.

Meanwhile, Ward has Fitz in his sniper rifle's sight. Simmons pleads with Ward not to kill Fitz, as she's in love with him in the real world, and if he's killed here, he'll be gone forever (wouldn't he just wake up like May did in the LMD storyline?).

Radcliffe tries to explain to Fitz that in the real world they're colleagues, and he considers him a son. He says Fitz is one of the good guys in the real world, and that AIDA's just a machine that's messing with his head
. Fitz says he knows exactly who he is and dispassionately shoots Agnes in the head. Simmons screams out in anguish at Fitz's actions, blowing their cover. There's a big shootout between Hydra and the Resistance, but Ward, Coulson & Simmons escape in their Quinjet.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward and the others brief Mace and explain what happened on the island. A couple of Resistance agents bring Mack to see Mace. Mack says for the first time in his life, he couldn't look his daughter in the face, and wants to help the Resistance any way he can.

Daisy sits in the corner of the interrogation room. She can hear Radcliffe being tortured next door. Fitz enters, and she weakly tries to get him to remember who he is. He tells her he's discovered she's a potential Inhuman, and prepares to torture her next.


• When Fitz says, "And believe me, we will defeat these terrorists, and we will make our society great again," it's hard not to think of a certain orange world leader. I'm sure that was the intent.

• Simmons and Coulson are taken to the Resistance base, which of course turns out to be S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. When Coulson asks about the base, Mace, the leader of the Resistance, says, "For about 70 years after World War II, nothing. No one even knew it was here. But then, a couple years back, a brave agent named Billy Koenig gave his life getting me the location. It's taken all that time just to get it operational again."

Apparently at least one of the Koenig brothers is "alive" in The Framework!

• When Coulson meets Mace, aka The Patriot, aka the Resistance leader, he becomes nervous and flustered, as he's meeting one of his personal heroes. Coulson says, "
Wow. I can't believe it's really you. The Patriot! The Inhuman leader of the Resistance. He's kind of a big deal!" He goes on to say, "Man, I dreamed about what your suit would look like. I made a few sketches, but this is actually way cooler!"

Note that this is all very similar to what he said to Captain America, when he first met him in The Avengers. I guess Coulson has a thing for patriotic superheroes.

• Does Mace have super strength inside The Framework? He's wearing his Patriot costume, so I'm assuming yes. If so, why would AIDA let him keep his powers? Daisy doesn't have hers.

• Agent Burrows is back as Mace's assistant in the Resistance. If you'll recall, in the real world Burrows constantly followed Mace around with a metal briefcase. The case of course contained the serum which gave Mace his powers. 

Burrows was killed when the Watchdogs detonated a bomb in Mace's Quinjet in The Patriot.

• At one point Fitz calls AIDA "Ophelia," which is apparently her preferred name inside The Framework. I'm assuming she named herself after Ophelia from Hamlet? If so, she must not have just skimmed the story, because things don't turn out so well for poor old Ophelia in Shakespeare's play.

Ophelia starts out OK, but she's constantly ordered around by her father, brother and boyfriend. Eventually this drives her nuts and she ends up drowning. Note that she doesn't kill herself, she just falls in the water and doesn't do anything to survive.

This actually fits fairly well with AIDA, as she makes several comments during the episode about how in the real world, Radcliffe "abused" her by keeping her in a closet and shutting her off when he didn't have need for her. Is this name some not-so-subtle foreshadowing on the part of the writers? I doubt AIDA's gonna drown, but I can definitely see her going mad (if she ain't already!).

"Get thee to a nunnery, AIDA!" (by the way, today I learned that the word "nunnery," which means "a building or convent where nuns live and work," used to mean "brothel" in Shakespearean times! Don't ask me how THAT change happened!)

• Here's a thought: Is AIDA, aka Madame Hydra, aka Ophelia, a living, breathing human here inside The Framework, or is she still an android? Does she still have the super strength she had in the real world? Could she still effortlessly snap someone's neck like she did to Agent Nathanson in the real world?

So far it's unclear, as all she's done so far in The Framework is stand around and look menacing. I'm assuming that since she longs to be human (as all androids do, dontcha know) and she can manipulate The Framework any way she wants, that she probably is a real person here. No doubt we'll find out for sure before the end of the season though.

• More evidence that AIDA might actually be real in The Framework: During her confrontaion with Radcliffe, he calls her "AIDA." She angrily replies, "Do not call me that here! "Aida" is an acronym. The "A" stands for "artificial!"

That sounds like something a person who's real and proud of it would say!

