Daisy’s two dad’s are out on their first Framework mission alone together, but Daddy Mace doesn’t remember Daisy, so he has other priorities. Mainly showing off his muscles and how intensely, seriously in charge he can be. This leaves Daddy Phil to play up his concern for Daisy, Jemma, and the rest of the kids, while proving his worth by being an excellent shot and agent overall, despite his surface cluelessness. In other words, both are acting exactly like they do in the real word.
They stage a car accident to force a HYDRA prison transport bus to stop for them, then storm the bus. Unfortunately, they find bodies in body bags instead of live prisoners. They still need to use the bus to gain access to a HYDRA prison and rescue one of the Resistance’s embedded operatives.
Fitz violently interrogates Skye. She tries to get him to remember her, or Jemma, but he already knows about the real world. He’s committed to protecting the Framework and his life there. He threatens to attack the “other side” in retaliation for attacks on HYDRA. Then he meticulously cleans bits of Skye’s blood from his clothing like any decent hygiene conscious sociopath would. That little detail of his need to keep his own person clean while he physically destroys others is more devastating than the torture itself.
May stands in front of a plaque memorializing the 79 innocent victims of the Cambridge Incident. Madame HYDRA approaches her there. May feels that they need to step up the fight against the Resistance and the inhumans. Ophelia does have another weapon, but it’s risky. May is more than willing to risk herself in the fight.
Mace puts Mack to work reconfiguring the prison bus’s id. Then Mace and Ward decide to question “Miss” Simmons again. She immediately corrects them: It’s Doctor Simmons. Coulson has just asked her about Ward, saying that Grant gives him hives. Jemma keeps a straight face as she answers, telling Phil that he crushed Ward’s chest with his cybernetic arm and left him on another planet to die. Phil needs a minute to take that in.
May visits the HYDRA lab, staffed by the standard SHIELD/HYDRA lab scientist. Their’s are always kind of schubby, normal people. Stark and AIM hire all of the really good-looking scientists and lock them in with high private industry salaries. Government and quasi-government agencies that put cyanide in employees’ teeth can’t compete.
The weapon turns out to be the latest edition of Skye’s dad’s version of the supersoldier serum, complete with peppermint and gorilla testosterone, last seen being used by Jeffrey Mace so that he could impersonate an inhuman in the real world. Nobody had a flair for serums like Cal. A dose of the serum only lasts for a short time, so May needs to use it just before a fight. The scientist doesn’t tell her if it has the potentially lethal side effects that it does on the other side.
Jemma tells Mace and Ward about the real world. They both refuse to take her seriously. Mace suggests that she didn’t know him at all in the real world, since she can’t recite the basic Wikipedia page facts of his life, which don’t have much to do with how many times they may have saved each other’s lives, so, whatever, Jeffrey. Then he gets to the crux of the matter. Everything that’s happened in this world feels too meaningful and important to him for it all to have been a lie. He even has a Captain America-like working class Brooklyn background to make it clear that he doesn’t need an overeducated Brit to tell him who he is and what to believe in. He’s a true American hero and knows what’s what. But, he’s wrong, and he’s been lied to, and his life and security have been stolen. This has no relevance to current events whatsoever.
Ward suggests that Jemma is the one who’s delusional. Jemma has no proof beyond the truth, and both Ward and Mace have reasons to want to believe she’s lying, so she gives up for the moment. Jemma might get further with her argument if she’d stop being so antagonistic to Ward. This Ward is innocent, has good reason to hate Fitz, and to distrust her because of her loyalty toward Fitz. He’s also Mace’s second in command. Her judgementalism is in character, but frustrating.
Fitz has beaten Daisy within an inch of her life, nevertheless she persisted in telling the truth as she knows it, just like certain persistent US senators from Massachussets. Ophelia decides to take a turn. She drops all pretense of the Framework as real world when Daisy complains about the service in her psycho prison. She explains that all she did was fix one regret for each person. The rest was a result of those changes playing out, the way Radcliffe intended. Radcliffe, proving he can hear everything from the cell next door, yells, “This isn’t what I meant, you sadistic witch.” Aida calmly calls the guard to come and taser Radcliffe into silence again. It’s one one of those fantastic, darkly funny, little interactions that have made this season so great.
Aida moves on to her real purpose in Daisy’s cell. She offers to give Daisy a life with Lincoln in exchange for Daisy’s location in the real world. Daisy disdainfully calls Aida a puppetmaster, and doesn’t budge.
Mack goes above and beyond as he works on the HYDRA bus, like the genius mechanic that he is. When he checks on Hope in the dorm, she’s with Jemma and Coulson, discussing history. Her schoolbook is open to the entry on Daniel Whitehall, season 2 HYDRA villain who needs to come back for a visit. Coulson tells Hope that most of what’s in the HYDRA history books is a lie. When Mack walks in, Jemma is very happy to see him, but she’s figured out that he won’t remember her, so she plays it cool.
