SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 16 ‘What If…’ ahead.
Last week, we learned that Mallory Jensen would be tackling her third role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and playing a version of the villainous Madame Hydra while inside the Framework. Though Jensen first appeared as the LMD Aida, earlier this year it was revealed that the android was based upon a dying woman with whom Dr. Radcliffe used to have a relationship. Following her takeover of Radcliffe’s operation and the placement of our protagonists inside the Framework, Aida not only entered as well to keep an eye on things, but has given herself a colorful role in the proceedings.
Madame Hydra isn’t a new character, however. The rogue has a long history in Marvel Comics, often coming to blows with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America. Like many MCU adaptations, she’s had a few changes made to her. While we won’t know the full extent of her modifications until her spotlight next week, it’s clear that the character will retain many of the skills and attributes of her comic book counterpart as SHIELD brings Madame Hydra to life.
The Origin of Madame Hydra
The woman who would one day become Madame Hydra began life as a Hungarian orphan named Ophelia Sarkissian. Created by writer and artist Jim Steranko in 1969 for Captain America #110, Sarkissian and eleven other young girls were taken by Hydra and raised under the tutelage of Daniel Whitehall. Also know as the Kraken, Whitehall was a grueling taskmaster, but trained the girls to be expert fighters and strategists. Over more than two decades, Sarkissian dominated in all areas and quickly emerged as the Kraken’s prized pupil. Her skill and ambition led her to excel in Hydra, and her prowess pitted her against SHIELD, Captain America, and the Avengers on many occasions.
Eventually, she adopted the name Madame Hydra and came to become one of the organization’s many leaders. Though she hasn’t always held the office, Madame Hydra is still considered one of the terrorist group’s most capable rulers, alongside Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Kraken, and the Gorgon. Like those others, however, she hasn’t always been on the best terms with Hydra. She eventually broke from the group and sought out the leader of the Serpent Society, known as the Viper. Upon doing so, she killed him and not only took his mantle, but control of his criminal enterprise.
As the Viper, she’s had a number of run-ins with the X-Men and crossed into Wolverine’s orbit. In her efforts, she’s worked with one of Logan’s longtime enemies, the Silver Samurai, and even sought to kill Wolverine’s paramore Mariko Yashida. Though her backstory and the circumstances were tweaked a bit, much of this was adapted into James Mangold’s The Wolverine. In the film, Viper is known as Dr. Green, but much of her appearance and prowess remains the same as in the comics.
In the comics, Sarkissian has stuck with the Viper persona, while the Madame Hydra name has been taken up by La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. The Contessa is another Steranko creation, herself a spy and foe of SHIELD dating back to the '60s as well. Her Madame Hydra sees the character wearing an elaborate octopus headless and possessing a thoroughly less controlled demeanor, so it's unlikely the version we'll see on SHIELD.
Madame Hydra in the MCU
Like The Wolverine, the MCU looks to be taking bits of Sarkissian’s life and translating them. It won’t even be the first time this has been done. The 1998 television movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. used Madame Hydra as a villain, though changed her to be Andrea von Strucker. It’s unknown if Aida will take the name Ophelia Sarkissian, but by her very nature the character’s backstory has been altered. While Aida lacks much of the history with Hydra, and even her support of the group remains ambiguous, it’s clear she’ll be adopting the name Madame Hydra and the character’s green motif.
Played by Jensen, her version of Madame Hydra on SHIELD certainly strikes a similar figure to the comic character, and the androids strength and fighting skills will no doubt be carried over into the Framework. Add in the brilliant mind we already know she has, and her association with the occult, and Aida is actually fairly suited to be the leader of this new iteration of Hydra. There’s even a chance we could see Reed Diamond return as Daniel Whitehall inside the Framework, to further tie the new Madame Hydra into the comics.
While her motivations are unknown as of now, it’s clear that Madame Hydra along with Fitz brought the new world order to power following the devastation and public backlash of the Cambridge Incident. Considering Aida isn’t truly Hydra and has some rather unpleasant encounters with Inhumans, that could explain while the group has moved from worshiping the species to hunting them. Her choice to involve herself with Fitz also speaks to some of the potential vulnerabilities the LMD is developing. Clearly, she has a desire for human emotion, and it seems that the kindness Fitz always afforded her has struck a chord. It could even be the reason she has Simmons killed inside the new reality. Regardless, all will likely be revealed soon.
Madame Hydra in the comics was a ruthless and dangerous adversary, but Aida may just be even more frightening. With her LMD mind, knowledge from the Darkhold, and control over the Framework, she’s poised to be one of the toughest foes our heroes have ever faced. And with May and Fitz in her thrall, the Resistance have a difficult journey ahead of them if they want to defeat Madame Hydra and her insidious organization.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues Tuesday April 11 with ‘Identity and Change’ at 10pm on ABC.