Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: No Regrets

"One person in your life, one decision, one sentence has the power to change you forever."

How did I love this episode? Let me count the ways. It brought an old, unexpected friend back, discussed the metaphysics of the current arc and the impact a single moment can have on a person's life, delivered a superhero sacrifice and bookended with a hell yeah superhero moment. It was great.

In "The Patriot" we learned that Mace's superheroness lied on lies. He was not an Inhuman and his frame-worthy moment didn't carry a grand story behind it. Those lies were a burden to him because he cared, because there was a braveness in his heart that didn't want to be held back by a political game. By removing his biggest regret, the Framework allowed him to become the embodiment of what he stood for. It was not just about superpowers, it was about being a leader to the people, carrying the legacy of freedom and justice, fighting the good fight. At his final heroic act, there is no one to take a picture but his sacrifice will stay with those whom he gave his life for. It's a beautiful arc, with a conclusion that was very affecting, no matter how early you saw it coming.

My only problem with Mace's death is that he didn't remember his real life. At all. Not even fragments. It's kind of disappointing. Sure he was great and saved Simmons, Coulson and May, but he was still brainwashed when he did it. Depending on how you look at things, Mace died when he was captured, sedated and inserted into the Framework. His original self would never see the light of day again. It was still Mace in the Framework, but with altered memories and a different trajectory of life. Like I said, it's a beautiful arc, but one Mace was not aware of, and I wish he knew, I wish Mace had awakened just a little bit to realize how brave he truly was. Boy, even the upside of his death is bittersweet.

But enough sadness, let's talk about Tripp. Tripp is back, y'all. God, B.J. Britt brings such joy and levity to the screen. Why did this show kill Tripp off in the first place? They finally make it up by bringing him back in this alternate reality arc, which is the perfect opportunity to let familiar faces pay a visit. Simmons' reaction to seeing Tripp was not as enthusiastic as I would expect, but they were in the middle of the action and this was a busy episode, so, okay. I can't wait to see how Daisy will react, though.

Daisy was kept imprisoned in the Triskelion and she had one great scene after another. First Fitz interrogated her and, God, the way he treated her was painful to watch. That bastard slapped her in the face, that was so degrading. Then entered Ophelia, who offered to bring Lincoln back if Daisy complied with her. It was tempting for about twenty seconds, but Daisy has a strength of mind that cannot be subdued to such a low trick. It's always a delight to see an actor grow and evolve, and that has been the case with Chloe Bennet. She carried those scenes very well as Fitz and Ophelia tried to break Daisy down.

Things started to look up for Daisy when she had a talk with the prisoner in the next room: Radcliffe. She did not accept that one regret could turn Fitz into such a different person. Radcliffe replied that it could. It did. A single moment, a word unspoken, a simple choice you make. It all makes a hell of a difference. Radcliffe is such a tragic figure. He can't escape the reality he created and he can't fix that reality back to what he envisioned either. What will be Radcliffe's end? If Ophelia offers to bring Agnes back, will he fall in line? Or will he be faithful to the team for once? Maybe this arc will conclude with Radcliffe shutting down the Framework from within, thus erasing his current biggest regret. For now, he gave Daisy the information that she needed to escape with the others.

There is also a surprise turn for Daisy that comes in the form of a Terrigen crystal brought by her spy mom Melinda May. It's a grade A moment, albeit a little rushed development for May. It makes sense, though, that knowing Hydra was willing to bomb kids would shake her beliefs in the almighty corporation. May can be the loyal servant to an authoritarian regime, but she can't comply with violence against children, even if she tries to rationalize it. The violence May testified was physical, an attempt against their life, but right before her, Coulson had found them being brainwashed, Clockwork Orange style. It was a creepy scene, as well as a callback to Whitehall's methods. Good alternate universe continuity there. Coulson can't leave them behind, no hero could, and when May claims that saving a kid ruined everything (oh, May, if only you knew), Coulson tells her to snap out of it. It's a great line because at that moment the characters don't know their backstory and how they are close to one another, but the audience does. May sees the subversives saving the children and Mace giving his life for them. She nods to him before leaving him behind, a soldier giving her final salute to another. Again, it's an interaction that runs on a subconscious level for them, but it's clear for us. When May walks into Daisy's room to empower her, is it rushed? Yes. But, oh my, it is SO earned. Seeing that cocoon involve Daisy gave me chills (I had no idea a cocoon would ever give me chills), with the two agents smiling to one another.

