Can we please get off this ride now? I’m ready to go back to the real world. Is that too much to ask? This was the Empire Strikes Back episode of this Framework arc, because even though our rebels got some small victories, the empire came out on top in the end. Although, I do like the rebel alliance vibe virtual SHIELD has going for it. A lot of Koenig’s died to get virtual SHIELD the plans that base.

SPOILERS LIVE HERE. IT SHOULD BE KNOWN BUT AS SOON AS I STOP PUTTING THIS MESSAGE, PEOPLE CATCH THE VAPORS ABOUT IT

This week we learned a little bit more about the Framework and how this reality came about. Aida admitted that she fixed the one biggest regret everyone had, and this reality was the natural result. Coulson didn’t settle down. May saved the girl in Bahrain. Fitz’s dad stuck around. Hope is alive. Ward is a (gulp) good guy. Mace isn’t a coward. etc.

The Framework is also a conflation of the three things Aida wanted: to give people their own personal paradise; to save lives; and to get her some Fitz. The problem, though, is that as an artificial intelligence such as Aida took Dr. Potter’s goals and words too literally, and fucked everything up. Except for the part about her gettin’ some of that Fitz action. As I mentioned, she took away everyone’s biggest regret, and this virtual world is the natural progression. Dr. Potter created the Framework in part to save lives (such as Agnes), and Aida keeps lying because in her mind, as Dr. Potter put it, it’s okay to lie to save a life. Finally, she finally has her Fitz.

God dammit, Leopold.

We also got a chance to see Hydra in action on the street level. Mack is living at home with his Hope, who is smarter than the average bear. She’d be right at home with FitzSimmons back in our reality but I’ll stop because someone needs to stop cutting onions this early. Sparkplug (my heart) is a tinkerer just like her dad, and inadvertently uses some broken down Hydra dwarf parts to make her drone better.

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While everyone is waiting at the bus stop, including Mack and Sparkplug, a team of Hydra goons shows up and puts everyone on the wall at gunpoint, asking for IDs. It turns out they found a potential Inhuman, so Mack and Sparkplug got away that time. Mack has been teaching Sparkplug to keep her head down and not to make trouble for anyone, because deep down, he (and I’m sure many, many people, just like the student who tagged Simmons’ car) knows Hydra is bad news.

Yesterday, Mr. Whitbrook posted on the main page about Captain America and whether or not Hydra is a Nazi organization. Although many (really, more than I was comfortable with) people tried to distinguish Hydra from Nazis, the parallels and connections are there, and are being exemplified by Agents of SHIELD. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: Although Hydra as an overall group predates Nazi Germany, the faction that survived to this day is the one that survived due to its alliance with Nazi Germany. Red Skull looked at the world and thought Nazis were the best side to team up with to advance his own goals. They both wanted world domination, and Red Skull was fine with Nazi methods so long as they did not get in his way. Acceptance of Nazi practice is just as bad as being a Nazi.

Then, after World War II, Hydra agents were incorporated into SHIELD, along with Nazi scientists and assets, much like the real world. Instead, those Nazi/Hydra defectors re-established Hydra within SHIELD, and manipulated the world so that one day, ti would be primed for their return. Here, we have a version of reality within the Framework where Hydra’s plans reached their fruition sometime between Bahrain and 2011 (Mr. Coulson had a 2011 calendar with a picture of Lola on it in his Conspiracy Corner, suggesting he’s been questioning things for at least that long.) So now that Hydra is in the open, how to they operate?

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Like Nazis.

They push propaganda against marginalized groups and blame all of societies ills (the Cambridge incident, etc.) on Inhumans. Inhumans are rounded up in the streets and taken to re-accommodation centers where they are tested and tortured and killed. Hydra police patrol the streets and ask random people for their papers. People are required to snitch on each other and make loyalty oaths to Hydra.

Like Nazis.

