Agents of SHIELD In The High Castle

Agents of SHIELD has been on fire this fourth season, which I shall SPOIL for you. One of its strengths has been splitting its narrative into discrete yet interlocking thirds to keep the momentum wound tight. I’ve complained that the show feels like the MCU’s redheaded stepchild, but ironically this season may be its strongest for having the least direct interconnectivity with Marvel’s movies. The series has built itself up enough that it can now stand on its own.

Remember when Captain America: The Winter Soldier excitingly set-up HYDRA as a major force of modern day villainy? Then how disappointing, albeit believable, it was that the Avengers flattened them out like tortillas under a steamroller in the prologue to Avengers: Age of Ultron? Then recall how HYDRA’s leftovers were somehow even more pathetic in the third season of Agents of SHIELD? Well the Framework’s VR simulation has HYDRA back to being a formidable foe. Not only is this a clever way to reintroduce HYDRA without rolling back the MCU’s stance that it’s been utterly destroyed for real this time, having them in charge feels eerily topical.  The HYDRA propaganda posters are a nice touch.  I love how the start this arc was named “What If…?” just like the comic series. This is the closest the MCU has come to doing an alternate reality since they’re not ready to dip their toes into an official multiverse like The Flash. It had plenty of callbacks to past seasons including a Bill Paxton tribute. Quit teasing us about Griffin!

Remember when I asked them not to make AIDA evil or seduce Fitz? Well the writers did both! Thankfully it’s executed much more deftly than I’d feared. Then this LMD 3-D prints herself a real human body to acquire free will & unsimulated sensations. She wisely gave herself all the inhuman powers because not only is she Madame HYDRA (unlike AIDA, it’s not actually an acronym), she’s also Super-Adaptoid! After being repressed all season, Mallory Jansen let out all the emotions like a fire hydrant! She honestly deserves an Emmy for doing the most acting!

AIDA as Ophelia as Madame Hydra may be the show’s first costumed supervillain. (That’s kind of sad, albeit less so than giving that honor to Deathlok.) Just like Dr. Strange’s training outfit, her shirt has weird elbow gaps before the cuffs. She even wears a cape in one scene like Veronica Lodge! While far superior to Polaris’s hair in the generic The Gifted, it’s too bad they didn’t dye her hair completely green like Fire Green Fury on Powerless. (Please get Natalie Morales to reprise that role on a CW show!) Sadly the color grading makes her outfit look practically gray most of the time. Of course she’s also not really Viper as Madame Hydra, but she’s closer than The Wolverine’s version. Whatever her name is, she’s one of the most compelling foes in the MCU.

AIDA1.png

Remember, droid isn’t really gender neutral because it’s short for android. Male shouldn’t always be the linguistic default.

Ophelia is disingenuous when she tells Fitz that the Framework being the MCU equivalent of The Man In The High Castle (the man was remorseful Dr. Radcliffe on a secluded isle) isn’t her fault. You can’t make yourself the leader of a fascist dystopia you programmed via sorcery & then disclaim responsibility. It’s especially telling that Ophelia had pre-programmed Quake’s role in The Framework as a HYDRA agent in a relationship with The Worst Ward, whereas Jemmacide Jemma wound up in a mass grave so she wouldn’t have any competition for Fitz.

I love how Jemma has zero patience for pretending the Framework-generated simulations are real people. Unlike Marvel Comics, she has no hesitation in calling out Hydra as Nazis. As someone who’d been undercover in their ranks, she is qualified to make this statement. (This approach is much better than last season’s clumsy retcon that HYDRA was always an ancient Inhuman worshiping cult that merely co-opted by Nazis.) Jemmacide gets to accidentally kill Fitz’s digitized dastardly dad too.