While May turns to the side of the angels, Fitz remains deeply rooted in darkness. This episode introduces his father and digs deeper to show us why Fitz is so different. Like we suspected, his father educated him to become "a great man in a hard world". The influence from his mother – sympathy, second guessing decisions that could be morally wrong – are "luxuries" he cannot afford. Can Fitz fully recover from this? I doubt it. Whenever he recovers his memories, there will be a major conflict between who he is and this dark side inside him. He had a direct participation in Mace's death, he toasted to it! If Daisy and Simmons are having such a hard time convincing the others that they have been brainwashed, how will they reach someone whose morals have changed so much?

I'm worried about Mack too. If he doesn't remember his real life, there is no way he will leave his daughter behind. I think his arc would benefit from him getting to know the truth sooner rather than later. A few episodes ago he was so mighty about LMDs having no soul. What will he think of his kid when he discovers she is a product of an algorithm? Will he become more accepting of different ways of existence? Or will he suppress his feelings and disregard her as unreal?

Simmons is one that keeps telling herself the Framework world isn't real. She shares her knowledge with Mace and Ward, who obviously have trouble listening to her story. It's clear she said nothing about Ward being dead in the real world, but it's unclear if she talked about who is connected to their real world counterpart. Upon seeing Mack play with his Framework child, Simmons can't help but be taken by the moment, something that Ward mocks: it's just a fake father playing with his fake daughter (Ward doesn't know of Mack's true nature). Ward goes on to question that, if they perceive their lives as real, doesn't that make it real? It's something that Radcliffe spoke about before and it's aligned with the idea that reality is just perception. But even Radcliffe, now confined to the Framework, referred to football of the real world as "real football". Knowledge is greater than perception, and if you know you are inside a computer simulation, a cave, or a TV show where everybody else is an actor and the world you know is a stage, odds are you will want to meet the grander world or return to it. Unless you have something you don't want to leave behind.

Real or not, this world is making a number on Simmons. She saw the man she loves murder an innocent woman and now she saw Mace die. To top it all, she has to put up with Ward, someone she cannot stand. I understand why Ward's presence is uncomfortable to Simmons, but why it affects her that much? Isn't he a fake Ward in a fake world? Jemma, Jemma, Jemma, it seems not everything is as fake as you claim. I wonder where the writers are going with this. It reached a point where Ward questioned what he did to her in the other world and apologized for all his (other self's) evil deeds. I can see Ward sacrificing himself at the end of this arc, but is he going to sacrifice himself for Simmons specifically? In any case, so far, their interaction has resulted in very good drama, something I would have never imagined if someone had told me at the beginning of the season that Ward would sneak his way back into the story.

Intel and Assets

- We have a glimpse of the real world to confirm that Mace is indeed dead, but here is what is curious: Aida looks sad when she notices he died. What?!? I totally thought Aida and Ophelia shared the same consciousness, but apparently they don't. Based on what Ophelia told Daisy, I assume that Aida changed a regret of her own: the inability to make a choice. That is how Ophelia was created, but then wouldn't it be more logical if Aida and Ophelia were connected, so that Aida could experience all the human emotions she wanted to? Anyway, Ophelia's project to build a portal from the Framework to what she calls "the other side" makes more sense now. But what is her endgame? And what is Aida's? Is the Darkhold toying with both of them? The plot thickens.

