Well shit. Last night’s Agents of SHIELD was a doozy. This “pod” - as it appears the mini-episodes contained within each season are being called - has really focused on what it means to be a person and the nature of consciousness. Aida may have got what she wanted (with some alterations), but is she real? What about the people in the Framework? What is real? What is real? All of these are questions this “pod” have been asking in some subtle and not-so subtle ways.
SPOILERS WILL BE ADMINISTERED UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES
But really, what is consciousness? Is it our soul driving our physical body, which is ultimately just a vessel? Does that mean, if you think about it, that each of us is piloting our own Meat Jaeger through this cruel, cruel world? Or, is our consciousness basically a program, with electrical impulses firing throughout our brains transmitting information, just like ones and zeroes in the device you are reading this on? Does that mean that your phone or Zune or computer is only a few steps off from piloting its own Meat Jaeger, and if so, who are we to deny it?
These are some questions I have been kicking around since last night’s episode, and the “pod” is doing it’s job by making us think like this. This isn’t a story about a robot with a robot boner for Fitz; it’s a story about the nature of self and what makes us who we are. My example questions above were mainly about the nature of consciousness, but the show also hit on the idea of the self. Now, I’m too far removed from Psychology 101 (that was 2003 for those of you keeping score) to provide a coherent explanation of “the self” or Freud or any of that. But that’s how smart this show is. It’s making us ask deep questions.
As Simmons so forcefully reminded Fitzler this week, Aida (Artificial Intelligence Digital Assistant) is just a program that made it’s way into a life model decoy. AIDA wanted to feel, so she used the Framework to get a taste of what it was like to be a human, and then used the Darkhold to build herself a biological body that her “consciousness” could possess. AIDA’s end game was to be a real person, whatever that means.
But is she? If you were to make a check list of all the things that make you a person, what would you include? And if you created that list what would AIDA as we understand her be missing from that list? Does it matter what go those neurons firing in her brain if they are, in fact, firing? If Heimdall looked out past the Bifrost, would he see Aida?
What about the people in the Framework who were created by AIDA? Are they people, or simply programs? They exhibit all of the same characteristics of AIDA, save for her newly minted body. Think about Tripp and GoodWard and Hope. They all have memories and experiences and feelings and lives, and the only difference between them and us at this point is their neurons and bodies are made of ones and zeroes. The same “conscious” processes are occurring, with slightly different ingredients. But, what’s to say the neurons firing in our heads aren’t just a biological expression of ones and zeroes? On and off switches? If you made a checklist just like before, what would Framework people be missing that differentiates them?
What about the self? When our team finally got out of the Framework as we all knew most of them would, Fitz got out and immediately remembered everything he did as Fitzler. Everyone logically knows it wasn’t his fault because AIDA changed the game, but what does her being able to change the game say about the game itself? With one “little” tweak and some butterfly effects thereafter, Fitz went from a lovable, brave nerd with a good heart to literally Fitzler. Fitz asked a good question when he got out: Is he a bad person? And if not, why? AIDA simply changed one aspect of his life and it went to shit. Does this mean we all have the capacity for good and evil but our environment shapes how and who we become?
I think that’s what this “pod” was getting at with our team. Everyone has the capacity to do great and horrible things. The only thing that changes that is circumstance. People aren’t inherently good or evil, but depending on their situation, lean one way or the other. Does a person really have a choice, though?
And finally, what about reality? I have three questions:
What is reality?
What is reality?
What is reality?
What can we really know about the world around us beyond what we can see? May made a good point: She was done blindly following people and needed to be shown. This brings up the question of faith and a whole ‘nother bag of rocks regarding religion and our origins and the nature of the universe we live in. Is their a God or not? If there is a God, is it an omniscient being, or AIDA? From our perspective, what’s the difference?
Is anything real? There are articles and studies that discuss whether or not we are living in a physical universe or some simulation from advanced humans (or other creatures), and the biggest question is how can you tell? Statistically speaking, it is more likely that we are one of an infinite amount of simulations as opposed to one physical universe, but when I touch my keyboard to type this right now, is that true physical contact or just some ones and zeroes adding to the simulation? How would I be able to tell the difference?
Reality is what we perceive. If you look out your window and someone who is color blind looks out the same window, in essence you are seeing two different realities, and both are equally valid. How do you, the person who sees color, know that those are actually the colors that physically exist? What if the color-blind person sees a more accurate representation of the world we live in, but your eyes have different systems that differentiate colors and contrasts for survival purposes? That means you aren’t seeing true colors - but rather, are looking at an augmented reality.
So for someone like Mack hooked up to the Framework, what is reality? Is it the “physical” world, or the one where Hope is alive and well? Since he can hug her and watch movies with her and tuck her in to bed, isn’t she real? So what if she is made of zeroes and ones, when the only thing stopping her from being a “person” is a biological body? And, if AIDA can print a biological body from scratch, does personhood really even need that as a requirement if it can be so easily replicated?
My head hurts.
1. We learned this week that Daisy and Simmons have been hooked up to the Framework for 10 days. I don’t know what I’m more impressed by: The Zephyr being able to fly non-stop for that amount of time or Piper and the gang not dying of sheer boredom. The entire time the small team of SHIELD agents were taking turns flying the plane, checking vitals, and, what, exactly? Playing Cards Against Humanity? Bridge? Never Have I Ever? That’s a lot of time in a small space to be stuck with random people. At least astronauts have science experiments to keep them busy and occupied.
2. As tense as this episode was, the humor was ever present and well timed. I loved when May called Simmons a poptart, and I died when the FrameSHIELD agent was talking about (and quickly trying to walk back) how hot Madame Hydra was in her uniform. Crazy hot. JUST AN OBSERVATION. I love the fixation on Coulson and his soap: I crafted a lot of soap trying to stay sane. I also loved May’s reaction. She was like WAIT HOLD UP.
