After a several week long break, the Agents of SHIELD return with “What If…” which is their foray into Dr. Radcliffe’s virtual reality known as The Framework. Most of the team has been captured and plugged in to the device, and now Daisy and Simmons are going in to try and find and free them. It’s a very convincing, detailed virtual world, and nothing goes simply for them. There are some spoilers ahead, so be warned if you’ve not seen the episode.
Daisy wakes up in the bath, nearly drowns herself in surprise, and tries to figure out where she is and what’s going on. She gets a text telling her to wake up her boyfriend, and is thrilled about the chance to see Lincoln again. The Framework has a sick sense of humor, and her lover in this world is Grant Ward, back from the dead in digital form. Daisy’s initial panicked reaction to seeing him also demonstrates that she doesn’t have her Quake powers here.
The surprises keep coming as Daisy learns that, in this world, she’s an Agent of Hydra. Driving in to work with Ward, she hears a lot of anti-Inhuman propaganda on the radio, and then sees where they are going: the Triskelion, headquarters of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now the operating base for Hydra. She sees a lot of ugly things that show the world under Hydra is about as bad as you’d think. Her “relationship” with Ward isn’t going as well as it could and, while she manages to find May, May is still fully immersed in the Framework.
Simmons starts off even worse, digging herself out of a shallow mass grave. Apparently, in this world, Hydra massacred a lot of the students at the SHIELD Academy, Simmons among them. She catches a ride with someone, and learns how oppressive this world is, and how much SHIELD is feared.
Daisy, or Skye as she’s known here, gets to a briefing run by May. They have found a new subject with Inhuman DNA who is smuggling the Terragenesis crystals to “subversives.” He’s under another name, but we know this man as Veejay Nadeer, Inhuman brother to the incredibly annoying Senator Nadeer. Skye manages to figure out he has a fake official identity card before Ward ends the interrogation by knocking the man out.
Simmons make her way to a diner, where she notices no smart phones. I suspect Hydra doesn’t like anything “smart” they don’t control. She finds the “Hydra Observer” newspaper before falling afoul of a pushy Hydra security patrol. Simmons deals with them handily and steals their car.
Agent and/or Director Coulson has a new title in this world: Teacher. He’s giving his students the party line about Inhumans being bad, SHIELD being worse, and Hydra being the noble heroes that saved the day after the “Boston Incident.” One of his students asks about the Hydra/Nazi connection, and gets told it’s not true. It’s really painful seeing and hearing Coulson like this.
Ward and Skye get their interrogation interrupted by May, who Veejay recognizes. Apparently, in this world, the op that gave May her “Cavalry” nickname, ended differently, but kicked off a bigger tragedy later. May, losing patience with Veejay’s evasions, is sending him off to “the Doctor,” which utterly terrifies Veejay. The Doctor turns out to be Fitz, and he’s a lot nastier in this world. I suspect that’s from Simmons’ death.
Simmons hacks into Hdyra’s database, and gets information on their friends and co-workers. Eventually, she goes to see Coulson, who not only doesn’t recognize her, he seems terrified of her story. After an emotion-wracking talk, Simmons leaves, and Coulson does something unexpected. When she leaves, she finds Coulson’s problematic student tagging her car. After they talk about Hydra, Nazis, and Coulson’s heroic past, he lends her his car.
Veejay gets tortured, and Fitz proves to be a real dick. Eventually, Skye makes up an excuse and leaves, spinning a different story for Ward on her way out. While Coulson goes over a hidden file full of some very familiar looking sketches and articles, Simmons and Skye meet up in a park. Their meeting gets interrupted first by Ward, then by more Hydra goons. Funny thing, here. Remember how Ward was a traitor to SHIELD in the real world? Now he’s doing it all over again against Hydra.
May and Fitz talk about a mole inside Hydra, and information being sent to the Director. Daisy and Simmons compare notes, marking all the differences in this world. They activate their escape beacon, and nothing happens, which can’t be good. We get a better idea why when Fitz reports to Madame Director, who turns out to be a version of Aida. They have more than a strictly professional relationship, it seems.
The final scene is a weary Coulson leaving the school. He gets into his car and finds out he’s not alone. Daisy tries to talk him around, and he finally recognizes her. Score one for the good guys. Before the credits, there’s a memorial note about Bill Paxton’s passing, which was a nice touch. Paxton played John Garrett, Ward’s SHIELD training officer and one of the higher ups that were revealed to be working for Hydra.
What I liked: I always enjoy exploring alternate realities. Seeing the differences here was interesting for me, and I liked finding out the versions of most of the team (Mac is still unaccounted for). I liked Simmons’ various comments about the complex programming of the Framework she was trapped in.
What I didn’t: I know the focus of the show is the team, but I’d have liked some mention of the Avengers. If I was trapped in there, they’d be some of the first ones I’d have looked up. At least a mention of Stark, Barton, Romanov, Fury, or Hill? I hope they’re not spending the rest of the season in here. It’s interesting for a few episodes, but I’d rather not spend that much time inside what’s essentially a giant video game.
I’ll give this one a high 3.5 out of 5. I’m really curious to see how this plays out.