[Spoiler warning for last night's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.]
All season long, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been laying the foundation for its current and final arc. When the fourth season opened, much of the focus was on the introduction of Ghost Rider to the MCU. In the background, however, the show began sowing the seeds for a plotline that would take months to take root and grow. By the time Ghost Rider had exited the show, Life Model Decoys were a full-fledged part of the series’ reality and the double-edged sword of the knowledge contained within the Darkhold was well-known.
As the second arc began taking shape, the threat of both Radcliffe and AIDA was made clear, while viewers were introduced to the Framework. While each of their importance to the remainder of the season was clear, no one could have guessed it would lead to a third act for the season involving an alternate reality where Hydra reigned supreme. But not all of our heroes are willing to leave the supposedly dark fantasy. For Mack, the bad has always been outweighed by the good thanks to the presence of his daughter Hope. And even with the truth of the false reality revealed, the knowledge that one world has Hope while another doesn’t was all it took for him to make the decision to stay. But can Mack really remain in the Framework, and what does the future hold for his character?
Mack’s Hard Choice
The introduction of the new Hydra reality has not only allowed the series to bring back some familiar faces, but also dive into its most political material yet. Far from being a left-field turn from the rest of the season’s plots, however, the basic themes and story elements remain unchanged in the Framework narrative. The Darkhold and AIDA’s quest to become more human have dovetailed with the alternate reality plot to form the final threat our agents will have to face. And while we’ve always known Daisy and Simmons would happily leave the Framework, the threat of at least one agent remaining behind has always been there.
Almost immediately, Coulson’s acquiescence was made clear. As for Mace, his decision was essentially made for him when he died a hero in both worlds. And while May remained questionable for some time, there hasn’t really been anything emotionally tethering her to the false reality. Fitz and Mack have always been the two leading candidates for staying behind, given the relationships they stand to lose from leaving. Last night’s episode, though, finally put the Framework in the rearview for Fitz and the other agents, with Mack unsurprisingly choosing to stay behind.
In doing so, he’s of course choosing his daughter, but his lack of remembrance for the real world means he doesn’t realize he’s leaving behind Daisy, Yo-Yo, and his brother. The look on his face at episode’s end also indicates that even in his current mindset, he’s more than a little trepidatious about the choice he’s made. As it stands, it’s hard to imagine him choosing to leave Hope. But what happens if he starts to remember his other life and those he’s left behind?
We’ve had no word about a version of Mack’s brother existing in the Framework, so that’s one potential emotional hurdle if he should regain his memories. Even if he does exist, Mack has an incredibly close relationship with Daisy built on years of partnership. And then there’s Yo-Yo, who’s grown over the past two seasons to be quite an important person to Mack. All in all, there’s plenty of emotional heavy-lifting that will occur if Mack is forced to choose between his two lives and sets of relationships. And honestly, there’s really no way of telling which side he’ll fall on when the season is over. The bigger question, then, is can Mack continue to exist inside the Framework, even if he wants to?