Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: All the Madame's Men

“Will you take a stand?”

Aida, how very Pinocchio of you.

It turns out I was wrong last week and a Doux Reviews reader was right: Aida and Ophelia are the same. The reason why Aida looked sad when she saw that Mace had died in the real world is because her programming sets her to protect the agents. But that won’t last much longer.

The goal of Project Looking Glass, the one Fitz has been working on, is to make Aida become human and free her from the restraints of her programming. It ties back to the first arc of this season when Robbie’s uncle built a machine to create matter. The new machine, though, will create a more sophisticated type of matter: living tissue. Then Aida’s consciousness can leave the Framework and inhabit a real human body.

Is that all? Don’t get me wrong, from a character development point of view, I want to see how Aida will react to being human in the real world. Plot wise, however, it’s not much. Perhaps this is similar to Buffy season five, where the villain’s endgame was simple but its consequences were the bigger problem. I hope so. I hope the Darkhold is orchestrating something more relevant and Aida herself is unaware.

Fitz, the romantic, expresses his desire to cross to the other side with Aida. I understand where his heart is, but does it make sense? Fitz is very protective of his Hydra empire, something he believes he built with Aida/Ophelia. He sees people from the other side as enemies, why would he want to go live there? Does he know why Ophelia wants to go there? I know he is brainwashed, but the change from “this is my home, I won’t let you destroy it” to “take me with you” is too abrupt. Anyhow, this could lead to this version of Fitz lasting beyond his Framework expiration date. So there would be two Fitzes, original Fitz, traumatized by all he did under Aida’s control, and evil Fitz, Aida’s loyal lover.

In fact, any character is game to return from the Framework. Do I see the writers taunting teasing us with the possibility of Ward coming back for good? I do. Listen, when the plot of season three became all about extending Ward’s lifespan, the show lost me. I should be worried now, but I’m not. I still think the best outcome for Ward is to sacrifice himself before this season ends, thus providing a triumphant ending to this character redemption of sorts. But I will confess this, with a very low voice so nobody can hear me: it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he stayed.

Would it be a risky writing decision to bring Ward back permanently? Yes. In the long run, it could look like a cheap trick, mere wish fulfillment, not just for the crazy lovely fans who adored Ward, but for the writers as well. I can imagine them thinking “what if Ward were good? What if he had never betrayed the team?” and taking those possibilities beyond the “what if” arc they have created. Still, there are some scenarios that could be explored with this Ward in the real world. While the last few episodes have covered Daisy’s and Jemma’s feelings towards him, we are missing the reactions of Coulson, May and Fitz, whose memories are temporarily gone. Part of me is curious to see how they’d interact with Ward once they are free from Aida’s sway.

Framework Ward is a good person. He was recruited by Victoria Hand, not John Garret. She showed him he could be a good man, in spite of all the troubled childhood he had. What a difference a good mentor can make. I mentioned last week that Radcliffe is a tragic figure, but so is Ward. His girlfriend was overwritten by a different woman, he discovered that the world he lives in is a software and that he has a terrible real world counterpart. Now he just learned that other Ward died. Ouch. It must be tough to hear Daisy say that nothing that happens in his reality has meaning, that they only need to find an escape to the other world, knowing he is going to be left behind. He is all binary coding, no flesh. But he is willing to keep fighting. To help. There is a sweetness in the way he treats Daisy, even when he refrains from touching her because she is not his Skye. His plea – will the Skye he knew return when Daisy leaves the Framework? – is genuine. So, yeah, I’m rooting for this Ward. I hope he gets a happy ending, whether it’s a glorious moment of sacrifice (my definition of happy is broad) or a ticket to the real world. Whatever happens we will find out very soon.

In the meantime, the writers continue to explore the dystopian world they have created, using it to make clever critiques of politicians who base their agenda on fear. If you are going to tell a dystopian story, exploring the role of propaganda is a must. So, this episode officially reintroduces Sunil Bakshi, who is Hydra’s main reporter in the Framework. The news is clearly controlled by the State, which distorts the facts to suit their agenda. After Daisy nearly kills Ophelia, Fitz demands that Bakshi amp up the tone. “I want them afraid”, he says, because there is nothing better than fear to keep people paralyzed.

Fitz learned about fear from his father. Alistair does not tolerate that his son loses emotional control. When he reprehends Fitz and makes sexist comments comparing him to his mother, Fitz steps back scared. A few seconds later, though, he has a comeback: there is also something he doesn’t tolerate, and that is failure, implicating that he will punish (kill?) his own father if necessary. Alistair and Leopold can be mates in this reality, but their relationship is filled with intimidation. No wonder fear is their key message to the population.

