Spoilers ahead for "No Regrets," the latest episode of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: The rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Framework makes a play to rescue Trip (what!?), but all hell breaks loose when Evil May shows up with temporary super powers. Mace dies a hero, and May comes to realize Hydra might not be as good as she believed. Oh, and Fitz's dad is around — which explains why he's an A-hole.
The good: Mace goes out on top, Fitz's background, flipping the script
Telling a story in an artificial world, which has essentially evolved into an alternative reality by the narrative approach, proved the perfect tool to ask some interesting questions about identity — and they even give us a point and counter-point to view the Framework through.
First up we have Mace, a well-intentioned soldier who has always wanted to be the hero people already think he is. In the Framework, he is just that. Mace seems to have super-strength, so we're assuming he's an actual Inhuman in this reality, and with his mission not built on a lie, Mace manages to be a hero that even Captain America himself would want to hug. To that end, Mace goes out in a blaze of heroic glory here, saving his team and a bunch of kids from a collapsing building, keeping the thing aloft with nothing more than sheer force of will. There were no deals, there were no compromises. This is the best version of Mace in any reality, and though it sucks to see him go, it was a fitting tribute to the character.
On the other side of the spectrum we have The Doctor, aka Fitz. We've already seen that Fitz is a stone cold killer in this reality, and now we know a little more about how he became Madame Hydra's right-hand man and resident torturer. Fitz's relationship with his father in this reality is as strong as it's ever been, and his hardened old man has pushed Fitz to be even harder to try to impress him. He still has the brilliant mind, but now there is no Jiminy Cricket telling him when he's gone too far. As Radcliffe explains, one decision can set your life on a dramatically different course, and that is absolutely what we've seen here with Fitz. He's a character study on how a different core influence can turn one of the best men on this show into someone who will shoot an unarmed woman point blank in the chest.
The team is slowly coming together in the realm of the Framework and they've paced it perfectly to give themselves room to explore this world while also keeping things flowing toward a conclusion. Mack is a part of the team now, and Coulson is starting to tap into more of his super-spy training out in the field. Even Simmons is starting to grapple with the elements of this world as Ward catches her smiling at Mack and his daughter (with Mack being real and his daughter a virtual construct). But love is love. May is also questioning her allegiances in a very big way.
This story has also been an amazing coda for Grant Ward, a character they dragged through the mud his final season or so, mostly as a way just to keep Brett Dalton on the show. Here we get to see how Ward may have turned out with a different decision along the way as again and again he comes through for the good guys. We don't know yet what happens to virtual Ward (could he get a LMD body and escape to the real world before this is all over? Crazier things have happened!), but whatever it is, it's been great to see this character in a positive light once again.
However the Framework story ends, it's been a highlight of the show's run. Heading to a world that isn't 'real' has only upped the stakes in a great way for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Other good things: Oh, we've missed you, Trip. Radcliffe snarking through the wall.
The bad: We still need answers. Like, a lot of them.
They've been setting up this "Project Looking Glass" for a few episodes now and it's about time to give us a peek at what Evil Fitz is working on. Aida seems to think this could be a game changer, so what is it? Considering all this is taking place in a computer simulation, how much damage can it really do? Is it something to keep the brainwashing /reprogramming in line when unplugged in the real world, maybe? They need to start sprinkling in some answers.
Not to mention: Umm, why didn't the Avengers pitch in to stop Hydra when it rose? Did Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the gang not have anything to say about that? Look, they obviously can't build the Avengers into the narrative, but at least a throw-away line would've been great.
Also: We see that Aida can basically just unplug someone from the Framework, so why spend all that time in the virtual world trying to hunt down Mace? She knows where this body is. If she wants him off the board, just shoot him while he's sleeping, right?
Lines of the night:
"One sentence has the power to change you forever." - Radcliffe
"Snap out of it, May!" - Coulson
There was a lot going on, but make a note: Radcliffe told Daisy some key intel about a potential backdoor out of the Framework, and you know that will turn out to be important soon. Radcliffe is a smart dude; no way he didn't leave himself a few tricks in there.
What an ending, right? May realizes Hydra is bad news, so she snags a Terrigen crystal to awaken Daisy's power so she can bring the hurt to Hydra. Next episode is going to rockin'. Literally.