Episode 16 – What If
Agents of SHIELD understands how to flip the script and reinvent the game. After their shaky footholds in season one, they pulled themselves up by sticking to serialization and paying off. They would continue to build this momentum and run with it for their season four closing arc, inside the Framework.
What If asks the big questions, marking the butterfly effect from one good deed to the avalanche of destruction it leaves in its wake. Using a ‘what if’ scenario is not a new idea to comic books, and especially to Marvel who have had a whole series based on that concept.
The show uses some clever plot points to develop the world in which the agents are now operating in. There’s a level of sophistication to the depths the show goes to in this modulation. While Daisy tries to acclimate to being a Hydra agent, even interrogating Vijay Nadeer against her wishes, she does so to protect her freedom in the Framework. As part of Hydra, she is part of the organization with arguably the most power in the country. It appears later in the episode that Hydra has banned smart technology to non-Hydra agents. There’s only one newspaper, and that is published by Hydra. There are propaganda posters plastered across the land. It is a police state.
Meanwhile, Jemma faces a rougher time in the Framework, crawling out from a shallow grave. While the previous episode lead us to believe she was buried under a nice grave marker, her actual death is much more mysterious. It appears she has been murdered and dumped in a mass grave of the ruins of SHIELDs Science and Technology Academy. She struggles to survive from the very beginning, being captured by Hydra agents, only to escape. Elizabeth Henstridge’s acting continues to shine as she tries to convince Coulson that he is SHIELD and not a Hydra sympathizer. The hoarseness of her voice in her moments of despair stuck long with us after the episode.
Speaking of Coulson, the episode brushes up against what regrets were corrected in the Framework for the agents. The Framework, the Darkhold and Aida were unable to completely rewrite Coulson’s history, as he has had his brain tinkered with before in the T.A.H.I.T.I. program. Not only is this an outstanding call back to season one, but stands as a great point for Jemma to uncover some of Coulson’s mistrust in his own mind. He’s been keeping files, like a picture of Lola on a calendar, his cellist girlfriend and sketchings of the SHIELD logo.
May’s regret was learned earlier in the season, and corrected to the point where she was able to save the Inhuman girl in Bahrain. What ensues is that this decision ultimately leads to another point of regret for May’s character, and instead of the death of one person, she now bears the guilt of more than 200 deaths. This could be why she is now incredibly strict in her dealings in Hydra.
Fitz is another character who has taken a drastic change. Referred to as the ominous-sounding Doctor in the show, he is cold and flat out evil, torturing Vijay Nadeer. He also has a very close relationship with Aida in the Framework, or as we know now, Madame Hydra. The interesting part of this relationship is Aida works to cover up Jemma Simmons. Perhaps she knows that if Fitz were to see Jemma, he would come to his senses. Daisy posits that losing Jemma is the reason why Fitz turned evil. However, there may be more at play here as it appears Fitz’ father is in the picture as well. Also a point of intrigue, Mack had accused him earlier in the season of becoming a mad scientist, and it seems the Darkhold has turned on to this darker side of him.
The dynamics in this episode, coupled with its twists made for an entertaining hour. While SHIELD walked a fine line of ‘reviving’ Ward, it ended up working. Ward is now a double agent for the Resistance (Star Wars much?), as opposed to his real life counterpart where he was a double agent for Hydra. It appears that Ward joined the Resistance to protect Skye/Daisy as she had tested positive for Inhuman DNA.
The episode was mostly threaded with despair but there was some levity in the dialogue. Much of it was dealt by Jemma who happened to have some of the worst go of things. Some lines she deadpans, joking that she’s much better after Daisy asks her if she’s still dead. She also has some witty material to work with during the car chase with Ward and Daisy.
Daisy and Jemma do a bunch of detective work together toward the end of the episode, and it looks like they may have more to uncover. Jemma had made remarks all episode pertaining to how real everything felt in the Framework, and confided in Daisy, saying that it ‘lures you in.’ Daisy agreed and mentioned how she sought out Lincoln, but, that’s not the only thing she is becoming connected to. She apologizes to Ward for her treatment of Vijay.
Next week it looks like Daisy, Jemma, Ward, and maybe Coulson head underground to the Resistance, which looks to be speared by Mace. It would be interesting to see how Mace plays out in this. After all, his biggest regret seems to be that he couldn’t live up to the public image of himself. Will Mace have actual superpowers. Will he take up the mantle as either The Patriot, or follow more closely to comic book lines and take up the mantle of Captain America. We have also yet to see where Mack falls in the spectrum. Is he a Hydra sympathizer due to his prior experiences with aliens (and robots), and will he even want to leave the Framework since he gets to live in this concept with his daughter?
Some things still treaded on murky water. The Cambridge Incident appears to have been staged, and it’s implications resemble the comic book Stamford incident which incited Civil War. Additionally, it’s unclear as to why if you die in the Framework, you die in real life. Wasn’t the implication of the Framework for Radcliffe at least to live forever? Perhaps that variable was removed to flesh out the reality. The people in the Framework all appear to have souls, but Aida, Madame Hydra, still seems without one. How come she couldn’t imagine one for herself? Lastly, who else will surprise us in the Framework? We are excited to find out.
We’re pumped and engaged for the scenarios presented to us here in the last arc of the season. It’s sophisticated and intense.
Elizabeth Freaking Henstridge killed it
The places we can go from here are enticing
Hydra storyline feels a little repetitive