Things were more than grim when we last left our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. With most of the team incapacitated and plugged in the cyberspatial Framework after being replaced by LMDs, Quake and Simmons must go inside and save them. Unfortunately the Framework has created a nightmare world ruled by Hydra! Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “What If…”
The Secret Empire
Anyone who’s been paying attention knows how I feel about Nick Spencer’s Captain America and the rewritten reality that he is, and has always been, a Hydra agent. If not, you can see here and here. I’m not happy. I’m less happy that continuity in the Marvel Comics Universe will be further rewritten this summer for Secret Empire in which we lost World War II and are currently ruled by Hydra.
Marvel plans a huge media blitz for this event, which they promise will be their last in a while, at least 18 months. Thank goodness; I hate these crossover events. Here though, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or as it’s being called, Agents of Hydra, we’re getting a sneak preview. Again, I’m not happy. At least they might not ruin Captain America in the television version… I hope…
The Twilight Zone
Daisy wakes up in a cross between the old Marvel comic What If… (thus the title of this episode) and what could be an episode of The Twilight Zone. She’s sharing a bed and apparently a relationship with the late agent Grant Ward, and she has no powers. They’ve been called into work, where they hunt Inhumans.
As the two go into work, the nightmare world becomes more clear. Inhumans are hated and hunted, the Triskelion (demolished in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is still standing and with a Hydra insignia on the side, and last night Skye (she’s not being called Daisy) asked Ward to move in with her. Worst of all, when she hacks the computers to find out where Simmons is, she’s dead.
The Walking Dead
Startlingly we segue to the next scene: Jenna Simmons clawing her way out of a shallow grave. There are bullet holes in the chest of her sweater, and she wasn’t alone in the ground as another skeleton is where she emerged. She finds she’s on the grounds of the abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, and that the organization is no more.
Wandering through this dangerous world without ID is bad enough with everyone suffering from Inhuman paranoia and hysteria in a Hydra police state, but add in being covered in dirt and torn clothes, and Simmons is simply a walking target. However she’s been undercover before, and has even worked for Hydra, so she can roll with it like a pro.
The Spy Game
Daisy, on the other hand, is not doing so well. Her work for the day includes interrogating an Inhuman with Ward. She immediately recognizes him as Vijay Nadeer, yet he’s going under s different name, indicating a mole at Hydra. Before she can get more, Ward knocks him out. It’s frustrating how inept Daisy is at just playing along. What happened to all of her spy and undercover training?
We also find out that the doctor everyone is afraid of is actually Fitz. Along with May, he seems completely loyal to Hydra, so it can be assumed that they have no memory of who they are in the real world, but one has to wonder how much of this darkness is actually deep within them, yet hidden. It just seems far too easy for them to be this evil.
Through the interrogation and an interlude with Coulson as a schoolteacher we begin to learn what happened in this timeline created by the Framework. Originally designed to hold Agent May in place, it gave her a victory in Bahrain, and something to fight for. The young Inhuman May saved in Bahrain went on to cause mayhem in Cambridge in an incident that changed everything.
The Cambridge incident, whatever it was, possibly similar to Civil War‘s Stanford, brought mankind to a place where Hydra could take charge and solve the Inhuman problem with force, like exterminators. And along the way, they took down S.H.I.E.L.D. as well. What kind of nightmare would make folks welcome Hydra? Oh, and in case they haven’t driven the point home enough, Coulson stresses to the class that Hydra are not Nazis. Nope, I wasn’t convinced either.
In one of the episode’s more gut-wrenching scenes, Simmons confronts Coulson at his school and tries to get him to remember her. She takes many tactics to punch through the programming of the Framework to reach him, including invoking the power of T.A.H.I.T.I., “it’s a magical place,” but it’s fruitless and only makes him angry. He calls Hydra on her.
In all seriousness though, Simmons might have had better luck if she popped into a rest room for a moment and cleaned herself up. Let’s face it, she looks like a crazy person, and probably—well, there’s really no way around it—smells like the grave. She is also having trouble navigating the Framework, thinking of the people as code.
Reunion and Resistance
The code may actually be both the problem and the key. Coulson has a file folder in his desk full of things vital to his identity in the real world. He’s aware, but perhaps he just doesn’t know what it means. When Simmons encounters the student who questioned Hydra as Nazis, he helps her and turns out to be part of a “resistance,” so the Framework does have glitches… or maybe traps…
When Simmons and Daisy find each other at their preprogrammed exit point, someone else finds them: Ward. They think they’re done; he has his gun on them because Jenna is wanted and Daisy’s been acting wonky. In one of the show’s coolest ironies, proving how this series is on fire this season, Ward is with the Resistance.
Our heroines get away for the moment, thanks to Ward, and Daisy seems to get through to Coulson, but the exit point has been closed. Daisy and Jenna are trapped in the Hydra world of the Framework. When we see Fitz canoodling with Aida as Madame Hydra we know how it was done: she’s the queen bee here; it’s her world.
As good as this episode was, I hope this trip to the dark side doesn’t go on too long. Remember, Star Trek only visited the evil Mirror Universe a few times, too much of a good thing and all that. I am digging Fitz as a bad guy, Ward in the side of the angels again, and Coulson’s scenes with Jenna and Daisy were top notch. More please.
Next: The Resistance in “Identity and Change!”