‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ uses the excuse of Virtual Reality to bring another departed character back from the dead (sort of). The show’s current plotline also makes less and less sense the more episodes go by.
Dr. Sunil Bakshi, the evil HYDRA scientist killed by Jemma Simmons back in Season 2, is alive and well in the Framework world, where he’s a TV anchor for the state-run propaganda news network, filling the airwaves with “alternative facts” about The Patriot (Director Mace) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. terrorists. The official story is that Mace died while bombing the HYDRA Enlightenment Center in a terror attack. His death is treated as cause for celebration.
At the Triskelion, Daisy emerges from her Terrigen cocoon with her telekinetic powers restored. May helps her escape by shooting their way out of the building. On their way to an elevator, they’re blocked by Aida and some guards. Aida is both disappointed but impressed that May switched sides. She says that even with reprogramming, humans can’t escape their true natures. She then tries to gloat that Fitz being evil is his actual nature. Daisy surprises her by using her power to blast Aida through a window, causing her to plummet several stories and crash on the ground below. Because Aida is human in this world, that should be enough to kill her. Of course, it doesn’t.
The real Aida wakes up in her underground lab, rather miffed at this setback. (Given that Aida is an A.I., why does she need to physically plug into the Framework the way that humans do? Why is she constrained to her physical body at all? Can’t she run multiple programs at once?) When told that May betrayed her, the Russian known as The Superior offers to kill her for Aida. However, when he tries to shoot her, he finds that he can’t. Because Aida built his new cyborg body, he’s restricted by the same programming she is, which prevents either of them from killing the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies. Apparently, Jemma and Daisy are exceptions to this rule, because they’ve been deemed threats to the Framework, and protecting the Framework is Directive #1. Why the others aren’t also labeled threats to the Framework is of course not explained.
With the Patriot dead, S.H.I.E.L.D. lacks leadership and direction. With Aida comatose, however, Fitz takes over as the new head of HYDRA. He vows that, “Betrayal will not be tolerated.” When Bakshi visits the Triskelion to inquire about Aida, Fitz lies and tells him that she wasn’t seriously harmed. Bakshi asks to do a TV interview to reassure the public that everything is fine. Fitz tells him that he wants the public to be scared. The next thing you know, Bakshi is back on the air declaring Daisy and May the top most wanted enemies of state. Anyone who sees them is to report them immediately.
Ward sees that news broadcast and goes out to search for Daisy. Trip shows Jemma the photos he took while undercover in HYDRA. Among them are schematics for Project Looking Glass, which Jemma quickly recognizes as ‘Darkhold’ tech. Trip has no idea what that means, and Jemma doesn’t have the time or inclination to explain to him. All she says is that they need to find it immediately. Trip offers to fly her in a quinjet to an offshore oil rig where it’s supposedly located.
Aida wakes up in her bed and tells Fitz that he needs to focus on completing the Looking Glass machine. Fitz’s father offers to take over the search for the traitors.
Daisy and May are spotted on the street and have a shootout with HYDRA agents, which results in them being trapped in a building and surrounded. Fortunately, Mack and Coulson arrive in time to save them. Mack does not like or trust May, but sets that aside when Daisy tells him to. The group escape the building through old smuggler tunnels from Prohibition days.
Trip and Jemma’s quinjet arrives at the oil platform, which appears to be abandoned. They ride an elevator down to an underwater complex but find nothing there. Jemma realizes that’s because the device isn’t in this world. It’s in the real world. Trip still has no idea what she’s talking about. Jemma also determines that the purpose of the machine is to fabricate real human tissue so that Aida can become human. She wants to be a real girl. When she’s human, she will have free will and won’t be restrained by any programming.
May and Daisy are brought to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Ward tells Daisy that he knows he won’t be able to go with her when she returns to her own world. She confirms for him that he was not only a bad person there, but is dead now. That’s kind of a bummer to hear. When May reveals that she has bodycam footage that proves a HYDRA quinjet blew up the Enlightenment Center, not S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson cooks up a plan. Even though he was just a nobody schoolteacher the day before, he’s starting to come into his own as a leader.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. team led by Coulson, Ward and Daisy takes over the TV station where Bakshi’s show is broadcast. They tie Bakshi up, and Coulson records a statement sitting in his anchor chair. As they others pack up to leave before HYDRA forces get there, Ward volunteers to stay behind and transmit the message. Daisy tells him that he proves that even the real Grant Ward must have had some goodness in him. Ward asks her if he’ll get his Skye back when Daisy leaves. Sure, she’s a HYDRA agent, but nobody’s perfect.
The broadcast goes out. In the recording, Coulson shows the footage proving that HYDRA blew up its own building with children inside and lied about it, then publicly outs himself as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It takes all of about 15 seconds for a mob of people to form outside the TV station – not to capture the terrorists, but to rise up and fight their oppressors. The message worked super-fast.
The episode ends with the Superior telling Aida that he’s located Daisy and Jemma’s real bodies on a S.H.I.E.L.D. jet and he’ll blow it up as soon as he can get a target lock.
Aida’s real-girl plot doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, and even if it did, my lord is it dumb. How would transferring her consciousness into human flesh give her free will? We’re just supposed to take that for granted? I assume this is something that would happen in the real world, not just in the Framework, because in the Framework she’s already human.
For that matter, Aida controls the Framework and can reprogram it at will. The only thing she’s not allowed to do is kill the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies, but there should be absolutely nothing stopping her from, for example, making her Framework self immediately recover from her injuries. Why leave herself comatose or paralyzed?
Another question: What was the point of rebuilding the Superior into a super-strong cyborg, only to have him stand around in their underwater base doing nothing? What a waste.
I’m pretty sure I’ve already figured out how the season finale will end. The S.H.I.E.L.D.ies will defeat Aida, but with her flesh-making machine completed, they’ll use it to make a new human body for Ward so that he and Daisy can live happily ever after. I’m calling that now. I’ll be amazed if the season ends any differently.