This week, we find out what Yo-Yo, Piper, and the SHIELD gang have been up to while Daisy and Jemma have been in the Framework. Most of the team make their way to Radcliffe’s backdoor and the one escape from the Framework left, but one team member is caught up in the life that Aida and the Darkhold built for him. And Aida and Fitz’s Project Looking Glass machine gets its first use.
The episode begins with a flash back to 10 days earlier, when Daisy and Jemma went into the Framework. We are reminded that they have to come out voluntarily. Pulling them out might leave them brain-damaged.
The Zephyr has spent the last ten days cloaked and in the air, on radio silence. Talbot has been trying to reach them, but they aren’t sure who they can trust. Running the Framework is draining the ship’s power. They only have 24 hours left in the air until they run out, and they’ve already turned off all nonessential systems.Yo-Yo reluctantly agrees to turn off the cloaking rather than land, even though they know there are enemies searching for them. Tough call.
Inside the Framework, HYDRA has declared martial law, and there are violent riots in the streets, as the fight for control of the broadcast center continues. Looks like Coulson’s speech had an impact.
When Trip and Jemma return from their recon mission, Daisy races over to greet Trip like the long lost friend that he is. Except this Trip has never met her, so she has to pretend that she feels like she knows him from the stories she’s heard.
Jemma and Daisy share information. They realize they have to get the captives out of the Framework as quickly as possible, now that they know where the backdoor is, so that Aida can’t kill them once she has a human body and free will. Jemma can’t figure out how they’ll get to Fitz, since he’s always guarded. Daisy has to convince her that they have to leave Fitz behind for now. It’s true, Fitz is the safest of them, but I still wouldn’t trust Aida’s intentions. They need to get to him as quickly as possible before she does to him what she did to Radcliffe.
Jemma agrees to leave Fitz for now. Daisy sees Mack and Hope preparing to leave the base. No one has told Mack about the other world, which is odd. I guess he’s been largely out of the loop, staying with Hope instead of going on the dangerous missions. Everyone else will have had time to get used to the idea, and Mack is the least spontaneous, impulsive person on the team. He’s going to need some adjustment time.
Daisy and Hope have a cute little moment where they trade words for butt in order to tease Mack. It drives home the caring and chemistry between all three. We were already reminded earlier that Yo-Yo is waiting for Mack and frustrated that she can’t do much for him besides worry.
Daisy convinces Mack to go on the mission to find the backdoor with her, but doesn’t tell him the truth about what they’re doing. When he tries to get her to promise that he’ll be able to tuck Hope into bed that night, she tells him that he’ll be right where he needs to be.
May is helping out in the infirmary when Coulson finds her. He tells her about the Framework and the real world. He also mentions the soap, but moves on quickly. I really want it to turn out that there was something in the soap. May is, of course, skeptical about the real world. She wants proof of its existence. Her days of following blindly are over. Coulson says he can work with that.
Fitz visits Radcliffe’s cell to continue his interrogation. Radcliffe isn’t interested in anything Fitz has to offer until he mentions that Aida and the Darkhold have built a machine that could give Radcliffe a new body in the real world, and, ultimately, immortality. Then Radcliffe tells Fitz that Daisy’s looking for a way out of the Framework.
Jemma approaches May in the base armory and introduces herself. May asks, “How’d a little pop tart like you evade capture?” Everyone still underestimates her. May and Jemma talk about life in the real world. As they’re discussing Fitz, Jemma realizes that Fitz is so different because Aida reintroduced his father back into his life. She asks if May can access HYDRA personnel files.
Jemma uses the files to get Alistair’s home address, then shows up there with a gun and her righteous indignation. She points the gun at Alistair’s face and tells him he’s going to help her fix this mess.
Daisy and Trip use a map to determine the exact whereabouts of the backdoor so that Trip can fly them there. Trip asks about Daisy’s seemingly ragtag team and the other world. She’s surprised that he knows about it, and tells him that he was part of the team, too. He wants to know which of his gorgeous teammates he dated on the other side. Daisy enjoys shooting him down. Trip and I agree that he should have gotten more action.
