Saturday, April 29, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 19: All The Madame's Men

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the pieces are all falling into place as we can begin to see AIDA's endgame.

We also get the return of yet another long-dead character inside The Framework, as Sunil Bakshi pops up as a propaganda-slinging Bill O'Reilly TV blowhard.

And we finally find out just what Project Looking Glass really does, as the writers may have just revealed how they plan bring back an old character for good!


The Plot:

We’re still inside The Framework this week. We see Sunil Bakshi, who hosts his own propaganda-spewing show called the Bakshi Report. He feeds the public a fake news story, claiming the Patriot attacked and destroyed the Hydra Enlightenment Camp (which is just the opposite of what actually happened last week). 

Inside Hydra HQ, Daisy completes her Terrigenesis, courtesy of Agent May, who’s decided to switch sides. In addition to restoring her quake powers, the Terrigenesis healed her many injuries sustained during her stay at Hydra. Daisy and May fight their way through wave after wave of Hydra agents as they try to escape the building.

They make their way to the elevators, where they’re confronted by Madame Hydra, aka AIDA, and a couple of her goons. They throw down their weapons and seemingly surrender to her. Just as AIDA starts monologuing, Daisy hits her with a quake blast, knocking her backwards. She crashes through the windows of the Triskelion and falls to the pavement several hundred feet below. Somehow she doesn’t explode on impact.

AIDA wakes up in the real world and sees the Superior standing over her. If you'll recall, at the end of Self Control, AIDA removed the Superior's head and placed it in a jar, and his brain now controls an LMD replica of himself. Why? Um... because comic books?

Anyway, AIDA tells LMD Superior that Daisy and May tried to kill her in The Framework. He pulls a gun on the real May, who’s lying comatose on a slab while she's hooked up to The Framework. Fortunately for May, he can’t seem to make himself pull the trigger. For some reason, AIDA built his LMD body with the same restrictions she has— she’s bound by her programming to protect the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at all costs, and can’t physically harm them. Because Daisy and Simmons hacked into The Framework on their own though, they’re not covered by this limitation, and she’s free to kill them. She tells the Superior to find and kill them, pronto. OK, none of that makes any sense, since Daisy and Simmons are both S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and should fall under AIDA's programming restriction, but let’s just roll with it.

Back at Resistance/S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Coulson and the others debate how to carry on now that the Patriot is dead.

At the Triskelion, a doctor tends to the injured AIDA while Fitz and his father Alistair look on. The doctor tells Fitz that AIDA’s spine is shattered, and she’ll likely never recover. Fitz angrily sends him from the room. Alistair says that with AIDA incapacitated, Fitz is now the new head of Hydra! Fitz meets with Bakshi, who wants to interview AIDA to reassure the public. Fitz says he doesn’t want the public placated, he wants them afraid.

Bakshi goes on the air and announces that the terrorists “Skye” and Melinda May tried to kill Madame Hydra, and are dangerous enemies of the state. He urges the public to be on the lookout for them, and if they see something, to say something.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward wants to go out and search for Daisy, but Coulson warns against it. Ward dismisses his concerns, pointing out that Coulson’s just a teacher, not an agent. Coulson reveals he was invited to join S.H.I.E.L.D. when he finished college, but passed because he was afraid. He realizes now that that was a mistake. Ward admits he was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, by Victoria Hand (Callback Alert!).

Daisy and May try to make their way to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, and see their faces on a billboard. Daisy says they’re too exposed out on the street, so they steal a car.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Simmons examines the Project Looking Glass plans that Trip stole from Hydra last week. She realizes it uses Darkhold technology, which can generate matter from nothing. She says it’ll need a huge power source, and Trip says he heard chatter at Hydra about an oil rig in the Baltic. Simmons says the Superior had an oil rig in the real world, and that AIDA must be working with him.

Daisy and May make it to a S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost, and knock on the door (!). A Resistance fighter answers, sees May and pulls a gun on her. Suddenly a truck full of Hydra soldiers appears and open fire. They wound the Resistance grunt, and Daisy and May drag him inside and barricade the door. Burrows tells Coulson & Mack something’s happening at the contact point, and they go to check it out.

