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REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×17 “Identity and Change”

“Identity and Change,” fittingly explored the various changes that the Framework versions of our favorite characters have gone through, as well as how said changes have drastically shifted their identities to their very core. While some have remained fairly similar to their real-world selves, others have become so unrecognizable that even their friends can’t fathom it.

Luckily, where there’s an evil organization descended from Nazis, there’s an underground resistance looking to destroy it… and a few citizens willing to take on the cause. This week portrayed S.H.I.E.L.D. in an entirely new light, now hidden beneath the shadows and seeking to destroy Hydra’s hold over the world despite having abysmally low resources.

Spoilers ahead!

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While Daisy and Jemma have successfully convinced Coulson that he’s been brainwashed and implanted into a virtual reality, he’s still a far cry from the former-Director that he is in the real world. He believes them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he remembers. While there are a few bits and pieces that are coming back to him, Coulson is very much the long-term conspiracy theorist who’s just been told he’s been onto something. While his eagerness is thoroughly enjoyable to watch (due wholly to the fact that Clark Gregg is far more adept at comedy than people might realize considering Coulson’s general broodiness) what’s infinitely more exciting is the fact that, despite still being more teacher than S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, he’s a quick thinker who actually provides some useful information.

After he and Jemma are whisked away to the underground base (aka the Playground) that the S.H.I.E.L.D. survivors have been hiding in, Coulson helps convince the leader of the resistance (Jeffrey Mace as the legitimate Patriot) to send a small team consisting of himself, Jemma, and Ward to track down one Holden Radcliffe. The group gets the go-ahead and uses S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sole QuinJet to track down the mad scientist on the kush island that he’s been living on in the Framework.

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Elsewhere, Daisy gets another frightening awakening when she and May are tasked with bringing in two potential subversives… who are none other than Alphonso Mackenzie and his young daughter Hope. Daisy is visibly shaken by the sight of her friend being ripped apart from his daughter and dragged to Hydra headquarters, which is something that doesn’t go unnoticed by May. Tasked with interrogating the Mackenzies, Daisy first promises young Hope that she’ll be okay before swapping with May who has just finished her own questioning of Mack.

But thankfully she doesn’t have to play tough cop because… Mack knows who she is!

Daisy is understandably relieved when her friend refers to her as Daisy Johnson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. but the relief quickly fades when Mack appears confused at her mention of YoYo. It takes only a few seconds for her to realize that she’s been played, something that Mack confirms when he shows her a microphone and tells her that May had told him to say all of the things he did in exchange for letting him and Hope go.

The entire thing was a ruse to lure Daisy out and trick her into revealing herself as the mole in Hydra.

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And wow did it work.

Despite fleeing the interrogation room and coming out the victor of an impressive elevator fight that felt very much like a coda to the famous Captain America scene, Daisy’s attempt to make a break for it falls flat when she’s promptly swarmed by Hydra and beaten in the middle of the organization’s atrium. The brutality of the beatdown (a bunch of heavily armed soldiers kicking a woman curled up on the floor) is made even more shocking by the fact that May is watching with an air of pride… after all, she’s just successfully apprehended the Hydra mole and might get into the Doctor’s good graces.

Speaking of the Doctor…

Fitz has now been made aware of Jemma’s presence due to some cunning manipulation by his Framework love Madame Hydra, whom Leopold refers to as Ophelia and is actually AIDA. She waxes poetic about how she was mistreated and abused by the people on the, “other side,” and has to do very little to convince Fitz to dispatch his own team of Hydra goons to take out Jemma by any means necessary. AIDA tells Fitz that Jemma is an escapee from the, “other side,” and stresses to him that this is the reason his mysterious, “Project Looking Glass,” is so important. While we don’t learn much about the work Fitz is doing, it’s clear that whatever it is will have serious ramifications on both the people in and out of the Framework.

Hydra’s resident baddies make their way to Radcliffe’s island, where Coulson, Ward, and Jemma have already landed. Luckily, the trio was ushered into some nearby shrubbery by Radcliffe after he’d clued them in on some key facts: 1. He’s dead in the real world; 2. AIDA has essentially trapped everyone in the Framework; and 3. Their physical bodies are being held on one of the Russian’s bases.

Unfortunately, that bit of news is the only good thing that comes from the visit to the tropical island because the arrival of AIDA and Fitz quickly reveals to Jemma how twisted this world has made the man she loves. When the Doctor pulls a gun on Agnes (who has been playing house with Radcliffe) Jemma pleads for Ward not to use his own gun to end the Hydra scientist’s life once and for all. Pleading with him, Jemma informs Ward that she knows Fitz, as the awkward, brave, and kind man that he really is, and that such a man would never kill an innocent woman, no matter how warped his mind has become from AIDA’s manipulating.

