[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 19. There will be SPOILERS.]
The latest storyline in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 has featured Daisy and Simmons entering the virtual reality called the Framework that was created by Dr. Holden Radcliffe and his Life-Model Decoy Aida through the help of the Darkhold. Since the Framework was built as a kind of prison for Agent May, one in which Aida "fixed" May's biggest regret, Daisy and Simmons entered in order to learn where May and her fellow agents are being held in reality so that S.H.I.E.L.D. can save them. However, the world of the Framework is much more complex and dangerous than Daisy and Simmons expected.
In fact, the Framework depicts a reality in which Hydra defeated S.H.I.E.L.D., rather than the other way around, and fostered a society that fears Inhumans. With plenty of nods to earlier seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Framework storyline brought back Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and, as of last week's episode 'No Regrets', fan-favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt). Still, though the Framework is a virtual reality, actions within the world have consequences in reality - namely, if characters die in the Framework, they die in reality, just as Jeffrey Mace died last week. Now, with only a handful of episodes left of season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is moving toward wrapping up the Framework storyline.
In this week's episode, 'All the Madame's Men' -- written by James C. Oliver and Sharla Oliver and directed by Billy Gierhart -- Daisy emerges from her Terrigenesis cocoon with her powers as an Inhuman and she teams with May in order to escape Hydra. Meanwhile, Coulson steps up to take charge of what's left of the Resistance while Simmons and Trip learn the truth of what Aida has planned for the Framework.
Quake is Born - Again
After the final scene of last week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured May breaking a Terrigen crystal in front of Daisy, the latter emerges from her Terrigenesis cocoon ready to battle Hydra. And, once she breaks out of that cocoon, 'All the Madame's Men' delivers another exciting fight sequence on par with all the other excellent sequences featured in season 4 - including the one that ended with Daisy's capture in the first place. With both May and Daisy using every skill in their arsenal, they truly pull out all the stops on Madame Hydra's men, and the head of Hydra isn't a match for Daisy's Inhuman powers.
The fight concludes with Daisy using her powers to blast Madame Hydra out a window high up in the Triskelion, with the leader somehow managing to survive the fall - albeit with serious injuries. It's a scene reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though in that Marvel film, it was Steve Rogers who threw himself out a window to escape the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, and he landed on his shield before escaping. Still, while Madame Hydra lives, she instructs Fitz to focus on completing Project Looking Glass rather than tracking down Daisy and May.
Of course, that doesn't stop Fitz from tasking his father with finding Daisy and May. Though Alistair Fitz is unable to complete his mission, viewers do get a thrilling scene between the elder Fitz and Radcliffe, who was a father figure to Fitz in reality. As for May and Daisy, the pair connect with the Resistance - after a brief standoff between May and Mack - and proceed to set about taking down Hydra using the body cam footage of the Patriot's death. After setting up the broadcast that will release the footage, Daisy and the agents hoping to exit the Framework depart to find Radcliffe's back door out of the virtual world, but not before Daisy and Ward have a goodbye scene of sorts.
Ever since Ward was introduced in the Framework, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown yet another side to the character. One who is inherently good in a world ruled by an evil authoritarian organization, and one who is devoted to Skye - so much so that he joined the Resistance in order to protect her once he learned she was an Inhuman. Before parting ways, Daisy says she understands the real Grant Ward more having known Framework Ward. It's a nice, realistic moment since Daisy doesn't necessarily forgive the real Ward for all that he did to her and S.H.I.E.L.D., but she's still able to offer Framework Ward the peace that maybe he'll get his Skye back once Daisy leaves.
"My name is Phil Coulson and I am an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D."
In the wake of Patriot's death last week, the Resistance is somewhat floundering as they're not sure who to look for to make the tough decisions. Once May and Daisy escape Hydra, becoming public enemies with their faces plastered on Hydra billboards, Ward becomes too emotional to dedicate his time to anything other than searching for Daisy to make sure she's safe. And, with Trip going along with Simmons on her reconnaissance mission to investigate the plans for Project Looking Glass that he recovered, there isn't anyone high-ranking left at Resistance HQ - so Coulson steps up.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first entered the Framework, Coulson was a simple high school teacher who helped propagate Hydra's lies by teaching their alternative history to his students. He also stood by when Hydra entered his classroom and took a student - one he later saved from the Hydra Enlightenment Cultivation Center in 'No Regrets'. Coulson saving that former student, and his stepping up to take charge of the Resistance in 'All the Madame's Men' is evidence of his development as a character within the Framework. It comes to a head during Coulson's speech on Sunil Bakshi's (Simon Kassianides) pleading with the public to see Hydra for who they truly are.
It's a significant step in both Framework Coulson's path to becoming who he is in reality, as well as a major step forward for the Framework's Resistance against Hydra. After Coulson, Daisy, May and Mack leave the TV studio, Ward prepares himself to fight back against Hydra's forces, but Burrows reveals that people are gathering outside the building - not to fight the Resistance, but to fight Hydra. It's a brief glimpse of hope for the Resistance, but since the episode ends shortly after, we don't know exactly how Ward's stand at the TV station ends. However, with Coulson taking a stand against Hydra after being their tool of propaganda for so long, there's certainly hope that his speech motivated others like him to finally take a stand as well.
Aida's Endgame Revealed?
Although it isn't given much time in the overall scope of 'All the Madame's Men', Simmons and Trip's mission works to set up the final battle between Aida and the agents as they try to exit the Framework. At Madame Hydra's behest, Fitz completes Project Looking Glass, which Simmons discovers is a machine - similar to the one built by Eli Morrow during the Ghost Rider pod at the beginning of season 4 - that would be able to create living matter out of nothing. Aida plans to use the machine to give herself a human body, to essentially bring her Madame Hydra persona out of the Framework and into the real world - and she also plans to bring the Framework version of Fitz along with her.
Simmons figures out what Aida is planning, but is unable to destroy the machine before it's completed because Aida is having it built in the real world, rather than in the Framework. So, it's unclear how exactly Simmons, Daisy, and the rest of the Framework agents will be able to fight against Aida, though their next step is presumably to locate Radcliffe's back door out of the Framework and battle the LMD in the real world. Of course, with Project Looking Glass so close to completion, it opens the door between the virtual reality and the real world - and Aida may not be the only one to go through it. That is, of course, if she does at all.
With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 barreling toward its final handful of episodes, and the Framework storyline heading toward its completion as what's going on in reality becomes more and more important, the show is setting up for the big finale. With the Life-Model Decoy Aida, the Framework, and Eli Morrow's technology being incorporated into the storyline, it appears Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will bring all three of its season 4 pods together - but does that mean Ghost Rider will return? With only two episodes left until the finale, we'll find out soon enough.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues Tuesday May 2 with ‘Farewell, Cruel World!’ at 10pm on ABC.