So I guess we need a digression on the subject of HYDRA, especially because of the Secret Empire crossover event running concurrently. Marvel Comics introduced HYDRA as a stand in for Nazis in a post-WWII sci-fi universe. Its first origin from 1967 is that it was assembled from international Axis war criminals by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. It uses Jim Steranko’s SPECTRE-ish logo so the comics cold still be sold in countries where the Hakenkreuz is prohibited & for merchandising. Regardless of whatever alien-adjacent secret origins were tacked onto it in 2009, its modern day leaders have been  affiliated with the Nazi regime. Even if the “original” HYDRA secret society infiltrated the Nazis to advance its own agenda, Marvel just can’t magically sever HYDRA from its Nazi ties by tossing in a convoluted story blaming aliens.  Claiming the MCU unfairly besmirched the terrorist group’s good name by linking it with Nazis is poppycock! Revisionist Marvel Comics claiming that “real” HYDRA didn’t like Hitler doesn’t change that fact that they’re elitist bastards perpetrating atrocities inspired by Social Darwinism to conquer the world. Way to keep the moral high-ground, HYDRA! While nobody can actually be a genuine Nazi anymore because Germany’s Nazi government has been overthrown along with Mussolini’s Italy & Hirohoto’s Japan, it’s a distinction without a difference. HYDRA are still totalitarian fascists with similar iconography that support ethnic cleansing among other human rights violations. When Marvel Comics says Captain America is just HYDRA not a Nazi, it sounds like semantic nitpicking at best & Nazi apologism at worst.

Time dilation means Quake & Jemma spent ten real life days in The Framework when they only experience about three? I liked how Ophelia moved the Framework’s exit portal inside a vat of molten steel & how Quake was able to get to it via her powers. Quake could’ve just told Mack his daughter was fine, but she had to insist on honesty for maximum drama! She didn’t want to save his life at the cost of their friendship.  (If someone who doesn’t exist in the real world anymore jumped through the portal without having a body printed, would they have wound up inside Mack’s body by default?) So it’s up to Yo-Yo to rescue him at a most inopportune time.

I’ve critiqued SHIELD in the past for often acting shady, but making them the resitance to HYDRA has allowed them to be unambiguously heroic. Phil Coulson’s speech was his most inspiring moment. Although this arc must’ve been plotted out months in advance, its dialogue gets bonus points for the correct usage of “fake news.” Even the Patriot fulfills his redemption arc by going out a big damn hero in the Framework during an inversion of his celebrity-making PR hoax.

This “Agents of HYDRA” arc feels like a better version of Secret Empire with Fitz substituting for Captain America. First off, it’s set up in an alternate reality simulation so there’s no worry that Fitz’s atrocities will irrevocably affect the real (fictional) world & his standing in it. It’s clear that Fitz becoming the top man at HYDRA is due to Ophelia rewriting his memories, whereas the comics are trying to make Captain America’s surprise heel turn seem deeper than mere mind control by confusingly insisting he was always a sleeper agent. (Dollars to doughnuts says that a problem caused by the reality-warping Cosmic Cube will be undone by the Cosmic Cube.) It also doesn’t require you to buy tons of tie-in comics, so the show doesn’t drag on after all the dramatic beats have been mined (much like earlier & shorter Captain America gets brainwashed by Nazis arcs). Wee Scottish cinnamon roll Fitz’s emotional breakdown upon realizing all the horrors he perpetrated in The Framework is more gut-wrenching acting by Iain De Caestecker. He always does great work, so he’s overdue for an Emmy.

This season is a good argument in favor of government funding for science. If SHIELD hadn’t curtailed his work in perfecting LMDs & the Framework, Radcliffe wouldn’t have had to ally with the Watchdogs for protection & financing. Not every mad scientist is wealthy enough to support themselves like Tony Stark. AIDA probably still would’ve been corrupted by the Darkhold, but it would’ve spared SHIELD at least the middle third of this season.

Anton “The Humble Superior”Ivanov was a good supporting villain. The best part was that he was obsessed with Coulson & got an M. Bison speech in return. I suppose he could return since they didn’t find his real brain. There’s speculation that he’s the MCU’s MODOK since he remarked his body was designed only for killing, but I prefer him as Red Guardian. The MCU deserves MODOK in all his macrocephalic glory!

