Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicked off season 5 by separating Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team from everyone and everything they know - except the Framework. Season 5 kicked off with the Agents being launched into not just outer space but the future. It's an entirely new scenario rife with numerous mysteries - the foremost being How was the Earth destroyed in the future? and How will the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. get back to the present? The Framework could be the key everything.
The Framework is one of the most versatile concepts Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever introduced and it's telling that it has been imported into the new season while almost everything else has been jettisoned. The Agents are now an untold number of years in the future where the Earth has been destroyed, humanity's history and records are gone, and what's left of the human race is huddled in a space station called the Lighthouse under the dominion of the Kree. Yet, miraculously, the Framework remains.
WHAT IS THE FRAMEWORK?
The focal point of the third pod of season 4, the Framework was the virtual reality world controlled by HYDRA that AIDA (Mallory Jansen) tried to use as a way to ultimately create a human body for herself in the real world and the replace our reality with the Framework's HYDRA-controlled reality. Originally, however, it was a simulation program designed by Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) for the use of training S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in a safe virtual reality environment.
Dr. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) used the Framework technology to imprison Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) when he and AIDA replaced her with a Life Model Decoy to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and spy on them. May's consciousness rebelled against the simplistic virtual reality loop she was trapped in, which allowed her to escape the Framework. Radcliffe then redesigned the Framework with the supernatural elements of the Darkhold into a more sophisticated alternative digital reality that would address and correct the user's greatest regret. For May, it was the incident in Bahrain where she gained the nickname 'the Cavalry.'
When AIDA captured Agents Phil Coulson, Fitz, Mac Mackenzie (Henry Simmons), and Jeffrey Mace (Jason O'Mara), she uploaded their consciousnesses into the Framework, which then corrected their biggest regret and remapped its virtual reality in response. The result was an alternate reality where HYDRA gained domination of the world, which Agents Simmons and Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) discovered when they uploaded themselves into the Framework to rescue their teammates.
They found Fitz became the Doctor, the malevolent second in command of HYDRA and the lover of its leader AIDA, now styled as Madame Hydra. Coulson was a history teacher who instructed on the dangers of Inhumans, while Mace led a Resistance that counted Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) among its ranks. Other long dead former Agents like Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) were alive and well. Mace was later killed in the Framework; if a person dies while in the Framework, their physical body in the real world also dies.
AIDA's plan was to use Fitz to fulfill Project Looking Glass and create a machine that would give her a human body in the real world. She would then delete the Framework, killing the Agents still trapped inside it. Ultimately, the Agents were able to escape the Framework before the entire virtual reality was deleted, and Coulson made a deal to use the supernatural power of Ghost Rider to destroy AIDA. The virtual reality of the Framework ceased to be, and our reality was saved.
THE FRAMEWORK RELOADED
After arriving in the future and meeting Deke (Jeff Ward), an opportunistic scavenger, Daisy Johnson discovered Deke ran a business where people in the Lighthouse could pay to escape into the virtual reality of the Framework. This was looked upon favorably by their Kree masters as it allowed the humans a fantasy world which would help keep them docile.
When Daisy entered this rebooted version of the Framework (a name that Deke hadn't heard before but instantly adopted), she learned from Deke that his hardware interface is based on the original Framework tech. Deke rebuilt the software from scratch because the Kree had Earth's historical archives erased, but Deke managed to get ahold of the Framework's servers and pieced his imperfect simulation of 21st century Los Angeles bit by bit, though he admittedly used a lot of guesswork to fill in the blanks. (For instance, there's beer in the Framework but he had no idea what actual beer tasted like.)
However, the survival of the Framework into this apocalyptic future may be the key to how the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can ultimately save the world...