Agents of SHIELD Season 4 Episode 16: What If… Recap


Welcome to Agents of HYDRA, the world of the Framework created by Aida, the Darkhold and Radcliffe. As you can see above, Aida’s given herself a few perks, casting herself in the role of Madame Hydra, director of HYDRA, which is charged with the safety of mankind in the dystopian world that she’s created. Be careful what you wish for.

This all came about because Radcliffe generously told Aida to solve one regret for each person she placed in the Framework. When you’re dealing with Agents of SHIELD, their regrets tend to be events that have global and historical consequences, so changing a few small decisions has a giant ripple effect. Of course, it’s not all due to Fitz, May, Coulson, and Mack opting for milder versions of the events of their earlier lives. (I think Mace wanted to be an inhuman and a true hero, while the others all wanted less violence and loss.) Aida also undoubtedly keeps tight control on the situation in the Framework, so that no one’s memory is triggered, and nothing seems unrealistic to them. It all adds up to HYDRA’s law and order, Big Brother philosophy dominating the culture with very little resistance, since Aida controls the population as a whole.

This episode opens with Daisy Skye looking at her bed, guessing about which boyfriend she’s going to find there. And, it’s door #2, consolation prize Grant Ward. She tries to take matters into her own hands, but, oops, her powers didn’t follow her into the Framework. She’s stuck with him for now.

Grant wakes up, sees her trying to quake him, and thinks it’s some strange new greeting, so he does it back at her. Skye is discombobulated and stands there awkwardly as she tells Grant that they need to go into work. They get dressed and chatter while Skye tries to get her bearings without seeming suspicious. Grant hands Skye her badge, which says she’s a member of HYDRA Homeland Strategic Defense. That doesn’t sound ominous at all. Her badge is the HYDRA skull and tentacles.

As they drive to work, the talk radio DJ calls for an inhuman and the human who hid them to be lynched. There are highway signs reminding citizens to report any possible inhuman activity.

They drive across the bridge to the Triskelion, and Skye gasps in surprise. Oh, the feels. Remember when Steve slayed the dragon escaped from Alexander Pierce on that bridge? Grant agrees that the Triskelion is beautiful in the mornings.

As they walk through the building lobby, agents are beating an inhuman prisoner. Skye starts to approach, but Grant pulls her away. He wonders what’s throwing her off this morning, then goes on to assume that it’s because she asked him to move in with her, and he turned her down. He says it makes sense to take the next step in their relationship, but it’s not the right time yet, and there are things about him that she wouldn’t like if she knew. Skye has no problem agreeing with his assessment. She agrees pretty strongly in fact. She’s really quite firm about it.

She walks away as he’s practically mid-sentence. He has to tell her she’s going the wrong way. Did she ever even go to the real Triskelion? She was always on the Bus or at the Hub season 1, right?

They arrive at their cubicles, because HYDRA is so evil that it doesn’t even give its top spies offices. Skye has to use her thumbprint to unlock her computer. Interesting. How would the Framework be coping with that? Does Skye’s avatar have her thumbprint?

She searches on Lincoln and Jemma, both of whom are dead. Lincoln died during testing, probably done by Fitz. Jemma died when 200 hundred people at the SHIELD Academy were killed due to contamination when a toxic agent was “accidentally released.” The entire area is still under quarantine.

May interrupts Skye’s research. She tries to get May to recognize her as Daisy and wake up, but May is fully immersed in the world of the Framework. She orders Skye to the briefing that Skye and Grant were called in to attend.

On the grounds of SHIELD Academy, Jemma digs herself out of a mass grave. There are two bullet holes in her sweater, over the spot where her heart would be. She was murdered and thrown into a shallow grave, along with everyone else at the Academy.

Jemma escapes from the quarantined area through a hole in the fence. She hitches a ride with a woman in a passing car. The woman is heading to DC. As they chat, Jemma fails to play it cool, commenting on how amazingly lifelike the coding is. Way to alert Aida of your whereabouts, Jemma! Daisy’s thumbprint was likely a dead giveaway as well.