Having learned that it’s okay to wreck robots from TMNT, this season satisfied my lust for gratuitous ultraviolence. AIDA got decapitated twice! Quake broke her spine by blasting her through a window! Ophelia sadistically kills Gemma’s LMD. Coulson slices off the face of one of Ivanov’s LMDs with his hard-light shield! May goes “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on another! (Between this & The 100, it’s not been a great month for Zach McGowan’s characters.) Ophelia gets burnt alive down to cinders!

The finale mostly wrapped everything up, but it wasn’t quite as exhilarating as I’d anticipated. Unfortunately Ghost Rider didn’t fly Lola. May (who’d been replaced for 2/3 of the season) & Coulson still haven’t resolved their romantic tension. What became of Ophelia’s machine was unresolved, but I’m glad the writers resisted the urge to print bodies for The Framework’s Hope, Tripp, Burrows, & Ward. Radcliffe evaporating was the most poignant bit. Agent Piper survived! I’m over the status quo alternating between SHIELD being a public agency or on the lam, but maybe the stinger means they’ve been drafted into SWORD? Or maybe they’re just prisoners of a terrestrial agency that likes space videos on its wall TVs?

I was worried this would be the show’s last hurrah, but it’s been renewed for season five … IN SPACE! (Do not expect any crossovers with Guardians of the Galaxy.) Can it add Darcy Lewis to the cast next season now that 2 Broke Girls has been axed? (Kat Dennings deserves to be more than Thor’s comic relief.) Since Mockingbird’s & Hunter’s spinoff never took off, bring them back too! (This is dependent on The Orville tanking quickly.) Can they revitalize AIM with signature yellow clean-suits? Will they officially introduce the Masters of Evil to the MCU with a team of Graviton, Ivanov, Hellfire, Nitro, Angarr the Screamer, Absorbing Man, Titania, Griffin, & Hellcow? Since five is an odd season, does that mean it’s going to be bland again?

You’ll have some DC TV finale reviews next week!

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10 thoughts on “Agents of SHIELD In The High Castle

  1. Aida did NOT program Daisy/Skye to be in a relationship with Ward – who is BTW clearly NOT the “worst” but a really great guy in the Framework (how you managed to watch the arc and miss that is beyond me, I’m guessing you’re just deciding to ignore it) – nor anything else that happened there, other than “fixing” their “regrets” and afterwards inserting herself as Madame Hydra.* Everything else was a ripple effect. That was made clear a dozen times on the show, and in interviews by Jed Whedon. It’s really frustrating when some fans are so determined to claim otherwise, just because they can’t stand the idea that certain characters and events would turn out completely differently under different circumstances…. WHICH WAS THE WHOLE FREAKING POINT OF THE ENTIRE ARC. And which the show also reiterated, over and over. But go and on and ignore that, too, if you want to think of the Framework as just a video game fanfic written by a robot, which would make it really boring and pointless. (And also wouldn’t make sense, what with the fact that it wouldn’t explain how Aida wasn’t able to control the people in the Framework or stop them from foiling her plans.)

    * Because, you know, she was an LMD and could not do anything she wanted, because she had programming she could only try to find loopholes in (like when she killed Radcliffe).