Her teary plea and declaration of love is enough for Ward to spare the Doctor but, unfortunately, the man that Jemma describes is not the person who is standing a few hundred feet away. Because, as it turns out, Fitz would kill an innocent woman, and actually does, putting a bullet in Agnes’ heart without a blink or a flinch.

It’s a devastating thing to witness, the man who’d co-created non-lethal weaponry to prevent unnecessary bloodshed now shooting a woman in cold blood, and Jemma is understandably heartbroken by the sight. Her anguished scream of, “Fitz no,” is enough to draw the Doctor’s (as well as all of his minions) attention to her and the two share a heavy look as all hell breaks loose.

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Bullets fly left and right but ultimately, both the good guys and bad guys make it off the island in tact. Though, Hydra and its Madame manage to bring Radcliffe into custody… which leads him to being tortured as Daisy lays curled up, bloody and beaten, in a Hydra cell. Of course, soon after Radcliffe grows silent, the Doctor waltzes into Daisy’s cell and makes it very clear that she’s next. Despite an attempt to get Fitz to see reason, informing him of their friendship and telling him that he doesn’t want to do this, the Doctor has her taken away, informing her that he does and she doesn’t know him at all.

Dun dun dun.

What I enjoyed most about this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is how character-driven it is in comparison to much of its predecessors. While there was certainly action, “Identity and Change,” was focused on showcasing the actual people on the show. This is especially important considering this pod is taking place in such a drastically different world from the one that we, both viewers and characters, have grown accustomed to.

It was just as fascinating to see which characters remained inately them despite the different environment as it was to see those who could change so dramatically with a few different decisions. Mack, who has always followed a moral compass in the real world, seems just as honorable in this one. His decision to join the resistance because of his daughter, as well as his guilt for tricking Daisy, is something that is entirely fitting with the man we have already grown to know over the years.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have characters like Fitz and Ward who are a far cry from the men that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has previously focused on. Ward, a cold-blooded killer to most, softens at Jemma’s mention of love and spares the life of a terrible man. Fitz on the other hand, an individual who couldn’t kill a man who (at the time) he believed to have destroyed his life because it was way too far from his nature, murders an innocent woman for no other reason than to prove a point.

The dichotomy between these two worlds is never more apparent than when displayed through the characters, and it’s clear that if/when they escape the Framework, the repercussions faced for the actions in this world will be enormous in the real one.

Episode Grade: B+

Episode Highs:

  • I know that it’s likely repetitive at this point but I still can’t quite get over how remarkable Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are. Focusing on de Caestecker first, it’s a true feat to take a character that people have adored and championed for the better part of four years and make him so utterly unlikeable with a few cold stares and impassive gestures. De Caestecker has transformed Fitz into the antithesis of his real-world counterpart, and it’s a testament to his skills as an actor that I am constantly warring with myself whenever the character is on screen. It’s a bit like watching Orphan Black in that I have to remind myself that one person is playing these drastically different iterations of the same man. Cut to Henstridge, who has always been the emotional powerhouse of this show. While it felt like there wasn’t a massive amount of Jemma this week, the scenes that she did appear in were all but crippling due to the portrayer. With two words and some phenomenal facial acting, Henstridge was able to convey how wrecked Jemma was by Fitz’s actions. Similarly, the almost comatose nature of Jemma in the scenes immediately following were more than effective in emphasizing how simultaneously stunned and distraught she is to see this version of her best friend in the world. To see the exact moment that Jemma realizes this Fitz isn’t her fitz, as well as the aftermath of this comprehension, was one of the more powerful scenes of the episode.
  • Equally impressive were Chloe Bennet and Henry Simmons, whose scenes together showed just how deep the friendship between Daisy and Mack really is. The protective brother/sister dynamic managed to carry over in this faux world and I’m certain that we’re in for some more emotional exchanges down the road. Considering where this episode left Daisy, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Bennet in particular will be destroying audiences with some gut-wrenching moments moving forward.
  • Coulson making his own soup is amazing and I’d like the link to his etsy page ASAP.
  • I really hate Fitz/Madame Hydra together but I love them together… if that makes sense. I’m ride or die FitzSimmons so this new couple isn’t super fun to watch as a couple but they are super fun to watch as no-sh!ts-given villains.

Episode Lows:

  • This might have been the best episode of the entire series in regards to treating the show as an ensemble and, while I actually really enjoyed the balance between characters, it did feel we could have gotten a bit more from each storyline.

Additional Thoughts:

  • Is Fitz actually beating AIDA at her own game? There were moments where it seemed as though he might be more aware of reality than he was letting on, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that all of his deplorable actions are in fact being done so as to get an upper hand over Madame Hydra. And I’d say that even if Fitz weren’t a favorite character.

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!

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Silje Falck-Pedersen

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