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Agents of SHIELD - What If... - Review

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned with “What If…” written by DJ Doyle and directed by Oz Scott, whose extensive credits reach all the way back to Hill Street Blues and include LA Law, The Practice, CSI: NY, Gotham, and Criminal Minds. This was a terrific episode, featuring the return of Brett Dalton in yet another iteration of Ward.

The episode really does answer the question what if May (Ming-Na Wen) didn’t kill that girl in Bahrain and Coulson (Clark Gregg) never joined S.H.I.EL.D. and Skye (Chloe Bennet) never transformed into Daisy. The answer is that Hydra won! Shows don’t often get to explore this question, and it’s clear that whatever the costs may have been, the world with S.H.I.E.L.D. was definitely a better one. I love how this show is able to re-invent itself – always maintaining its core – and keeping the tension dialed to 11! The episode features some terrific performances, especially from Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons), Bennet, and Dalton.

The episode picks up right where we left off with Daisy approaching the figure in the bed – thrilled because she thinks it’s Lincoln, only to discover that it’s Ward! She immediately tries to quake him as he rolls over, smiles and says good morning! I loved how cute he was that he made the quake gesture back at her, asking if that’s something they do now. Daisy is utterly stunned.

I quite like how this played out. It makes sense that Skye isn’t with Lincoln. If she never changed, she would never have met him, and we find out later that he’s dead in the Framework. What’s more curious is why Ward isn’t a die-hard Hydra person. I wonder if they had had any expectation of a cameo by Bill Paxton? The episode is thoughtfully dedicated to him. It may never have been their intention to have Paxton back regardless of his untimely passing because he was busy working on Training Day, his new series. I’m really looking forward to them filling in Ward’s story!

If the Framework is all about having no regrets, Ward is a big one for Skye – and so is Lincoln. While it’s true that Aida (Mallory Jansen) didn’t have Simmons or Daisy’s brains mapped, she does have their dossiers and may have planned for at least Daisy – likely not Simmons given that she’s dead here! Skye did have feelings for Ward at one point and let’s not forget that she was “addicted” to Ward-Hydra.

Daisy tells Ward that he startled her and he points out it’s not like he snuck in there – we’re left wondering if they are living together or just sleeping together – we learn later that Skye has asked Ward to move in – and it’s been “approved” by Hydra – CREEPY! – but Ward has said no. However, it’s clear this is a regular thing. Ward brushes off her actions by fondly calling her a weird-o as he takes his overnight bag into the bathroom to change. And that was a little weird as they go to separate rooms to change after sleeping together. The room is clearly Daisy’s – I liked the nod to her history by having a huge Chinese wardrobe in the background. There are skin products on the dresser – and an Hawaiian hula girl – just like Coulson has later in the episode. Plus that picture of her and Ward on vacation.

Daisy tries to get information off Ward by asking who he thinks will run the “brief” when they get into work. Ward decides it must have been Pinksy (Brandon Morales) who sent the text because whoever sent it knew that Ward would sleep in! Daisy notices her hair is longer here, but she’s utterly stunned when Ward calls her Skye – it also goes with the star on her bedside table – but it makes sense if she never transformed. More disturbing? She works for Hydra! And we get great opening Agents of HYDRA credits!

The drive in to work is a nice way for us to get a flavor of this new world through Daisy’s eyes. Ward thinks that she’s quiet because she’s angry he didn’t want to move in. But she’s really stunned to find herself in a Hydra police state. The news on the radio talks about stringing up people for treason for hiding Inhumans, a road sign admonishes people to “Suspect it. Report it. For Humanity,” and they work in the Triskelion! It wasn’t destroyed in the Framework.

Daisy wants to stop some Hydra agents from beating an Inhuman, but Ward drags her away, clearly thinking that she wants to join in. I loved the lobby of the building, complete with a Hydra statue! The sets were just fantastic in this episode – great attention to detail.

Ward is a bit impatient with Daisy’s lack of focus, and keeps having to pull her back from gawking. Ward apologizes that she put herself out there and he doesn’t want to live with her right now. They’ve been together a few years, so it makes sense, but it’s just not the right time. He tells her that he needs some time and space – that there are things about him that she wouldn’t like if she knew. It’s hilarious as we find out that it’s not at all what Daisy thinks – it’s the opposite. She’s the die-hard Hydra agent and he’s in the resistance!

Daisy takes a minute to check her “e-mail” and track down the others. Lincoln “died during testing” and Simmons is also listed as deceased! What does that mean for Simmons having snuck into the Framework? Daisy is thrilled to see May – but this is not the May we’ve seen develop over the last four years. This is the emotionally cut off, hard ass, cavalry. This May has no interest in what Daisy has been hacking, and clearly just dropping “the Framework” is not going to get through to their friends. May here does not consider Daisy a “friend.”