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    • While testing the Framework on May, we saw AIDA can adjust the parameters of the simulations. While AIDA claims that the Framework is only a cause & effect result of wish granting, this does not mean that this simulation is the only possible outcome of these wishes. She chose a simulation outcome where HYDRA is in charge to grant herself the control she doesn’t have in the real world & full access to studying Inhuman powers. AIDA’s programming does not compel her to be completely honest.
      Because May was granted her simulation wish in advance, the simulation must’ve been altered to erase Coulson from her memories when his wish turned out to be not joining SHIELD. It is possible that without Coulson’s sacrifice to galvanize the Avengers, the Chiatauri invasion would’ve succeeded. Or if the Avengers were successful anyway, wouldn’t they have probabilistically stopped HYDRA’s coup just as they did in the real world? If the Avengers don’t exist in the Framework, then that’s further evidence AIDA significantly changed variables to arrive at the simulation best suited to her.
      Quake & Jemma were supposed to enter the framework together, but AIDA already had a preselected life that Quake popped into. Quake’s driving regret this season has been the death of Lincoln. Instead of bringing Lincoln back to appease her, however, AIDA paired her up with Ward. While Quake would’ve preferred Ward to have been like this in real life, she didn’t feel directly responsible for him being a turncoat. Lincoln had already been harvested for his power in the Framework, showing that AIDA prioritized herself over selfless altruism to the humans plugged into it.
      The fact that AIDA made herself the unrivaled head of HYDRA shows that she has significantly tampered with the probabilities of this scenario. If we were to believe otherwise, HYDRA would be run by an existing leader like Pierce, Strucker, Whitehall, Malick, Garrett, or Zola. Furthermore, AIDA as Ophelia has completely replaced Jemma in Fitz’s life & memories. He doesn’t even recall meeting Jemma at the academy. Instead of being slotted into a corrected regret upon entering the Framework, Jemma ends up in a shallow grave so AIDA. AIDA is clearly letting her own desires influence how the simulation plays out. Despite her contrary statements, AIDA cannot be trusted to run the Framework objectively since she has inserted herself as the participant with the most privilege.

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      • That’s interesting fanon, but has nothing to do with what is actually in the show.

        There’s absolutely NOTHING in the show to suggest that there were more than one outcome from a certain change – and why would there be? That’s not how the butterfly effect works. The show was really clear, over and over, that the story about the Framework was all about how just ONE change, one event, one person, one sentence can change your entire life and the kind of person you become (which they even spelled out via Radcliffe. No, I’m not saying that everything a character says must be true, but in this case it was clear that speech was the mission statement and meant to be taken as true – especially as the events on screen confirmed his words, and the episode in question in particular showed that with Fitz and his father). It was also reiterated, multiple times, that the only changes made – other than Aida inserting herself into the Framework as well and meeting Fitz – were to fix the “biggest regrets” of the people Radcliffe and Aida plugged into the Framework, after scanning their brains – and it was even made clear exactly what those changes were:

        May – that she didn’t get to save the little Inhuman girl
        Coulson – joining SHIELD instead of living a normal life as a civilian
        Mace – not actually being an Inhuman
        Mack – his daughter’s death
        Fitz – not father abandoning him at age 10 and not having a close and supporting relationship with him

        And if what was actually on screen is not enough, Jed Whedon confirmed that in interviews:

        “Speaking of that, can you clarify the parameters of the Framework? Is it really an ideal world, as Aida and Radcliffe seem to think?

        Yeah, I think that Radcliffe and Aida set out to duplicate the world, and with some of the info that Aida got from the Darkhold, they were able to do that. Now, the one change that they made was they plugged I think five people into it and repaired one regret for each of them, and that seems to have had a little bit of a ripple effect. We’ll get to learn more about the nature of that reality, but they were setting out to make our world. And it just seems when you change something, there’s a little bit of a butterfly effect.

        So putting Jemma aside, who is decidedly her own case as she is apparently dead, which character’s new life do you think will be most surprising to fans?

        Well, that’s a little bit of a wait and see question. But one thing I can say is that the themes we’re exploring are sort of, are you different if you’re in a different situation? Or are you inherently the same person? Obviously, we see May standing without much fear in a Hydra building, seemingly like she’s on top of the world. And so the question is, is she still her? Or have her new experiences changed her enough to be someone else?”

        (…)

        Okay, cool! So in terms of Ward, you definitely know how to keep the fandom churning! Is there a possibility that he will show up beyond the alternate universe, or is his role strictly in imaginary land?

        Well, we’ll have to wait and see. But right now, there’s only five people in the Framework who actually have bodies in our world. [Ward] is a simulation, but he’s a simulation of exactly who he was. As Yo-Yo says, how do you populate a whole world? And Daisy very conveniently answers, “With the Darkhold.” It’s sort of our catch-all/fix-all solve this year, the Darkhold. It gave them this ability to sort of duplicate our world, so he is Grant Ward as we knew him.