But it’s also in propaganda that Coulson sees an opportunity. Afraid that The Patriot’s death may dismantle the Resistance, he works his best to keep what is left of S.H.I.E.L.D. together and strong. He operates in pure instinct, with no memories to help, extrapolates the role of history teacher he was assigned and slowly falls back into his true role of the director. It’s been a recurrent theme for him throughout the series – to have his leadership questioned – and it’s really satisfying to see him embrace the leader inside him. The last two episodes have each ended with a powerful scene, and it was no different with this one, with Coulson going in front of the cameras and delivering a hell of a speech. To strengthen people, to tear their fear apart.

Daisy is proud of her spy dad.
May and Mack are also on the route to regain control of themselves. For someone who believes she has served Hydra for years, she is very comfortable with switching sides. I really appreciated that Daisy, upon learning May’s role on Mace’s death, anticipated the “it’s not your fault” speech that May will definitively need once she gets her memories back. And that moment May and Coulson shared? Awn. Mack has yet to reestablish that emotional connection with someone from the team, but he does jump into action when needed, following his nature of protector. I still don’t see how he will leave Hope behind, but that’s another thing we are soon to find out.

Intel and Assets

- The Superior is back. He is less boring as Aida’s minion, but I’m not holding my breath for a final confrontation between him and Coulson.

- Simmons and Trip arrived at Ivanov’s platform, where Ivanov was working on the Looking Glass machine, but they found nothing. Nice twist on the classic “not in the same place”, uh, twist. Same place, different worlds.

- Radcliffe is still a wild card. He didn’t take Alistair seriously, but will he resist whatever Fitz has to offer to him?

- Daisy is Quake in the Framework too, and she made great use of her powers. I loved that she didn’t even try to explain to May how she could control them right after Terrigenesis.

- Daisy didn’t get to see Trip, but she had a lovely reaction upon learning he was alive, as expected.

- That moment Coulson put his left hand on Ward’s chest to hold him off? Subtle and creepy callback.

- Ward turned off the TV while Bakshi was reporting Daisy and May’s “terrorist attack”. Ward, I know you were upset, but they were giving you good information. Control your feelings.

- I can’t wait to see how Aida’s captives will react when they wake up. They will be overloaded with feelings, emotions, memories, but they probably won’t have time to deal with any of their issues because they’ll still be trapped inside Ivanov’s submarine. Talk about a race that never ends.

- If we indeed end up with two Fitzes, an evil one and a good one taunted by the memories of the evil one’s deeds, that will be very Angel and Angelus in “Orpheus”.

- Does Fitz wake up in the real world if Framework Fitz crosses sides?

- Will we meet Fitz’ mom? She was mentioned again.

- There was another tribute to Bill Paxton, this time in the form of an Easter Egg. During the news, there was a picture of John Garret under the labels of “in memoriam” and “national hero”.

- Random bit of cuteness: my kitten was paying attention to Ward and Daisy’s heartfelt moment and tried to “touch” Ward when he walked away.

Aida/Ophelia: “No matter the circumstance, none of you can escape your true nature.”

Coulson: “A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent? What was his name?”
Ward: “She’d laugh that you assumed it was a guy.”

May: “You see that look?”
Daisy: “Maybe she is just racist.”
LOL.

Coulson: “Hydra doesn’t think we’re smart enough to know when we’re being fed alternative facts. To keep us afraid, to keep them in power."

Three out of four S.H.I.E.L.D. badges.
--
Lamounier

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aida's plan is refreshing in the non moustache twirling nature of it..
This is where AOS separates itself from the rest..
This whole storyline is nothing we have not seen before but they have managed to add twists and angles that make it fresh in every way.
Also there is impact and stakes because of the character work that has happened from the start even in the extremely rocky days of season 1 they always put work into the characters. That has really come to fruition in this arc.
The villains always have a personal human reason that is well established throughout the season and AIDA'S is particularly compelling..She has above human intelligence and programmed with close to human feelings but was kept in a closet.
She's not specifically trying to end the world, shes trying to live and the consequence of that is remaking the world with the Darkhold framework matrix.

migmit said...

And the first of Bakshi's talking points was "remembering John Garrett" — same frame, different monitor.

So, they acknowledged one of my questions — whether Skye would come back after Daisy takes off. I love it when the writers are thinking in the same direction as me.

OK, if we don't get Amy Acker, can we meet Dichen Lachman? Please?

In real world Fitz stayed with his mom and became a good person; in the Framework Ward was recruited by Victoria Hand and became a good person. In the Framework Fitz stayed with his dad and became evil; in real world Ward was recruited by John Garrett and became evil. That's sexist.