Radcliffe throws a temper tantrum in his Triskelion prison cell. Daisyhears him and they begin to talk. She can’t understand how one small change could change everyone in the Framework so much, especially Fitz. He replies that of course it can. One sentence can change everything, like I love you, She’s gone, or I’m pregnant. We’re all capable of all kinds of things, given the right circumstances and motivation. Then Daisy asks if he built a backdoor into the Framework, and if he thinks Aida found and disabled it. Radcliffe says that yes, of course he built a back door, and it’s not possible for Aida to remove it. Finally some good news.
Fitz and his father have a heart to heart talk as Fitz is having some moments of insecurity. The conversation tells us everything we need to know about how Fitz ended up The Doctor. Fitz’s real, compassionate personality shows through for a moment, but his father is quick to squash it.
Alistair: What’s the problem?
Leo: What if I didn’t need to kill her? What if maybe she wasn’t lying or maybe she was mentally ill or something?
Alistair: What if? Maybe? Now that’s your mother talking.
Leo: I’m sorry, Father.
Alistair: There she is again. Listen, son. I don’t know a thing about what you do here, the science, but I know that it’s important. And I know the man I raised. Not a coward. A man of action. A great man, in a hard world. And in a hard world, we cannot afford the luxury of what?
Leo: The luxury of sympathy.
Alistair: Exactly. We don’t buckle to guilt, or to womanly sentiment. Everyone needs the strap across their back now and again. It teaches respect. You know that. You’ve felt it. And look where it’s gotten you. You’re protecting the human race. And the only other person who understands the weight of that is Ophelia. Madame HYDRA. And you love her, don’t you?
Leo: (Big sigh of relief.) I honestly don’t know what kind of man I’d be without you, Father.
Alistair: That’s why I’m here, son.
He’s here as Aida’s mouthpiece, quite clearly. He loves Leo, but he’s also harsh and controlling. He isolated Leo from his mother, taught him that he needed to be a man, and that being a man meant being cold, violent, loyal, and sadistic. It doesn’t involve any positive or happy feelings, other than devotion to Ophelia, his father and the cause, or anything that might be associated with women. Fitz was beaten and verbally abused until he fit the mold his father made for him. But, even now he doesn’t really fit, and Alistair still has to threaten Fitz periodically to keep him in line.
Mace gives Coulson his fake HYDRA ID so that he can drive the bus into the HYDRA
prison enlightenment center. Once inside, Coulson and Mace free the prisoners, including SHIELD/HYDRA inside man Antoine “Tripp” Triplett, last seen dying by terrigenesis husk when Daisy became Quake in season 2. Ward and Hope just got some new competition in the race to be brought back to the real world.
Mack and Jemma marvel over how many factual errors there are in the HYDRA textbooks. That would never happen in the real 21st century US, except when it does, which is more often than any of us realize or want to admit. Mack says he’s the arbiter of truth in his household. A homeschooler at heart.
Hope calls Mack over to play a game. Ward takes a few shots at Jemma, pointing out that Mack and Hope’s emotions aren’t fake, no matter what else may or may not be real. He asks her what the other Grant did, to make her hate him so much, then apologizes for the hurt the other Ward caused. He seems to have given her some food for thought. She doesn’t want to believe that anything in the Framework is real or lasting in any way, including the emotions, because of what it says about Fitz, but she’s going to have to accept that truth, sooner or later. The emotions are real, and the events and memories feel real. She and Daisy need to work with that, rather than negating it completely.
Coulson and Tripp take a detour to find his Howling Commando Grandpa Gabe Jones’ spy camera that Tripp had hidden in his boot when he was captured. He was able to get photos of one of Fitz and Aida’s super secret projects out using it. Coulson spots one of his former students being walked into one of the prison buildings in handcuffs. He’s not leaving without rescuing his student.
Tripp goes to inform Mace, while Coulson infiltrates the other enlightenment center building. Mace sends Burrows back to the base safely with the camera and film. He’s already lost Burrows in one reality. Not taking any chances in this one. Then Mace and Tripp head for the building.
Ward and Jemma get an alert that the team at the prison is in trouble. They decide to take the quinjet to rescue the away team. Ward wants to bring Mack, but Jemma doesn’t want to risk his safety.
Coulson finds a room full of “subversive” teenagers being given the full Clockwork Orange treatment, complete with taped open eyes, and a movie with repetitive dialogue training them to comply. That’s not creepy at all.
