Spoilers ahead for "What If …," the latest episode of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: Daisy and Simmons wake up in the Framework to a very different world. Simmons crawls out of a mass grave, while Daisy is dating (a digitally resurrected) Ward. Hydra pretty much rules the world, and the duo's escape button doesn't work. Uh-oh.
The good: This "What If…" world, and OMG how did you make me kind of like Ward?!
The creative team behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. put a whole lot of work into creating the world of the Framework, from resurrecting Ward (and the Hydra-emblazoned Triskellion!) to thinking out the ripples of how the changes to this world would affect everything else to reach this point of Inhuman hysteria with Hydra pretty much running the country as the gestapo. It all started with May's greatest regret, killing an Inhuman child in a case years ago. So in this world, she doesn't kill the child — and the kid eventually kills hundreds of people in an incident that pushes humanity into the waiting arms of an Inhuman-hating Hydra. Fast-forward a few years, and Fitz, Ward, May and Daisy (err, Skye) all work for the super-evil Hydra. In this world, Hydra controls pretty much all the information to the public — newspapers are state-controlled, and smartphones seem to be largely outlawed. As we see from Coulson, even the schools are indoctrinating kids with pro-Hydra lies.
Serious question: So, like, is Simmons a zombie? Did her consciousness jump into her already-dead body in the virtual world? Even after she gets cleaned up, she still looks fairly dead-ish. And she had bullet holes in the front of her sweater, right? Like did her consciousness just jump into this dead body and start using it? That is so weird and awesome. However it worked, it's great to see Simmons dropping Hydra agents, stealing cars and generally being a total badass. She's been through a lot the past few years, and it's great to see her handling pretty much whatever the Framework throws at her.
They parse out information slowly, but you can piece together a good bit of the background along the way. Aside from Coulson being a teacher, it seems things went along relatively unaltered until May's mission was changed and the Inhuman young girl killed a bunch of people. From there, all hell broke loose. Hydra wiped S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much from existence and buried any lingering agents in mass graves and covered it up. The architect behind it all is pretty much who we expected: Aida, who pretty much became the de facto villain before the show went on break, is apparently head of Hydra now — and manipulating the Framework as she sees fit. Like, you know, shutting down the escape button they had brought in if they needed a quick exit. By sliding Aida into this role in a virtual world outside of the 'canon,' it's given the creative team a chance to do its own version of Madame Hydra. Which will hopefully be a lot of fun to explore.
Okay, seriously: I've spent a lot of years hating Grant Ward, but man, Brett Dalton cranked on the charm in this one. They played the gags perfectly, and Simmons' deadpan response to him was classic. Of course he's a double agent — but at least this time he's secretly working for the good guys. What's interesting is that it seems it's his relationship with Skye that kept him from going to the dark side in this reality. It's just another one of those fascinating ripples. Like, could Ward have ended up not a terrible, Hydra-loving tool if things had gone a different way? Maybe, maybe.
The bad: So, why are May and Fitz evil?
There wasn't a lot to complain about in this one, except for exactly how Fitz and May ended up so gung-ho in the world of Hydra. It's certainly possible their memories were reprogrammed in a way that made them Hydra agents, but if not, it's hard to believe even the things that have happened in this world could harden Fitz to the point that he has no problem torturing people. Or that May could ever throw her allegiance behind the shadiness of Hydra. Which, sure — maybe if you take Coulson away from May, and Simmons away from Fitz, they just turn out this way? But, c'mon, that seems like a heck of a leap. They're both relatively decent people, right? Hopefully they'll dig into this a bit more in the next few weeks.
Lines of the night:
"For the record. Hydra? They're all Nazis." - Simmons
"This isn't the Framework, this is hell." - Simmons
Lingering questions: Coulson is back? Aida and Fitz WTF?
Both Daisy and Simmons make a play to wake Coulson up, and it seems all the tinkering Nick Fury did in his noggin means he's able to snap out if it a bit easier than anyone else. The episode ends with Coulson recognizing Daisy, but does that mean he fully remembers who he is — or just that he's starting to tap into fragments of his past? We don't know, because, umm, cliffhanger.
So, Aida is Madame Hydra and she's … umm … making out with Fitz? That was one heck of a gross-out twist. We need to see more. Not in a weird way. Just, you know, a WTF way.
Up next: Deeper into the Matrix we go!