As we know, this season may end up being the last, as there has not been word yet on a Fif season. This show is good at wrapping up stories with efficiency, which is why I called this episode the Empire Strikes Back of this story. I have a feeling by the end of the next episode, most of the main players will know they are in the Framework, and by the episode after, they’ll be making strides to get out and end Aida for good. But, as it may be the last season, I really don’t know how this will turn out. Before Agents of SHIELD, my favorite show was Chuck. As much as I love Chuck, I hope they don’t end Agents of SHIELD on a similar note. Time will tell.

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1. Conspiracy Coulson is the best Coulson. As soon as he remembered Daisy, he finally realized that he wasn’t out of his gourd. Hydra really was pushing fake news, and he was having flashes of his real life. There is a good chance that Coulson has those flashes because of the brain fuckery done in Tahiti. Hell, he even makes his own soap because Hydra controls everyone with the blue soap they push. Gotta start somewhere with the information on hand, I guess. Coulson even figured out that Hydra used the Cambridge incident to seize control.

Coulson’s amazement and excitement throughout the episode was awesome to watch. When he finally met the Patriot, he fanboyed out just like he did when he finally got to meet Captain America. In the Framework, I have a feeling Captain America is still locked in the ice somewhere, because Hydra took over before SHIELD had a chance to find him. In the Framework’s history, Coulson probably grew up as a fan of Captain America, but later in life looked up to the Patriot instead, as he seems to have been active. Maybe the Patriot’s words weren’t as moving as Captain’s orders from Winter Soldier.

2. God dammit Leopold.

3. Last week, in the discussions following my recap regarding last week’s episode, Loragon asked why Mace wasn’t included in the regret compilation before the break right after everyone got into the Framework. After watching this week’s episode, I think Mace’s biggest regret was that he could not do more with the power and position he held. Mace was pretty deflated when exposed about the Hyde serum that gave him his powers. Mace looked up to Captain America, and I think he felt regret that he was not able to get more done or save more people or be a true hero with the opportunities provided to him. He was always acting at the beck and call of someone else. Mace was held back.

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Not any more. Now, Mace can be the hero he always wanted to be. Mace is leading the resistance, and is in full Patriot mode. There is no word on whether he has any powers in the Framework (I doubt it), but that doesn’t seem to be stopping him.

4. Mack is back, kinda. All it took was letting Sparkplug down, and as a father myself, I understand completely. As parents we always try to do what’s best for our kids and to teach them to do the right thing, but in the Framework, doing the right thing will get you killed. Mack tries to balance that (by being truthful to Sparkplug about Inhumans and how to treat people while at the same time making sure she keeps her head down and doesn’t make a scene) and ended up sacrificing one to save the other. He wants to help because for the first time, he couldn’t look Sparkplug in the eye.

But what is more interesting is how he found the SHIELD base: He was snooping around dead drops and got himself caught. In the Framework, everyone has flashes of their normal selves in some capacity, just like Coulson. The only difference is how deep those flashes are repressed. Coulson had his right below the surface, most likely thanks to Tahiti. Mace seems to be coming around, and Mack needed a really emotional event to get him reverting back to his spy self. Mack doesn’t quite know what is going on, but his normal self is starting to shine through the cracks. I sense an axe and possibly a shotgun in Mack’s immediate future.

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What’s left is May and Fitz.

5. May seems to be all about the Hydra Cool-Aid, but her analytical self should be popping in any time now, please. It’s tough to get one past May, and she had to have been fed the information about Daisy Johnson and SHIELD by Madame Hydra Ophelia Aida (sorry, the name respect only applies to the good guys.) May got Mack to get Daisy to confess on tape with information from the real world. May didn’t know that, so it is likely Aida gave it to her. May is a company woman, but deep down she has to be asking what it all means. Daisy comes in to work acting all weird and then all of a sudden is a traitor. She’s hunting a woman (Simmons) who should be dead. Things don’t add up. We haven’t seen a meeting between May and Coulson yet. Maybe that is what it will take.