Inside the Resistance outpost, May admits to Daisy that she’s the one who called in the air strike that killed the Patriot. Daisy tells her it wasn’t her fault, as AIDA and Hydra both messed with her head.

Meanwhile, Fitz sits with AIDA. Alistair tells him that Bakshi’s fear-mongering is working, and their forces are closing in on Daisy and May. AIDA wakes up and makes Fitz promise to finish Project Looking Glass.

The Hydra troops break into the Resistance outpost, and Daisy and May take them out easily. Just then Coulson and Mack arrive. Mack sees May, and recognizes her as the Hydra agent who raided his house and threatened his daughter Hope. He points his gun at her, but Coulson talks him down, saying he doesn’t know why, but he trusts May.

Simmons and Trip fly a Quinjet to the Superior’s oil rig. They discover there’s a huge facility deep under water, below the rig. They infiltrate it, expecting to find Project Looking Glass there, but the place is completely empty. Simmons realizes that the Project is actually being built in the real world. AIDA plans to use to become a real girl, utilizing the Darkhold tech to create an actual human body for herself. Once she does so, she’ll be free of her restrictive programming and can kill the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (and finally feel real emotions too).

Alistair tells Fitz that Daisy and May escaped. Fitz shrieks at his father, who shuts him down quick. He assures Fitz they’ll find the traitors. Fitz says he’d better, as he has to send a message that failure won’t be tolerated, even from his own father. Alistair tortures interrogates Radcliffe, asking him where to find Daisy and Simmons. Radcliffe laughs at him, pointing out that Alistair’s a pathetic drunk in the real world. That earns him another beatin.’

Coulson and the others return to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Resistance HQ. Daisy feels dumb for not realizing that the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ inside The Framework would be in the same spot as it is in the real world (!). Ward’s happy to see Daisy, and they discuss what’ll happen when she leaves virtual world. Coulson examines May’s body cam footage of the air strike on the Enlightenment Center, which showed Hydra planes bombing a building full of kids. He says it’s the perfect anti-propaganda to sway the public to their side.

Daisy tells Coulson that Radcliffe told her how to escape The Framework, and they don’t have to go on any further missions that don’t matter in this fake world. Coulson says they can’t just leave The Framework in this state, and believes if they solve its problems, they’ll solve their own. Doesn’t make any sense, but they’ve got three more episodes to fill, so I guess this is what we’re going with.

Fitz finishes building Project Looking Glass, and tells AIDA it’s ready. He apparently knows what it’s for— to create a human body for her in the real world— and asks her to take him with her. So I guess that’s a thing that can happen?

Coulson and the others infiltrate Bakshi’s TV studio and take it over. As Coulson prepares to broadcast May’s footage, Ward tells Daisy that Hydra will try and stop them, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to keep them on the air as long as possible. He says he wants Daisy to know he’s nothing like the Grant Ward from her world. Coulson records his message, and he and the others leave the station. Ward hits the switch, and the message goes out all over the country. In it, Coulson shows the shocking footage, and pretty much urges the public to rise up against Hydra.

Burrows enters the control room and tells Ward there’s a crowd outside the station. Ward grimly picks up his gun, ready to go out in a blaze of glory. Burrows then says it’s not Hydra outside, but the public, showing support for the Resistance. Jesus, why didn’t he just say that in the first place, instead of being dramatically vague?

In the real world, the Superior tells AIDA that he’s located Daisy and Simmons onboard Zephyr One, and prepares to rendezvous with the plane.

• The late, great Bill Paxton makes a guest appearance on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week.! Well, sort of.

The episode opens in a TV studio which is airing The Bakshi Report. We see a bank of monitors displaying various graphics. One of the screens features a graphic saying, "In Memoriam: John Garrett, American Hero."

It's been a while since Garrett and Bakshi appeared on the show, so to refresh your memory, Garrett was the Big Bad back in Season 1. He was originally a high level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, as well as a secret Hydra operative. He was injured during a mission and used Deathlok technology to extend his life. Later on he became the secret entity known as the Clairvoyant, and started the Centipede Project.

As for Bakshi, he was an assistant to Hydra leader Daniel Whitehall, and specialized in brainwashing experiments.

