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Have comics on TV reached saturation?

comic-book-tv-shows

I started this site way back when with the name “Comic Book Clog” because I liked the name, the imagery it invoked, but more to the point, it’s the way I felt about comics at the time.  For example:  to follow Batman, you had to read all of the Batman family books.  (I made a video about this an even longer time ago.)  Same goes for Spider-Man… and this is how it’s been for a long time.  Then it became that way for other characters and groups like X-Men, The Avengers and so on.  It became too much (both from a content and cost standpoint) and it pushed me out of a ton of books.

And now, I feel that it’s reached this critical point on TV.

While I’m still watching the movies (although DC/WB has tried my patience – it’s great that 93% of reviews for Wonder Woman are positive, but a 7.6 average score isn’t exactly, “run, don’t walk” territory), it’s hard for me to get excited about comic books on TV.

I started watching Agents of SHIELD because I like the actor who plays Coulson as well as the character and a TV show seemed to be the perfect place to explore the MCU.  I enjoyed the first season and the way they tied it into Winter Soldier, but as the show devolved into Daisey’s Agents of X-Men somewhere in season 3, I completely lost interest.  (I’ve talked about this before.)

So, I moved into the Netflix corner of the MCU.  There, I enjoyed season 1 of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but Matt Murdock’s season 2 didn’t wow me the way the first one did and I have yet to finish Luke Cage or even start Iron Fist.

And don’t even get me started on Gotham.

So where do I go from here?  I watched the first few episodes of Supergirl and quickly got bored, I enjoyed the first episode of Arrow but immediately forgot it existed… and wtf is Preacher?  I heard The Gifted was good, but I just haven’t gotten to it.  Does it tie in with the X-Men movies?  I’m not sure I have the energy for that at this point.

I’ve reached saturation.  To everybody else, hang in there.

simpsons-The-Springfield-Connection

Agents of SHIELD: World’s End

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Oh, look, Aida’s ride is here

Everything the Agents of SHIELD have been dealing with this season is finally coming together in the finale, “World’s End.” A very familiar muscle car fires up its engine and rolls out of a garage. The Zephyr is programmed to rapid random course changes in both direction and altitude in hopes of foiling Aida’s teleportation power. I have no idea if that would work, but it’s better than nothing. May presses Coulson about their missing special bottle, and he says he’ll need another bottle to explain what happened to the first one. Given everything that happened, I don’t blame him for either not wanting to tell her or wanting a drink if he has to. Piper has left via HALO for some special side mission, and Fitz and Simmons are trying to reconcile their strained relationship. They also need to work out how to deal with Aida.

Coulson and Daisy watch over Mac and Yo Yo, who are both in the Framework. Daisy is trying to find a way to help them, but even her hacking skill is having trouble with this incredibly complex construct. Inside, Yo Yo gets saved by Radcliffe of all people, who tells her she shouldn’t be there. When she defiantly says she’s there for Mac, he warns the Framework is collapsing in on itself, although he’s a bit poetic about it.

Aida and the various Ivanov-bots are plotting their next move. Aida is really going villain, saying she wants SHIELD, and especially Fitz, to suffer. Talk about a bad breakup. Their talk is interrupted when Robbie Reyes arrives. Reyes even gives the Ivanovs a chance to not fight, but they ignore the warning. Reyes is using Ghost Rider powers without fully changing now, which I guess means he has a better handle on what he can do. Aida quickly learns to fear the Ghost Rider after Reyes shifts and hurts her, and she teleports away.

While Fitz and Daisy struggle to find a way to get Mac and Yo Yo out of the Framework, Coulson is trying to catch Talbot up on everything that’s been going on. I don’t blame him for not believing Coulson. Coulson does come up with a great description for Aida, which Talbot exclaims, “I am NOT putting that in my report.” There’s also fallout from the lie about Mace being an Inhuman, which wasn’t remotely Coulson’s fault. Talbot demands he be at a briefing in the morning and Coulson tells him that’s probably not going to happen.

Daisy and Reyes touch base, and there seems to be some mutual interest there. I’d like to point out that, so far, being Daisy’s love interest is a LOT more dangerous than being a SHIELD agent. Just ask Ward and Lincoln about that.

While Aida freaks out about her Ghost Rider inflicted wounds not healing, Reyes explains to the team some of what’s going on. Short version is the Rider really doesn’t like Aida, and is going to send her and the Darkhold back where they came from. I wonder how they’re going to explain demons and Hell in their paperwork.

In the Framework, Mac is trying to get all the refugees to a safe place, although I don’t know what he thinks that is. Things are randomly disappearing all around them as the Framework shuts down. Radcliffe tries to get Mac to listen about needing to leave, and Mac utterly refuses.

One of the different models of Ivanov-bot proves to be a high level Russian intelligence officer. Guess who’s supposed to be at the meeting Talbot wanted Coulson at? I’m not sure how he got Ivanov in, since as far as I know he’s at best a shady industrialist and at worse the leader of a major terrorist hate group. But somehow, he gets in and preaches against SHIELD. Ivanov also brought the Darkhold and is trying to get the people at the meeting to read it. Chaos erupts that involves another, very convincing, LMD (are we never going to be done with those?). Naturally, things are looking bad for SHIELD again. At this point, I think the Suicide Squad might have a better rep, and they’re villains and killers. Daisy and Robbie together do some great moves to get rid of the Ivanov-bot, which Coulson is crushed he missed.

After everyone gets back together and talks, they decide to return to their base, or what’s left of it. Coulson wants to lay a trap for Aida and starts doing some pretty clever things. If they fail, Aida seems to be trying to make the world just as dark, ugly, and repressive as the Framework was.

Yo Yo keeps up her efforts to get Mac to leave, and he continues to refuse. It’s a really emotional scene that makes me feel bad for both of them. I think the scars from the Framework are going to last a long, long time. Their rescue attempt goes horribly wrong as things and people keep disappearing. We lose the Framework version of Agent Burroughs in this scene, poor guy. He couldn’t catch a break in either world.

There are a lot of quick cuts and really big twists in the next bit, so I’m going to be going as light as I can on detail to avoid spoilers. May both says Coulson’s plan is horrible and keeps pressing about their bottle of Haig. Reyes tells Daisy what it was like in that other world with Ghost Rider. Aida ports in on Fitz and Simmons, and things get really ugly. Tensions rise as they lose more of the Framework.

