Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - S4E17: Identity and Change - Review: The Dark World
Identity and Change – After locating Holden Radcliffe, Simmons, Coulson and Ward hope he will have a way out of The Framework. Madame Hydra (aka AIDA). alongside Fitz, is also looking beyond this world for, “Project Looking Glass”.
Two episodes into The Hydra Matrix and not only do things show no sign of slowing down but it feels increasingly like the culmination of season spanning events rather than being its own separate entity. As an end tease last episode, AIDA has transferred herself to The Framework as the director of Hydra aka Madame Hydra from the comics. Her intense exchanges with Radcliffe speak to her human enslavement throughout the L.M.D. pod, all of which now serves as her villainous motivation. We even get our first mentions of her endgame, “Project Looking Glass” which initially sounds like she’s pulling a Tron Legacy to take over the real world. Then there is her romantic angle with Fitz. Again, throughout the L.M.D. run there were teases of a romancing the robot story development between these two that never came to be. Instead that was mere foreshadowing and embedding towards the romance of their Framework incarnations. It’s interesting to consider AIDA’s motivation in that respect. While she may just be using Fitz for his brilliant mind towards Project Looking Glass, Radcliffe himself states that Fitz helped to create AIDA. So this incarnation of twisting Fitz into the kind of sadistic figure he despises and replacing Simmons with herself in his affections (“I’d cross the universe for you”) could also be further resentful revenge against a creator. However, in terms of long running story payoffs, it’s Mace that steals this episode. I loved the way they modelled his hair and stumble in slight resemblance to comics Nick Fury as Mace finds himself as underground resistance Shield leader (a la Secret Warriors). The cherry on Shield Sunday was giving this delightfully geeky Coulson a similar fanboy moment to his Captain America swooning in Avengers, “The Patriot!”.
This episode also doubled down on the darkness through various acts of cruelty, nicely played off against perceptions of known characters. While we had Coulson balancing out the lighter side with notions of mind control soap, all of the episode’s plots found themselves wondering into darker territory. At the centre of it all was the emotional story of Simmons hoping to reawaken the good within Fitz just like Daisy successfully gave Coulson some cognitive recalibration (without hitting him really hard in the head). The “Fitzsimmons” relationship is becoming by far the show’s easiest win because they’re both immensely loved characters that people want to see together. Anything putting that in jeopardy always produces thrilling results. This episode that’s taken to borderline heartbreaking lengths but forcing Simmons to confront this sadistic and monstrous Fitz adds so much drama to the Radcliffe island scenes. At the same time, it sets up a long term pay-off of Simmons eventually getting through to Fitz in the way he’s portrayed as being beyond saving. Elsewhere, the introduction of Mack and his Hope helps to reinforce May’s Hydra tunnel vision. Henry Simmons has long been superb at portraying his big hulking character’s weakness and vulnerability. With Hope embodying his biggest possible weakness, his subsequent exploitation is rather shocking while setting him up to join the rebel scum.
This was very much a “get off your ass” story episode. Whereas last episodes first bite focused on establishing this new world, this episode effectively gets characters and stories moving in the right directions. With 5 episodes remaining, we already have some insight into the endgame and stakes for the season finale while the path in between still has plenty of mystery. Skye/Daisy’s Hydra scenes provide some good action with a few cheeky Winter Soldier nods (of course there was an elevator fight). Overall, the show is giving us a bleak and compelling tale of heroes in a seemingly hopeless situation while still being entertaining rather than overly dark & gritty. It maybe a change by Shield has found itself a spectacular new identity.