        Now, the world is different around him, and so whether or not he reacted the same to the changes in the world, we’ll see”

        http://www.hypable.com/agents-of-shield-4×15-jed-whedon-interview/

        “Ward is a character who had a lot of different sides to him. Since he’s dead, we know that Aida didn’t brain scan him into the Framework. What is Aida basing her version of Ward on and how similar is this Ward to the one we knew before?

        JW: Well, I think that the Darkhold has somehow given her the ability to duplicate our world. That’s the good thing about moving into the Doctor Strange realm of “science we don’t yet understand” being basically magic, is that we have a magic book right now that somehow gave them the ability to duplicate our world and populate it. I think that everybody who’s in the world is just as they would’ve been in our world. Now, that doesn’t mean that circumstances haven’t changed because, as we know, they repaired a little bit. They tried to change just one little thing for each of our people and there seems to have been a ripple effect. How he reacts to this new environment and how empowered he feels by it and how dangerous he is is a question you’ll have to wait to get the answer to.”

        http://comicbook.com/marvel/2017/02/23/agents-of-shield-jed-whedon-grant-ward-hydra-interview/

        Everything in the Framework can be explained, pretty easily in most cases, as the consequence of these changes. They did not have to explain every single thing – such as, what happened to the Avengers. I can easily extrapolate that: if Hydra gained power in 2008 or shortly after (since 2008 was when the Bahrain incident happened), then the Avengers most definitely did not assemble, because who would be assembling them? Hydra? The lack of SHIELD and Hydra’s rule would therefore change the entire history of the MCU starting with 2008 (so, none of the movies’ plots would happen, and none of the AoS’ real world plots, naturally). Cap is either still frozen, or Hydra killed him in his sleep, because why would they want to awaken him? Bruce Banner is likely not living in USA. Natasha and Clint were SHIELD agents, so either they were killed, they went into hiding and joined the Resistance, emigrated, or are working for Hydra (and since we hear nothing of them, I’m going with, they are either dead or outside of USA). Thor is either in Asgard, or got killed when on Earth – in any case, the events of the Thor movie never happened that way. Tony Stark, if he didn’t lose to Stane without Coulson’s help, may have been assassinated as part of the Project Insight. We know he was one of the targets of Project Insight in the real world, and it was almost certainly successful in the Framework, since the school where Coulson taught had Alexander Pierce’s name. The Chitauri Invasion also never happened, because in the real world it was triggered by Loki finding out about Fury having the Tesseract. But in the Framework, Fury was probably killed when Hydra came to power (which is 4 years before the events of the first Avengers movie).

        (As for the real world leadership of Hydra: Garrett, Whitehall, Pierce and the Malick family are all mentioned in newsreels etc. as Easter Eggs. Pierce is presumably dead, but is considered a Hydra hero, since the school has his name. Ditto Garrett, and Whitehall is a renowned doctor with a big article in the history book. It would be fun to learn exactly how it all turned out like that, or how the Malicks reacted to this version of Hydra being anti-Inhuman – but with just 5+ episodes about the Framework, it wasn’t necessary.

        Also, Garrett definitely wouldn’t be leading Hydra in present day, because he would have died of his injuries without the formula that brought Coulson back to life. That was the whole point of everything he and Ward did in season 1 – finding a way to keep Garrett alive. Without project TAHITI, which Fury never got to start in the Framework, Garrett would have died from natural causes. Or natural, so to speak.
        And Zola had been dead for years.)

        But other things were actually explained directly in the show – the ways that the lives of characters we know changed. Such as, why Ward’s life was so different: because he didn’t have John Garrett in his life. Instead, it was Victoria Hand who recruited him – not from juvie, as Garrett did in the real world, but when he was already in prison. So, Garrett did not get to him first – and I don’t think we needed an explanation why, that’s easy to imagine: either he died, or was occupied on some mission in another part of the world, or who knows what, but in any case, Coulson and Garrett were colleagues and friends for many years, they went on many missions together in the real world, so there are lots of ways in which Coulson’s absence from SHIELD could and would have changed Garrett’s life. Which, of course, had a ripple effect on Ward’s life. And real world Ward was only ever in Hydra because of Garrett, and didn’t give a damn about Hydra as such, so of course he’d be completely different without him, and without their abusive relationship and his unhealthy dependence on Garrett. Instead, he got recruited by a very different parent figure – and while Hand was no girl scout, but a tough and somewhat ruthless person, she was certainly a SHIELD loyalist, and probably a way better mentor than Garrett, since she was not a selfish narcissist, and would not have dropped Ward off in the wilderness for 6 months, or ordered him to kill his dog, or otherwise groomed him to be completely loyal only to her personally and dependent on her. So it is not surprising that Framework Ward has better ethics and is far healthier emotionally and able to have a healthy relationship.