Jemma and Alistair face off. Jemma blames Alistair for hurting Fitz and poisoning his mind, leaving Alistair confused. Fitz is the center of his universe and he’s been the best father he knows how to be with Fitz. He’s obviously just never read any modern parenting manuals. Like, any written since the 19th century, or possibly since medieval times. Possibly the only one he read was written by Machiavelli.
They continue to have an odd conversation, as two people who love Fitz deeply but are completely unable to understand each other. Jemma tries to explain the danger Fitz is in from Aida, but Alistair thinks she’s a crazy stalker, which, to be fair, is what she sounds like if you don’t know the truth. She has Alistair call Fitz and wants him to tell Fitz to come to the house so that she can take him to the backdoor, but instead Alistair warns Fitz that the fugitive is there. Then he attacks Jemma. He almost kills her, but she shoots him as Fitz listens in horror. The things the writers put these two through. 😥 😥 And they aren’t done yet.
May, Coulson and Daisy engage in a bit of banter that’s too much fun to leave out. The actors are clearly enjoying doing a different take on their characters.
Coulson: Something’s not right here. People are staring at us.
May: No, they’re staring at you. That’s what happens when you go on TV calling for revolution. You’re now the face of the Resistance.
Coulson: That’s really not my style. I’m really more of a “work in the shadows” kind of guy.
May: Really. That’s how teaching 10th grade works best, from the shadows?
Coulson: To be honest with you, 15 year olds are no joke.
Daisy: Do you know where Simmons went?
Coulson: No, sorry.
May: She went to find Alistair Fitz.
Daisy: What? Why didn’t you come and tell me?
May: Because I don’t answer to you. Not here, or in any other fantasy world you two might have cooked up.
Daisy: You told her?
Coulson: It came up in conversation.
Daisy: How does the existence of an alternate reality come up in casual conversation?
Coulson: I’d like to think it’s because we were bonding, though I don’t want to speak for her.
May: Patented Melinda May stone-faced stare.
Daisy: You’re really not helping.
Coulson: Don’t worry, Melinda here said she’d keep an open mind.
May: Deep sigh, and continued stone-faced stare.
Daisy: We can’t leave without Simmons.
May: She knows how to stay off radar. I’m sure everything’s fine.
I think May is starting to get her memories back! I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed Clark Gregg’s work more than I have during this arc.
Fitz and Radcliffe arrive at Alistair’s house to find him dead, having bled out on the floor. Jemma is long gone. Fitz vows to put a bullet through her skull.
Back on the Zephyr in the real world, Piper and Yo-Yo continue to worry and feel helpless. Now that they are uncloaked, Ivanov’s ships have found them. They don’t have enough power to defend themselves, and are out of options until Daisy and Jemma wake up.
Daisy has everyone on the team loaded onto the Resistance quinjet except for Jemma. Finally she returns from killing Alistair, upset that she lost her chance to lure Fitz to the backdoor. Daisy assures her that they will get Fitz out, but right now they need to rescue everyone else before Aida can kill them.
The backdoor is hidden in a steel mill instead of the city park fountain it was supposed to be in. Aida took steps to make sure no one would find it or use it. Trip says goodbye to everyone as they disembark from the plane. Daisy suggests that he become the next Patriot and help Ward lead the Resistance. We all agree that Trip would look hot in the uniform. He’d look even better in it in the real world.
Coulson has run ahead into the factory and found the backdoor. It’s in a vat of molten steel. Uhoh. The team debates whether the backdoor is still there and usable, or if Aida’s managed to seal it. Mack starts to realize that there’s something going on that he’s doesn’t understand.
Ophelia tries to order Fitz back to her bedside, but he ignores her so that he can avenge his father’s death. When she realizes that Fitz isn’t coming, she has the doctor begin the scanning procedure to start the process of building her a new body.
