In the span of just two episodes, my feelings about the latest storyline in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ have progressed from curiosity to disinterest to outright annoyance. Do we really have five more weeks of this left?
Episode ‘Identity and Change’ (even the title is lame) once again takes place entirely inside the Framework virtual reality world, with no context for what might be happening outside it. (I suppose her time off gave actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who plays Yo-Yo, a chance to pay the ‘Bates Motel’ a visit.)
Daisy lays all her cards on the table to Coulson regarding his world being fake. Rather than report her to the authorities like he had with Jemma just the day before, Coulson feels relieved. “I knew I wasn’t crazy!” he declares. It turns out that, in fact, he is a rather crazy conspiracy theorist nutbag who not only believes that HYDRA staged the Cambridge Incident terror event (which seems plausible enough), but that the populace is being brainwashed by mind control soap. All of this directly contradicts what we were told about Coulson last week, which painted him as a true believer in the HYDRA cause.
Coulson struggles to understand everything that Daisy tells him, but he’s happy to help her. Daisy believes that the alterations made to his brain by Project TAHITI give Coulson more of an ability to see through the VR charade than their other friends have.
In his fake life, Mack’s dead daughter Hope is still alive and takes after him as a mechanical genius. (He calls her “Sparkplug.”) He panics when he learns that the girl scavenged spare parts from a downed HYDRA drone that she found in a park. An infraction like that could get them both in hot water with the authorities, and Mack just wants to keep his head down and stay off the HYDRA radar.
The Aida avatar calls herself Ophelia in this world. As the head of the organization, she’s also more formally known as Madame Hydra. When she learns that Jemma is alive, she becomes very paranoid about what might happen if Fitz is exposed to her. She tries to distract him with work on something called “Project Looking Glass.”
Daisy returns to work at HYDRA in order to look up information on Dr. Radcliffe, who may be their only hope of getting out of the Framework. What she finds is that he’s currently living on an island east of Bermuda.
With some help from Ward, Jemma and Coulson meet the leader of the Inhuman Resistance. It’s Jeffrey Mace, operating out of the ruins of the old S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Jemma doesn’t entirely explain everything to him, just some rough details that she’s a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who wants to help bring down HYDRA. Mace isn’t sure whether he can trust her, and he can’t spare a team to go on a wild goose chase to Bermuda in search of a scientist he knows nothing about. Because Ward trusts Daisy, he volunteers to fly Jemma and Coulson out to the island in a reclaimed quinjet.
Before she can leave the office, Daisy is ordered by May to assist on a mission to bring in some subversives, which turn out to be Mack and his young daughter. I guess stealing drone parts is considered a high crime against the state. Daisy has to interrogate the girl first, and is unable to hide her great sympathy for her. When she moves on to Mack, he indicates that he remembers her and knows they’re both S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Daisy is so relieved that she drops any pretense of working for HYDRA and stupidly blurts out a bunch of information about herself and Jemma. Daisy is an idiot. It never occurs to her that, even if he were telling the truth, their interrogation room is of course being monitored and recorded.
Mack doesn’t actually remember her. He was pressured by May into saying that as a ruse to flush out Daisy as a mole. He went along with it in order to save his daughter. Daisy immediately leaves the room. You’d think that May would be standing right outside the door waiting for her, but no, she’s down the hallway. This leads to a largely pointless chase through the building as Daisy tries to fight her way out through a bunch of HYDRA agents, only to get captured and beaten.
Jemma, Coulson and Ward find and confront Radcliffe on his private island. Ward is largely confused when Jemma starts talking about the Framework and the real world and other stuff he’s still in the dark about. Radcliffe insists that Aida is the real villain, and she stranded him on this island only because her programming wouldn’t allow her to completely kill him. He claims to feel very guilty about everything that’s happened, but also says there’s no escape from the Framework.
Suddenly, Zephyr One flies overhead and lands on the island. Aida, Fitz and a team of HYDRA soldiers step off the jet. Ward, Coulson and Jemma hide behind some bushes. Radcliffe feigns ignorance when Aida asks him where they are. Her soldiers search the house and drag out Agnes, Radcliffe’s love interest that Aida was modeled after. When Radcliffe begs Fitz for help, Fitz doesn’t understand why Radcliffe seems to know him.
Aida has fed Fitz a story about invaders from another world, a sort of parallel universe filled with doppelgangers of everyone in this world. She claims that she escaped that place and came here, and these invaders want to take her back. The purpose of Project Looking Glass is to monitor for these intruders, perhaps even to travel to their world and destroy them.
Fitz pulls a gun on Agnes. From his vantage point, Ward has a chance to take out Fitz, but Jemma won’t let him take the shot. If he dies here, his body in the real world dies as well. She’s convinced that Fitz’s innate goodness will come through and he’ll remember who he really is.
Unfortunately, Jemma is wrong. Deeply in love with Aida, Fitz coldly shoots Agnes dead, killing the last remnant of the real woman in the process. Jemma screams, revealing her location. A gunfight with the HYDRA soldiers then breaks out. Ward drags Jemma and Coulson back to the quinjet and barely gets them away. Jemma is heartbroken by what Fitz has done.
Following his release from HYDRA, Mack feels guilty about his complicity in harming Daisy. He makes his way to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters (I thought this place was supposed to be tough to find?) and volunteers to help.
At the Triskelion building, Daisy is beaten and thrown in a cell. Through the walls, she can hear Dr. Radcliffe being tortured. Fitz, meanwhile, has doubled down on being evil.
Honestly, I already thought it was pretty dumb that most of the characters had their memories wiped when they entered the Framework. Now we’re supposed to believe that their personalities are also totally different, and that Fitz can so easily turn evil? I don’t buy it. Everything about this storyline feels terribly contrived.
I’m also continually irritated at how stupidly Daisy and Jemma act within the Framework. They’re both completely incapable of keeping their real identities to themselves, and keep throwing indignant hissy fits when fake virtual videogame characters are harmed or killed. Agnes was a real person, so yeah, I get that killing her will have some repercussions for Fitz. But everyone else? C’mon, why should Jemma and Daisy care? As soon as they get their friends out, they’re just going to unplug the simulation and wipe the whole thing away anyway.
Obviously, this entire storyline is a lame retread of ‘The Matrix’. Even more than that, it reminds me of a half-baked Chris Carter show from 1999 called ‘Harsh Realm’. Anyone else remember that? It similarly had huge plausibility problems and significant plot holes. Even so, it was more entertaining than this dreary mess.