        It is also not necessary to explain why Trip is alive. Obviously, none of the events of the first 2 seasons of AoS happened in the Framework in the same way. Framework Skye never found her parents, never learned her real name, didn’t know she was an Inhuman, and did not go through Terrigenesis, among other things; Coulson’s team never existed; Trip never went to the alien city and never died. Instead, he’s been working for the Resistance as a double agent in Hydra.

        Similarly, Bakshi is alive, because none of the events that led to his death happened in the Framework. Burrows is also alive for the same reason. The only person who’s alive specifically because it was someone’s wish is Hope.

        “Quake & Jemma were supposed to enter the framework together, but AIDA already had a preselected life that Quake popped into. Quake’s driving regret this season has been the death of Lincoln. Instead of bringing Lincoln back to appease her, however, AIDA paired her up with Ward. While Quake would’ve preferred Ward to have been like this in real life, she didn’t feel directly responsible for him being a turncoat. Lincoln had already been harvested for his power in the Framework, showing that AIDA prioritized herself over selfless altruism to the humans plugged into it.”

        You started off with the wrong premise and then, of course, came to all the wrong conclusions. Why are you talking about Daisy’s regrets, when you know that Daisy hacked into the Framework? There was no “preselected life” waiting for her. Nobody was selecting it. It was made clear that Aida was programmed to only fix ONE REGRET for each of the people she was plugging into the Framework, AFTER SCANNING THEIR BRAINS to find out what it is. She never got to do that for Daisy or Jemma, because they hacked in. Their avatars existed in the Framework for the same reason Ward’s, Trip’s, Bakshi’s or Burrows’ did: because the Framework is a duplicate of the real world, but each change introduced to it leads to ripple effects. Jemma was dead in the Framework because she was in the SHIELD Academy, and got murdered by Hydra in a big mass murder of SHIELD Academy students, which got covered up as a supposed accident (the text said that there was a gas released in the Academy and over 200 people died). Skye’s life in the Framework was the result of other changes. She had NOT had any regrets fixed, no changes were made to her life specifically. Aida was not “pairing” her up with Ward or Lincoln or anyone. (Why would she, anyway? She’s into fanfiction, maybe? What interest would she have to pair her up with Ward, or make Ward a SHIELD/Resistance member and double agent for the Resistance, or revive Trip and make him a double agent for the Resitance, or make that floppy haired boy talk about his hatred of Hydra, etc. etc.? None of this helped her or her goals in any way.)
        Lincoln died because he was a (potential) Inhuman (and didn’t have anyone to forge his DNA results) and was caught and experimented on: the same thing happened to Vijay Nadeer and Gordon (as confirmed by Fitz in 4.22) and almost to Elena.
        Framework Ward and Framework Skye being together was always one of the easiest things to explain. Real world Ward and Skye were definitely super into each other and would have ended up together, too, if Ward hadn’t been a double agent for Hydra and hadn’t betrayed her and Coulson’s team. (They also would have probably hooked up very early if Ward hadn’t been keeping her at arm’s length to be able to focus on his mission, and choosing to sleep with May for tactical reasons instead.) Now, the only thing that would require an explanation is how they met in the first place, and Skye came to work for Hydra – but I don’t think that’s difficult to imagine: she would have still been investigating Hydra, for the same reason she was investigating SHIELD in the real world – to find her parents and her identity, and she could have attracted attention to herself that way, just as she did in the real world. And considering her desire to find a place to belong, and the fact that Hydra must have managed to convince the public for quite some time that they were the good guys trying to keep the world safe (that’s canonically how they got into power in the Framework), I can easily see her joining Hydra.