6. God dammit Leopold. Fitz seems to be the deepest in, double-fisting the Hydra Cool-Aid. I know that he is in so deep because Aida wants him for herself, but shit, man. Fitz always hated his dad for leaving, but after seeing the last two episodes, it’s a good thing that he did. Instead of killing Simmons so that Fitz would turn to her, Aida simply deleted Simmons and put Fitz’s dad back in his life. In the Framework, Fitz never lost Simmons because he never knew her. Aida was reluctant to show Fitz Simmons’ picture because she did not know how he would react. His reaction and actions this week conviced Aida that her conditioning worked as intended. Shit.

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Leopold (HE AIN’T FITZ UNTIL HE REMEMBERS) is stone cold. He murdered Agnes (more on that in a bit) and even used some lines we know apply to Simmons on Aida. This switch from good Fitz to bad Leopold is hard to watch, but the acting is on. point. We knew Ian De Caestecker could act thanks to his character’s changes and tribulations in seasons two, three, and four, but man is this something else.

I wonder how long it will take Leopold to come back around, though. In the beginning, he told Aida that he would cross the universe for her. Later, when confronting Dr. Potter, Dr. Potter tried to get him to remember Simmons by saying he crossed a universe for her. As we saw, Aida told Leopold about “the other side,” but it’s still unclear what that means to them. To us it is the real world, but Aida seems to have spun it as some other dimension that is trying to destroy theirs. Technically, she may be right. but still.

7. Leopold killed Agnes. As we know, if you die in the Framework, you die in the real world. Simmons had no problem fighting and shooting those Hydra goons because she understands them to be NPCs. However, Agnes was one of the few of them who was an actual person. To add a layer, Agnes was already dead in the real world, just like Dr. Potter. When Leopold shot Agnes, it wasn’t just some NPC: he ended a real life in cold blood. Right in front of Simmons, who had been defending him as a good person.

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I don’t think Leopold quite understands the Framework at this point, because Aida has been manipulating him with false and incomplete information. But when he figures it out, Fitz is gonna be messed up. Depending on how much everyone remembers once they get out of the Framework (IF), they are going to need some therapy BIG TIME. I hope this is something that FitzSimmons can work through together.

8. Simmons’ coldness and sarcasm towards Ward is refreshing and I love it. Betraying the ones closest to him is his signature move! “I’ll give you some alone time!” Oh my word, it’s glorious. Ward apologized for getting Daisy captured, but it was almost like he was saying sorry for whatever he did to Simmons in another life. He has no idea.

9. Fitz called Aida “Ophelia.” In the comics, Madame Hydra’s real name is Ophelia Sarkissian. I wonder what other similarities Aida has with Ophelia.

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10. What is Project Looking Glass? Leopold has been working on it and is ahead of schedule, but it seems like it’s related to the Framework and “the other side.” Maybe AIDA is trying to allow her creations to cross over into the real world? Maybe she wants to replace Fitz’s conscious with Leopold’s in the real world? Maybe she wants to do what she claimed Simmons and Dr. Potter were trying to do? I AM LITERALLY MADE OF QUESTIONS.

11. I do not like seeing the Bus in Hydra hands. That plane is Coulson’s NOT YOURS, AIDA.

12. We almost got a remix of the Triskelion elevator fight from Winter Soldier, but this was a serviceable attempt. About four Hydra goons and a guy in a suit got in the elevator, and Daisy got in right behind them. When she got off the elevator, no one but her was left standing. That poor dude in the suit in the corner. I was dying watching him try to make himself as small as possible to avoid the fists. I know he’s a Hydra agent and probably deserved it but still: I could imagine him just trying to get to the cafeteria because he’s had it with these damn TPS reports and just needed a minute and then out of left field some chick wrecks him and four armed guards for no apparent reason.

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Could he be Agents of SHIELD’s Hydra bob? Can he be? Please?

God dammit, Leopold.