Catching up with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, as Season 4 wraps up, with no confirmation of another year. It always comes back to Hydra and the original core cast.
Agents of SHIELD was a show that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had high hopes for back when it debuted in the wake of the first Avengers movie. Most TV shows are given a four-week promotional run up–SHIELD got six, and a full court press level six to boot. But since it landed, the struggles have been well documented.
The choice to try to force the TV plot to wait on the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier may have sounded good in theory. As was the idea of the slow burn–after all, it’s what “prestige TV shows” like Game of Thrones and Mad Men were known for. That neither of these choices turned out to work well in a 24 episode format, or on network, was a nasty surprise and one the show has worked hard to recover from.
Somewhere in the middle of last year, the show finally found how it wanted to structure itself–like an event TV show, but within the 24 episode season 8 episode pod subtitled “Ghostrider”. The first half of this spring was subheaded “L.M.D”, and consisted of 7 episodes (LMD standing for “Life Model Decoy.)” Our last four episodes, which began last Tuesday, is functioning under the moniker “Agents of HYDRA”.
Each of these “pods” leads to the next, but each is also something of a fundamentally stand alone segment. It also makes binge watching easier. Binge watching 24 episodes is a bit of a daunting task. But seven episodes? At 44 minutes a pop? That can be done in a weekend afternoon.
But what is so striking about the current pod is that for all the show keeps wandering off on tangents, and killing off cast members to show itself to be as hardcore as their other high-end competition, is that, when push comes to shove, the show keeps going back to the original premise.
The last two seasons have seen the show stray away from SHIELD’s original enemy Hydra, in favor of introducing the concept of “The Inhumans” and using them to tell varying degrees of parable stories of our political climate. (One suspects it was also to introduce the concept of them for the upcoming movie-that-became-a-TV-show, but that has decided to not be tied to SHIELD, lest the bad ratings rub off.) It took original double agent Ward Grant, killed him off, resurrected him and turned him into an Inhuman with little interest in Hydra, other than something to be used. During the Ghostrider drama last fall, or the recent LMD pod, Hydra might as well not have existed. All that changed when we landed in the “Framework” universe last week.
This four-part series puts Daisy and Jemma in a Matrix like simulation, but with no red-pill ability to show those who are in it the truth behind the pixels. At first this nightmare universe, where Hydra runs things , and SHIELD are the underground resistance seems like a byproduct of the butterfly principle. During the MD phase, we are told May, who was the first to be placed within it, had her one regret fixed–the Inhuman child she killed in Bahrain lived. That child living caused some unspecified terrorist attack a few years later as a teen, which is when SHIELD fell, Hydra rose, and Inhumans became Enemies of the State. (Also, apparently smartphones and laptops were outlawed.)
But in reality, the world became this place because AIDA, still powered by the Darkhold, inserted herself into the matrix, and remade it to her own liking. She is Madame Hydra, and Fitz is her devoted psychopath Doctor lover. And that’s why Jemma Simmons wakes up to discover this reality killed her off.
It’s a bit of a let down. AIDA’s trauma at her life as a robot is, at least, partly the driver. “Do you know what it’s like to be kept in a closet?” she demands of her creator Radcliffe in this week’s episode. And as she reveals to the wacko Russian character back in the real world, the Framework will continue until she can feel all the feelings, and “be a real girl.” But the coming showdown, where the answer will at least revolve around Simmons having to win back Fitz’s heart and mind from the evil perfect robot woman who stole him is a frustrating plot point. I’m hoping, with two episodes left to go, that somehow it won’t be that simple, and there will be another major twist in Fitz’s story. I’m also hoping for more from May, who is more emotionally scarred and deranged in this world than the last one–and that’s saying something.
Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to hope for more of the underground upside down SHIELD. Having SHIELD be on the defensive worked better for the show all around I think. Also yet another ending to the Ward-Skye relationship, since one assumes he–and Holden Radcliffe-will not survive the season, having no bodies in reality to come back to.
Agents of SHIELD‘s penultimate episode “No Regrets” airs next Tuesday at 10pm.