My favorite interaction was when Daisy learned that Coulson told May about the real world. Coulson tried to explain it away by saying it felt like the right time and came up in casual conversation, and Daisy called him on it: “How does the existence of an alternate reality come up in causal conversation?” Daisy is getting real tired of your Framework shit, Coulson. I also laughed at Coulson getting shot and then saying it felt “oddly familiar.”
But the best scene, hands down, was when Madame Hydra was informed that Fitzler’s dad was killed. “WUT.” I died. I did more than just push more air out of my nostrils. I let out one of those loud “HAAAA” noises. It was a gut reaction. I loved it.
3. Daisy should have told Mack from the beginning what was going on. Mack came into the Framework with no Hope, and AIDA gave it back to him. To date, most of the team (save for Fitz and Mack) had at least heard about the real world, and were at various stages of processing. Mack had no idea, and Daisy had to lie to him to get him to go with them on the mission.
I have maintained since the first shot of Mack picking up the girls’ bike when it was revealed originally that he was in the Framework that he would be resistant to leave and not want to go. Up until Mack saw the
Matrix Framework déjà vu around him, he was perfectly happy in the world that he knew. Once he learned the truth, and the truth that he had no Hope in the “real” world, Mack made his choice. He wanted to stay. As I asked multiple times at the beginning of this article, who is to say Hope isn’t real? She’s real enough, and that’s all the matters to Mack. I feared he would make this choice, but completely understand where is is coming from.
For those of you on Reddit, there is a crazy story from someone who experienced a head injury and was out for a period of time. While the person was out, he experienced a life, got married, had kids, and was happy. Then, one day he noticed a weird lamp in his home that was inverted, and he fixated on it for what he felt like were weeks. Then, he woke up to the real world, and realized it was all a dream. Mack is that guy, and doesn’t want to wake up from his “life.”
But there is a problem: Now Mack knows that Hope is part of the Framework, and that in what he knows as the “real” world, she is dead. That knowledge is going to eventually eat at him and change how he interacts with her. Remember: Everyone in the Framework still were their regular selves, just pushed down by AIDA’s changes. Eventually, parts of them shined through. Be it May realizing something was up with Hydra or Coulson crafting soap or Fitzler getting squirrely with his dad when things got stressful, their true-selves eventually shined through. The same thing is going to happen to Mack. Hopefully, Mack is able to make his peace and come back to our world.
4. Speaking of, and I know this post is existential as shit, but I thought it was interesting that they showed the Framework carrying on after everyone left. This isn’t just a short game that is only on when people are playing. It’s a live, running program and these people - Tripp, GoodWard, Dr. Potter, etc. - continue to exist outside of the team’s presence. If a tree falls and no one is around, does it make a sound? Apparently the answer is yes.
5. Tripp is a horn dog. Why would anyone want to go back to a world where Tripp hasn’t hooked up with Daisy, Simmons, or May? I loved how Daisy acknowledged that he would look damn good in the Patriot suit. Hopefully we get to see Tripp as Patriot and Mack in action in the Framework at some point. Two Men and a Little Lady, REMIXED. Remember: Just because the team left doesn’t mean the Framework stops. Hydra is still out there trying to stomp out the new uprising.
6. Coulson decapitated AIDA. I love it.
7. From the first time we met Dr. Potter, he has been chasing immortality. Originally he was simply creating cybernetic enhancements, but his goal was to leave his frail body behind and live forever. Fitzler knew he wanted that, and I’m sad that simply dangling the idea of immortality in front of him was enough to get him to turn. Dr. Potter had to know that this Fitzler would have no qualms about ending him right there just like Agnes. DAMN YOU DR. POTTER.
8. But Dr. Potter’s actions lead Fitz right to the team, and gave them a chance to snap him out of it. It was heartbreaking to watch Fitzler tell Simmons she meant nothing to him after she told him she was his lobster, and then try to force her to acknowledge what he said.
9. I think we were all right in assuming that even though Mack wouldn’t want to leave, Fitz would have the worst time out of all of them. We confirmed this week that when someone unplugs from the Framework, they retain all of their memories (including the ones fabricated by AIDA). Coulson and May told Fitz nothing was his fault because AIDA tweaked him, and he understands that, but he also knows that he caused some real deaths: Mace and Agnes.
I loved how the show dealt with that scene, because it wasn’t an angsty, long drawn out mopey scene. They unplugged and are stuck on a submarine who the fuck knows where. Fitz is still trying to parse through what he did in the Framework and what it means, and before anyone can do anything, AIDA walks out in her new duds. Fitz is going to need some help, but now isn’t the time. Because there is no time.
10. AIDA you minx. Not only did she create a biological body for her consciousness to possess, but she made some slight upgrades. AIDA is going to be one of the smartest people in the world, because now she’s a “person,” but she also retains all of her knowledge that she gained as AIDA and Madame Hydra. Think about that. AIDA was an artificial intelligence hooked up to the internet. She knows just about all.
11. I noticed that the Looking Glass machine used similar effects as those present when AIDA made the sling ring. The same yellow hue was present. I love how this shows that magic in the MCU is uniform with the same basic features. I’ve heard rumors about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, and won’t spoil anything here...yet.
Welp, we have two episodes left this season and still have yet to hear the fate of the series over all. Whether or not this is the last season, it’s been one hell of a fun ride. If this is the end, I hope that some of these characters can transition to other properties (Netflix, Inhumans, Cloak & Dagger, MCU, etc.) because they (and we) sure as hell have earned it.