        It’s the fact that she did not get any of her “regrets” fixed that made it possible for Aida to offer her to bring back Lincoln. She never scanned her brain, so she was making a guess as to what her biggest regret was (anyone, even an android, could have guessed that based on Daisy’s behavior all season), and saying she could still do it, since she never got to do it for her.

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        • Thank you for clarifying when the Cambridge Incident happened. The show didn’t make that clear enough. I now see how the Avengers wouldn’t be around, except maybe Thor. He definitely gets banished to Earth regardless of how the agents’ pasts have been altered. It’s possible that without Coulson he’s not released after attempting to lift Mjolnir, but it’s also possible that Sif & the Warriors free could bust him out later. If that happens, the climax of Thor still happens so Loki still allies with Thanos & the Chiaturi. Or if HYDRA does permanently take out Thor, perhaps King Loki leads an Asgardian invasion of Earth to flex his might. HYDRA would have even less qualms of experimenting with the Tesseract than SHIELD, so Thanos could’ve dispatched his step-daughters or Ronan to fetch it instead. Even if none of those came to pass, Malekith would’ve still gotten the Aether during the Convergence to mess with all reality unopposed. If Project Insight had killed Dr. Strange the universe would’ve also been annexed by Dormammu’s Dark Dimension. Framework probability must be very skewed if there were no alien incursions.

          Unlike everyone else, AIDA had three regrets righted: She was born human, Fitz loved her, & she had authority over others. Unlike May’s, however, they weren’t Monkey’s Paw wishes. Everything worked out exactly to her satisfaction with no downsides until Quake & Simmons hacked into the Framework. While the events in the Framework were consequences of the humans corrected regrets, it doesn’t mean that AIDA didn’t tweak the probability of those consequences supporting her ideal life. It’s very suspicious that all the veteran HYDRA leaders like Strucker & the digitized Zola are absent so that her control is uncontested.

          When Quake & Simmons hacked in, they expected to appear someplace innocuous together. Quake winds up in an apartment with Ward & she works as a HYDRA agent. This is unrelated to whatever her regret is because, as you pointed out, her brain hadn’t been scanned by AIDA. Her mind was just overlaid onto the NPC of her that already existed in the Framework. But if Quake was a hacktivist trying to undermine SHIELD while it was purporting to protect the world in season 1, why wouldn’t HYDRA just put a bullet in her head as a threat to its regime? If Quake’s regret had been that she didn’t get a happy childhood with her parents, would the simulation have rebooted to have her residing in Afterlife? Or would AIDA only fix a regret that didn’t conflict with what she’d already established in the simulation? This goes double for Simmons who was so non-playable she was dead. Would Simmons receive whatever her fondest wish was even if its uncorrupted outcome would break up Fitz & Ophelia?

          Meanwhile I don’t think the butterfly effect is a satisfying explanation for changes that wouldn’t naturally flow from correcting these regrets. Coulson not being a SHIELD agent has no direct bearing on whether Garrett would’ve recruited Ward. (HYDRA seems like it also would’ve been more likely to do unethical lifesaving experiments on him like GH. 325.) Even if Garrett was too busy running Coulson’s assignments to mentor him, as you suggest, Hand recruiting him for SHIELD seems like an even bigger coincidence. Surely the writers could’ve found a reason to make Ward aid the resistance without completely rewriting his history. It just felt like they wanted a legitimately heroic Ward to highlight how topsy-turvy the Framework is no matter how unlikely. Since he wasn’t something Quake wished for or an organic result of others’ wishes, outliers like him make it appear that AIDA is exerting more influence on the simulation than she claims. While indirect changes are possible in the Framework, the odds of all of these occurring as the most likely outcome is very improbable.

          While the showrunners have said the Framework flows entirely form the consequences of fixing regrets, there’s enough incongruities to cast doubt upon how accurate that is. One explanation is that the writers didn’t commit to this concept & bent the rules to write whatever alternate reality amused them within the constraints of the show’s budget. The other option is that AIDA is exerting a much greater influence upon the situation than she (& the writers) admit. I prefer the latter as any logical inconsistencies can be attributed to AIDA rather than a flimsy plot contrivance that collapses when tugged upon. You are free, however, to interpret this arc as you see fit.