Coulson arranged a brilliant ambush for Aida involving Ghost Rider, and I didn’t remotely see it coming. Neither did she. It leads to a really nasty, effects heavy, battle between Aida and the Rider. One of the agents gets a bit of revenge in against Aida along the way, too. Yo Yo and Mac’s time in the Framework comes to a really sad end. Daisy manages to save the survivor. Coulson and Reyes have a post-fight talk that makes it sound like Coulson has even more secrets than we thought. Ghost Rider leaves, showing he has his own way to travel now. The team, knowing they’re hunted, go out for dinner, in a scene that reminds be a bit of the infamous shawarma scene at the end of Avengers. Their meal gets interrupted by men in tac gear with some really oddly cryptic comments.

The Framework comes to an end with a really sad scene with Radcliffe. It’s not showy, it’s not flashy, but it works as a very brilliant, if misguided, man finally meets his fate. Some undetermined amount of time later, we see Coulson in a very different setting which is one of our big cliffhangers until next season.

After the show ends, there’s a brief trailer for the upcoming Inhumans show, which will be sharing SHIELD’s time-slot like the late, lamented Agent Carter used to. There was also a nice note about the passing of Powers Boothe.

What I liked: This was a brilliant use of Ghost Rider. The twists in the final fight were fantastic. I’m glad the Framework is done, and I’m really hoping the LMD’s and Ivanov-bots are, too. I can’t say I’ll miss Aida. It makes perfect sense that the agents came back to so much chaos, considering what happened while they were gone.

What I didn’t: It was a great episode, and most of my complaints are things they didn’t do, rather than what they did. A running thing on this show seems to be building up powerful allies who then utterly disappear. In all this mess going on, why did Talbot not have Absorbing Man with him? Where’s Deathlok? I get them not being able to call on the Avengers, both for real world budget issues and in-world with the wreck of the team during Civil War. I really think they missed an opportunity by not bringing some of the people out of the Framework they way Aida got out. This would have been a great way to bring back Trip, a good Ward, and Radcliffe. I really did feel bad for Radcliffe at the end. He never even got his last drink.

This was a brilliant episode. I’ll give it a 4.5 out of 5. I’m looking forward to next season, although I have my reservations about what I’ve seen of the Inhumans so far.

Bring back Agent Carter!

Agents of SHIELD: The Return

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Wait, Mac did WHAT?

Agents of SHIELD has almost gotten to the end of the fourth season. “The Return” signals the end of the story in The Framework, and picking up the pieces back in the real world. And they’re coming back to a hell of a mess on almost every front.

The show starts with a slightly different perspective on where the last one ended. Ivanov, disturbingly, is reading the Darkhold, and commenting there are some “funny passages” in the book. I don’t know what’s worse, him smiling or finding the Darkhold funny. He walks down a hall and comes in on the confrontation between the newly-awakened SHIELD agents and Aida 2.0. Coulson sums up his frustration very well as Aida and Fitz port away. Ivanov confronts the team, commenting that his previous restrictions have been lifted. Coulson short cuts May’s briefing by just telling her she can shoot Ivanov. It’s a nasty Coulson/May/Ivanov fight. Coulson pulls off a pretty slick move with a creative use of one of his toys. May offers a few wisecracks about robots.

The other part of the team up in the Zephyr have their own problems as the Russian fighter is still bound and determined to bring them down. Bet they’re wishing they had kept that cloak running. They manage to get to the power section to try and restore weapons, but find a new problem.

Coulson brings May up to speed a bit more thoroughly on recent events. Remember, she was replaced by one of the LMD’s a while before everyone else. She asks some uncomfortable questions about when Coulson noticed the substitution. There’s a passing reference to Ghost Rider (boy, she has been gone a while, hasn’t she?), and a good bit of concern about Mac staying behind in the Framework.

The Zephyr crew finally manages to put out the raging fire, get weapons restored, and let Piper show her formidable gunnery skill. I’m really enjoying Piper. I hope she both survives this season and gets a bigger part next one. Elsewhere, Aida has brought Fitz to the beach. It’s really painful watching her be so happy and overjoyed by everything while Fitz is trying to reconcile two very different lives that are both circling around in his head.

Yo Yo is not pleased that Mac stayed in the Framework, and has a lot to say to Daisy about it. She doesn’t seem too interested in hearing about what actually happened, either. Coulson, meanwhile, has figured out where he and May are, in part due to his career teaching back in computer land. May pushes a little harder on getting details about her replacement, and Coulson keeps dodging. Somehow, I don’t blame him.

Team Zephyr fills in Simmons on some of what happened while she was “away,” and none of it’s good. I do like that things happened while the main characters were off in their own world. Aida, continuing to show a stunning but understandable naivete, brings Fitz to “their” place. Wow, she really doesn’t get this at all. He sidesteps some of the awkward emotional issues for now and asks what’s in store for his friends.

The bad guys finally get past the defenses Coulson and May have improvised, and there’s a really spectacular fight. May is hell on wheels normally. May on adrenaline is just terrifying, especially with improvised weapons. She’s definitely the star of the scene, although Coulson does some quick thinking too.

Tensions are rising on many levels. Coulson has a few upsetting things to tell May as they try and find their way out of the oil rig. Mac is back in the Framework room, and the water is rising around his non-responsive body. Fitz is trying to get Aida to go back and help, and she’s suddenly realizing she could get killed. I guess there’s a big perspective shift of robot to real live girl.

I admit I can’t stand Ivanov as a character, but he’s well acted and gets some great lines in a scene with Aida. Finally, all the good guys get back together on the top of the oil rig thanks to one of the containment modules, a lot of stairs, and some last minute teleporting by Aida. Given everything that’s happened in the last few hours, the team takes some wise precautions with Aida and Fitz both.

The team makes a somber return to their no-longer secret base. When the LMD’s ended up fighting each other as the real agents were getting stuffed into the Framework, L.May.D. had a crisis of conscience and did something desperate. She stopped the other LMD’s, but the base is trashed. What isn’t burned is toppled or broken. I suspect they/re going to get a new headquarters next season. Simmons is really worried about how real things were in the other world, since Fitz was in love with Aida there.

It hasn’t been slow to this point, but things really kick up a notch from here. Aida and Fitz wake up in one of the containment rooms, where Aida continues to show how much she just doesn’t get. Fitz has the sobering realization that, in a lot of ways now, he’s just like the arch-traitor Ward. Fitz doesn’t take a few things into account when he’s musing out loud and he really hard-core sets Aida off on a dark path. Not good for a new-born with powers.