I got a vibe that they might want to give real bodies to everyone in the Framework. I hope not; seven billions are already a bit too much, making it fourteen would probably make the real world even more distopian.

televisionandotherrantings said...

I think the whole "extend lifespan" really refers more to Brett Dalton's time on the show more so than Ward's (and who can blame them). And frankly let's give the writers' credit where it's due since it's not like they kept the character around to the point where it got ridiculous. There are far more egregious examples of this sort of thing out there.

Also thought Season 3 in general kind of got hit hard on the site in general though I suppose it's ultimately subjective. I personally preferred it to Season 2 (not that 2 was bad just that 3 was a little bit better) even though there were some things to gripe at. It probably was the most controversial and dark season up to that point so some divided opinions are expected (PS. I was more on the fence about the whole Fitzsimmons thing than really for or against, though they probably made the best decisions they could have).

In the Broken Promises review there were mentions of the drag that was felt in the latter halves of Season 2 and 3 and while there was a little bit of that, frankly compared to what's been going on in the Netflix shows a lot of the time it was practically nothing. SHIELD is probably one of the more efficient 20 something episode season shows right now as far as not padding stuff out and getting to the point as needed. Still I'll definitely say with Season 4 the 3 pod thing is actually working pretty well for them as far as keeping things even more efficient. A part of me prefers Season 3 for it's more climactic style and some of the dark ballsy stuff they did (not that 4 has exactly been pulling punches in that regard) but the structure of 4 is probably working better overall.

JBA said...

I personally hope Ward does not come out into the real world. I know the writers appear to have a lot of love for Brett Dalton, but I'm completely over the character. I would be very happy for him to have his heroic death to complete the character and be done with him. I am intrigued by the idea of having two versions of Fitz, though. That would be fun. I think part of why I don't want Ward back is because I'm so tired of always having love interests in these shows. I just want a good story that doesn't hinge on romance. I have all the romance I need with Fitz and Simmons. (I'm also willing to admit I don't want to see Chloe Bennett with anyone, unless they call me and ask me to be on the show as her love interest.)
I have to say I have really loved this 3-pod thing the show did this season. I think my only problem with it is that it feels to me like each pod is rushed, which may be the point, but sometime it bothered me. For example, as you discussed last week, May's decision to switch sides was really quick. It was definitely earned and I'm good with it, but it still surprised me. If there had been enough time, I think she would have spent a whole episode sitting alone in a dark room trying to figure out what she was/should be doing. I think it might be better to have 2 slightly longer pods, rather than 3 really short ones.
Also, one last note, I am really getting annoyed at the constant political jabs. I know, they're actors and writers and all of show business apparently shares one brain, so they all have to be extremely liberal or risk losing their spotlight. Fine, I get that. But I'm a conservative. I did not vote for Trump and I don't particularly like him (though he was still a better choice than who he was running against), but the constant digs at him or his administration is getting under my skin. It's over. There is no point in constantly poking fun at him. All they are doing is a) preaching to the choir with the democrat audience, and b) ostracizing the republican audience. It's making me want to grab one of the writers and yell, "You're writing a science-fiction tv show. You're not that important. Just entertain us; don't tell us how to think."

Billie Doux said...

JBA,

You complained about the constant anti-Trump "jabs" you're seeing in science fiction television shows, and I can understand why a conservative would be sensitive to this. I'd like to respond by talking a little about what science fiction is, and what it's for.

As a genre, and I'm sure you're aware of this, science fiction extrapolates what is possible and extends it forward in ways intended to make its audience think. Good science fiction has always provided commentary on current events through the lens of the futuristic. I've reviewed all of the original Star Trek, and much of it was about the anti-war movement in the sixties, the war in Vietnam, communism and socialism, the future of computerization.

Intelligent writers of science fiction are always going to talk about what they see happening in current events. They're not going to stop doing what they always do because their party didn't win an election. Would you?

migmit said...

Intelligent writers of ANYTHING are always going to talk about current events and what we should think about them.

Re: May; I don't think it's very May-like to sit quietly in the corner weeping over what she did. She is action personified; even when she thinks the best course of action is to withdraw (as she did before the beginning of the series).

Joshua Ash said...