They approach an identification checkpoint, where inhuman testing is also done. Aida probably inserted that as soon as she grew suspicious. Jemma doesn’t have any ID other than a SHIELD card, and SHIELD agents are enemies of the state, so she takes off on foot.

May introduces the file on a gene-positive inhuman detainee at the briefing. He’s linked to terrorists, so “The Doctor” wants his case fast tracked. They believe he’s funneling terrigen to subversives. May assigns Skye and Grant to interrogate him. It’s Vijay Nadeer, using a fake name. The interrogation doesn’t get far, until Skye brings up his real name, asking who made his forged HYDRA ID card. Then things get tense, and Grant ends up punching Vijay in the face and knocking him out.

Jemma finds her way to a small cafe. Everyone is reading the same newspaper, with the headline, “The Inhuman Next Door: Are Your Neighbors Harboring Husks?” No one has a smart phone. Information is tightly controlled in the Framework. Jemma steals someone’s car keys and a coat, but runs into HYDRA agents on her way out. They take her outside to arrest her.

When they run her name through their database, they find out she’s dead. She uses their confusion to knock them both out and steal their car. Even as a dead girl, Jemma’s still a badass agent.

Phil Coulson is a high school history teacher, teaching the gospel of HYDRA. Through his lesson, we find out how changing May’s personal history led to a HYDRA-dominated America. Once, the US was like the one we know now, focusing on the needs, desires, and rights of individuals. The state and the media were subservient to that. Inhumans were treated like other people, or even like heroes. Then, SHIELD brought an unstable inhuman girl back from Bahrain and put her in a mainstream school classroom. She caused a terrible disaster known as the Cambridge Incident. HYDRA stepped in and brought law and order back to the country, pulling everyone together to put the good of the state over the individual. Free speech was suppressed.

Coulson’s lesson is interrupted by authorities arriving to remove a student. It’s implied that he’s suspected of being an inhuman. Coulson practically pushes him out the door. Another student asks if HYDRA was started by Nazis. Coulson tells him that, no, that’s a myth. Hydra is hundreds of years older than the Nazis. He conveniently leaves out that HYDRA was started by inhumans to help the ringleader of the inhumans.

Back at the interrogation, May busts in and throws a glass of water on Vijay to wake him up. He blames her for Bahrain/the Cambridge incident. May pulls out her gun, but Skye stops her from pulling the trigger. “The Doctor” wants Vijay anyway. Skye escorts him out of the room. She asks him what he was talking about. Vijay explains that May didn’t kill the girl in Bahrain. Instead she was brought back to the US and killed a lot of people in Cambridge, which has given HYDRA the permission they needed to exterminate inhumans.

Skye offers to help Vijay escape, but he distracts her and makes a run for it. Guards capture Vijay and inform The Doctor, who comes around the corner to inspect the prisoner. It’s EVIL Fitz. Skye is happy to see him, and expects him to recognize her, because she didn’t get her coffee this morning and is being a little slow about realizing that everyone else believes that the Framework is real. Fitz brushes her off as an incompetent agent. He tells her to follow him. She bravely does, even though this Fitz is cold as ice and more likely to torture her for making a mistake than to ask her how her weekend was. The guy who got attached to his teammates is nowhere to be seen. Iain de Caestecker looks fabulous in that suit though. He’s the only one that Aida gave a wardrobe upgrade to.

Jemma, who not only didn’t get a wardrobe upgrade, but who is still wearing the fithy clothes that she was buried in for months, is waiting on a park bench for Daisy to rendezvous with her. She needs to move to a less conspicuous location after a while, so she takes the escape hatch switch that she’d hidden near the bench, and uses a rock to make a mark on the bench for Daisy to find.

Then she uses the HYDRA agents’ laptop to look up Coulson. She visits him after hours at his school. Jemma is relieved to see what should be a friendly face, but Coulson has no idea who she is. She tries to get him to remember her, but he wants nothing to do with any subversive stories like the ones she’s telling him about the real world. She has nothing to use as proof that what she’s saying is real.