Talbot leads a team back into the wrecked base and tries to take the agents prisoner. As far as he’s concerned, they’re all robots. I get where he’s coming from, but there are several ways he could put that to the test. He’s just not thinking straight. Talbot’s always had a bit of a temper. Side note though: a while ago, Talbot’s pet “enhanced,” the Absorbing Man, was serving as his bodyguard. Where’d he go?

Crazy Aida turns on everyone and goes on a killing spree. Soldiers, SHIELD agents, she doesn’t care at this point. She also demonstrates she’s more dangerous than we’d thought. Coulson is trying, without a lot of luck, to talk Talbot down. Talbot then manages to add racism to his resume as he wonder where “that Speedy Gonzales critter” is. Nice. Finally, both teams flee from Aida, in different directions. If the Zephyr was running low on fuel before, it sure as hell didn’t get more here. What’s keeping them in the air? Even Stark tech needs energy.

Fitz and Simmons have a tearful reunion. If they use this as an excuse to keep them apart yet again, I’m going to go punch some of these writers. Aida, having nowhere else to go, returns to Ivanov and vents her emotions in a few unexpected ways. As Talbot’s team pulls out, some of the wreckage shifts, and we see a figure from SHIELD’s past come back. Next episode, which I believe is the finale, is going to be a messy one. Moreso because Yo Yo did something understandable but amazingly stupid to end the episode.

What I liked: Ivanov got some great lines. There were a lot of complications with Aida being “human” now that the writers did a great job with. The Coulson and May scenes were great. Talbot’s a jerk, but what he’s doing makes sense from his perspective. I’m very excited about the return at the end.

What I didn’t: I’m really hoping this doesn’t become the latest excuse to keep Fitz and Simmons apart. I’m not pleased by the new developments with Ivanov and “friends.”

I thought this was a really good episode. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5. The finale should be interesting.

Agents of SHIELD: Farewell, Cruel World

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You’d think Simmons would be a better guest

I have not really enjoyed the concept of spending so much time in the Framework this season. I got even less happy with it when they killed off Jeff Mace, the Patriot. He was really growing on me. But, the title for this week gave me some hope: “Farewell, Cruel World!” The Framework is certainly cruel.

They spend more time out in the real world this episode than they have been. Yo Yo and a few other agents are watching over Simmons and Daisy while they’re logged in, but they are having their own problems. The Framework is a massive energy drain, and the ship is starting to run low on power. Out of desperation, they decide to shut down the cloaking device.

Back in the Framework, Hydra is cracking down on the uprising that was sparked by Coulson’s broadcast. After some awkward babbling from Burroughs, Trip comes in, Daisy rushes over and hugs him, and he bemusedly says, “Hey…. person I don’t know.” The worlds are bleeding over a bit. Simmons and Daisy plot about what’s happening in the real world and how to get back. Daisy says they should get the people back they have now, and come back for Fitz. Simmons doesn’t like this, understandably enough. There’s a lot of uncomfortable back and forth between Daisy and Mac, since she knows his daughter Hope isn’t real, and he doesn’t.

May, newly switched over to SHIELD, is helping treat the wounded when Coulson finds her. She comments that resisting Hydra never ends well. Coulson tells her about the Framework, and ends with more about making his own soap. May, skeptical, says Coulson needs to be medicated more.

Fitz roams through the Triskelion, checking on the various prisoners. He goes to see Radcliffe, who doesn’t cooperate. Radcliffe is beaten, and sill resists, saying he’d rather be dead than alive in this horrible world. Fitz takes another approach and gets Radcliffe interested.

Simmons and May talk, and May gives out the great line of “How did a pop tart like you avoid capture?” That probably gets my vote for best line of the episode. May scoffs about the idea of the other world, but drops a hint that sends Simmons off on another solo mission. The agents really are running around on their own a lot in here. Simmons goes and pays Alastair a visit, gun in hand.

Daisy and Trip try to work out where the gateway home is. Trip gets surprised and frustrated when Daisy breaks the news that, in the real world, Trip never dated any of the women on the team. After they banter for a bit, Trip mentions that Simmons has been gone for almost an hour.

Simmons is desperately trying to get Alastair to do what she says, convinced that she can snap Fitz out of the hold the Framework has on him. Alastair isn’t cooperating, and they keep arguing. She does make Alastair call Fitz, but things don’t go according to plan at all. Simmons is making negative progress on this front.

Coulson is getting nervous when everyone stares at him at SHIELD’s base. May tells him that after his broadcast, he is the face of the resistance. When Coulson protests that he’s more a work from the shadows kind of guy, May asks if he taught history that way. Fair point., that. Daisy is annoyed that Coulson told May about the other world, although I’m not sure why. Wasn’t she telling everyone anyway? May says she’s sure everything is fine when Daisy worries about Simmons.

Fitz leads a squad of Hydra troopers to his father’s place. They find the aftermath of Simmons’ visit. Suffice to say that Fitz isn’t happy. He screams at the hapless Radcliffe, although I’m not sure why Fitz brought him along. Fitz bellows out an order about future contact with Simmons.

Things are going poorly in the real world, as well. Yo Yo paces, feeling useless as she watches over Daisy and Simmons. Speedsters in general aren’t known for their patience. It gets worse when they get an alarm on the Zephyr. There’s an SU-27 coming after them, and the ship doesn’t have the power to fight it off at this point. They go into the best evasive mode they can.

Things start popping off quickly as the end of the episode comes closer. Simmons finally rejoins the others, shaking, telling them what happened. Madame Hydra/Aida/Ophelia finally wakes up and is furious as she learns what has happened in her absence. Fitz actually refuses a direct order from Aida, which isn’t going to help anything.

The way out was supposed to be in a park, but is now in a steel mill, yet another of Aida’s changes. The main team goes inside after Daisy says goodbye to Ward and offers a suggestion to him about what he should do next. The team gets inside but has trouble finding the way out. The way Aida hid it was pretty brilliant, really. She pushes her scientists to go ahead on her own project.

As the team argues about the way out, Mac finally gets let in on what’s going on. He’s not happy this was kept from him, which I don’t blame him for. The exit gets very dramatic as they have to overcome Aida’s clever defense, and then Hydra catches up with them to ratchet the tension even higher. They cut back and forth between the gunfight, and some of the agents waking up in the real world. Not everyone makes it out, and things are getting ugly and desperate. It all ends with a big surprise from Aida and the one who stayed behind returning to their simulated life. As all this goes on, the Zephyr is taking too many hits from the fighter going after it.

What I liked: The difference between the two worlds is being played off really well. I like that they have messy edges, they should. May had some great lines. Things didn’t go well, but the mistakes the team made were very believable. I feel bad for Simmons especially in all this.

