The alternate-universe “Agents of Hydra” story line continued to pay dividends this week. I was legitimately tense for most of the running time, and the stakes felt real, which is a challenge for parallel-reality stories and was my small complaint last week. Let’s get into it.
Coulson is relieved to find out all the conspiracy theories he believed about Hydra were right. Ranting about Hydra’s “fake news” and the homemade soap he created to counteract Hydra’s brainwash soap, Framework Coulson sounds just like a modern-day 9/11 conspiracy theorist ranting about how “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.” Except this one is right.
After missing him last week, we finally get a look at how Mack’s doing inside the Framework. With Hope at his side, he couldn’t be happier – though as we see, that happiness teeters on a knife’s edge at all times. While building drones with his daughter (she’s a wiz kid, obviously), Mack sees that Hope salvaged Hydra tech for hers, which could get them in trouble. When an armed convoy arrives at their morning bus stop, he suspects the worst, but luckily for them Hydra’s just there to pick up a prospective Inhuman. Mack and Hope are so relieved to not be on the receiving end of Hydra’s oppression this time that they can’t spare a thought for the poor sucker who was. It’s a great illustration of the true horrors of living under fascism, where you’re so desperate to survive you’re tempted to sell out everyone else.
Simmons and Daisy get a shock when they learn that Dr. Holden Radcliffe exists in this world, as a Hydra scientist working on a so-called “Inhuman cure.” They realize that with their go-to escape route shut off by AIDA, the best way out of the Framework probably goes through Radcliffe. Daisy decides to look him up in the Hydra database. It’s a risky move, and it has consequences – on the way out her door with the information, Daisy is stopped by May. She accepts her fate, sending Ward off with the Radcliffe data while she stays with Hydra.
Fitz, meanwhile, is curious about why AIDA seems intent on keeping him away from the “subversive” case. AIDA (or “Ophelia,” or “Madame Hydra,” as she goes by here) reluctantly shows him a picture of Simmons, but it doesn’t stir anything. AIDA has clearly put a lot of work into brainwashing Fitz, and it’s worked wonderfully. He’s just as in love with her here as he is with Simmons in the real world – to underline the point, Fitz even tells AIDA he’d cross the universe for her, as he once did for Simmons. They then make out, which will just always be unsettling to watch.
Through Ward, Coulson and Simmons get a meeting with the mysterious leader of The Resistance – and it’s none other than our old friend Jeffrey Mace! Coulson is still as much of a nerd in the Framework and ever, and starts geeking out about The Patriot, the legendary Inhuman leader of the Resistance. No word on whether Mace’s powers here are just as fake as in the real world, but nevertheless it’s funny to watch this topsy-turvy world’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. be led by a smiling poser and a Hydra double agent. There are no other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to spare at the moment, so Mace dispatches Ward, Coulson, and Simmons to find Radcliffe. Simmons clearly still finds Ward hard to trust, but she warms to him a bit when he talks about how much he loves “Skye” and how he’s willing to die for her.
She’s not the only suspicious one. Fitz still has questions about Simmons, so AIDA informs him that she’s “crossed over from the other side,” a nightmare world where S.H.I.E.L.D. defeated Hydra. Her brainwashing is comprehensive! AIDA describes her life there as a slave, but leaves out the part where she started as like, an operating system for Radcliffe’s tablet.