- Since it was established that Aida and Ophelia are separated personas, I won't be referring to Ophelia as Aida anymore.

- Mace's fake heroic moment involved protecting a woman from debris. His actual heroic moment involved protecting a kid from debris. The parallel could have been very on the nose, but it was done very well, even if there was some clumsiness on the setup.

- Another full circle bit: Tripp died when Daisy went through Terrigenesis. Tripp returns in the same episode Daisy goes through Terrigenesis again.

- Both Fitz and Simmons demanded that they be referred to as "doctor".

- Coulson still believes the soaps are relevant.

- Will Daisy's powers be the same? It will be kind of fun if she tries to quake things and fails, only to realize she has a new set of abilities.

- It was uncomfortable to hear Daisy being referred to as Ward's girlfriend.

- Why does dying in the Framework kill you? What's the science behind that?

- I'm pretty sure Coulson knows how to speak Spanish, which means Aida took that knowledge away from him. Aida is evil.

- Ophelia offered to bring Lincoln back. For that, she must die.

- There have been a lot of Easter Eggs in these episodes. It's hard to keep track of all of them. We had Bakshi (as the narrator of the brainwash movie), Whitehall (in the history book) and the return of Hydra scientist guy from season two.

- Agent Burrows is back and alive (he had already appeared last episode, actually).

- I miss Yo-Yo.

- There has been a slight improvement in the ratings, which could guarantee Agents a fifth season. Fingers crossed.

Coulson: "My Spanish is mucho bueno."

Scientist guy: "This is made from various metabolic enhancers, gorilla testosterone, even a dash of peppermint."

Fitz: "Nevertheless, she persisted."
They went there again.

Daisy: "You know, I asked for a mani-pedi. Got tortured instead. BTDubs, your psycho prison sucks."

Simmons: "The blatant lies, the complete disregard for historic and scientific fact..."
And again.

Radcliffe: "One person in your life, one decision, one sentence has the power to change you forever."
Daisy: "One sentence?"
Radcliffe: "Yeah, that's right. One single sentence like 'I love you' or 'we are having a baby' or 'she's gone'. "

Mucho bueno episode. Three and a half out of four stars.
--
Lamounier

12 comments:

migmit said...

There is no way they will shut the Framework down now. They would have to keep it running. Even if Hope dies (hope not), there are others that even Jemma won't be able to claim are irrelevant.

They already established that there is someone to care for Hope without Mack (her mother) — so, I can totally see him sacrificing his ability to see his daughter again.

I'm very sorry about Mace. He filled a very important role in the Agents scheme of things — the one of a flawed, but ultimately good man. Others were making bad choices either because they didn't have all information, or because the other choice could be just as bad. Mace took some wrong turns for himself; but his heart was in the right place. May's regret, for example, was a false one — she did the only thing that made sense. Mace's regrets were right.

Fitz said that Daisy "replaced" their version of Skye. He's evil here, but he is not wrong. There WAS Skye in the Framework before, who was Ward's girlfriend, an oblivious potential Inhuman, and a faithful agent of HYDRA (probably). Daisy landed on top of her, which means that old Skye is... dead? Or just in suspension? It's easier with Simmons — her version in that world was already dead.

I don't know what you see in Tripp. From my point of view, he was never a great character. He filled the void for a while, substituting for Ward when the latter turned out to be Evil All Along, but that was it. I would be much more excited to see Amy Acker again.

So, with Mace out, who would be the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Coulson? Or Daisy, as he always wanted? I can totally see her leading the Resistance within the Framework, but in the Real World her shady past makes it not such a great idea to put her under spotlights.

migmit said...

One more thought: was Agnes pregnant? I mean, "I love you" and "She's gone" are certainly applicable to her, so, what about the third one?

Tim said...

Excellent review for an excellent episode. Thanks Lamounier.

Patryk said...

I'm not sure but I bet Radcliffe by "real football" ment soccer being actual football instead of that American version where hardly anyone uses their feet to play.

