Eric McCandless/ABC
April 18, 2017 at 11:00 PM EDT

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet
Action Adventure
We gave it an A-

After another roller coaster of an episode, I think it’s safe to say that the Agents of Hydra storyline has this show operating at its highest level. It’s a payoff for story lines that were planted earlier this season (and even before), as well as a welcome reunion with some familiar faces, and man is it wrecking me emotionally.

This week’s episode barely pauses for breath after last week’s heartbreaking ending. Coulson and Mace stage a car crash so they can hijack a Hydra bus, hoping to find Daisy. Unfortunately, there’s nothing but body bags onboard. The whole premise of Hydra taking over the Marvel Universe is very big right now, but I love the way this show’s version of the idea constantly throws in these little horrible details to underline just how cruel and authoritarian the society of the Framework is.

Similarly, I love the way AIDA (or Ophelia, or Madame Hydra, or whatever new name she’s given herself inside her personal sandbox) has brainwashed Fitz. He tells Daisy that he knows the truth about her world, because AIDA has told him they’re all invaders from a parallel world. Which is just enough of the truth to work, especially since it already plays into Hydra’s bigotry and xenophobia. One of the key ways fascism enforces order is to keep pointing the finger at new scapegoats, and that’s what AIDA has done here. But before they can totally focus on the new invaders, Hydra has to deal with the scapegoat they had already: The Patriot.

Mace, in this universe, is a true hero. His powers even appear to be natural Inhuman powers, rather than the serum-induced kind that underlined his personal superficiality back in the real world. When Simmons tries telling him that his world is fake and meaningless, Mace refuses to accept it. He’s watched friends die in his arms fighting to “stop hate,” and there’s nothing Simmons can do to disabuse him of that. Simmons’ case is eroding anyway, especially since her whole proof for why this universe is fake is that Fitz would never kill an innocent woman. Except he did, and the woman he killed was real. The line is blurring, even for a rationalist like Simmons.

Despite his commitment to brutality, Fitz has been unable to successfully interrogate Daisy. In his words, she was beaten within an inch of her life, but “nevertheless, she persisted,” quoting Mitch McConnell’s recent line about censoring Elizabeth Warren in the U.S. Senate that went immediately viral and has become a motto of the anti-Trump #Resistance. It’s the first of two nods I caught to real-life contemporary politics this episode, which means that unlike the upcoming comic event Secret Empire, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is very interested in drawing lines between its nightmare dystopia and current political trends.

So AIDA tries her hand at interrogating Daisy. She notes, once again, that all she did was fix everyone’s biggest regret. The algorithms did the rest to create this world, just as Radcliffe would have wanted – prompting a darkly hilarious interjection from the prisoner next door that “this isn’t what I meant, you sadistic witch,” followed by the sounds of electro-shock and much screaming. AIDA even offers to bring back Lincoln Campbell, whose death set Daisy off on her solo Quake adventures, but Daisy has learned that sometimes, “what people want isn’t good for them.” She asks AIDA what she wants out of all this, and AIDA responds that she just wants choice, like anyone else. Naturally, she’s done this by taking “choice” away from everyone else. This misunderstood misfit is so angry at some wrong done to her that she’s decided to make up for it by brutally subjugating the entire universe to her will. It’s a classic fascist formula.

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