• During The Bakshi Report, there's a news crawl along the bottom of the screen. Among the stories in the news crawl:

"A UC Berkeley linguistics student has been arrested for harboring an Inhuman refugee in her dorm room (ten points to Gryfindor for spelling “Berkeley” right!)”

“...which commemorates the life and legacy of American hero John Garrett. (this one was incomplete, so I couldn't see the beginning of the line)”

“A new biography of Daniel Whitehall examines his close relationship with the Malick family. (Gideon Malick was one of the villains in Season 3)”

“New Inhuman Stop & Screen Program declared a major success after Hydra reports record number of incarcerations. (this one's obviously a not-so-subtle dig at Trump's ICE program, which targets the "bad hombres" who are in our country illegally)”

• One last thing about The Bakshi Report— it's a propaganda program, designed to misinform and sway public opinion. But take a look at Bakshi's logo. Would the general public really trust and believe in an organization whose logo is a stylized octopus with an evil skull for a head?

• It was extremely satisfying when Daisy blasted AIDA out the window of the Triskelion.

That said, is gravity different inside The Framework? AIDA falls a good twenty or thirty stories, and actually BOUNCES when she lands on the pavement far below! As a result of her fall, she suffers a shattered spine. That's it? She should have made a huge red splash from that height!

• With Agent May's help
, Daisy undergoes Terrigenesis and gets her quake powers back inside The Framework.

Why do Inhumans and Terrigen exist in The Framework in the first place? Last week AIDA said she tweaked The Framework a bit to remove the biggest regrets of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hooked up to it. So she can obviously has some degree of control over the parameters of this virtual world. So why didn't she just delete a couple lines of code and eliminate Terrigen altogether? That way there'd be no possibility of superpowered threats to her.

Even though it doesn't make much sense, I get why the writers added Inhumans to The Framework. AIDA's superhumanly intelligent, and could effortlessly alter the conditions inside the virtual world so there's absolutely no possibility for the heroes to overthrow her. They've got to give the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents a tiny advantage and level the playing filed a little bit, else there'd be no reason to watch.

• When LMD Superior points a gun at Agent May in the real world, he's unable to pull the trigger. When he asks what the hell, he and AIDA then have the following conversation.

LMD Superior: "What have you done to me? Why can I not kill her?"
AIDA: "Because I built you. The same parameters that limit me must also limit you. My primary directive requires me to protect these people."
LMD Superior: "Then we are both powerless."
AIDA: "Not entirely. If they become a direct threat to the Framework, then they no longer require protection."

So even though there're several helpless, comatose S.H.I.E.L.D. agents right there in front of AIDA in the real world, she can't kill any of them unless they threaten the virtual world she made. Doesn't May now pose a threat to The Framework? She just willingly transformed Daisy into an Inhuman, and now she's switched sides and is actively working with the Resistance to take down AIDA and Hydra. That sure sounds like "a threat to The Framework" to me!

• When Coulson takes Daisy to the top secret Resistance HQ, she feels stupid when she realizes it's the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, and even dumber when she realizes it's in the same spot as it is in the real world!

Um... how is it that AIDA never thought of that? She's been to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the real world! Why didn't she send a Hydra army to the base to wipe it out months ago? That's the first place she should have looked for the Resistance!

• Looks like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely believes in nurture over nature. Framework Ward was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. by Victoria Hand, who supported and guided him, making him into the decent fellow he is today.

Compare that to Real World Ward. He was recruited by secret Hydra agent John Garrett, who manipulated and twisted him into a cold, traitorous killer we saw in the first three seasons.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues it's campaign against the Trump administration this week.

During Coulson's anti-propaganda speech that's beamed out over the airwaves, he says, "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." 

This of course is a reference to Kellyanne Conway, who used the term in a Meet The Press interview back in January. Interviewer Chuck Todd asked why Conway why White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lied about the size of the crowds at Trump's inauguration. Conway replied that Spicer's comments weren't falsehoods, but "alternative facts."

Naturally the internet went nuts over the comment, and a thousand "alternative facts" memes were born.

Toward the end of the episode, we see Bakshi brazenly hitting on an attractive female producer in his TV studio:

Producer: "That's very kind of you, Mr. Bakshi, but I couldn't possibly impose."
Bakshi: "I'm just saying, if you need to shop for furniture, I'll take you. I know just the place."

