Agents of SHIELD 4x20

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4.20 Recap: “It’s Hell, Digital Hell”

The ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ finally escape the increasingly lame VR world known as The Framework, and it’s about damn time. Unfortunately, we still have two episodes left before this storyline wraps up.

I’m a little delayed on this recap because I was very busy last week, but let’s catch up on the show before the next episode airs.

In a change of pace, episode ‘Farewell, Cruel World!’ (har har) actually opens in the real world. After Daisy and Jemma entered the Framework, Yo-Yo and the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies on board Zephyr One cloaked the plane and remained airborne, afraid to land anywhere because they can’t trust anyone. (Surely one of the Koenig boys must have another secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Antarctica or something?) Now ten days of show time later, they’re running out of fuel. In a desperate effort to stay aloft, they make a hard decision to turn off their cloaking device to preserve power.

Of course, this allows the evil Russian known as The Superior to instantly locate them. He launches a fighter jet to take out the plane. Periodically, the episode cuts back to this plot thread so we can watch Yo-Yo begging Daisy and Jemma to wake up.

Back to the VR Stuff

Daisy has the coordinates to the secret backdoor exit that Radcliffe built into the Framework, but Jemma refuses to leave without Fitz. Coulson tries to explain to May that this world is fake. She thinks that story is nuts.

Following the attack on Aida/Madame Hydra, a state of martial law was declared and the oppressive HYDRA government has gotten even more oppressive. Reasoning that Daisy and the other members of the Resistance will want to return to their world, Fitz attempts to woo Radcliffe to the dark side by offering him a chance at immortality in a new flesh-and-blood body, courtesy of the machine he designed with ‘Darkhold’ technology.

When Jemma learns that Fitz’s father, Alistair Fitz, is alive in this world and is responsible for the love of her life being evil, she goes on an off-book mission to confront him at home, hoping to lure Fitz to her so she can kidnap him and force him to return back to the real world. Naturally, this goes horribly wrong and results in Jemma killing the old man. She returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. in a state of shock at having taken the fake life of a digital simulated person who doesn’t actually exist. (To be fair, she’s probably also upset at believing she’s lost her only chance of saving Fitz.)

Fitz finds his father dead and is furious. He takes a team of HYDRA agents on a revenge mission to hunt down and kill Jemma Simmons. Aida gets wind of this and tries to recall him to the Triskelion, but he ignores her summons.

Daisy and Jemma round up Coulson, May and Mack to fly to the backdoor. They keep the exact details of what they’re doing or why they need him secret from Mack until they get there, so as not to upset him. Indeed, he gets really pissed when he finds out. May still thinks that the virtual world story is a bunch of bunk, but goes along to humor the others and provide backup. Before they leave, Daisy suggests that Trip may want to consider stepping up to take over the role of The Patriot. After they’re gone, the Resistance will need a new face to lead it. (As if this world would continue to exist after Aida unplugs it.)

Radcliffe had told Daisy that the backdoor was located in a fountain in a public park in New Jersey, but when they get there, the team finds a steel mill built over the spot. Worse than that, the exact coordinates of the backdoor now lead directly into a giant vat of molten metal. When asked what this means, Daisy dejectedly replies that it means Aida has won. There’s no exit for them.

Failing to reach Fitz, Aida accelerates the plan to transfer her consciousness into a new body. She instructs her HYDRA doctors to give her body a full scan, and the machine back in the real world starts building a flesh version of it – in a process that looks remarkably like the one that worked for Leeloo in ‘The Fifth Element’.

With Dr. Radcliffe in tow to show him the way, Fitz and his HYDRA assault team arrive at the steel mill and have a shootout with the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies. Daisy then realizes that she can use her powers to displace the molten metal, like Moses parting the Red Sea, revealing a swirling vortex portal at the bottom of the vat. Coulson is shot during the firefight but, still alive, volunteers to leap into the portal first. As soon as he enters it, the entire building pixelates momentarily. May finally realizes that Daisy was right. Mack is horrified to see his own arm turn into a bunch of pixels.

Coulson wakes up in the real world and comes unplugged from the Framework pod. May follows soon after. Conveniently, all of the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies were left alone in the room with nobody watching over them. Declaring “Stinkin’ robots…”, Coulson grabs a nearby scalpel and gets to work dismantling Aida, whose robot body remains plugged into her pod.

In the steel mill, Fitz holds Jemma at gunpoint. She professes that she loves him and begs him to wake up, but he chooses instead to remain evil and shoots her in the leg. Before he can kill her, Radcliffe double-crosses Fitz and tosses him into the backdoor portal. He explains that he only pretended to align with Fitz in order to get him to the exit and save him. Radcliffe is willing to sacrifice himself and stay in the Framework. He knows there’s no leaving for him.