What I didn’t: I’m still not sold on spending so much time in here. I hate that Mace got killed. It’s going to be sad to leave behind some of the ones we’ve gotten to see again. I’m really coming to loathe Aida. And I don’t like the one staying behind, even if I understand the reasoning.

I’ll give this one a 3 out of 5.

Agents of SHIELD: All The Madame’s Men

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Speaking of Fake News…

One of the things the writers really seem to be enjoying with this ongoing Framework story is bringing back various characters that have been killed along the way. “All The Madame’s Men” opens with a news broadcast called the Bakshi Report, as reported by Suni Bakshi. Here, he’s a propaganda agent, while in the real world, he worked for Hydra boss Daniel Whitehall. His spin is that Hydra was attacked by terrorist and that public enemy Jeffrey “The Patriot” Mace has been killed. Well, at least the last part of that is true.

At the Triskelion, May buys time for Daisy’s transformation to finish. Finally, she comes out of the cocoon, powered and fully healed from her earlier beatings. Daisy and May fight their way through the building, with May pulling off some really amazing moves. While I know she’s one of the best out there, to me, it was more like a reminder that they’re still in this giant video game. Finally, Madame Hydra confronts them with a group of thugs, and muses on them not being able to escape their true nature, even here. Daisy’s response is a bit more practical and a bit less philosophical; she uses her newly-returned Quake powers to blow Aida out of the building. Remember when Captain America jumped out of the same building in Winter Soldier? This doesn’t go anywhere near as well for Aida.

In the real world, Aida disconnects from the Framework and shoots a very dirty look at the imprisoned SHIELD agents. She and mad Russian Anton Ivanov banter a bit. Well, as much banter as you can get between a crazed robot and psychocitic bigot. Ivanov learns that his new circumstances come with some limitations, and he’s not happy about it. Then again, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him happy. With her tortured logic, Aida determines that, while they can’t kill the SHIELD agents in their custody, Daisy and Simmons are a danger to the Framework and have to be dealt with.

Mac, Ward, and Trip listen to Bakshi’s news with varying degrees of disgust. Ward likens the broadcast to sipping poison. After some debate, they agree to honor Mace’s promises and put the welfare of the Inhuman refugees ahead of vengeance. Then, they all get surprised when Bakshi breaks another story, about an attack at the Triskelion against Madame Hydra herself. Ward is happy to hear it, now sure that Daisy has escaped.

May and Daisy are on the run, their faces plastered everywhere as terrorists. This is when Daisy finds out that Mace is dead. His loss, their first one in this virtual prison, clearly shakes her up. As they try to find a place to hide, Madame Hydra is examined. Her spine has been shattered, and she’s in a coma. Of course, that part is because she’s not in the fake world at the moment. Fitz is distraught at her injuries, and his father offers his own dark brand of encouragement.

Fitz prevents Bakshi from interviewing Madame Hydra (kind of hard when she’s out cold, but that would reveal the lie) and rants about Inhumans as the ever present threat. Bakshi goes on air with pictures of Skye and a terrorist “Inhumans First” movement that doesn’t exist. All this causes some more debate among the SHIELD agents, and has Mac lie to his daughter Hope about what’s going on.

Ward and Coulson share their origin stories in this world. Someone tried to recruit Coulson for SHIELD and he turned them down. Victoria Hand, apparently long-dead in both worlds, recruited Ward out of prison where he was in for arson. They never clarify, but that’s probably when he killed his family. Ward is determined to go hunt for Daisy, in spite of Coulson’s advice. As this goes on, Daisy and May are playing very high-stakes hide and seek. Ward going off on his own isn’t enough of an unauthorized mission for this episode, so we get another one. After Simmons goes over the intel Trip captured, and makes an awkward comment about his grandfather’s time in the Howling Commandos, she figures out where the power source for the machine Hydra is working on probably is. Since the Patriot is dead and there’s not exactly a formal command structure, she and Trip take off to do a quick recon.

Daisy is still trying to hold on to hope that Mace might have survived. Even in this world, May isn’t an optimist and tells her more detail about what happened, and that she has body cam footage to prove it. They end up making contact at a SHIELD site, and then dealing with a Hydra attack almost immediately afterward. Word gets back to headquarters, and Coulson and Mac decide to go retrieve Daisy and May.

Daisy and May talk about what’s going to happen next, and May admits her role in Mace’s death. While Daisy reassures her, Fitz visits the stricken Aida. Alastair is with him, and tells him tips are coming in. Aida finally wakes up (I guess she logged back in), and urges Fitz to finish Project Looking Glass. Alastair looks disgusted at the exchange of affection between them.

Coulson, Mac, May, and Daisy all finally link up, although Mac isn’t pleased to be teamed up with the woman who held his daughter hostage. Coulson makes peace between them, and they get away from the increasing Hydra presence through some old, Prohibition era tunnels. Man, those things are everywhere.

Trip and Simmons’ trip has some mixed results. The oil platform they get to has been modified a lot, but it’s not the location of Project Looking Glass. Simmons figures out where it really is, and what Aida’s up to. The machine is very nearly done, as best Simmons can figure. Over in the real word, Ivanov tries again to break past his limitations and fails. Trip, meanwhile and elsewhere, believes Simmons’ tale of another world with some decent, if skewed, logic.

Fitz is heeding Madame Ophelia Hydra’s request, and throwing himself in to finishing the machine. Whatever he’s doing, it looks a lot like what Aida was working with under the sway of the Darkhold. When Alastair reports that the traitor (May) got away, Fitz has a very cold answer for him, which, with their warped dynamic, should make Alastair proud, I guess.

The team arrives back at their base, united finally (barring Fitz), and Daisy wryly comments she should have figured out where they were on her own. There are some mixed feelings about how things are progressing. The outlook from two different worlds doesn’t always match up well, and Ward especially has reason to not like what’s coming.

Alastair goes to Radcliffe’s cell. You know, despite his betrayals and being responsible for so much of this, I actually feel a bit sorry for Radcliffe at this point. He knows he’s dead in the real world, and I doubt SHIELD is going to let the Framework keep running once this is over. Alastair’s visit goes poorly for Radcliffe, who picked a bad time to show some backbone.

SHIELD looks over May’s body-cam footage. To her credit, May looks on regretfully now. Daisy is all for returning to the real world and being done with all this, but Coulson has a plan that helps both worlds, clever man that he is. SHIELD stages a raid on Bakshi’s studio, interrupting a talk about taking a woman furniture shopping that has some overtones from the most recent Presidential Election. They gain control of the studio and use Bakshi’s network to air May’s footage, hoping to win over at least some of the people.