I know what you're saying Billie, and yes, I know that's what science fiction has always been. But I think my problem has always been that it is so one-sided. There is no equality here; it's only liberal good, conservative bad. How many times last year did they make a jab at socialism in response to Bernie Sanders? Or e-mail f-ups in response to Hillary? How many times over the past three years did they make jabs at Obamacare? Or ANYTHING that Obama did? And in your honest opinion, would you have been okay if there had been a line ripping Obama? It's easy for you to say you would be okay with it, not having to actually deal with it, but I have watched a ton of interactions on Facebook that say otherwise (not against you personally, but democrats, in general). I believe that every action should have an equal and opposite reaction. If you make a dig against conservatives, make a dig against liberals. And it might not be so bad if there was a conservative writer somewhere in Hollywood, but good luck finding one. That's like finding a conservative teacher; we know they're out their, but we can't find them.
Migmit, you're definitely right about May; it's probably not her style, but immediately switching sides over one action or decision isn't very May-like either. As far as we saw, she witnessed the attack on children by Hydra and immediately switched. Does that mean that in the real world, if one of the directors had made some egregious mistake while they were running things, she would have immediately switched to Hydra without thinking things through? And you can say no one in SHIELD would attack a school, but she didn't think Hydra would either. She didn't even question what happened. What if Hydra hadn't know it was a school? Or if they hadn't known there were children present? She doesn't stop to think that maybe that was the case; she immediately turned on them. To me, it seemed like a convenient way to move things along, because there wasn't enough time for her to do something logical.
By the way, everything I'm saying is only my humble opinion and shouldn't be taken too seriously. I'm obviously not all that bright, as I allowed my anonymity to be wiped out by my carelessness in posting without checking the correct identity box.

migmit said...

1) Politics.

I'm not American, but I think I have a more or less related example of my own. I don't think there are many people in the world who despise communism and Soviet Union more than I do; however, when I watch Soviet movies such as "17 Moments of Spring", that have a lot more of political propaganda, all pro-Soviet, I am quite able to just politely disagree with the creators and admire the rest as a great work of art.

2) May.

What she witnessed there was not a mistake, it was an act of pure evil. On the other hand, she also witnessed Mace committing an act of pure good — sacrificing himself to save a child. That shuttered the very foundation of HYDRA regime: the belief that inhumans are evil.

Patryk said...

Aida's plan is the only plan that would make any sense. Trying to become human just fits. But of course the Darkhold is inherently evil and will probably try to corrupt the outcome somehow. Aida is at least immune to the corruption as a robot, but if she gets a real body she risks going insane like the human users of the book. And then we will probably have a destroy the world scenario.

I also think that the framework story works better the other plots because it is not in teh real world where all the storylines have to be mitigated by the fact they are happening in the MCU and any big storyline would interfere with the movies. The framework does not have that problem where probably the avengers don't even exist.

Lamounier said...

Anonymous, I agree that Aida's plan is "refreshing in the non moustache twirling nature of it". I mentioned a Buffy villain on my review and I liked her master plan for that very same reason. But I hope there is something more relevant happening as well. I also agree that the writers have taken a story that has been told many times and added interesting twists to make it fresh. I plan to write about that after the season ends.

migmit, I thought of you the moment Ward asked if his Skye would be back. And I didn't notice the sexism you pointed out. Nice catch. To the writers' credit, though, they have shown an evil mom and a good dad in the past (Daisy's).

televisionandotherrantings, I chose to say Ward instead of Brett Dalton because (1) I have nothing against the actor and (2) when Coulson was killing Ward, it was obvious dead Ward would be possessed by Hive. From a writing perspective, it felt like giving Grant Ward a third incarnation instead of finishing off the character. I know that many fans liked season three a lot and thought it was better than season two. That's awesome. Unfortunately, the season didn't resonate with me a lot.

Does that mean that in the real world, if one of the directors had made some egregious mistake while they were running things, she would have immediately switched to Hydra without thinking things through?

Joshua, no. Keep in mind that May is brainwashed, but deep inside her head she knows Hydra is evil. There is an unconscious force driving her (her true self) to switch sides. Also, what migmit said. But I do agree with you that at least a scene showing a conflicted May would've been nice. Having that said, I prefer the three-pod structure. I don’t mind filling the blanks here and there if the final product is so awesome.

I'm more conflicted about Ward coming back than my review made it sound, actually. It could be great, but it could also be reverting to a team dynamic that was left behind in season one. As for love interests, I saw a lot of potential for Daisy and Robbie. They would make a great pair.

Patryk, yes. The writers are clearly enjoying the freedom of telling stories that are not limited by the MCU.

Marianna said...

JBA, actually Law & Order and all of its spin-offs have conservative writers, so no, not all of "Hollywood" is liberal. The fact that so many writers feel the need to comment against those in power is a result of how those in power are choosing to use that power. Honestly the "alternative facts" line fit right into the propaganda story, maybe the writers shouldn't be blamed for being inspired.