And then we cut to Simmons clawing her way out of her grave!!! Lucky for her it was pretty shallow. Simmons immediately realizes that she was murdered. And she really didn’t look too healthy! Simmons makes her way out of what was the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy and realizes that S.H.I.E.L.D. fell. Julia (Jade Harlow) stops and picks Simons up. Henstridge sounds like she was sick while filming this – which totally worked for having just crawled out of her grave.

Simmons also starts to get a feel for the Framework and its reality. She is impressed that Julia makes art – her earring. Simmons comments that it’s fascinating – as is Julia having dreams of going to med school. She wants to help people – it’s why she picked Simmons up after all – but this is all more life-like, “real,” than Simmons expected of a simulation – it’s certainly a lot more complex than the one she and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) devised. “So many computational layers.”

The two are stopped at a new Inhuman checkpoint. Julia admits that she was freaked out by them at first – and no freaks out when Simmons says she doesn’t have her ID – she must have lost it. Simmons is impressed that they can test for Inhuman DNA pre-terragenesis. Julia is sure they’ll be arrested – but freaks out even more when Simmons produces a S.H.I.E.L.D. ID. Simmons begs to use Julia’s phone to try to call Daisy, but in the end, has to flee for her life.

Back at the briefing, May fills them in on the latest Inhuman-gene-positive- detainee who has possible subversive contacts. She tells them ominously that the “Doctor” wants this fast-tracked. Naturally, we all thought the Doctor was going to turn out to be Radcliffe (John Hannah), right? So it’s even more stunning when it turns out to be Fitz! Much more about that later…. The current detainee is none other than Vijay Nadeer (Manish Dayal), but he’s using an alias. May sees Daisy perk up and wants to know if she knows him. Daisy says no, but May assigns Daisy and Ward to get answers.

It’s clear that Hydra’s interrogation techniques are extreme. Vijay is clearly the Inhuman who was being beaten in the garage. It’s fun to watch Daisy try to stay at the torture controls and Ward make her take over the questioning. He clearly thinks she is the cruel one – and we learn much later that Ward is the one who gave Vijay his fake credentials. May watches from the observation room and texts Daisy – on her Blackberry! – that she expects more. Even the Blackberry is a nice touch at an alternate reality as they are no longer being made.

The interview continues with Daisy going in directions that Ward is clearly – in hindsight – freaking out over! She draws attention to his Hydra-made ID card – Ward dismisses it as “not possible” – because as we find out HE made it! Daisy also exposes Vijay’s real name! Ward punches Vijay when it looks like Daisy has gotten him to start talking! Daisy thinks he’s just being crazy Ward, but he’s actually protecting himself and the resistance!

Simmons wanders into what looks an awful lot like a Starbucks and realizes she looks terrible. She’s not there for the coffee, however, and quickly sees that there’s not one smartphone in the place. Blackberry’s aren’t smart phones, mildly intelligent, yes, but not smart. Simmons deftly steals the keys to a car and a woman’s overcoat. Unfortunately, she’s stopped before she can get out the door by two Hydra agents, who want to see her ID. She says that she fell while hiking and lost her ID.

The two take her to their car. She gives them her real name and they discover that she’s dead! Henstridge shines as action hero Simmons! She manages to get the gun off one and shoot them both, and then steals their car! Which is a lucky break, giving her access to information on the Hydra system!

Cut to Coulson, lecturing his high school class on politics. Before the Hydra state, people put themselves first, over the state. People had their own truths, their own media , their own agenda. Gee. This felt like it was ripped from the headlines… Coulson says that there were so many untruths about Inhumans that people saw them as magical – like unicorns. Coulson blames everything on May’s saving the Inhuman girl. He credits Hydra with saving everyone – when no one else would tell the truth, Hydra brought law and order – or, you know, a police state….

Coulson has one precocious student – Burnell (Taj Speights) who insists on interjecting that Hydra came from Nazis. Ah… there’s that real world commentary again… Coulson insists that Hydra began centuries ago, so they couldn’t be Nazis – that’s just propaganda. Completely missing that Nazis could be Hydra – and isn’t that the same thing? Coulson suggests that Burnell’s question demonstrates how important it is to separate fact from innuendo… He goes on to say that before the incident there were some 1500 newspapers – and haven’t we just been witnessing a terrible attack on the free press?