Things get chaotic quickly. Coulson, in a suit and looking a lot more like his real world self, airs the footage and gives a good talk. As the team leaves, Ward decides he’s staying behind to hold the studio and keep the broadcast on the air as long as possible. Daisy is impressed, and makes a few interesting observations. Fitz makes plans with Ophelia, and then listens as his father suggests a way to come at Radcliffe, since the beating isn’t working.

Coulson’s statement makes the air, and contains a reference to “alternative facts.” I really don’t think the writers are trying to be subtle anymore. Ward’s position at the studio has a lot of incoming, but they get a pleasant surprise for once. And, back in the real world, Ivanov gets a clue that bodes ill for Simmons’ and Daisy’s bodies (no, not THAT way).

What I liked: This alternate world has some good points to it. I’m thrilled to see Trip again. I also really like this Ward. Maybe he’s just born to be a traitor, but he’s being a good one here. Coulson’s address was great and a good rallying point. Even in this shadow of the real world, the Coulson/May byplay is amusing.

What I didn’t: They can end this alternate reality idea any time now. It’s getting a bit old, no matter how many nice twists it has. They’re doing a good job of making me dislike Ophelia/Aida/Madame Hydra and Alastair Fitz.

I’ll give this one a 3.5. I’m ready for Morpheus to pop up and offer them that colored pill now.

Agents of SHIELD: No Regrets

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“Psst, Mac. What’s Ward doing on that computer back there?”

 

The Agents of SHIELD/Agents of Hydra’s adventures in the Framework continue in “No Regrets.” It’s really odd seeing the new dynamics among the various characters in these alternate lives. It almost makes up for the fact that we’re spending so much time in a giant video game. But, we do find out they don’t get extra lives when things go badly.

Jeff Mace, the Patriot, and ex-schoolteacher Phil Coulson are staging a fake accident to distract some Hydra goons on a transport run. Coulson is worried about freeing Skye, but Mace is looking for someone else, an undercover agent that Hydra managed to capture. There’s a lot of talk about everyone being off since Fitz cold-bloodedly shot Agnes. Mace, understandably enough, doesn’t really trust Simmons’ word about how things are, since from his perspective, they just met and she’s making really outlandish claims. The bus, which their lookout calls a “squidmobile,” proves to be full of body bags. Coulson is not an expert shot in this world.

Skye is not having a good time in captivity, and Fitz is not the man any of us (or any of them) remember. Fitz is utterly paranoid about the Patriot, and SHIELD taking over his world. When Fitz asks about Simmons, Skye points out that if she knew where Simmons was, Skye would tell Fitz, because if anyone could snap Fitz out of this, it’d be Simmons. Fitz makes an odd comment about getting to “their” world when he’s talking to Skye. Presumably this has to do with whatever the mysterious “Project Looking Glass” is.

May is looking at the “Remembrance Wall,” apparently a memorial to fallen Hydra agents when Ophelia/Madame Hydra/Aida comes to talk to her. Aida (that’s the shortest and easiest to type of her names) has a plan to go after the Patriot, and wants May to volunteer for something. May, of course, agrees, good solider that she is.

SHIELD is hiding out at their hidden base, studying the body bags they recovered from Hydra. Mac goes over the captured bus, and impresses Mace with how thorough and skilled he is. Mac wants to do more, and volunteers to go on their new mission, but Mace has already lined up some help. Coulson is helping tend the Inhuman refugees while Mace wonders what Simmons is hiding.

While May reports to Hydra R&D and gets a very familiar serum, Simmons has a talk with Mace. Apparently, she’s decided to tell him everything. He seems very bemused by his whole, “A team that trusts is a team that triumphs” catchphrase from the real world. Mace asks about their relationship in the other world and we find out how little Simmons really knows about their boss. Ward makes the excellent point by wondering how Simmons knows it’s not the other way around, that this isn’t the real world.

Fitz and Aida stand behind one way glass, watching Daisy in her cell. Fitz is impressed with her commitment to what he calls her lies. While talking about it, Fitz says, “Still, she persisted,” apparently a reference to Senator Warren’s protest some time ago in our real world. Daisy can hear Radcliffe being tortured in the next cell. Aida comes in and tries to buy Daisy’s cooperation by offering to resurrect Lincoln Campbell in the Framework. Daisy is surprised by this. Aida says she’s just trying to give people what they want, and can’t understand why they are resisting her.

After some gearing up, and a scene of Mac with his daughter Hope, Coulson and Mace roll out. They manage to infiltrate the Hydra base, and we find out who Mace’s agent is. I will say that the background work they did preparing/researching the Framework is really impressive, and it’s someone we haven’t seen in a while. It’s good to see them.

Daisy and Radcliffe talk through their cell walls, comparing notes and miseries. Daisy is crushed when she hears about what happened with Fitz and Agnes. After debating about how much a regret can change a life, Radcliffe finally gives Daisy a lead on how they might escape the Framework.

Somewhere else in the building, Fitz goes for a talk with his dad. I guess there’s a double-whammy behind Fitz being so different here. In the real world, Fitz has nothing to do with his dad, who’s a real dick. In here, Fitz and his father are close, plus this Fitz doesn’t have Simmons in his life (which is something I’ll talk about later). From what we see of dear ol’ Dad here, I could easily understand Fitz turning out a lot differently under his “care.”

Mac and Simmons talk about history being rewritten. Hydra’s history books lack things like Martin Luther King, the Trail of Tears, and the Holocaust. Ward picks up on Simmons’ feelings for him (not that she’s being subtle) and he apologizes for whatever he did in the other reality. He makes another interesting point while watching Mac and Hope. You can tell how much Mac loves Hope. Doesn’t that make this real? I actually kind of like this version of Ward.
While this goes on, Aida injects May with a version of Mace’s serum from the real world. Aida tells her she’ll have power to rival Mace’s, but only for an hour. I’d like to point out that, at this point, May is now more like the original Hourman than the Hourman that appeared on Legends of Tomorrow. Which is even more surreal considering that’s another company.

The mission goes badly as May and other Hydra goons show up. There’s an immense fight which leads to a heroic sacrifice. Not everyone is coming back out of the Framework, and I’m going to miss the one that died in both worlds. I feel like there was a lot more they could have done with the character. But the events of this battle finally win May over to SHIELD’s cause. She ends up taking very dramatic action that could potentially shift the balance of power if things work the same in the Framework as they do in the real world.

