NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are present in this review
After quite a bit of excitement throughout the Framework so far, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. took a bit of a breather this week, to start positioning characters for their big exit and return to reality. “All the Madame’s Men” offered some excitement through the tense escape of Daisy and May from The Triskelion, though much of the episode was all about building character, while setting up the final necessary plot devices to provide a climax for the Framework, and Aida’s grand goal.
Speaking of Aida/Madame HYDRA, her goal finally became fully revealed in this episode, after Simmons starts piecing together some intelligence with Mack, which hints at an ocean rig installation where Madame HYDRA is up to no good. When a recon mission to check out what’s on the rig turns up nothing though, Simmons comes to realize that the device that Aida is building is not in the virtual world, but in the real world, where Aida stands alongside the LMD incarnation of Ivanov, building on the intelligence from the Darkhold for her final endgame.
That endgame is a surprisingly simple and relatable goal too; Aida wants to be completely human. In keeping the S.H.I.E.L.D. team stuck in the Framework, Aida can proceed with having the brainwashed Fitz build the necessary Darkhold-powered device for her, which she can copy in the real world. Once Aida completes the device, she can not only become human and gain her freedom, but also completely defy the limits of her programming. The same would be true of Ivanov’s LMD, who is eager to finish off Coulson himself, though his current programming mandates that he can’t harm the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew.
Despite this understandable reason for Aida’s actions though, we still get plenty of enjoyable villainy from both Fitz and his father, who is finally revealed to be named, “Alistair” in this episode. Alistair continues to keep Fitz on the path of trying to keep HYDRA secure and under control, after May and Daisy make their escape, particularly since Daisy’s Inhuman powers have now been activated in the Framework again. Fitz wants to get the Framework’s world in line using fear and intimidation, and to this end, he’s prepared to employ influential broadcast journalist, Sumil Bakshi to scare the populace into complying with HYDRA’s demands. Yes, Bakshi is back, Dr. Whitehall’s crony whom you may remember from Season Two. Apparently, he’s a HYDRA broadcast personality in the Framework, go figure.
Of course, even as the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew tries to make contact with Daisy and May, and work out their next move, they’re also left to reel at the sacrifice of Mace from last week’s episode. The interactions between Daisy and May were equally effective here, as May has to confess that the air strike resulting in Mace’s death was on her orders, while Daisy has to get past this fact and acknowledge that it was a result of Framework brainwashing. On another note, Daisy’s reactions to the existence of Trip in the Framework, and what else has been going on at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base while she was away, were pretty amusing.
A big character standout in this episode however was Ward, as he resolves to do whatever it takes to find Daisy, only to learn when he does get her back that he’s no longer alive in the real world. After Daisy corroborates Simmons’ account of another world existing outside of the Framework, Ward has to try and come to grips with the fact that he may be losing the woman he loves, despite doing everything in his power to do the right thing and make the world better. This was an especially satisfying, ironic way to re-interpret an antithesis to Ward’s character as he exists in the real world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Daisy even admitting later that she didn’t truly understand Ward until she met him in the Framework. Considering how detestable Ward became before he met his end last season, it’s amazing to see how well Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made him likable and even heroic again through the altered reality of the Framework.
The season is starting to run out of episodes though, and that became apparent during a few forced, less satisfying story turns. Daisy using her powers to blast Madame HYDRA out of a window and seemingly cripple her seemed dramatic at first, but it obviously didn’t go anywhere, especially since we know that Aida is an LMD that can wander freely in the real world. It just served as a lame excuse to take Madame HYDRA out of the equation, so that an angered Fitz can expedite his development of Aida’s machine. It was also a little too easy to have S.H.I.E.L.D. hijack Bakshi’s broadcast and immediately rally a huge public movement against HYDRA. If HYDRA’s hold on the world was that tenuous, how in the world did they manage to keep the public down for so many years, even considering the pre-existing programming parameters of the Framework?
Like I said, this is probably a side effect of Season Four only having a few episodes left before it ends, so hopefully this at least leads to an exciting climax for the season over the next few weeks. “All the Madame’s Men” slowed down to move necessary story elements into place for the escape from the Framework and the climax of the season, and to that end, it was mostly successful, even if it had to strain with a few less satisfying developments. It doesn’t look like the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew is going to be hanging out in the Framework for much longer, now that Radcliffe’s exit is known, and HYDRA’s strangehold on the public already seems to be coming loose. Considering that Fitz is still very much an enemy however, will the good guys be able to bring him out in time, before Aida has nature-obliterating technology to use as much as she pleases?
- Aida's true endgame is finally revealed
- Fitz's fearmongering HYDRA tactics
- Ward learning the painful truth about who he was in reality
- Madame HYDRA being benched in the Framework
- HYDRA's grip on the Framework's public is broken a bit too easily