Coulson is interrupted by Hydra agents. They are there for Chris Adler (Skyler James Sandak). They need to run some tests on him. Chris and Burnell are clearly friends – and Chris motions for Burnell not to do anything. Most shocking, of course, is that Coulson stops Adler only to send him back for his bag – which the Agents then take. Coulson does nothing to help his student.

Back in the interrogation room, May bursts in – no more games. Vijay recognizes her. Inhumans blame her for what went wrong. May pulls a gun on him and Daisy yells at her to wake up! Which of course has no effect. But she does wake May up that Vijay is valuable. May orders that he be taken to the Doctor for testing – the Doctor will get answers. And then Vijay truly is terrified.

Vijay begs Daisy not to take him to the Doctor – he’ll talk! Daisy tells him to shut up – about that – but he does fill her in on what happened in Bahrain. May didn’t kill the girl and she went on to kill a lot of people at Cambridge – which is clearly the site of a huge incident. It’s the incident that gave Hydra the green light to exterminate Inhumans! Daisy promises to help get him out, but he doesn’t trust her and fakes her out about surveillance cameras and gets away, only to be captured by guards.

Daisy is happy to see Fitz, who disapproves of her losing control of the prisoner. He certainly doesn’t show any signs of recognizing her as more than Agent Skye. I loved the ominous music surrounding him – and his black suit for some reason reminded me of the Nazi doctor in Raiders of the Lost Arc – just me?

Simmons goes to the rendezvous and finds the backdoor switch. She leaves a mark on the bench for Daisy and then uses the Hydra computer in her car to find Coulson. When she gets to him, he has no memory of her. I loved that she went to him. She asks him if he ever had moments where reality isn’t quite right, where his memories don’t quite fit.

She tries to tell him that his mind has been wiped. That he was the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and destroyed Hydra. Coulson thinks it’s a test – or that she’s going to get them both arrested. Henstridge is wonderful in this scene as she gets increasingly distraught over not being able to get through to Coulson. She tells him that he is a teacher, and a leader, and a great man, and he shouldn’t be there!

Simmons realizes that she needs some kind of proof. As Coulson is ushering her out the door, telling her to get help and not to talk about S.H.I.E.L.D., she spots the Hawaiian hula girl – and immediately says T.A.H.I.T.I. – Coulson adorably corrects her saying it’s Hawaiian. She says “It’s a magical place” – he wants to know why she said that – it does mean something! She reminds him that his memory has been rewritten before – and he’s beaten it!! – she tells him, you’re Phil Coulson and you need to remember me! She tells him that all his friends rely on him and this world is a lie!

Simmons agrees to leave, but tells him she’s not giving up on him. She’s found a crack and she’s going to exploit it. But Coulson immediately goes to the phone on the wall to report a subversive.

I loved Simmons finding Burnell tagging her car. When he denies it, she points to the can in his hand, and he points out that that’s how Hydra does it. He also says they deny being Nazis and hauling kids out of school – clearly taking his friend was the last straw for Burnell! Simmons tells him she’s not Hydra. He tells her he want to go to Chris or he’ll get the resistance – first mention! – to come after all of them. Simmons calls him “a rogue piece of code” which is hilarious.

Simmons dials it back and gathers herself. She starts to realize who Coulson is in this reality – and what an uphill battle she has. She tells Burnell that Coulson used to fight Hydra and even trained her well enough to steal the car. She also confirms that Hydra are all Nazis. Telling him the truth, wins Burnell to her side, and he gives her his car because she can’t drive the Hydra-mobile. Unfortunately, she’s spotted by a surveillance drone.

Cut back to Fitz torturing Vijay with a horrible machine that can test their DNA without any dangerous side effects – at least not to him. Daisy points out that it looks like Vijay is being burned! It’s wrong – it’s crimes against humanity wrong. Fitz insists that these are In-humans – so not humanity. He tells her that she’s been a great asset, but not to give her opinion unless he asks for it. So, the question is, what’s happened to Fitz? Was the death of Simmons so traumatic that he became this monster? OR is Fitz the one person in the Framework who is truly able to see it for what it is? He helped to create it and Aida after all. How do we excuse his torturing and killing Inhumans? If he knows that this is not reality, he knows that he’s only torturing code – they aren’t, in fact, real humans!

Fitz asks how things are going with Ward, and Daisy says fine. Before she can say more, May rushes in with a report about a subversive at a school. Phil Coulson – a teacher – called it in. It was a woman with reddish hair and a S.H.I.E.L.D. ID – Daisy asks if they got a name and is dismissed – but she’s heard enough. Fitz puts all assets in the area on it.

Ward stops Daisy on the way out. He tells her that it’s like he woke up to a totally different person. She tells him that she’s pissed that he didn’t want to move in together. He needed space – and now she needs her own. I loved that we got a great shot of evil-Ward head tilt as she stormed off! Great mis-directions all through the episode!

