Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: ‘What If…” Review
A brave, new, terrifying world.
Warning: Major spoilers ahead. Just sayin’. I mean, you should already know this, so…
Just before Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to another damned month long break, we were treated to one of the best AOS episodes ever with “Self Control”. It was the conclusion to the riveting L.M.D. pod that left us with the ultimate cliffhanger for the ages. Most of our heroes we abducted by Aida and thrown into the Framework, leaving Daisy and Jemma behind in order to hack in the Framework to save them. Just before the episode ended, we caught a shocking glimpse inside this topsy turvy world Radcliffe had created and Aida had corrupted. This week, AOS made its dramatic return with “What If…”, and I can honestly say, this was one of the most intriguing episodes of the season.
I do want to say, I couldn’t sit still watching this return episode. I cannot deny my love for this show and just how beautifully it’s developed into a comic book based TV series that strives for more than its competitors. It was easy to see how this installment was taking advantage of the shows developments and achievements as we launched this new pod of the fourth season.
“What If…” Takes everything we know about this series and flips it upside down. It also utilizes what we know about Hydra and turns it into a terrifying virtual reality for our characters. This kind of material has been done plenty of times on other shows – best recent example being The Flash – taking well established characters and situations and completely flipping the script on them. However, here it’s not done for laughs, it’s not goofy. In fact, it’s almost nightmarish. Fitz in the real world is kind, caring, and uses his intelligence for good. In The Framework, he’s cold and sinister. Coulson, being the fearless rule bending leader is now a compliant teacher who teaches lies to his students while fearing inhumans. You don’t even want to approach May, not that you could. She’s loyal to Hydra through and through. But the biggest surprise, and possibly most ironically satisfying, is the return of Brett Dalton (who just can’t stay away) as Grant Ward… who’s now a good guy!
I did not expect Ward to be on the side of good. When I saw him as a Hydra agent in this world, I thought: “Well, duh”. That’s the brilliance of this show using our knowledge and expectations against us. Banking on the fact that we’d expect him to be evil, but making him a soldier in the resistance against Hydra. It’s even more ironic when you factor in the idea that most fans, myself included loved when the real Ward was revealed as a bad guy in season one. He was boring as a boy scout agent of SHIELD. Now, Dalton’s improved acting and charisma, we get to see him be a force of good. I’m incredibly excited for that.
The setting in The Framework and the tone of the episode (and its grayish color palette) is very unsettling, making this setup all the more intriguing. It really feels like a nightmare. Radcliffe’s intentions on making a better world for people by rewriting traumatic events in their lives creates a dangerous paradox. Making it so May never killed the inhuman child in Bahrain triggered an event where the child killed over 100 people in Cambridge, thus, causing SHIELD to fall, and Hydra creating a new world order where inhumans had to be registered, as well as feared by many. I knew by changing that bit of history in May’s life, it would have a drastic downfall in some way. This entire concept is very ambitious for the series. Of course a story set in a virtual world is reminiscent of The Matrix, but this feels far more character based. It also brings up a lot of questions. One of the main questions is why Hydra? Radcliffe wasn’t involved in Hydra, and we know Aida restarted the Framework with changes made by her. So why Hydra? I’m dying to know how that came about. Plus, with only a few people plugged into the Framework, how did they create such a life-like world with so many different personalities? And why is there even a resistance? There’s even regular people, such as that boy who looks like he could be the son of Kid from Kid ‘N Play who isn’t falling for Hydra’s lies. Where does this come from? Like I said, this concept is so ambitious, and I truly hope the writers can bring all of this to a smart conclusion where everything makes sense. Being that this show has not let me down and has excelled in the writing department every season, I feel confident everything will be neatly packaged by the end.
As always, the acting was on point, but it’s was more satisfying to see some of our cast play alternate versions of their characters, while Chloe Bennet and Elizabeth Henstridge continue to crush the hell out of their respective roles as Daisy aka Skye and Simmons. These two ladies continue to impress me with how strong they portray their characters. It makes it all the more easy to root for then as they face one of their most complicated missions with all odds against them. The two actresses work so brilliantly as a duo, but their best work in this episode is when the two are apart, each trying getting through to Coulson – Clark Gregg giving an excellent performance himself. I like that it took two tries to snap Coulson out of it, with the final scene being highly emotional as Daisy just about gives up but suddenly, Coulson remembers. As if that didn’t play with my emotions enough, the episode ends with a text “In Memoriam” tribute to Bill Paxton who played John Garrett in season one. So now they have to snap all the other agents out of Aida’s brainwashing, which might make for some more emotional scenes. I expect tears to form if Jemma is the one who brings Fitz back into reality. I’m also very impressed with Mallory Jansen’ brief scene as Madame Hydra. She’s been killing it as Aida, so no doubt, she will slay as the madame.
By the way, am I crazy or does Elizabeth Henstridge sound incredibly cute with her voice being half gone? That was a really nice touch, by the way, making her talk that way after raising up from a grave. This show is all about the details.
This new pod, “Agents of Hydra” got off to a very solid start, and will no doubt make these final episodes of season four very interesting and emotional. I do hope we get some scenes outside The Framework with Yo-Yo and the other agents meeting some challenges of their own while they monitor Daisy and Jemma. I am very much enjoying the concepts and twisted versions of our characters The Framework is presenting so far. I still have a lot of questions, but this team always comes through in the most clever fashion.