This is a reference to the infamous Donald Trump "Pussy Grabbing" tape, which was accidentally recorded backstage in 2005 while waiting to shoot his cameo appearance on Days Of Our Lives

In the tape, Trump brags to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush (whoever the hell that is) about how easy it is for a big shot celebrity like himself to bed any woman he sets his sights on. Our president, ladies and gentlemen!

Here's an excerpt from the tape:

Unknown Male: "She used to be great. She’s still very beautiful."
Trump: "You know I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and f*ck her. She was married."
Unknown male: "That’s huge news."
Trump: "No, no, Nancy. No this was— and I moved on her very heavily, in fact. I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture, I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture."
Unknown Male: (laughs)
Trump: I took her out furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there, and she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look."

Obviously Trump must exist inside The Framework, and Bakshi was trying out some of the president's patented moves on his producer!

• During Coulson's anit-Hydra broadcast, he says (among other things): 
"Remember, there are more of us than 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?"
Did Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. just encourage the public to rise up against the Trump administration? It sure sounded like it to me!

• So this week we find out the true function of Project Looking Glass— it uses Darkhold technology to create matter out of thin air. AIDA plans to use it to create a flesh and blood body for herself, one that can feel pain, experience emotions, and isn't bound by Radcliffe's restrictive programming.

I wonder... are the writers planning to use this device to turn Framework Ward into a real boy, and keep him around on the show? Think about it. The original Grant Ward was an irredeemable asshole who died a couple times last season. This would be the perfect way to reboot the character and bring him back full time. It would be convoluted as hell ("This is Grant Ward. He used to be a program in a virtual world, until we used a magic device to turn him into a real person), but it would make perfect sense in the universe of the show.

Assuming there's a Season 5, that is...
• This Week's Best Lines:
LMD Superior: "Has one of your playthings rebelled?"
AIDA: "Agent May has begun to question the narrative she was programmed with."
(I got news for you, AIDA, I question the narrative I was programmed with on a daily basis! Who the hell wrote this sh*t?)

Framework Ward: "Anyone else getting sick of this propaganda crap? It's like sipping poison. Little bit every day, you don't even notice till it kills you."

Coulson: "The smart move is to wait for her to reach out."
Framework Ward: "Look, this isn't your wheelhouse. I'm sure you're a good schoolteacher, but...uh, you're a schoolteacher."

Trip: (after Simmons explains the concept of The Framework to him) "Hey, I'm not gonna pretend to get all this, but I'm here to help."
Simmons: "You believe me? About another world?"
Trip: "Come on, girl. That's way too crazy a story to make up."

Alistair: "Don't you snap at me, boy. If I wanted you hysterical at every setback, I would have left you with your mother."

Daisy: (as she's brought into the Resistance Base, which is really S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ) "So the secret base is the base. Probably should've guessed that."

Alistair: "Do you think I don't know who you are? Where you're from? You come from that other world, just like them. You're just as tainted."
Radcliffe: "You want to talk about that 'other world,' as you call it? It's the real world. Here, you're just a snippet of code that Aida changed slightly so you'd stick around for Fitz. You may be part of his life here, but there Alistair Fitz is so thick, he doesn't recognize his own son's genius. He's a pathetic drunk. Even here, you're nothing without him. So do what you will. I've got nothing left to give. You'll be a disappointment to your son yet again."

Coulson: (as the Resistance infiltrates the Hydra TV studio) "Heard you were looking for some enemies of the state?"

Framework Ward: (to Daisy) "I know I'm not going with you when you leave, but I can still help out from this side. I would hate for you to think that I am anything like the Grant Ward you knew over there."

Coulson: (giving his anti-Hydra speech) "As you all know, a Hydra facility was destroyed yesterday. Hydra told you that it was an act of terrorism. They told you an Inhuman named the Patriot murdered civilians. But what they told you was a lie. We're gonna show you what really happened.

This footage was taken from the body-cam of a high-level Hydra operative. Hydra used this Enlightenment Center to brainwash anyone who dared to 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 than 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 you've seen empires rise and fall. A wise man once told me that a person can do anything once they realize they're 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."

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