I’m glad those SHIELD agents followed Captain’s orders in The Winter Soldier, because this “What If” story about what could have been is pretty messed up. It’s been a hot minute since Daisy and Jemma hacked into the Framework, but we finally got to see what all the hubbub was about. Just kill me already.

SPOILERS LIVE BEYOND THIS WARNING. IF YOU SPOIL YOURSELF (PHRASING) IT’S ON YOU!

I’ve been a way from these reviews for a while, and I apologize for my absence. I needed to take a little break as life got busy and it began feeling like a job doing these recaps. It was almost to the point where I almost dreaded watching Agents of SHIELD, and that was when I decided to take a little break. This is my favorite show on the air right now, and I didn’t want to start hating it for reasons out of its control. But I’m all rested back and this Framework business is just bonkers. Lets get to it!

But first, I was mostly wrong about the LMDirector, up until he was actually replaced with an LMDirector. I guess he was just a guy, trying to be another guy, and pretending to be an Inhuman. Now he’s a guy, thinking he’s another guy, fighting against the man. Kirk Lazarus would be proud.

There is one thing I continuously like about this show, and that’s the pace. If you go anywhere online and see people talking about giving up on Agents of SHIELD after the first few episodes, the criticism is always the same: It had a slow start. But from Turn, Turn, Turn to now, it has yet to really slow down. Questions are answered within an episode or two, and people don’t make dumbass mistakes or keep dumbass secrets for the sake of plot (I’m looking at you Barry Allen). SHIELD doesn’t have time for that.

Another thing is the smaller arcs throughout each season. The Walking Dead tries to do this, with an almost “reinvention” every eight episodes (with months between them) but I feel like SHIELD got it right and hasn’t slipped up. This season we got Daisy back in the family, had an entire LMD freaking takeover, and now are just zeroes and ones in the Matrix Framework. I’m sad that the season is almost over, but have no doubt that it won’t feel like a slog to get there.

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1. Here’s what we know about the Framework: Dr. Potter created it so that the people connected could live without regret. Dr. Potter determined what people truly regretted, and changed those details to give them some peace. Agent May was the first person connected, and she kept defeating its programming because she’s a fighter. So, AIDA changed the program to keep her distracted by giving her something to fight.

But we really need to take a step back, because May’s biggest regret was Bahrain. As we know, she ended up killing a young Inhuman to save her team, and has lived with that (and the Cavalry nickname that no one dares say to her face) ever since. So, AIDA changed her memories to make her feel at peace, and to remove her regret.

HOWEVER.

Since May saved the girl, she ended up killing hundreds of people (including children) in Cambridge. I originally thought, upon seeing the stinger after the last episode with everyone working for Hydra that for some reason, in the Framework, Hydra was successful in The Winter Soldier. However, it appears that Hydra didn’t come out from the shadows at that point, but instead, much earlier: When the Bahrain girl caused the “Cambridge Incident,” Hydra took advantage of the “weak state” and installed law and order and purpose, and reversed the trend of “individual over state” and replaced it with a philosophy of “state over the individual.” Hydra essentially took advantage of a bad situation, and didn’t even need project Insight.

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Thanks a lot, May.

So in the Framework, SHIELD existed until fairly recently, and Hydra used the Cambridge Incident to take over a few years before the events of this episode occurred.

But here’s the thing: She is going to crack soon, too. We are one episode in to this new story and she’s already been reminded twice that she done fucked up. Once by the Inhuman Nadeer and once by the good Doctor Fitz. Instead of people reminding her about Bahrain by calling her the Cavalry, everyone is reminding her of Cambridge by telling her it was her fault. May has a whole new level of guilt, and it’s keeping her in the Framework: She’s using that guilt to fight against Inhumans and for Hydra instead of trying to get out. I bet May comes to in the next episode or two.

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2. Speaking of the good doctor. What the hell, Fitz. Everyone is ascared of him. He invented the dwarves (noticeably smaller than Project Insight, which would have eliminated subversives from afar automatically) and is at the very (almost) top of Hydra. But why would Fitz buy in so much, and why would he be AIDA’s lover?

I don’t think he was put there for him. He was placed where he was by and for AIDA. Fitz is all in because he thinks Jemma is dead, and was not able to save her. Remember: Jemma’s obituary said that she died with 200 other SHIELD scientists in an accident (more on that later). Fitz is content in the Framework and isn’t fighting because from his perspective, he has nothing left to fight for. That’s why AIDA wouldn’t let him see the footage captured by his dwarves: He would start to question reality itself.