What I liked: It was good seeing this agent working for Mace. I’ve missed that character, which is going to make returning to the real world a bit sad. For that matter, I like this version of Ward. The heroic sacrifice was well done, but I’m going to miss that character. I’m glad May finally saw the light.

What I didn’t: There seems to be a flaw here. Most of what’s happened to change things is because of one regret in each character’s life. Simmons’ regret was being alive? Because that’s all that seems different for her here. Maybe her story got derailed or maybe Aida is just jealous of her, but something seems off there. I’m going to miss the character that died and the two that are only “alive” in the Framework.

I’m really hoping we’re about to get out of the Framework finally. That said, I’ll still give this one a high 3.5 out of 5.

Agents of SHIELD: Identity and Change

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Don’t Do It, Fitz!!!

The next part of the Agents of SHIELD’s adventures in the Framework continue in “Identity and Change.” It’s a dark world in there, and getting worse all the time. This is supposed to be Aida’s virtual paradise? This is one video game I don’t want to play, thanks.

In Coulson’s classroom, he summarizes what’s happened so far, and Daisy agrees with him. Rather than react like someone getting an unpleasant shock, he’s thrilled that he’s not crazy. After an amusing exchange with a student, Coulson and Daisy talk more. Coulson talks about one of Hydra’s ways of maintaining control of everyone- mind control soap. Daisy’s theory is that Coulson’s experience with the TAHITI project might be why he’s remembering bits of the real world. The TAHITI stuff scrambled Coulson’s brain pretty well. Ward tips them off that there’s a team coming their way. Daisy tells Coulson he’s going to need a sub for his class.

Mac finally turns up. He’s at home, playing with his daughter, Hope. This is the child we learned he lost a few episodes before the recent break. She’s a genius tech-head, much like Mac himself. They are having some kind of a race to build a drone faster. It’s a fun scene right up until Mac finds out Hope has been stealing bits from some crashed Hydra drones. This really scares Mac, who tells her how important it is to stay off Hydra’s radar and follow their rules. They almost get caught the next day, but get a fortunate distraction. Well, fortunate for them, not so much for a potential Inhuman.

Coulson and Daisy meet up with Simmons. Amid more jokes about Coulson making his own soap, they talk about what to do next. Simmons wants to reach out to Fitz, which Daisy says is a bad idea. Whatever he’s like back in the real world, he’s second in command of Hydra here, and he’s very dangerous. When they start talking about Radcliffe, Coulson knows the name. Here, he’s a well-known Hydra scientist who is working on a “cure” for Inhumans. No, that doesn’t sound ominous at all. Daisy decides she’s going to back to the Triskelion to get Radcliffe’s current location.

Aida, who is also Madame Hydra and Ophelia in this world, is doing her best to keep Simmons’ resurrection a secret from Fitz. We also see that they don’t have a strictly professional relationship. Ophelia finally shows Fitz, and he doesn’t seem to recognize Simmons. Ophelia rants about Simmons being there to expose her, plotting against her. Fitz says he’d do anything for Ophelia, and says he’d cross the universe for her. Of course, that’s exactly what he did for Simmons a while back. I guess Coulson isn’t the only one getting echoes of the real world. What I’m really curious about is, if Aida made all these changes, why did she make it so Fitz was in love with her?

Daisy goes ahead with her plan and shows up at the Triskelion to look for information on Radcliffe. Ward is worried about her, and he’s right to. She’s hacking in to restricted files, and, when Ward presses her, mutters the soap made her do it, which is good for an audience laugh and leaving Ward bewildered. May stops them as they try to leave, wanting Daisy to stay. Ward is willing to fight, but Daisy tells him to go and get the information to the others.

Speaking of the others, Coulson and Simmons meet up with a contact and get taken away, complete with hoods on their heads and high-tech cuffs that Coulson thinks are really cool. They meet the resistance, and the leader, Jeff Mace. Coulson fanboys over meeting the Patriot, which is entertaining .They are in the old SSR base SHIELD moved to in the real world, which apparently this world’s Billy Koenig died to get working again. There’s a lot of talk about lost agents. Simmons is struck by seeing what should be her lab turned into a refugee ward for Inhumans and potentials. Ward comes in telling them that Hydra got Skye.

Daisy/Skye asks May if this is going to take long, and looks a lot less confident on hearing that Madame Hydra asked for her specifically. The mission briefing is about capturing Simmons. Fitz warns them all not to underestimate her, and use lethal force if necessary. Somehow, that seems like a really redundant thing to say to Hydra thugs. Skye, I guess slipping as far as who knows what, asks May if she knew about this. May, in turn, looks suspicious, but that’s normal for her.

Mac and his daughter have a troubling talk about Inhumans, which doesn’t sit well with him. While that’s going on, Ward tells the SHIELD resistance about Skye getting captured. This version of Ward really does seem to care for Daisy. Simmons, tired of backhand comments from Mace, shows her SHIELD ID and talks about massacre at the Academy. They work out that Daisy’s data shows Radcliffe in the middle of the ocean, where nothing is supposed to be. SHIELD is very short-handed, so they manage to persuade Mace to send Coulson, Daisy, and Ward.

While the team gets ready to roll, and Simmons shares more tidbits about reality with Coulson, Daisy gets sent on a snatch and grab mission. She’s worried they’re going after Simmons, but gets stunned when she find their quarry is Mac and his daughter. Mac is frantic with worry about his daughter.

Ophelia, as she’s calling herself, and Fitz have a very revealing chat. She’s told Fitz at least some of the truth, which has made him into an even more loyal ally. There’s mention of Project Looking Glass, and a very interesting slant on events from Ophelia. Elsewhere in the Triskelion, May shows what a dangerous foe she can be in any reality. Let’s just say things are going badly for our heroine.

The quinjet team gets to Radcliffe’s place, and he’s very surprised to see them. He tries to justify what he’s done, and shares that Aida killed him in the real world. There’s an amusing moment when Radcliffe mistakes Ward for Hive, which is also a nice tiny bit of continuity. He does at least tell them where the real SHIELD agents are being held out in the real world.

Team Hydra arrives and Radcliffe tries to bluff Ophelia, who really doesn’t like being called Aida. Back at the Hydra base, Mac and Hope get let go. On the island, Fitz finds Agnes, and is very confused that she looks like Ophelia. Things unravel quickly, and there’s a character death and a huge bit of disappointment in one of their own, which I suspect is going to carry over to the real world when they get back there (hopefully sooner than later).

The end scenes have Mace furious with Simmons for stopping Ward from shooting Fitz when he had the chance. I get where he’s coming from, by his perspective anyway. Mac shows up, having been picked up by one of their dead drops, and tells them about Skye and his part in tricking her. He needs to make this right for Hope.

