Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episode 19 review: All The Madame’s Men

Agents Of SHIELD's mirror universe is creating some truly excellent character and story moments...

This review contains spoilers.

4.19 All The Madame’s Men

Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD kicks off another Framework episode with a killer opening as Daisy bursts out of her cocoon using her Quake powers and things just got more intense from there. The action gets very Matrix-like as the newly created Quake and May attack HYDRA HQ with May playing the role of Trinity, because if you’re gonna do a Matrix riff, you might as well get all the flippy, shooty, fighty bells and whistles in there. The sequence ends with Daisy summarily using her Quake powers to slap Madame HYDRA with some seismic badassery. And we begin!

It’s hard to really recap these Framework-laden episodes of Agents Of SHIELD and hit all these highlights because the character work in this Marvel mirror universe is so damn good. Each and every major SHIELD player deserves time to shine, but it’s impossible to do that in a limited space without giving one of the major players short shrift. But rest assured, these Framework episodes have been the creative height of the series as each and every character has his or her spotlight moments as the creatives really take advantage of the opportunities the What If? world provides.

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For example, within the Framework, Agent May has become the wildcard SHIELD needs. Now that May is free, SHIELD is back to the ass-kicking machine that it is outside the Framework. May is having a crisis of conscience as she regrets ordering the airstrike that killed Mace last week. More and more of May is reasserting itself as she retakes her role as the hard-striking force of nature we are so used to. It was so difficult to watch evil May serve HYDRA, but now that she’s awake and aware thanks to the Patriot’s sacrifice, seeing May as a hero again is like reuniting with an old friend after too long a time. And May is unleashed this week as she takes the fight to HYDRA in a big way.

Seeing May on the side of the angels again wasn’t the only bit of Old Home Week in this episode as Agent Tripp has his few moments of glory as well. Seeing Tripp pal around with Coulson and Ward brings back some nostalgia for season one. Yeah, this show has been going on long enough, we can now feel nostalgia. Also, seeing Daisy’s pure joy at learning Tripp was alive within the Framework and once again helping her and her team was just emotionally cool. It’s a quick, almost throwaway moment, but you build up enough emotionally charged moments like Daisy’s joy at Tripp being alive and well, and you have a very special time in SHIELD TV history.

But our heroes aren’t the only ones coming together this week. It’s fascinating that AIDA inspires so much loyalty in and out of the Framework. In fact, her Quake caused injuries corrupt Framework Fitz (great name for a band) even further. You see, Madame HYDRA’s body is dying.

Of course, Framework AIDA is the only HYDRA operative that knows she is living in an artificial reality, so she is perfectly comfortable with her inevitable demise at the hands of Quake. But Fitz isn’t and it’s rather mind-blowing to think that Fitz’s loyalty to the woman he loves defines him in the Framework as well. After all, Framework Fitz is as corrupt as they come, yet his fierce love for Madame HYDRA has driven him to be the biggest threat our agents ever faced. So when Madame HYDRA dies in the Framewrok, Fitz is now fuelled by vengeance, a very dangerous state of affairs for SHIELD. Madame HYDRA’s death not only gives Fitz the motivation to destroy SHIELD, it also leads to a promotion as with Madame HYDRA gone, Fitz has become the new head of HYDRA! So let’s look at that list for a second: Red Skull, Whitehall, Baron Strucker, Grant Ward, and Leopold Fitz? Boy, does that not want to compute in my Fitz-loving brain.

Framework AIDA may be gone, but in the real world, AIDA is alive and well and ready to continue with her machinations. And this week, Madame HYDRA’s master plan is revealed. AIDA wants to become a real girl by using dark matter to build herself an organic body! Yeah, things are getting all Age Of Ultron (the comics version) in here as AIDA is literally manipulating realities to bring herself to life.

Even though Framework Fitz doesn’t know the reality-hopping extent of his beloved’s plan, he is still serving as AIDA’s pawn. Fitz’s first weapon is the returned Bakshi which he uses to turn the public against the SHIELD radicals. In the world of the Framework, Bakshi is more than just a Eurotrash HYDRA agent with annoying hair, he is a Eurotrash HYDRA agent who is also a media icon. Fake news, fake news! Bakshi’s reports turns the word against SHIELD, but when Coulson and company take over Bakshi’s TV station, Coulson gets the message out against HYDRA’s alternative facts.

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Speaking of HYDRA, we have HYDRA’s once favourite son, Grant Ward. This week, Ward must face a crisis as he learns that his beloved Daisy believes his entire reality to be artificial which poses the question: how does a man who believes his love is real deal with the fact that the recipient of that love believes it to be a collection of HYDRA-created 1s and 0s? Whatever the case, and with insane irony, Ward is the most altruistic character in the Framework. This week, we learn that Ward has suffered the same tragic and violent past he had to endure in the real world, but somehow, this Ward hasn’t been completely corrupted. In fact, by the episode’s end, Ward is willing to sacrifice himself in order to insure that Coulson sends his message of truth to the world.

And what a message. School teacher Coulson transforms into SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson before our very eyes as he exposes HYDRA’s lies. It is a powerful moment as Coulson, the same Coulson we met and fell in love with in the early Marvel films, returns to his steady confident self. We also learn that Coulson once had a chance to join SHIELD, but said no, taking the route of a school teacher instead as the theme of paths not taken is once again revisited. Yet, with these choices made, it seems that Coulson is slowly transforming into the real world director again.

SHIELD stands united, indeed, but Framework Fitz and his vile daddy (who beats the snot out of Radcliffe this week) are ready and willing to execute Madame HYDRA’s plan no matter what reality the woman called AIDA finds herself in. Things are getting intense on two worlds.

Read Marc’s review of the previous episode, No Regrets, here.