This new, colder Fitz can fuck right off. But you can see there is still good in him, in the way he wants to protect AIDA. That’s exactly why AIDA has him so close (aside from her Computer Love feelings for him): Because he’s already traveled the stars for Jemma. What wouldn’t he do for her?

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3. Jemma. Jemma, Jemma, Jemma. Jemma woke up in the Framework buried in a mass grave. As soon as she got out, she realized she had been murdered. In this Framework, the Hydra takeover was not completely peaceful: There was resistance. I know next week we are going to get more into that, but it looks like the resistance was there from the start. We haven’t had any Captain America references, but maybe he did give a similar speech, and some people tried to fight back, but in the Framework, The Hydra STRIKE teams won the day.

But we got to see this new world through the eyes of Jemma, who has no ID and is presumed dead. There are Inhuman checkpoints everywhere, and Hydra agents ask people for their papers (totally not a Nazi thing to do) everywhere else. Hell, people are even encouraged to call in and report subversives. SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING, YALL.

I think AIDA is beginning to panic, because she knows the power Jemma has with out team: She already got Coulson shook with her remarks about Tahiti - just imagine what Fitz will think when he finally sees her face to face.

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Save the scientist. Save the world.

My favorite part of the episode was when she was talking to the student that tagged her Hydra car. They are all Nazis. Every one of them. Don’t let anyone forget it.

4. Before Coulson was put into the Framework, he was talking with MeLMDa May about what his life would have been like had he not joined SHIELD. In the Framework, he got that answered. He’s a good teacher, but he’s a man of the State. As soon as Jemma left, he called in and reported the subversion. He’s paranoid, and thought it was a test. But he’s shook, given that Jemma reminded him that Tahiti is a magical place. Near the end, we saw that Coulson is still writing things repeatedly for reasons unknown to him. Poor guy can’t get away from repeatedly writing strange symbols and phrases. One day he will get over it. But today is not that day.

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There is hope, shown by him being able to remember Daisy’s name. I tell you this show moves quick. We’ll have most of out answers in the next two weeks.

5. It’s funny because I still hate Ward, and it literally took a reboot of the entire character for him to actually be good. The only reason that he’s in the resistance is because of Daisy, and because it’s a freaking program. Ward joined the resistance when he realized Daisy was an Inhuman, but remember: AIDA never met Ward, so his personality in this Framework is what she believed he was like based on how Daisy would have wanted, had it worked out.

To AIDA, Hydra isn’t important. It’s the complacency of the people plugged into the Framework. Since May was the first one in, this whole Framework stems from her original regret being erased. For the world to work, she still had to have something to fight, and that is now Inhumans. May is a control freak, and with Bahrain (and now Cambridge), she felt like she had no control, and gravitated towards it (Hydra). If it wasn’t Hydra, it’d be something else that May could latch on to, but AIDA only had May’s neurological systems to work with, so she made due with what she had.

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6. So now, AIDA is Madame Hydra. This is completely out of necessity: She has eyes on everyone in the Framework through Hydra’s surveillance, and can fix problems on the fly (like Jemma and Daisy’s exit strategy.)

7. Given the political climate we are all living in and the cluster fuck that is the United States at the moment, the Inhuman threat feels like a nod towards the bigotry and hatred that has started to be more open since November 8. They have checkpoints for Inhumans and ask people for papers on the street. I know this is fiction, but it is a direct commentary on our current state and the PrEEsident’s fixation on Muslims in and around the United States. He’s building a fucking wall and border patrol is asking for people’s social media passwords and questioning their stance on the President before letting them in.

SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING and reporting “subversives” is a way dictatorships turn the populace against themselves. Everything is a test of loyalty, and anything but loyalty is treason. I know this is fiction, but lately it’s felt a little close to home.

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8. Coulson mentioned that Hydra has been around for centuries. I guess they left the fact that it was originally founded to worship an INHUMAN was left out of the history books. Hell, even the symbol is of Hive’s ugly punchable face.

9. I’ve been talking about Coulson a lot, but he seems just as central to this whole clusterfuck as Jemma is. After Jemma left and before he re-met Daisy, he was looking through some articles he had cut that had some notes and questions written around him. At first I thought he was using them as examples of writing for his classes (by focusing on reports of people putting Hydra before themselves) but the notes revealed something more. He was questioning the very propaganda he was supporting in class. Also, he had a calendar from May 2011 with a picture of Lola on it. This suggests that the Hydra takeover was sometime before 2011.

Coulson should be back in the fold soon, and they’re going to get the band back together.

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It’s good to be back.