Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recap: 'All the Madame's Men'
Rebounding from a tragic loss, S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to turn Hydra's weapons against them
This episode begins right away with two inside references for longtime S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. First, there’s the unmistakable visage of Sunil Bakshi delivering the Hydra-approved news report about Mace’s death. In the world of the Framework, Whitehall’s former right-hand man has transitioned into Hydra’s top news anchor, pumping propaganda from his prestigious cable news perch. There’s another little Easter egg hidden in The Bakshi Report: Headlines noting the death of “American hero” John Garrett (Bill Paxton, who played Garrett back in season 1, passed away in February).
Elsewhere, though, the tide seems to be turning in our heroes’ favor. Thanks to May’s change of heart, Daisy has now gone through Terrigenesis and regained her quake powers. She uses them to great effect while she and May fight their way out of Hydra headquarters, even sending AIDA herself flying through a window and onto the pavement below. The impact is so intense it knocks AIDA out of the Framework, where she’s reunited with Ivanov in his real-world base. Now that he’s robotic like her, Ivanov is also bound by AIDA’s programming – specifically, the prime directive that prevents her from directly harming Radcliffe or the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Now that Daisy and Simmons pose a threat to the Framework, however, AIDA feels justified in taking them down, and assigns Ivanov to find their real-world bodies.
Coulson’s experience as a history teacher informs his cynical take on Mace’s death: This is how movements die. It takes so much effort to translate good intentions into concrete actions that the assassination of a key leader has crippled many such movements in the past. To add insult to injury, Bakshi is now spreading fear through the populace with exaggerated reports about Daisy and May’s escape, which should serve to further snuff out resistance sentiment.
On the plus side, Mace’s sacrifice did inspire a change of heart from May, so maybe there’s hope. Ward decides to go out in search of Daisy, though he pauses for a quick chat with Coulson. We learn a bit more about alternate-reality Ward here – namely that he was inspired to join the S.H.I.E.L.D. resistance by Victoria Hand. We don’t actually get a cameo from Saffron Burrows, but it’s enough to tell us that Hand and Garrett’s positions are basically reversed in this universe. Before Ward leaves, Coulson tells him to try not to get killed – funny, since the only person who ever actually proved himself capable of killing Grant Ward is Phil Coulson.
With Trip’s assistance, Simmons finds out more about Hydra’s secret project. She immediately recognizes the schematics for “Project Looking Glass” as Darkhold-fueled technology. In fact, it seems based on Eli’s old machine – but Simmons needs more info. Trip heard that Hydra was shipping materials to Ivanov’s oil rig base, so they take a Quinjet for a quick recon mission.
With Mace gone, there’s a leadership vacuum at S.H.I.E.L.D. Luckily, the real director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on hand to step in. Once Coulson takes charge, the first thing he does is take a team to go pick up Daisy and May. Finally, everyone’s back together.
When Simmons and Trip finally locate Ivanov’s drilling platform, they find it empty, which means the machine is actually being built in the real-world location outside the Framework. At least Simmons is finally able to piece together what AIDA’s doing: She’s expanding Eli’s machine, which allowed the creation of matter from nothing, into something capable of generating living tissue. In other words, AIDA is still just trying to become a real girl, and every step she’s taken has just been about furthering that goal. And once she’s freed from her robot body, she won’t be bound by her programming anymore.
According to Trip, this Pinocchio machine was a week away from completion a week ago. Judging by the amount of hologram schematics Fitz is able to draw up on it, it looks almost ready for use. When his father comes in to tell him the traitors got away, Fitz has one of his familiar outbursts. His dad doesn’t take kindly to that, once again showing the cold-blooded abusiveness that turned this version of Fitz into a leader of Hydra, but Fitz’s power also allows him to push back against his dad by threatening to punish him as much as any other lackey for failing to find the traitors.
So Papa Fitz goes to interrogate Radcliffe, who has quickly become the Theon Greyjoy of this show. After kickstarting a chain of events that led to widespread horror and death, Radcliffe is now spending his episodes getting tortured, beaten, and humiliated (though luckily for him, he hasn’t yet gone through the Full Theon). In fact, he’s now at the end of his rope and refuses to tell Papa Fitz anything. He even throws in some mockery about how his old colleague is nothing without Fitz, prompting a savage beatdown. Papa Fitz is able to find proof that Radcliffe was communicating with Daisy, but can’t get the information out when Radcliffe is so resolutely resigned to his fate and unafraid of death. Fitz decides to give him something to live for. He himself has his own motive for survival and victory – AIDA has agreed to take him with her when she uses the Project Looking Glass technology.
S.H.I.E.L.D., meanwhile, have their own plan. Even though Daisy (like Simmons before her), insists this world doesn’t matter, Coulson determines that the only way to save themselves is to save the world. It’s time for a revolution.
The resistance storms Bakshi’s station, where he’s in the middle of offering to buy furniture for a fellow TV host (echoing, of course, President Donald Trump’s infamous “p—y tape”). They tie up all Hydra personnel and prepare to broadcast the real footage of Mace’s death to the world. Ward offers to hold off Hydra if they try to stop the signal, prompting a heart-to-heart with Daisy. Although they don’t kiss, Daisy admits that spending time with this Ward has allowed her to understand the real-life Ward in her world – that there was some good in him, which maybe got channeled into the wrong avenues. She hopes he can get his version of Skye back.
After a nice moment with May, Coulson faces the camera. He tells Bakshi’s audience that they were lied to about the Patriot’s death, and shows the footage of Mace sacrificing himself to protect a building full of brainwashed kids. Coulson says that Hydra fed the populace “alternative facts” (another intentional-seeming echo the real-world Trump administration) in order to maintain their own power. But now that the truth is out, he hopes that people will join him, take the opportunity to be “patriots,” and hold Hydra accountable for their actions. Based on the crowd that starts gathering outside, it seems like people are ready to take him up on it. Viva la revolution!
Time is running out, however. Outside the Framework, Ivanov’s men have determined that Daisy and Simmons’ bodies are on a jet. He’s instructed his people to fire when they’re in their sights. I’m glad this struggle now has real-world and Framework components – it’ll add a layer of Inception to the final proceedings.