The team continues to argue about the backdoor and the existence of the real world. Mack accuses Daisy of thinking she’s like Moses leading the rest of them to the promised land. That helps Daisy figure out that she can quake the molten steel to reveal the door the way that Moses parted the Red Sea. Mack is not happy that they turned his bible metaphor around on him. Not cool, team. Get your own metaphors. 😇
Fitz, Radcliffe, and Hydra show up just then, proving that there is something in the steel mill worth fighting over. Daisy quakes the backdoor, and it opens. Coulson walks out to be the first to jump, but gets shot. May’s still not a true believer in the other world, but her instinct to keep Coulson alive can never be erased. She rushes out to get him through the portal.
He begs her to come with him, to take the leap of faith, then let’s himself fall through the portal as Daisy quakes it open. The Framework glitches and resets itself after he exits. Mack sees the glitches and knows for sure that he isn’t in the real world.
Coulson wakes up on his pod in Aida’s lair. He disconnects himself and calls to May to jump. After a minute, she gasps and wakes up, falling into his arms.
May: I followed you.
Coulson: I’m amazed you went through. I was a little squirrely on the other side.
May: It was kinda cute.
Coulson: I am so sorry. I tried to find you.
May (Sees Aida in her pod): Aida.
Coulson: Stinking robots. (To Mack) At least you had a shotgun ax.
Coulson grabs a scalpel and begins sawing Aida’s head off, but the Project Looking Glass machine is almost done printing out her replacement body.
Daisy tells Jemma that it’s her turn to go through the portal just as Fitz finds her. Fitz points a gun at her head, as Jemma tries to get him to wake up and remember what’s real, while Fitz lists the horrible things he thinks she’s done to him in the Framework. She’s ends by telling him that Ophelia is an “it”, not a “she”; a robot whose name, AIDA, is an acronym for Artificially Intelligent Digital Assistant.
Fitz is unmoved by Jemma’s speech. He tells her to get on her knees. When Jemma refuses, he shoots her in the leg, so that she collapses on the ground anyway. Jemma tells him she loves him, and begs him to wake up and stop what he’s doing. Fitz tells her she means nothing to him, and tries to force her to repeat that while he holds his gun against her head.
A shot is fired, and Jemma flinches, thinking it was Fitz. It was Radcliffe, shooting and disarming Fitz’s guard. Radcliffe uses Fitz’s moment of surprise to disarm him as well, then lead him toward the portal. Radcliffe explains to Fitz that all of this was never his intention. The Darkhold corrupted his mind. It’s his fault and he doesn’t want Fitz to blame himself. He throws Fitz through the portal, then tells Jemma, who has followed them, that bringing Fitz there was the only way to save him.
Jemma takes her turn through the portal. Just as she awakens in the real world, the Zephyr comes under fire.
Daisy tells Mack it’s his turn. He’s too overwhelmed by everything he’s just seen and learned, and isn’t ready yet. Daisy explains that he’s in danger in the real world, so he needs to hurry. He asks if Hope is also in danger. Daisy has to admit to him that Hope isn’t alive in the other world. That’s a deal breaker for Mack, as it would be for most parents. Daisy tries to convince him by telling him that there are people who love him on the other side, too, but he doesn’t remember them. Mack decides to stay with his daughter, even if it’s technically not real. The emotions are real. The sense of fulfillment is real. Daisy respects his choice rather than trying to force him through the portal. She says a tearful goodbye and goes through.
When Daisy wakes up in the Zephyr, Yo-Yo quickly asks her if she was able to save Mack. Daisy has to tell her no.
In the pod room, Coulson is trying to keep Fitz from shaking right out of his body as the memories from his two lives collide inside his head. Fitz realizes that he killed Agnes and ordered the airstrike that killed Mace. May has a moment where she remembers her involvement in Mace’s death, but she has years of experience in dealing with her guilt over deaths she’s caused. She’d also already started to atone for it inside the Framework. Fitz doesn’t know what to do with the enormity of the torture, murder, and oppression he ordered and committed. He says, “I think I’m a bad person now.” He doesn’t even seem to have remembered holding a gun to Jemma’s head yet.
Aida’s human body is complete. She takes her first breath and goes out into the pod room. When she sees Fitz, she gets a giant smile on her face, the likes of which we’ve never seen on either Aida or Ophelia.
