This review contains spoilers.
4.17 Identity And Change
If you’re a regular reader of these reviews, you’ve probably heard me complain about the lack of an epic big bad on the past few seasons of Agents Of SHIELD. Last season, Grant Ward as Hive kind of became the first really potent arch-villain, but other than that, there hasn’t really been a memorable, strong baddie on the show. I mean, even earlier in the season with all the Ghost Rider coolness, was Robbie Reyes’ uncle really all that?
That’s why it’s very ironic and very cool that right now there are two awesome villains on Agents Of SHIELD. Madame Hydra is the cool part of that dastardly equation. Madame HYDRA may be very different to the comic version of HYDRA’s leading lady, but boy, does she look like she just stepped off a comic page. As Madame HYDRA, the former AIDA is every inch of the femme fatale that has intrigued SHIELD fans for decades, but of course, with this Madame HYDRA, the viewer is more familiar with Aida’s complex back story. And this week, that back story took centre stage on the Framework drama of Agents of SHIELD.
This week, we discover that Doctor Radcliffe, who was killed by Aida in the real world, is alive and not so well in the Framework. Radcliffe is the man of the hour as Madame HYDRA and Simmons, Coulson, and Ward all race to confront the creator of the Framework. Our good agents believe that Radcliffe holds the key to getting home, and Madame HYDRA wants to remove Radcliffe from the board.
It all comes to a head when our agents and HYDRA confront Radcliffe on a croquet court in Bermuda of all places. There, we discover that it’s not only Radcliffe existing in the Framework but his deceased wife as well, you know, the woman who was the template for Aida. Radcliffe built the Framework to keep his wife’s consciousness alive, and things take a tragic turn when Doctor Leo Fitz murders Radcliffe’s wife in front of her husband and even more tragically ironic — in front of Simmons!
Which brings us to our next awesome new villain, the ironic half, Doctor Leo Fitz. It’s almost painful to watch this Fitz’s turn to the dark side. As the episode reminds us, Fitz nearly drowned to save Simmons in the past and crossed galaxies to find his beloved. But in the Framework, this same gallant romantic murders a woman without blinking an eye. Last week, Simmons woke Coulson up to the reality of the world of the Framework. This week, Simmons hopes to do the same to Fitz in order to put his brilliant mind to work to find an escape. But this Fitz seems to be irredeemable, a HYDRA loyalist to the core.
Seeing Fitz become a cold-blooded killer and wipe Radcliffe’s wife from existence was pretty hardcore, but there is still some fun to be had this week. The mousy Coulson is a blast as we watch teacher Coulson slowly transform into Agent Coulson. This week, teacher Coulson sees some action and actually take down a few HYDRA agents while providing some needed light-hearted moments (he makes his own soap, people).
Coulson isn’t the only agent undergoing some major Framework changes. SHIELD’s big lug was absent from the Framework proceedings last week, but this week, we catch up with Mack and his daughter Hope. Hope is a brilliant gearhead just like her daddy. She is Mack’s greatest joy and his greatest weakness. So when Hope is taken by May and HYDRA, the cunningly evil May uses Mack’s love for his daughter to force Mack to discover that Daisy is a traitor. More irony as Daisy’s most loyal real-world friend causes her exposure and capture in the Framework. Not only that, Fitz also discovers Daisy’s Inhuman potential as the episode ends with Daisy in deep HYDRA doodoo. This betrayal seems to have awoken Mack’s heroic side as he ends the episode joining with SHIELD.
And yes, there’s a SHIELD. It’s more of a ragtag underground band of freedom fighters than a government sponsored peacekeeping force, but it exists. And this Framework SHIELD is led by Jeff Mace, codenamed, wait for it Marvel fans, Patriot! Hell, yeah! It is so cool to see Mace in his more familiar superhero role and it is a blast to see teacher Coulson react to meeting Mace. If you are reminded of when Coulson meets Steve Rogers in The Avengers, you aren’t alone. I am right there with you with the warm and fuzzies.
But that’s kind of where the good feelings end. It’s hard to process evil Fitz (not to mention good Grant Ward who continues to be as true and loyal in the Framework as he was evil and corrupt in the real world). It’s hard to process Mack as a father willing to betray Daisy and it’s painful to watch May as a jackbooted HYDRA thug. It’s heartbreaking to witness Simmons having to deal with the idea of her Fitz as a stone cold killer, and it’s terrifying to endure Daisy’s torture at the hands of HYDRA. In this so very compelling alternate dystopian timeline, it looks like all hope is lost. Radcliffe and Daisy are captured, Fitz seems to be irredeemable, and Mace’s SHIELD is forced to function with barely any assets. We are witnessing SHIELD’s darkest hour, and man is it fun.
Read Marc’s review of the previous episode, What If, here.