Spoilers ahead for "Identity and Change," the latest episode of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: Coulson doesn’t remember everything, but just enough, so he's basically a super spy trapped in a bumbling teacher’s body. Skye is busted by Hydra and beaten to a pulp. Simmons escapes with Ward (which is still hilarious) to join the S.H.I.E.L.D. rebellion, led by Mace. Mack decides to take a stand against Hydra.
The good: The S.H.I.E.L.D. resistance, Mack's life, virtual Ward (and how Simmons hates him), Coulson
We get to dive a bit deeper into the world of the Framework this week, and we're introduced to the version of Mace that he always wanted to be. Here, Mace is a grizzled leader holding off the hounds of Hydra with nothing more than a long-forgotten base and a stolen quinjet. It's an interesting peek at how his character could have turned out in the real world, if not for the compromises he made along the way (not to imply those compromises were inherently bad, but still, they make us who they are). Even more than when Coulson ran the agency from the shadows, this version of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the most underdog version of the agency we've seen yet. Sure, it might all be virtual, but this is still one heck of a world.
Framing the moral dilemma of the week around Mack and his daughter being roped into a Hydra operation was an obvious but still poignant move. They use Mack and his daughter as pawns to trap Daisy, and after Mack gets a first-hand look at how Hydra operates, he can't stand by any longer. When he says he can't look his daughter in the eye anymore after saying "Hail Hydra," you believe him. It makes sense they'd start assembling the team, so to speak, but this was a very natural (and true to character) way to bring Mack around.
More than pretty much any character on this show, Brett Dalton's Grant Ward has been through the ringer. And then some. But is this version of Ward actually a halfway decent human being? He's come through for the team time and time again and is actually fighting for the good guys as a double agent this time around. But every time you might start to like Ward, Simmons is there to immediately swat it down. She has no patience for his lovesick confessions and it's hilarious. They eye rolls are palpable.
It makes sense Coulson would be able to remember some of his former life thanks to the Tahiti project already messing with his mind, but they made a great decision to only have that knowledge come through in fragments. He remembers a few things, but really, the dude is a bumbling teacher who makes his own soap and follows conspiracy theories. Which is great. It's a way to keep Coulson in the loop while out of it and it allows Daisy and Simmons to still take point on this mission, even as they start assembling.
The bad: Madame Hydra and her motivations
We get a bit more context about Aida's Madame Hydra and what she's doing, but it still doesn't make the most sense. Aida tells Radcliffe she erased everyone's greatest regret and just let the simulation play out in creating this world but she's obviously manipulating it as head of Hydra. But what is Aida's endgame? We know she's pissed off at being a creation but we still don't know why she wants this paradise to, well, suck. Why isn't Aida a benevolent dictator? She makes a great Madame Hydra, but … why? Some questions I'd love to see answered in the coming weeks.
Lines of the night
"The soap made me do it." - Daisy
"If I weren't dead already, I'd be impressed." - Radcliffe
There are a lot of them. First up, Fitz is one of the most stone cold baddies we've seen on this show, period — and the fact that it's the typically lovable Iain De Caestecker. He seems to be reveling in this role and seeing him pull the trigger on Agnus was jaw-dropping. It'll be interesting if they explore nature over nurture with Fitz as a test case as we learn more about how he turned out this way. Like, he's a straight-up sadist.
Also, how much does Fitz know about this virtual reality? The way he and Aida talk about it, it makes it seem like he knows a fair bit. But, she refers to it as "Over There" (something I'm sure Fringe fans noted). So, does Fitz think this world is a legit alternate reality as opposed to a virtual one? Also, what is the mysterious Project Looking Glass that Fitz is working on within the Framework?
Well, whenever the team does manage to escape from the Framework, they now know where the team is in the real world. Radcliffe reveals Aida is operating out of a base controlled by the Russian in the Baltic. But put a pin in that one for now. We've got some more Matrix-ing to do.