Aida: Leopold. [Fitz: Ophelia?] I am so happy to see you! This is what happiness feels like! Finally you can touch the real me! Feel my heart beating. Touch my skin. We can make this world whatever we want.
When Fitz sees Aida he goes to stand in front of her, standing and staring as she speaks, likely still confused and disoriented. But she’s also the woman he’s been in love with and consumed with worry about, now standing in front of him in perfect health.
Coulson and May realize that Aida’s body is human, and May tries to get a shot at her, but Fitz is in the way. Before they can find a better angle, Aida grabs Fitz in a hug and teleports out of the room. Not just a human then. Aida’s made an inhuman body for herself. That explains all of the intensely detailed genetic experiments on inhumans. Aida wanted to know how to give herself exactly the powers she wanted.
Inside the Framework, Mack returns to the base. He tells Hope that Daisy and the team have gone back to Kansas, just like Dorothy. She asks if they’re going to Kansas, too? He tells her, no, he has everything he needs, right here.
Foreshadowing? Will Hope end up going to Kansas, or will Yo-Yo be pregnant and not have had a chance to tell Mack yet?
No stinger this week. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 clip instead.
Aida may be a monster, but I was still a bit moved by her happiness with her new, perfectly functioning body and being able to share it with Fitz.
It’s been fun watching the non-HYDRA agents rediscover their spy skills as they pick up a gun and start shooting or start a fight and whip someone’s *ss.
Hopefully we’ll revisit the Framework and rescue Mack. The team played it all wrong by keeping the existence of the other world from him. He’s the show and the team’s rock, always appearing to be emotionally steady and stable, standing strong when and where they need him. He doesn’t complain much about his own needs, (at least once he made his shotgun ax, he felt pretty strongly about needing that) and everyone tends to forget that he might have them. But we’ve learned this season that he’s masking some deep emotional scars. He doesn’t give his heart quickly or easily, and when he does, he doesn’t change his mind easily, either. He has deeply held views in general, and takes his time to reflect before changing his opinion. The team assumed he’d be there for them when they were ready to leave, like always, forgetting that this Mack isn’t on their team. His daughter is his priority. No one kept him in the loop, no one tried to make him comfortable with the idea of leaving his life in the Framework behind. Coulson had Daisy and Jemma, May had Coulson and Daisy, while Fitz had Daisy, Radcliffe and Jemma, even though he didn’t accept their support.
Radcliffe showed his warped sense of morality and his ability to delude himself again when he told Jemma that at least Fitz would be able to go back to being his old self again. No, Dr Radcliffe, normal people don’t just forget about being coerced into committing murder and torture and move on as if it never happened.
Fitz became everything he normally hates while he was in the Framework. When he wakes up, he’s confused, disoriented, filled with conflicting emotions, and his mind is on the brink of shattering. He may need to cling to Ophelia and the Evil Fitz persona for a while in order to hold himself together. The enormity of his actions could be too much for Fitz to cope with without his mind being irreparably damaged. He was ready to pull the trigger and shoot Jemma in the head. He tortured Daisy and killed Mace. He turned against everyone and everything he holds dear in this world in order to fiercely protect a monster and an evil Nazi organization. Jed Whedon said in an interview that they all still have these memories in their minds as if they are real, as if they’ve lived two different lives. How can he even begin to reconcile those lives? How can he live with having become someone like Ward, and then having taken the evil further than Grant ever did?
Note that I managed not to mention in the main recap that May and Coulson are the Bucky and Steve of Agents of SHIELD, protecting each other through death, memory loss, body (and body part) replacement and enhancement, and anything else the writers, their handlers and HYDRA can throw at them. But they are.
Could the Framework have become more than just code? This season is a tie-in with Dr Strange, which touched on interdimensional travel. Could the Framework actually be in another dimension, or be becoming another dimension, with only the connecting portals reliant on code any more? If I remember right, the only place we saw a glitch was in the room with the backdoor. Before that, we only heard comments about how real and complex everything was. If we can believe the Darkhold can create something like the Framework, then it’s not a big leap to believe that the Framework is a true alternate reality that the Darkhold is continuously weaving, especially given how little control Aida seems to have over the environment.