As he’s escorting her out, Jemma sees his trademark bobblehead blue hula dancer that’s always connected to his Tahiti memories. Either Aida or his own brain picked it up as something important. Jemma starts babbling to him about Tahiti, it’s a magical place! She’s had a rough day, and gets a little panicky as she yells at him to remember her, and Fitz, and the team, and all of the good work they’ve done, because the world they’re in isn’t real. His memory’s been rewritten before, and she knows that the hula dancer is his mind trying to tell him that something’s wrong. He’s not ready to face the truth yet though, so Jemma gives up and leaves.

After she leaves, Coulson calls the authorities and turns her in. Then he pulls out a file of notes and clippings. They all relate to his life in the real world in some way. There’s an article about Felix Blake, an article about a doctor arrested for subversion (Cal?), doodles of the SHIELD logo, an ad for his ex-girlfriend’s cello concert, a calendar page with a picture of Lola, a postcard from Tahiti, and page after page of writing that says, “It’s a magical place” in rows, over and over, up and down the page.

Jemma returns to her stolen HYDRA car in the parking lot to find the kid who questioned Coulson tagging the car, meaning she can’t drive it any more without attracting too much attention. He says that he knows HYDRA are terrible, evil Nazis who do terrible, evil things to kids. She agrees with him, and he lends her his car, cause people in the Framework are generous like that.

Meanwhile, Fitz shows Skye his inhuman testing machine, which has probes similar to the ones the TAHITI machine jabs into the brain. The inhuman machine sticks longer probes into the inhuman all over the body, causing those parts to glow. Fitz says it allows him to determine what the powers would be without triggering terrigenisis. Skye is appalled. Fitz tells her not to offer an opinion unless asked, then asks her how things are going with Ward. He reveals that he knows she applied for a cohabitation permit. This whole conversation is weird. He didn’t seem to have any good reason for bringing her to his office. Was he drawn to her because of latent memories, or does he suspect Ward, and wanted to question her in relation to that?

May interrupts to inform Fitz about Coulson’s report. Skye tries to find out more, but they dismiss her. Fitz orders all assets in the area to respond to the report. Skye leaves and runs into Grant. He wonders what’s wrong, and she tells him that she needs some space after he refused to move in with her. He says that she’s been acting strangely all day.

Skye goes to the park bench. Jemma appears after a moment. She discovers that Skye’s HYDRA, while Skye asks if Jemma’s dead. Jemma replies with that classic Mony Python response, “I”m feeling much better!” She tells Skye that she thinks that HYDRA took down SHIELD and murdered her. Then she tells Skye about her encounter with Coulson.

They are trying to decide where to go next when Grant Ward appears out of the shadows, in full season 2 leather and evil mode. Grant wants to know who Jemma is, what they’re up to, and if Jemma is Skye’s resistance source. Jemma starts hurling insults and rage at Ward, cause old habits die hard, while Skye convinces him that Jemma’s just a friend, she has nothing to do with the resistance, and Skye hasn’t been lying to him. HYDRA agents are starting to catch up to them.

Ward shoots the first HYDRA agent, says that he’s in the resistance, and scoops up Skye and Jemma to rescue them. They are completely confused. He demands Jemma’s car keys, or someone’s going to die. Not sure if Jemma totally realizes that he means HYDRA will catch up to them.

As they speed away, with Hydra in pursuit, Ward reveals that Skye is an inhuman. He hid her real screening test results. She tells him she knows, obvs. He joined the resistance to protect her. Then he asks how Skye knew Vijay’s real name. Skye doesn’t answer, but she guesses that he’s a mole. Jemma’s amusing herself by throwing out insults she wishes she’d said while the real Grant was still alive. It seems very cathartic.

They make it into a parking garage, ahead of Fitz’s dwarf drones. Grant sends Skye and Jemma to Skye’s apartment on the metro while he burns the car to destroy any evidence. I’d feel bad for the kid Jemma borrowed it from, if he was real.

May reports to Fitz that they lost the girl (Jemma), with one agent dead. She had help who knew HYDRA’s tactics. They theorize that the mole who made Vijay’s forged card might also be the one who helped Jemma. May says someone is betraying them, but Fitz says that his father always said that you have to have trust to be betrayed. He orders May to treat the mole like a cancer and cut it out. And not to fail like she did in Bahrain/Cambridge.

He asks if the dwarves got footage of the fugitives. May tells him that the recordings were sent straight to the Director, by request.