Jemma leaps into the portal next and wakes up on board Zephyr One while it’s under attack from the Russian jet. She tells Yo-Yo that Daisy should be coming right behind her.

Daisy holds the molten metal back for Mack to jump in, but he hesitates. He asks if his daughter will be waiting for him on the other side, and Daisy stupidly tells him the truth that she doesn’t exist there. Even as Daisy tries to convince him that people who love him are waiting for him, he refuses to go, saying “I don’t want to live in a world without Hope.” (Ooh, loaded line…)

Daisy then wakes up on Zephyr One. Yo-Yo immediately asks if she got Mack out, and Daisy has to break the bad news to her that he stayed behind.

In the underwater base, everyone except Mack is now awake. Robot Aida’s decapitated head lies on the floor. Fitz totally freaks out, overwhelmed with memories of all the terrible things he did in the Framework. Coulson and May try to reassure him that the people he harmed there weren’t real, but he counters that he murdered Agnes, who was a real person, and ordered the air strike that killed Director Mace. He moans, “I think I’m a bad person.”

Suddenly, Aida – now flesh and blood – walks into the room. She’s alive, with free will now, and even feels her first human emotion: happiness. She beckons to Fitz to come to her, and he blearily stumbles into her arms. May scrambles to find a gun and shoot Aida, but before she can do that, Aida and Fitz vanish in a flash of light. (Someone please explain to me how becoming human gives Aida the power of teleportation.)

The episode ends back in the Framework as Mack returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and is reunited with his daughter.

Episode Verdict

All things considered, this is probably the best episode since the Framework story arc began – or maybe I just feel that way because I’m relieved the characters finally got out of it. Regardless, my annoyance level with the storyline was only moderate this time.

Nevertheless, the plot has some obvious holes. For starters, where the hell are The Superior and all his guards when Coulson and the others wake up? Even if he’s preoccupied trying to shoot down Zephyr One, are we supposed to believe that he wouldn’t leave a single henchman behind to keep an eye on the prisoners?

Daisy allowing Mack to stay behind in the Framework because she feels sympathetic about his love for his fake daughter is also pretty dumb. Now that Aida has her flesh body and free will, what incentive does she have to keep the Framework going? The second she shuts it down, Mack dies. Even if S.H.I.E.L.D. defeats her, are they really going to keep the Framework operational just so Mack can stay in his happy place? Imagine the computing and power resources this program must consume.

In fact, the vast improbability of the Framework being an exacting replica of every single detail of the entire real world, even down to the personalities and memories of people who died long ago, just seems more and more absurd with each passing episode. This is the sort of ridiculous comic book plot that simply doesn’t work when translated to live action.


  1. Guy

    “Imagine the computing and power resources this program must consume.

    In fact, the vast improbability of the Framework being an exacting replica of every single detail of the entire real world, even down to the personalities and memories of people who died long ago, just seems more and more absurd with each passing episode.”

    They used knowledge from the Darkhold to turn Radcliffe’s small-scale Framework training program we were first introduced to into the nutty full-on virtual world we see now. He peaked in it that one time and was shown the path to consciousness living forever. It’s why he had such a head-on for stealing the book during the LMD arc. The Framework is magic and technology fused which I know still won’t make you happy given your dislike of the Ghost Rider arc, but that’s what’s going on and why earthly constraints don’t apply.

    • Guy

      “Aida and Fitz vanish in a flash of light. (Someone please explain to me how becoming human gives Aida the power of teleportation.)”

      Since she made it from scratch in any way she pleased, I’m assuming she made her new body with Inhuman abilities. That looked like the same teleportation effect Gordon used in season 2.

      • Guy

        We’re talking about a comic book world where SHIELD and Hydra had been experimenting on and developing technology based on a blue glowing alien energy cube since WWII. Tony Stark built an AI that had a fully-developed and autonomous personality, could exist seamlessly anywhere in the world and controlled a swarm of 40+ Iron Man suits all at once. Age of Ultron showed us that Tony had a few other AI companions stored on data devices no bigger than a microscope slide. Mix that level of sci-fi technological advancement with the Darkhold-granted ability to access other dimensions for a ‘roided up version of quantum computing and I buy the Framework.

        I haven’t been as on board with the storytelling in that virtual world as I have been with the rest of this season, but it wasn’t the premise dragging it down. This week’s back-to-the-real-world episode was a return to great fun, though. Mallory Jansen absolutely kills it in her performance of Aida’s introduction to flesh-and-blood life. I think you’ll be more into most of what they appear to be doing in the final two episodes.

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