So Fitz's dad is a Deatheater. That explains how his childhood must have been really crappy and why he's so evil now.

Sad to lose Mace so fast and taht the only real world scene we got so far was of him being dead.

Remco said...

I have a feeling that we will see our heroes trying to take some of the resurrected-as-algorithms people back into the real world as LMDs. I'm pretty sure that this is what Ophelia is trying to do with project Looking Glass.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Aida and Ophelia are the same person. They very clearly showed Ophelia walking and then becoming Aida in the real world to look at Mace. Ophelia is just an avatar for Aida to ensure that there is no rogue code in the framework.

Marianna said...

Excellent review! I'm going to raise the possibility that the Aida we saw in the real world was a duplicate built by the original Aida. You can never be sure with LMDs.

"Why does dying in the Framework kill you? What's the science behind that?" I'm going with the very scientifical explanation from The Matrix that when you die in the framework the mind dies and the body cannot live without the mind. As a second explanation for this case, Mace had a building fall on him. If someone thought he had a building fall on him, he would most likely have a heart attack. So there's also that.

Lamounier said...

Great points, migmit. If the Framework doesn’t represent a danger to the real world, then I can see the agents letting it be. Otherwise, I think they will destroy it. Original Framework Skye must have been overwritten by Daisy and is probably gone. In any case, it would be interesting to meet her, but I doubt we will have the time with only four episodes to go.

As for Tripp, like I said, he brought a levity and joy that no one else did. He complimented Daisy’s wit very well, had a fun little romance going with Simmons. He had a lot of potential to be explored and then was written off. I agree that seeing Amy Acker again would be great. In fact, it would fit Coulson’s arc perfectly. I wonder if the writers tried to reach her and she wasn’t available.

I think they are setting up Daisy to become director. Her shady past is not that shady that a little politics here and there can’t fix. People elect politicians with shady pasts, after all.

Tim, thank you!

Patryk, you are right. He was probably poking fun at American football. Didn’t catch that. I sustain my thoughts about reality without Radcliffe’s blessing now. :)

Remco, I think project Looking Glass is more than just downloading people from the Framework into LMDs. It probably ties back to the first pod of the season, when Aida One opened a portal to rescue Coulson, Fitz and Robbie from that other dimension, and Robbie’s uncle could create matter out of “nothing”.

Anon, I know Ophelia is Aida’s avatar. I thought that Aida was connected to Ophelia the way Coulson, for example, is connected to his Framework persona, and that she could stay awaken in the real world at the same time. But if she didn’t know Mace was gone, then she is not connected to Ophelia, at least not always.

Marianna, that’s a possible explanation. We were looking at another Aida. I also liked the explanation of why Mace’s heart stopped working. That is what was bugging me the most. Thank you. :)

televisionandotherrantings said...

The heart attack theory, which I'd thought about as well, reminds me of the Voyager episode The Thaw and their explanation for people dying in the simulation.

Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres: But none of this is real!
Clown: Of course it's real - as real as a nightmare.
Ensign Harry Kim: The two we found dead both suffered from massive heart attacks.
Clown: Heart attack. Now, what might cause a heart attack? Hmm... Unmanageable stress, perhaps? Unmanageable fear? The fear of losing a head, perhaps?
-imdb

migmit said...

Another thing: Coulson got a fake ID with a very uncool name. If I remember correctly, in the first season Skye got a fake ID with a very uncool name.

Lamounier said...

Good reference there, televisionandotherrantings.

migmit, that's right! I totally forgot to mention Coulson's awesomely terrible alias.

Anon, I was thinking about the Aida/Ophelia situation, and you might be right. Maybe the reason why Aida looked surprised and sad is that she didn’t expect Mace to die in the real world too.

sunbunny said...

Stayed up last night catching up on the show and wow this is the best it's ever been "Nevertheless, she persisted" got a big YAHOO out of me.