Jemma asks if Daisy saw Fitz, and what he was like. Daisy tells her he’s different, like everyone. They realize that Radcliffe’s improvements to the team’s lives have changed them and the world for the worse. They decide that they need to extract themselves in order to make a coherent plan, then come back. Jemma pushes the escape button, but it doesn’t work. Aida knows they’re in the Framework, and has disabled their only way out. They’re trapped.


Fitz enters the director’s office and greets her. She turns around, and it’s Aida as Madame Hydra, with green-black hair and outfit. She looks amazing. Fitz is worried about the subversives infiltrating further into HYDRA, but Aida assures him that she’s got it under control. She’s tightened security, disabled a loophole (the escape button), and next they’ll tighten the noose. She has a surveillance photo of Jemma, but she refuses to show it to him. Fitz becomes angry, because he feels it’s his duty to protect Aida, HYDRA, and everything that they’ve built. Aida tells him that they need his creativity right now, not his anger, while she takes care of security. Then they make out.

In the tag, Coulson leaves work and finds Daisy waiting for him in his car. She tries to get him to remember her, but he can’t. The she tells him that it’s okay. He’s the closest thing she has to family, and the one she goes to when life gets hard. She’d hoped that deep down he’d feel it too, and remember her. Pulling on the dad heartstrings works. Coulson looks up at her and says, “Daisy?”

The final shot is a card dedicating the episode to the memory of Bill Paxton, astronaut, polygamist, agent of SHIELD and loving foster-father abuser and brainwasher of Grant Ward. RIP Bill. You’ll be missed.


It’s so nice to see Daisy Skye and Ward together again and to hear her called Skye! I much prefer that name.

Ward is a double agent no matter the circumstances, but this time he did it to protect Skye. He didn’t even tell Skye her inhuman test results, so she couldn’t accidentally incriminate herself. Aida made him such a gentleman! But then, he did treat Agent 33/Kara pretty carefully, too. He just wanted someone to love and to be loved all this time, ok? That’s all it took to fix him. 😜 😜

Have we seen Jemma eat anything yet? I’m not completely convinced that she isn’t a zombie. Her lips stayed blue all day.

Aida is a vindictive goddess>> In the world she created, Fitz, who always saw her as a person, is wearing a designer suit and is second in command at SHIELD HYDRA, while Jemma, who realized what Aida 1 was when she was fooling May and others, and argued against trusting even the decapitated head of Aida 1, is a corpse zombie wearing rags and stolen clothing.

How terrible must Fitz’s father be, if being raised by Daddy for his entire childhood turned Fitz this cold and evil? Fitz is so loyal and caring. That can’t all be because of Jemma. He’s clearly very devoted to and protective of Aida in this reality. Those qualities are a core part of his personality. Aida and his father just trained away his compassion for anyone but a select few.

Coulson works at the Alexander Pierce Public High School. I knew Pierce would be a big deal in this world. I hope one of the characters mentions his accomplishments.

Phil Coulson is doomed to write the same phrase over and over again, as punishment for being alive, no matter what reality he finds himself in. And he’s also doomed to think he’s going crazy,  because his memories have been tampered with, while pretending that everything is JUST FINE, because HE’S A LOYAL COMPANY MAN, OK?

My predictions for individual characters weren’t too far off. I predicted back in my Who Is the Superior? post that the remnants of Hydra would hate inhumans for wrecking a perfectly good organized crime operation, and for the way they used humans in the process. That prediction has come true. I just made it a little too early. I still have hope that it will come true in the real world in some way: Maybe Aida will make herself into Madame Hydra in the real world, with Ivanov as her partner and bankroller, as she gathers up the remains of Hydra and the Watchdogs to form one new HYDRA organization under her command. She could be using the Framework as a test case scenario for her evil plan to take down SHIELD and take over the world. Bring on season 5 with Madame Hydra as the Big Bad, in charge of a newly invigorated HYDRA, please!! World domination or bust!

Next week, based on the preview, it looks like Daisy gets her own elevator fight, Mace is a resistance leader, and to no one’s surprise, Radcliffe is a prisoner in his own Framework.