May, having been juiced up with Cal’s serum, drops in front of Mace and blocks his way to the building. They have an amusing fight, with him throwing out insulting banter worthy of Tony Stark. He wonders if she’s juicing, or has become an inhuman. May calls him a terrorist, but, as Mace points out before he leaves her temporarily incapacitated, if he were, she’d already be dead. Hard to argue with that logic.
May radios to Fitz and Ophelia that Mace has disappeared inside the building, and her serum is wearing off. Ophelia “innocently” asks if there’s a quinjet at the site. Fitz understands the question she’s really asking, and says it could work. Then he asks who’s in the building? Ophelia asks if it matters? Fitz orders the quinjet to bring the building down, and bring him Mace’s body. May relays the order to the quinjet.
Simmons and Ward arrive just as Tripp escorts a number of the students out, and the bombing starts. Mace, Tripp, Ward, Coulson, Simmons, and at least one teen are all in the room when the ceiling collapses. Mace heroicly supports the ceiling beams so that the last teen can be rescued. He continues to hold up the building singlehandedly.
May arrives in the building just in time to witness this, having rushed in to verify the Patriot’s death for Fitz. She’s horrified to discover kids in the building she just helped bomb, and confused to find the “terrorists” saving the children. She’s frozen, pointing her gun at Mace and trying to figure out who the real danger is, even as the building is crumbling all around them.
Various team members try to talk sense into her, but it is, of course, Coulson who takes charge of the situation and gets through to her in the way only he can:
Coulson: We don’t have time for this. We’ve got to save that kid…Find something to prop up that beam. Either shoot us, or help, but don’t just stand there. Snap out of it, May!
Coulson’s student is rescued, but the building is in critical condition. There’s nothing nearby that’s strong enough to support the weight of the beam long enough for everyone to escape. Everyone says a quick, tearful goodbye to Mace, with May and Coulson giving him meaningful looks of respect. The leadership mantle has been passed back to Coulson. May has finally realized who the true Patriot was. Everyone gets out just as Mace’s strength finally gives out, and he’s lost under the crush of the collapsing building.
Burrows has brought the bus back to transport the kids and the team back to base.
Fitz, Ophelia and Alistair drink champagne to celebrate defeating their enemy, the Patriot.
In the real world, Aida detaches herself from the Framework and views her captives. Jeffrey Mace has flatlined. She turns off his life support.
May enters Skye’s cell: Is it true, that you’re an inhuman?
Skye stands up: Yeah, powerful enough to bring this whole damn place down.
May pulls out a pure terrigen crystal, stolen from HYDRA’s lab, and smashes it on the floor at Skye’s feet: I hope so.
They give each other a small smile as Skye is enveloped in her husk. Next week, HYDRA answers to avenging angels Quake and Agent May.
I’m not sure what was going on with Mace’s need to distrust Jemma. She’s the person on the team that he trusted the most, for the longest period of time, in the real world. Does he instinctively know that she’s there to threaten his existence in that particular reality, or does the Darkhold push them to specifically reject people they were close to in real life? Either way, there’s a certain irony here, since she always worked so hard to not have to lie to him and tried to follow his rules.
Ophelia circumvented her programming masterfully by using vague questions to prompt Fitz into bombing the building, and almost killing every real person in the Framework. It’s easy to see how she manipulated the entire situation to her advantage by guiding people to make the decisions she needed, but not technically breaking her programming.
Goodbye, Jeffrey Mace, Patriot, Director of Shield, and Hero of Vienna. I can’t help but think that he would have preferred to go out the way he did, as a true hero, saving lives and fighting for a just cause. The way he died very specifically mirrored the Sokovia Accords bombing, and they gave us a moment of him sheltering Chris the way he had accidentally sheltered the woman in his famous, but mistaken, photograph. This time, the image was the truth, and he helped save everyone in the building, sacrificing himself to do so. That was all he wanted out of life, in the end. It would have devastated him to wake up and find himself a powerless failure again (in his own eyes), after finding so much fulfillment in the Framework. He’s the one character whose life improved within the Framework because of the removal of one regret. Radcliffe’s one success. He also shows how the Darkhold seduces people.
We saw a little bit of that with Fitz as well, and how much he loves and needs his father and Ophelia. He’ll do anything for them, and to keep them happy. There have been moments when the Evil Fitz persona falters, but he reels himself back in, because he’s doing this for the people he loves. The Darkhold understood Fitz’s motivators, and set up the situation to make sure he stayed under Ophelia’s thrall.
Mack appears to be a success story because of Hope, but he’s otherwise unsatisfied with his life, just like Coulson. Both of them ended up making trade offs that were too big, because the way they thought about their regrets was more like a dream than a plan they could put into action. May and Mace both had plans of action for exactly what they would do differently. Fitz simply had childhood longing, but his regret is tied up in fixing Aida’s as much as his own.