At the Triskelion, Daisy is a prisoner. Things are going really badly for her. When someone walks in to continue Daisy’s interrogation, they take a turn for the worse. It’s a nasty cliffhanger to end on, and I think the team is going to have some serious problems when they manage to Alt-Tab out of this giant MMORPG.

What I liked: Simmons’ quiet sarcasm about the real world, especially Ward, is really entertaining. Coulson being so innocent and impressed with everything is a big change of pace. We’ve finally seen Mac and Mace, so everyone is accounted for now. I can almost get to like this version of Ward. Mac and Hope are great together, and it’s going to be brutal when he has to leave her behind.

What I didn’t: Skye is a veteran by now. She shouldn’t keep slipping up about who knows about the real world vs who doesn’t. She fell for May’s trick a bit too easily in my opinion. I was shocked at how the character death happened. I think they’re going to be causing a lot of drama back in the real world. Are they really going to make the rest of the season all about the Framework?

This was a decent episode. I’ll give it a 3.5 out of 5. I really do hope they find the exit to the real world soon.

Agents of SHIELD: What If…

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How the mighty have fallen…

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.

Agents of SHIELD: Self-Control

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You think YOU had a bad day at work…

The Agents of SHIELD have a really hard time of things in “Self Control.” As we saw last episode, much of the team has been captured and replaced by LMD’s. The few real agents left at the top are going to have a hell of a job stopping the LMD’s from taking over and replacing the flesh and blood agents. There are a lot of twists and turns in this one.

Speaking of that, here’s my warning and disclaimer: I try hard to avoid spoilers in my reviews. This one is so complex and has so many surprise reveals that I don’t think I can do it this time around. So be warned, there are going to be spoilers herein.

The captured members of the team are all uploaded into the Framework, Radcliffe’s a-few-steps-beyond-virtual-reality device. It’s a bit disturbing, seeing the big smiles on some of them that aren’t known for that. Aida, meanwhile, is doing one of her own projects, which involves a Saws-All and a lack of anesthetic. Someone’s having a very bad day.

Fitz and Simmons are reeling from the shock at the end of last episode, and I don’t blame them. They’re in an impossible situation, and there’s no good way out of it. Desperately, they manage to avoid getting taken away by the LMD’s, covering each others’ backs with excuses and delays. It’s a cat and mouse game, but the LMD’s are, in part, distracted by their plans to locate and kill off all the Inumans in the SHIELD/Sokovia Accords registry.

L.May.D. reminisces with Coulson about the paradox that this is the first time she’s actually seen snow, even though she has memories of it. When Coulson talks about not having felt this good in years, L.May.D. realizes Coulson has been replaced, too. Coulson says that bodies don’t matter anymore, since Radcliffe perfected the Framework. L.May.D. is not pleased with this conversation.

Fitz and Simmons are working feverishly to come up with a plan when they get another LMD-related shock. Things are getting very Westworld-like in terms of replacements and the artificials not knowing what they are or questioning their reality. Tensions are running high as understandable paranoia begins to set in.

Radcliffe comes out of the Framework and is stunned to see so many SHIELD VIP’s wired in. He and Aida talk about what’s going on. We learn that they are working with Ivanov to protect the Framework. We learn which SHIELD agents are still the real ones, and Aida reveals some changes she’s made. Radcliffe is worried about the new guidelines for the LMD’s.

The Fitz and Simmons standoff finally comes to an end. Remember I mentioned those spoilers? Simmons is the real one and manages a few really clever tricks to beat FitzMD. It’s an ugly, bloody struggle, and shows that it’s a bad idea to underestimate a genius.

Down in the containment rooms, which they’d be using to host the Inhumans, Daisy finds herself, not in the metaphysical sense. She hides in the bouquet of Daisys and gets the drop on L.MacD. She even takes his shotgun axe. After she gets away and understandably freaks out for a bit, Daisy starts using the computers to search the base. She’s stunned to see what appears to be a dead Fitz, and the fake Mac and Coulson killing SHIELD agents. Not being stupid, the fake agents cut the security feeds so Daisy can’t use them. She does find a blood trail, and there’s another paranoid standoff between Daisy and Simmons. Who do you trust after you find out there are very good impostors running around?

Aida is making a mechanical body for Ivanov, which Radcliffe knows won’t please the Russian. Aida talks about a paradox in her programming, and Radcliffe babbles about the Framework and his new philosophy. Aida draws inspiration from this and takes some very decisive action to safeguard the Framework.

The fake Mace and Coulson brief the agents and send them after Daisy and Simmons. Those two, hiding in the base, try to come up with a new idea on what to do next. Daisy says they need to find the Framework, get inside, and wake up their friends. Simmons points out a major flaw- neither of them know how to fly the Zephyr, so getting away is going to be harder than they hoped. I kind of find it odd that with all the training Daisy’s done, she can’t pilot that ship, but she has been gone a lot lately. Daisy comes up with some reassuring things for Simmons, and they plan their next few moves.

Simmons gets really clever and they find a way to start trimming the odds. Daisy fights the fake Mace, but inexplicably mostly doesn’t use her powers. Simmons recruits a few still organic agents and gets proof of her claims when Daisy blasts an LMD to bits, said bits landing at their feet. Coulson and May have a debate about what to do next and how to handle the remaining agents. Daisy gets badly wounded on the way out, and they find an agent that can sort of fly the Zephyr. L.MayD. makes a surprising choice in her debate with Faux-Coulson. The fake Fitz is back up and mostly working, and goes to get the Daisy bouquet mobilized.

Yo Yo paces, expecting to get brought into protective custody. Instead, Daisy, Simmons, and company show up and tell her what’s actually going on. They get their plan in motion, and Daisy and Simmons get into the Framework, taking the places of their dopplegangers. We get a few glimpses of the lives the others are living there, and some of them are really surprising. One of their new lives even includes something we haven’t seen since Captain America: Winter Soldier. The episode ends with a really disturbing Ivanov/Aida scene.

What I liked: Damn near everything. This was a fantastic episode. The twists and turns about who is an LMD were done really well. Daisy was clever in her moves during the deadly hide and seek in the base. The Fitz/Simmons scene was tense and heartbreaking. The choices L.MayD. made were surprising but made sense. The Radcliffe/Aida scene was ugly but well done.

What I didn’t: Very little. I think the only bit that didn’t make sense to me was why Daisy wasn’t using her powers when fighting the ersatz Mace. Well, that and the fact that they are taking such a long break between episodes.

