‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ returned this week to launch the third (and final?) story arc of the season. This one brings a somewhat interesting plot twist, but I’m not sure how long the show can, or should, sustain it.
As we last left them, most of the core S.H.I.E.L.D.ies had been captured by Dr. Radcliffe and forcibly inserted into The Framework, the Virtual Reality world he created. Radcliffe was then in turn uploaded into the Framework by his robot Aida, who killed his physical body so that he can’t ever come out again. (Yet she keeps the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies’ bodies alive even though she has no use for them at all.) Out in the real world, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been reduced to Daisy, Jemma, Yo-Yo, and a handful of Redshirt recruits. Daisy and Jemma hacked into the Framework in order to take over the bodies of their VR avatars and rescue their friends. Yo-Yo has strict instructions not to unplug them or it’ll fry their brains. Also, if they die inside the VR world, they die for real.
Repeating some info that was shown to us briefly in the last episode, Daisy wakes up in an apartment and discovers that her Framework counterpart is in a relationship with Grant Ward. Startled to see him alive, Daisy tries to use her powers to attack him, but they don’t work in this world. Ward calls her “Skye” and is mostly amused at how oddly she’s acting. Daisy spends most of the day completely baffled by all the differences between the Framework world and the real world, and is utterly unable to play along or act cool about it. For an agent who had allegedly worked undercover for over six months, she’s absolutely terrible at undercover work.
When they’re called in to work, Daisy learns that the Framework world is a police state run by HYDRA. S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen. Anti-Inhuman propaganda is everywhere, and the public cowers in fear at the mention of the word. She witnesses police openly abusing suspected Inhumans. Daisy and Ward are both agents of HYDRA and report to May, who’s an unpleasant hardass bitch – even more so than usual. Like all of Daisy’s other friends, May’s memories of the real world have been suppressed. The Framework is all she knows.
Jemma is dead. At least, her avatar was. In the epilogue of the last episode, we saw her name on a tombstone in a cemetery. However, she actually wakes up in a shallow grave on the grounds of an abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, next to another corpse. Covered in dirt and with a couple of bullet holes in her sweater, she makes her way to a road and flags down a ride. The driver is friendly enough, until they approach a HYDRA checkpoint in the road and the woman sees that Jemma has a S.H.I.E.L.D. ID card. She panics and kicks her out of the car.
Daisy is assigned to interrogate an alleged Inhuman terrorist named Jason Rajan, but when she sees him she recognizes him as Vijay Nadeer (brother of Sen. Nadeer). She uses this info to surmise that his ID is fake and must have been given to him by someone inside HYDRA, which means that HYDRA has a mole. Before she can question him more on this, Ward punches Vijay unconscious.
Jemma tries to lie low, but gets picked up by a couple of surly cops for not having an ID on her. She fights her way away from them and steals their car, then uses the computer inside to look up info about her teammates.
Coulson is working as a schoolteacher, lecturing his students about the danger of Inhumans and other “subversives,” and the importance of valuing the state over the individual. When one of the kids asks if HYDRA was really the Nazi science division, Coulson says that’s a lie and chastises him for believing nasty rumors and misinformation.
As it turns out, the reason HYDRA rules this world is mostly May’s fault. When she didn’t kill the dangerous Inhuman girl in Bahrain, the child went on to cause a major 9/11-type terror incident that threw the world into turmoil and facilitated the overthrow of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rise of HYDRA.
Fitz is Daisy’s superior at HYDRA. He’s known as “The Doctor” and is a total dick.
Jemma goes to the school to see Coulson, and tries to talk him into remembering his old life. Seeing a figurine of a hula girl on his shelf, she mentions Tahiti and the phrase “It’s a magical place.” She gets worked up practically into hysterics trying to jog his memories. Coulson asks her to leave, and then calls a HYDRA tip line to report a subversive.
On her way to the parking lot, Jemma finds her car being vandalized by the kid who asked Coulson about Nazis. Because he saw her speaking to his teacher, he assumed she must be HYDRA. She assures him that she’s not and confirms that, yes, HYDRA are all a bunch of Nazis. Meanwhile, inside the school, Coulson opens a journal with the phrase “It’s a magical place” written over and over and over again. Some part of his real life must be seeping through after all.
Daisy and Jemma meet up at a designated rendezvous point, only to find that Ward was suspicious of Daisy and followed her. He pulls a gun when he sees her talking to a subversive. Daisy tries to talk him down, but the situation escalates until more HYDRA agents approach and, seemingly out of the blue, Ward shoots one of them. He says he’s in the Resistance, ushers them into a car, and helps them escape.
Ward was of course the mole who gave Vijay the fake ID. He says that he found out Daisy was an Inhuman but kept the test results from her in order to protect her. He’s a little surprised when she replies that she already knows. Ward drives them to Daisy’s apartment and drops them off so that he can clean up their trail.
On their own again, Daisy and Jemma agree that it’s time to return to the real world and regroup. Unfortunately, their extraction beacon doesn’t work. They’re stuck here.
Back at HYDRA HQ, Fitz meets with the Director, who unsurprisingly turns out to be Aida. He tells her about his suspicions that they have a mole. She kisses him. Oh, Fitz…
The episode ends with Daisy startling Coulson in his car. (Why does no one on TV ever check the back seat before getting in their car?) She begs him to try to remember her. After a moment, he says her name.
This episode takes place entirely inside the Framework and never leaves to show us what’s happening in the real world. I’m not sure if every episode for the rest of the season will be this way. I hope not. It didn’t take long for the faded, nearly black-and-white color scheme to become monotonous.
I find it very hard to get too invested in this storyline knowing that it’s all basically just a big videogame. Nothing there is real, and most of the people are artificial. The way Daisy and Jemma react to everything is kind of ridiculous. They’re shocked and appalled to see the way their friends treat characters that are nothing but simulations. No matter how much they act like it does, the place has almost no stakes for them. They need to relax. They don’t have to save the world; they just need to get their friends out of it.
I’m not exactly thrilled to see Ward on the show again. I had my fill of him in previous seasons. The twist that he’s actually a good guy inside the Framework is clever, but it’s also a pretty transparent attempt to redeem a character that was only ever interesting as a villain (and increasingly less so the more we saw of him).
A title card at the end paying tribute to Bill Paxton was a nice gesture, though.