Meanwhile, we see that Coulson has a secret file. Drawings of S.H.I.E.L.D. insignia, his cello-playing girlfriend, a picture of Lola, THAT Tahiti postcard and lines and lines of his writing “it’s a magical place.” There have been cracks!

I loved the Daisy/Simmons reunion at the rendezvous. Simmons is stunned to see that Daisy is Hydra, and Daisy says “I saw that you were dead. Wait! Are you still dead?” Simmons says “NO. I’m feeling much better!” Simmons tells Daisy she was murdered by Hydra – which makes perfect sense as we know Aida had a good reason to want her dead… The two also catch up that Coulson and May are completely different. Simmons wonders why Radcliffe built the Framework this way because he was never into Hydra.

The two are interrupted by the appearance of Ward. He pulls a gun on them and says they need to talk… Ward doesn’t know who Simmons is and wants to know if Simmons is Daisy’s source in the resistance. Simmons is freaked out and wants to know why Ward is even there! Daisy lowers her gun and tells Ward that she’s never betrayed him – meanwhile Hydra Agents are closing in. And then Ward pulls the trigger, killing a Hydra agent and tells them that he does have something to do with the resistance!

Simmons gives Ward her car keys so the three can get away. We get a great car chase. Ward tells Skye that she tested positive for Inhuman DNA – and it’s why he joined the resistance! Daisy is impressed that Ward is the one who got Vijay his card and is the Hydra mole – meanwhile Simmons says, what a surprise! Even in this reality, Ward is the traitor – but in this reality, it’s a good thing!

Ward drives them into an underground parking garage to escape the Doctor’s drones. He tells them to go to Daisy’s apartment. She apologizes for Vijay – she had to give May something and didn’t know it would lead back to him. He asks what her real name is and she tells him – he says, they’ll talk.

May gives Vijay’s card to Fitz and fills him in on what happened at the park – not that they know anything. Fitz is concerned about the mole. He says, you know what my father always said – you have to have trust to be betrayed. And that made me wonder if Mace (Jason O’Mara) was going to turn out to be Fitz’s father – but likely not. Surely, there isn’t a big enough age gap… Fitz tells May to treat the mole like a cancer. May says she’ll cut it out herself – and then Fitz cruelly throws Cambridge in her face. She tells him that the drone footage was sent directly to the Director – by request.

Daisy tells Simmons that Fitz was also brainwashed. Daisy wants to know why create this reality. Simmons says that Radcliffe wanted to take away people’s pain. Daisy suggests that taking Simmons from Fitz is what turned him into a monster. Simmons says this reality lures you in, and Daisy agrees that she couldn’t even believe what she found herself doing. She looked up Lincoln – would she have wanted to stay if she’d found him?

Daisy suggests that they have to get out. Simmons doesn’t want to leave them, but Daisy says they need to talk to Yo-Yo and come back with a game plan. The backdoor doesn’t work, so they know that someone knows they are there and has re-coded their exit!

We cut to a picture of Simmons – that Aida is looking at – and we learn that she’s the Director! Fitz joins her, addressing her formally as Madam. Aida knows there’s a mole. She’s eliminated their escape route and is ready to tighten the noose. She tells Fitz that his work is too important to be distracted by the footage she has of the subversives.

Fitz insists that he won’t stand by and watch the subversives destroy everything that they have built. Fitz insists that he has to protect that – he has to protect HER! And isn’t that what he tried to do before? Is this Aida’s own fantasy? Or is this Fitz’s cover? She tells him that his anger won’t solve it, they need his creativity – and then she pulls him in for a kiss! Yep. That’s Aida’s end game, her happy ending.

In the final scene, Coulson finds Daisy in the backseat of his car. He’s clearly totally freaked out and wants to know if she’s with the other person – and it’s not okay! Daisy tells him that she needs him to remember her. He insists that it’s not real. She begs him to remember her, but he doesn’t. This is another wonderful scene. Daisy tells him that he’s the one she goes to when things get heavy and he’s the closest thing she has to family. She hopes that deep down he feels it too… and then he remembers her name! And the last word is “Daisy.”

I loved this episode from start to finish. I loved how they played with our expectations, and how we got such heartfelt appeals to Coulson from both Simmons and Daisy. De Caestecker was wonderful as Evil-Fitz, but I’m still holding out hope that he’s playing Aida. I’m also loving finally getting the redemption for Ward that I’ve wanted since he first turned traitor. It’s fabulous to have Dalton back in the fold.

What did you think of the episode? Theories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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