Spoilers ahead for "All the Madame's Men," the latest episode of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: The gang hijacks a TV station to broadcast the body cam footage of Hydra bombing one of its own reprogramming facilities loaded with teenagers. Simmons and Trip start to put together Aida's plan to use Darkhold tech to become human. The rebellion begins.
The good: The wrinkles of the Framework, Ward, Daisy and the May-trix
We were told the Framework included minor changes that then set larger things in motion years down the line, and we learn even more about that here. First up is Coulson, who in this world turned down S.H.I.E.L.D.'s recruitment offer as a young man. It's taken him decades to reconcile that, but we finally get to see Framework Coulson take the stand he was too afraid to take all those years ago. More than anyone, Coulson is quickly tapping into his "real" self, likely due to the fact that his brain has already been meddled with.
Then there's Ward. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm really going to miss that dude. The Framework version of Agent Ward is one heck of a good guy, and this has been an amazing reprieve for Brett Dalton to come back and actually play this character as we first got to know him in Season 1 — and see him end up where fans all thought he'd end up at that point, a good guy on team S.H.I.E.L.D. He's not perfect, but this version of Ward really is a good guy at his heart.
Why? Well, the big change in his life is that Victoria Hand recruited him into S.H.I.E.L.D. in this world. As opposed to the Hydra double agent John Garrett's (played by the late Bill Paxton, who did receive a nice shout out in the news reports, being heralded as an America hero). The core of the real Ward was evil because of the hate planted there by Garrett. In this world, Hand saw something in Ward and took a shot on him — giving him a goodness and moral center the "real" version sorely lacked. It's easy to forget how many great characters have come and gone through this show, and this arc has served as the perfect sendoff to give Ward a do-over in the best possible way.
After witnessing Hydra take down a building full of kids, May finally pulls the trigger and breaks Daisy out of jail, dousing her in Terrigen to reawaken her Inhuman powers in the process. It's been too long since these two got a good team-up, but their scenes here did not disappoint. This being a virtual world, they tapped into some downright Matrix-y action effects work that was a whole lot of fun. Forget the Darkhold. Ming-Na Wen is aging backwards, and that's the real magic of this show.
The bad: A tidy resolution seems to be brewing, the ‘rules' are still pretty dumb
All the balls seem to come crashing down as the season barrels toward its conclusion, and fresh off the death of Mace, we got a fleeting glimpse at how the S.H.I.E.L.D. resistance could falter without his steady hand of leadership. Then, everyone just takes off on their missions and Coulson — a guy who's only experience in this world is teaching ninth grade history — somehow steps into the leadership vacuum? Look, viewers all know Coulson is the man to lead, but in this world and context, it felt like a weird transition to see him suddenly in the inner circle of the leadership team.
Along with May's defection, pretty much the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team is assembled for a face-off against Aida and Fitz. And now Simmons even knows what Aida is doing and where she's building her facility in the real world. Which all happened a bit too quickly and conveniently, but hey, it had to happen. Oh, and five minutes into Coulson's broadcast, and the people of Hydraville are ready for revolution? It just all felt a little rushed to set up the big finale for the arc.
Ok, back to Aida's mystery programming. So, she can't kill the team because of her programming that requires her to protect humans? But, she can kill them if they're threatening the Framework? Ok, this is only getting more convoluted. They're all threatening the Framework at this point, right? It's maddening that there's no good reason for why Aida and the Russian don't just kill everyone and be done with it. Like, if the Russian can't do it, get a lackey in there to take ‘em out? That's a solvable problem, right? Ugh, that's just aggravatingly silly.
Line of the night:
"My name is Phil Coulson, and I'm an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Coulson
So, Aida's grand plan is to apparently make a device that can turn her into a human? Ok, sure. Whatever. How is that such a huge threat, though? You'd think she was cooking up some McGuffin to make the Framework into reality, or something, right? Sure, meddling with dark arts is bad, but this doesn't feel like the most threatening thing at this point. The teams lives are at stake, so there are stakes, but they could stand to be amped up a bit.