By the way, "AIDA" stands for Artificial Intelligence Data Analyzer. I can't remember if they've ever mentioned that on the show before or not.

• AIDA's talk of "another world" and sinister agents who live on "The Other Side" is very reminiscent of Fringe and its parallel world storyline from a few years back.

It's interesting that AIDA's not hiding the idea of another world from Fitz, and even tasked him with creating "Project Looking Glass" in order to travel there. She does distort the facts about the real world though, saying it's filled with people who want to destroy their way of life.

Also, now that AIDA's deactivated Daisy and Simmons' panic button, that would allow them to return to the real world, we now know how they'll manage to get back— by using Project Looking Glass! AIDA just inadvertently gave them a way home!

• At one point Daisy sneaks into Mack's interrogation room and is relieved when he seemingly knows she's really Daisy Johnson, and not Skye Nolastname. She's horrified though when she realizes Mack was just saying what May told him to say in order to save his daughter. 

I don't get this scene at all. If May already knows who Daisy really is, why force Mack into his little performance? Why trick her into admitting who she is? Why doesn't she just arrest her and be done with it?

• Speaking of Mack, when this storyline's over, will he want to return to the real world? His daughter Hope died just four days after she was born. He could experience an entire lifetime with her inside The Framework.

• Someone on the writing staff really, really likes Chopping Mall. This is the second time the 1986 movie's been mentioned this season.

By the way, does Mack really let Hope watch the movie? It's rated R, and contains lots of over the top violence and glorious 1980s female nudity. When Hope says she wants to watch Chopping Mall "again," he does say, "Okay, okay. But I'm still fast-forwarding through the bad parts." Still, it's probably not something I'd let a ten year old watch.

• I'm still trying to figure out if Simmons' Framework avatar is really dead or not. She definitely looks better in this episode than she did last week, but... she was shot twice in the chest and crawled out of a shallow mass grave, and in this episode Fitz tells AIDA, "Turns out your new subversive was executed at the Academy."

I really don't see any way that virtual Simmons can be anything but dead, and Jemma's really walking around inside an artificial corpse.

• So what's Yo-yo doing out in the real world while all this is going on? In Self Control, Simmons told her that they couldn't stay inside The Framework for long or their bodies would die, but she told her not to pull them out "without warning" or it could fry their minds. I guess she's just sitting beside Simmons and Daisy's motionless bodies, reading a book to pass the time?

• At the end of the episode, Mack's brought into S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters and tells Mace he wants to help take down Hydra.

How the hell did Mack know where to find the Resistance base? Burrows does tell Mace that, "A recon team found a civilian  (Mack) sniffing around one of our dead drops. He's got quite the story." OK, so how does he know about the "dead drops" then?

• This Week's Best Lines:

Daisy: (after telling Coulson he's living inside a virtual world) "I knew if anyone would understand, it'd be you."
Coulson: "I would've figured it out a long time ago if it wasn't for the mind-control soap."
Daisy: "Yeah. Wait. What?"

Coulson: "That blue soap everyone uses? Hydra loads it up with chemicals. It seeps into our bloodstream. Implants false memories into our brains. They want us to believe this is a magical place. But don't worry, I'm clear. I make my own soap now."

Coulson: (to Simmons) "Oh, hi. It's me again Phil Coulson. I called Hydra on you. My bad."

Simmons: "Water under the proverbial bridge. I'm so glad to see you, sir."
Coulson: "Apparently, in the real world, I have a robot hand. Pretty cool, right? "
Daisy: "And here, he makes his own soap."
Simmons: "How about that."
Coulson: "I do. You should too."

Coulson: "For the longest time, I just wanted someone to believe me and tell me I wasn't crazy."

Simmons: "You are not crazy."
Coulson: "I live alone and make my own soap."
Simmons: "Uh, It's quaint. Hipster, even."
(this concludes the episode's many soap jokes)

AIDA: "You'd really do anything for me, wouldn't you?"
Fitz: "I'd cross the universe for you."

(this of course echoes what Fitz told Simmons in Season 3, after literally traveling across the universe to rescue her on the planet Maveth)

Radcliffe: "Oh, Jemma, if only you knew the trials and tribulations I've endured."

Simmons: "I am fresh out of sympathy for liars who kidnap my friends and replace them with killer androids."

"The Fitz I knew nearly drowned for Jemma. He crossed the bloody universe to rescue her!"

(Radcliffe wasn't actually around when Fitz sort of drowned. I suppose Fitz could have told him about it though when they were "raising a pint" together)

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