I’m giving this a very rare 5 out of 5. It was a phenomenal episode.

Agents of SHIELD: The Man Behind The Shield

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Coulson learns about his biggest fan…

 

There’s a scientific principle that correlation doesn’t equal causation. In other words, just because there seems to be a connection between two things, it doesn’t mean that one makes the other happen. This is something that Watchdog Superior Ivanov clearly doesn’t have a handle on. He is convinced that all the aliens, big disasters, and enhanced humans are the fault of Phil Coulson. I kind of wonder how Ultron and the fight in Sokovia fit into that idea, since Coulson was nowhere near them, or the events of Civil War. Then again, the man’s a homicidal, prejudiced maniac, so who says he has to make sense?

Things don’t go wonderfully well for the Agents of SHIELD in “The Man Behind The Shield.” Despite the title, this has nothing to do with Captain America, or Steve Rogers. It does cover a lot of ground though. The opening has Coulson and Daisy sparring, and they’re going at it pretty hard. A few things seem a bit odd, but it’s when Coulson suddenly stops in mid-air that we know something’s off. Coulson and Daisy are in “The Framework,” originally designed as a training tool by Fitz, it’s what May is currently being held captive in. Fitz’s version here is self-contained, and they theorize about what the larger one must be like. They get a lead on the GPS in Mace’s suit, but it leads to a mostly dead end.

The not dead end part is Ivanov’s crazy wall — a collection of pictures and a few other things all featuring Coulson. While the team analyzes this chaos, they get a lead to an old outpost in Russia, and a joke from Coulson that this is why he doesn’t have Facebook. Well, that and being a secret agent who is believed dead and all.

Ivanov himself is at another base, which appears to be fairly large and has bays in it for submarines, which makes sense given what we’ve seen of him. Ivanov walks into Radcliffe’s lab area and glowers when he sees Radcliffe wired in to the Framework. Ivanov is about to yank him out when a very protective Aida stops him. After they have some words, Aida brings Radcliffe back. Ivanov and Radcliffe argue about Radcliffe’s use of the Framework, and then Radcliffe goes back inside.

There’s a series of flashbacks throughout the episode showing the early days of Coulson and May as they cross paths on an assignment that ends up being connected with the current danger, as well as Ivanov’s obsession with Coulson. It’s entertaining seeing Coulson not as together as he is now, or even when he first appeared in the Avengers movies. May seems about the same, aside from less angry.

Mace is chained to a wall and manages to free himself. He gets out of his cell, but not much farther. Somehow or other, Ivanov knows Mace’s secret as well, and intercepts him so they can fight. Mace has been relying far too much on his powers. The fight is short and ugly and doesn’t end well for the Director.

Mac tests out the Framework and comes out of it in a really bad mood. He pretty much blames Fitz for May being held captive, and for Aida. I vaguely see his point, but I think Mac’s pretty far out of line. Maybe he’s just grumpy because Yo Yo isn’t around this episode.

Director Mace continues to have a really bad episode. He’s tied to a chair now, and Ivanov is gloating and taunting. Mace finds out he’s pretty much bait for the rest of SHIELD. When Ivanov isn’t torturing Mace, he’s bickering with Aida. Ivanov’s bias against Inhumans apparently applies to LMD’s as well.

The team finds a grisly display of bodies at the abandoned facility they’ve been directed to. One of them has a cell phone in its skull, that gives an almost Ghost Rider-like effect when it rings. Ivanov is now taunting Coulson, blaming him for the deaths of the men. This triggers more flashbacks of Coulson and May’s earlier mission. After the call ends, Ivanov babbles at Mace more, invoking Coulson as some kind of shadowy, powerful figure behind Stark, Fury, and other Marvel figures. Mace dismisses this as a conspiracy theory. I have to admit, I’m amused that Gregg’s Coulson being a linking figure in the Avengers movies is now a plot point.

Fitz works out the particularly genius way Radcliffe has hidden his Framework code on the net, and it’s a slick plan. It also makes it harder to find Radcliffe, and, more importantly, May. After more flashbacks (what is this, Arrow?), SHIELD zeroes in on Ivanov’s base of operations, which cues a good Bond villain joke from Mac. It’s weird how Mac is getting the good laugh lines but also coming down so hard on Fitz. Simmons tries to reassure Fitz after he is plagued by doubts thanks to Mac.

Ivanov gives Mace a chance to denounce SHIELD, like most modern terrorists do. When Mace refuses, Ivanov admits to grudging respect, but that doesn’t stop him from letting some thuggish guards in to start beating on the captive Director. Aida looks on, enigmatically.

SHIELD bursts in to Ivanov’s base, and splits up to try and find Mace, May, and whatever bad guys they can work out their frustrations on. Coulson eventually finds Ivanov, and gives the Russian a classic verbal beat down. He ends with how unimportant Ivanov is to Coulson. Then the door burst open as Daisy blasts in. “Her, on the other hand,” Coulson says as he leaves the Russian to Quake’s tender mercies. Daisy shows how much she’s learned since joining SHIELD, and manages a nice combination of hand to hand skill and power control that reminded me of the comic book version of Black Canary.

Some of the red shirt (black jumpsuit?) SHIELD agents call in an Aida sighting, and Fitz hopes Aida could be their lead to the Framework and May. Mac and Coulson find Mace and save him from the vicious beating. Simmons and Davis, her assigned agent, get in a joke about the Labyrinth and Goblin King as the team meets back up but Aida gets away in Ivanov’s sub. Or at least they imply that heavily.

Back at the base, as Fitz works on some captured equipment, Simmons starts having doubts about the mission. She makes a few astute observations, and checks the sensor logs. What she finds out is really bad for SHIELD, and a big surprise I didn’t see coming. Ugly, but well executed. Aida finds Ivanov in the rubble Daisy left him in, which means that she didn’t leave in the sub, I guess. I’m not sure who was piloting the sub.

What I liked: The flashbacks were amusing, although they bordered on too much. Daisy’s fight with Ivanov was really impressive. Simmons used that impressive intellect of hers to find out something majorly important to the team. There were several good lines this week.

What I didn’t: Mac is getting to be really judgmental. First he was on his tirade about robots, and now he’s slamming Fitz for being an inventor. I’m confused about the end with Aida supposedly in the sub but then back in the base. Daisy made a dumb mistake in her fight with Ivanov.

It was a good episode, and that surprise ending makes up for the things I didn’t like. I’ll give this one a low 4 out of 5, and it’ll be really interesting to see how they pull themselves out of this one.

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