This Agents of SHIELD review contains spoilers.
Agents of SHIELD: Season 4, Episode 18
It’s funny, I think the reason that this season of Agents of SHIELD has been so successful is that most of this season has felt like a classic SHIELD story. Since the beginning of the MCU’s inaugural TV series, it felt like the series has been struggling to find a sense of identity, a sense of purpose. At first it was a place to deeply explore the MCU after the first Avengers film, then, it kind of became a place to introduce the Inhumans to the MCU. Heck man, even the beginning of this season felt like it wanted to be more of a Ghost Rider back door pilot that a SHIELD story. But now, within the Framework of AIDA and Doctor Radcliffe, things feel like a classic SHIELD tale.
And what a tale it is. Pure HYDRA versus SHIELD action like Stan and Jack created. But unlike past seasons, this HYDRA versus SHIELD war is not overshadowed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not like SHIELD is cleaning up for the Avengers or existing in the shadows of the bigger Marvel guns, this is pure SHIELD drama. In this week’s episode, we have a good news bad news situation for SHIELD fans. The good news is that we saw the return of the late and lamented Agent Tripp! You remember Tripp. He served with SHIELD in the first season of the show and became very close with Skye. He was one of the first to die of Terrigen exposure and the coolest thing about Tripp was that he was related to a former Howling Commando. Tripp was a direct link to the classic comic book SHIELD and it was a profound loss when he was KIA. Well, Framework Tripp made his debut this week and is damn good to see him.
Sadly, there is no reunion between Tripp and Daisy as the former Skye is still being held by HYDRA. We get to check in on Skye a few times this week as she is locked up next to a still devastated Doctor Radcliffe. These scenes were done to show how broken Radcliffe has become since the death of his wife, but they also serve as a reminder that a powerless Daisy Johnson is still a wild card within the Framework. But kids, she doesn’t remain powerless for long.
But where we have a return we also have a tragic and painful farewell. Simmons, Patriot, Coulson, and Ward stage a rescue mission to extract Tripp. While kicking HYDRA ass, the agents discover that HYDRA are holding many “subversives,” including kids, inside the same facility. The agents try and save the kids in a riveting rescue that not only sees the return of Tripp, but also a throwdown between a strength serum enhanced HYDRA May and Patriot.
You see, May is dosed with the same super steroid that enhances Director Mace in the real world. Patriot is able to defeat May and it is still weird to see evil Melinda May in action. The episode did a really good job creating subtle contrasts between real world May and Framework May. Framework May fights with an ugly brutality that contrasts the real May’s grace. But evil May loses and Patriot is able to stage a rescue of the kids held by HYDRA. Tragically, this brave act leads to Patriot’s death. While saving a kid (a kid that used to be a student of Coulson’s), Patriot falls.
Remember now, Mace is one of the agents placed in the Framework by AIDA, so when Patriot dies in the Framework, Mace dies in the real world. So we must say goodbye to Agent Mace who we see flatlining in the real world at the end of the episode. It really seems like Mace has been part of this show for a long time, and it really hurt to see him quietly expiring while trapped in AIDA’s machine. It is one of the most haunting deaths in the history of the show. In fact, I’d put it right up there with Lincoln’s death from last season. Thankfully, the death of Mace led to some good because when May sees Patriot’s noble sacrifice, she wakes up. In the episode’s stinger, May frees Daisy and brings her a gift. You know it, son, that gift is a Terrigen crystal so the Framework is going to shake a bit next week when Quake is reborn.
So now May has been awakened, and Leo Fitz is the only agent left to be made aware of the real world. But Framework Fitz may very well be irredeemable. This Fitz has one thing in his life the real world Fitz doesn’t — and that’s a father. But the senior Fitz is very much an abusive, manipulative smarmy prick and his son is not much better. Both father and son are fiercely loyal to HYDRA with the younger Fitz in love with Madame HYDRA. Of course, Framework Fitz doesn’t have the influence of Simmons in his life so we are left with a Red Skull-like force of evil.
Seeing May wake up definitely provides some hope, but Fitz really is a grade A heel. Can you imagine that the fate of the agents is based on Fitz doing the right thing — and there’s a doubt that he’ll do it? While many of the agents exist in this shade of grey area, Fitz has always been a pure white hat. One has to ask, if and when the agents escape the Framework, how will Simmons see Fitz knowing that this capacity for evil exists?
There’s so much more going on in the episode as well. There’s Mack trying to redeem himself after betraying Daisy. There’s the constant question of perception versus reality using Mack and the very real love he has for his unreal daughter serving as the focal point of this powerful theme. There’s Ward acting as a good guy in the Framework when we all know what a bastard he was in the real world. And oh, Coulson breaks out in hives when he sees Ward? Hives? That’s some funny stuff right there.
As we close for the week, we are reminded of what a great agent Tripp was and we are reminded of how much we will miss Mace even though we haven’t spent much time with him. This Framework arc has brought Agents of SHIELD to lofty heights and I really can’t wait to see what happens next.
In case you were wondering, the comic book version of Jeff Mace, aka The Patriot, died of cancer at a ripe old age. So at least that can keep you warm as you cry your eyes out over Mace’s TV death. Man, that hurt.