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REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×16 “What If…”

The only thing that could make a 6-week, midseason, hiatus worth suffering through was an episode as good as this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It would have been a real bummer to wait all that time for a sub-par hour of television but, thankfully, S.H.I.E.L.D. is continuing with its season-long trend of making each new storyline more interesting and entertaining than the last.

I personally have been looking forward to this arc more than any others the show has delved into to date. The potential and opportunity seems genuinely endless and, considering the events of, “What If…,” it appears that the show doesn’t plan on pulling any punches moving forward. This first episode of the final arc was a triumphant return for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and has me even more excited to see where these final 6 episodes will take us.

Spoilers ahead!

The third and final arc of the season picks up right where the last left off, with Daisy waking up in the Framework to find Grant Ward in her bed. As jarring as that is, what makes it even more of a jaw-dropper is the fact that, in Aida’s Matrix-esque world, Daisy is still Skye.

Agent Skye of Hydra to be specific.

Yes, as it turns out, the teasing shot of the Triskellion in our small glimpse of the Framework last episode was entirely legitimate. Hydra rules all in the Framework and most of our favorite characters are dutiful employees of the organization.

Something that Daisy and Jemma find out the hard way.

Speaking of Jemma, if Daisy thinks her wake-up was rough, she’s got nothing on Simmons.

As it turns out, that tombstone shown last episode was very much legitimate and Framework!Jemma really is dead.

While her Framework self is dead, Jemma is most decidedly not buried in that nice little plot in England. In actuality, Jemma’s corpse was a part of a mass grave of S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy students and faculty killed by Hydra during their conquering of the world (certainly an eerie bit of symbolism considering Hydra’s origins). This means that poor Jemma wakes up in the Framework, surrounded by murdered S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits, and has to literally crawl her way out of her grave and into a world where she is technically dead.

simmons

For anyone else this would likely be a serious problem but, being the utter badass that she is, Simmons manages to get sh!t done despite the fact that she has no resources and looks every bit the, “bag lady.”

Meanwhile, if the Inhumans felt unsafe in the real world, they’re absolutely terrified in this faux one.

Due largely to the fact that people like Hydra’s #2, chillingly known by all as The Doctor, are all too happy to experiment and torture anyone with the Inhuman gene. Of course, this baddie is none other than Leopold Fitz, who seems more than happy to use his intelligence for nefarious purposes in this twisted world. Daisy witnesses first-hand how unflinching Fitz is when it comes to testing on Inhumans and is understandably horrified to see how drastically different her friend is in this Hydra-run world.

AOS416Fitz

Even May seems frightened by Hydra’s resident scientist, which is saying quite a bit considering this version of the Cavalry is even stonier than her real-world counterpart. Said stoniness is the result of the fact that her saving of Katya in Bahrain meant that the young girl had the opportunity to use her powers to wipe-out an entire school of children stateside. We all saw how impacted May was by the death of one child, so it’s no surprise that she’s even more detached in a world where she feels responsible for the deaths of hundreds.

Coulson is yet another character who seems a bit less personable in the Framework. While him being a teacher actually feels rather fitting, there is an impassiveness to him that is a shock to witness considering how much his actions are fueled by his emotions in the real world.

Happy to promote the anti-Inhuman propaganda, Coulson doesn’t bat an eye when Hydra thugs whisk a possible Inhuman student from his classroom. He even calls Hydra himself to report Jemma when she manages to track him down and attempt to snap him out of this twisted, TAHITI, nightmare. While the attempt to turn Simmons in makes it seem that Coulson is still too deep in the Framework, we later see that her parting, “It’s a magical place,” comment has rattled him. Why? Because, much like his Season 2 self, it appears as though Coulson has been scribbling quite a bit in the Framework… and most of his writings pertain to the very words that this presumed stranger has spoken to him.

Back to said stranger… after finally meeting up at the backdoor of the Framework (aka a park bench) Daisy and Simmons get a rude awakening when Hydra thugs begin to descend on them. Lucky for them, Grant Ward is there to whisk them away to safety because…

He’s actually working with the Resistance!

He found out that Skye had the Inhuman gene and has been serving as a Hydra mole ever since to keep her safe. While shocking to some, Jemma isn’t the least bit surprised by Ward’s allegiances in the Framework, pointing out that it’s inevitable that he will be a traitorous double-agent no matter what world he’s living in.

This time, he just happens to be on the right side of things.

The girls make it back to Daisy’s apartment while Ward torches their getaway car and swap horror stories before attempting to use their programmed switch to escape the Framework. Unfortunately, nothing happens and they realize that it’s because, “they,” know that they’ve hacked their way in.

“They,” of course being Aida who, in the Framework, is actually the Director of the new world order. AKA… Madame Hydra.

AOS 4x16 Madame Hydra

If this isn’t creepy enough, Madame Hydra and the Doctor are an item in this world, so it’s no surprise that she seems intent on keeping him as far away from anything having to do with the recently resurrected Jemma Simmons.

Elsewhere, with nowhere left to turn, Daisy makes her own attempt at snapping Coulson out of his programmed memories. At first it his reaction mirrors the one he had with Simmons (confusion and alarm) but, after a passionate speech delivered by his former protege, Coulson turns around and whispers, “Daisy?”

Success!!!! At least we think… the immediate cut to black makes it hard to tell just how much Coulson now remembers but… progress nonetheless! One down and a boatload more to go!

As mentioned at the top of the article, “What If…,” was a great start to this final pod. This was one of few episodes of television that I feel did a truly good job of balancing necessary set-up with propelling action. While exposition episodes often tend to drag, this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t provide a single dull moment due to the fact that it felt utterly fresh. The new dynamics and personas of these characters that we’ve watched evolve on screen for years are fascinating on every level.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve experienced such visceral reactions to the occurrences of a TV show and I think that’s a testament to how well the writers are stripping these characters of the very pieces of their identities that we’ve come to know them by. Were I not already so attached and invested in these characters and how their lives intertwine with one another, I don’t think seeing them so different would have been nearly as impactful.

Episode Grade: A-

Episode Highs:

 

  • Elizabeth Henstridge knocked it out of the park this week (something that I feel I point out after every episode that airs) and did a truly stellar job of combining poignant moments of desperation with genuine comedic interludes that produced audible laughs from myself. I.e. “Ugh this isn’t the Framework, this is hell.” On a personal note… I wonder what song was sung on repeat prior to shooting this episode to maintain that hoarse voice throughout the duration. That’s commitment ya’ll.

 

  • Watching characters that we’ve grown to love and hate in such a drastically different environment with equally different personas is an awesome thing to witness. This arc is essentially the ultimate AU and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is making it one worth watching.

Episode Lows:

  • It was over too quickly!!!! Those 60 minutes absolutely flew by and I’m now stuck having to wait a week to see what happens next. But hey, guess it’s better than 6!

Additional Thoughts:

  • Who do you think will be the next person to snap out of their Framework mindset?
  • How long do you think Aida/Madame Hydra will be able to hide Jemma, aka the Subversive, from Fitz?

What did you think about the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen

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