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          • I don’t think that Daisy and Simmons ever expected to “appear somewhere innocuous together”. Why would they? It didn’t make sense for them to expect that. They knew that they had avatars in the Framework, and hacked into them. It would actually be an incredible coincidence if they somehow happened to be together – and why would they expect to be somewhere “innocuous” at that exact moment? They had no idea where they would wake up. It could have been worse – as Elena found out when she found herself strapped to a table in a Hydra lab.

            “But if Quake was a hacktivist trying to undermine SHIELD while it was purporting to protect the world in season 1, why wouldn’t HYDRA just put a bullet in her head as a threat to its regime?”

            They recruited her instead. That’s an ever better thing for them, no?

            A better question would be, why did real world Hydra recruit Simmons and especially Bobbi, when they had been loyal SHIELD agents? At least with Simmons, we can say that her immense talents as a scientist trumped her suspicious history (from Hydra’s POV) and lack of evidence of loyalty to Hydra or disloyalty to SHIELD. But Bobbi probably had to do a lot to convince them she was on their side (we never found out what she did – Bakshi alluded to her having done things her SHIELD teammates would shudder at – it had to be more than just giving up a safe house!), when she had never been a Hydra agent before, and they would know that. It’s still incredible that they bought it, even if she had, say, killed some SHIELD agents to prove herself.

            “Meanwhile I don’t think the butterfly effect is a satisfying explanation for changes that wouldn’t naturally flow from correcting these regrets. Coulson not being a SHIELD agent has no direct bearing on whether Garrett would’ve recruited Ward.”

            Why not? There are plenty of ways in which Coulson not being a SHIELD agent could have directly led to Garrett being either dead much earlier, or occupied somewhere else. I don’t think you understand the concept of “butterfly effect”. The whole point is that the slightest change (“butterfly”) has ripple effects and causes all sorts of different changes in the timeline. You may as well say that May saving Katya did not “naturally” or “directly” cause Hydra to come to power, but it did (and in fact, I guessed that soon after 4.15 aired – that May saving Katya led to Katya causing some horrific incident, which in turn led to the fear of Inhumans and Hydra using the situation to convince the public that security trumps freedom and presenting themselves as saviors). There is no mastermind controlling the whole thing, it’s dominoes falling, every choice and every event causing another.

            As Radcliffe pointed out: “One person, one sentence can change our lives completely”. That’s one of the main themes that the Framework storyarc was built around. We see that with all the characters – the way the “fixed regrets” changed their lives, and the world. And in the same episode Radcliffe said that, explaining why Fitz is so different in the Framework, we saw the reason why that was the case: having his father in his life changed everything for Fitz. This is why he was even more changed than the others – because his divergence started much earlier in life, in his formative years (in real life, his father left when he was 10). His upbringing was completely different with him growing up with his abusive father, who taught him toxic masculinity values and continued to exert influence over him right to the present day. The parallel between Framework Fitz and real world Ward was very obvious, with Alistair Fitz teaching Leo things like “there is no room for the luxury of sympathy or womanly sentiment” in a “tough world”, just like Garrett taught Ward that “you can’t get attached to anyone or anything” and that love is “a weakness” you have to fight.

            And on the other hand, as a counterpoint to Fitz, we saw Framework Ward, and they explained the difference in a very simple and logical way: this is Ward without Garrett in his life and without Garrett’s toxic influence, and with someone different as a mentor, who instilled different values in him. And Framework Ward additionally had the desire to protect Skye as a motive for his actions in working for the Resistance (just like, in the real world, he was always motivated by personal reasons – working for Hydra to save Garrett, later trying to “help” Kara in his messed-up way and later get revenge for Kara’s death), Framework Fitz had his love for “Ophelia” as a guiding motivation. There is nothing illogical or contrived about Ward’s story in the Framework – and it is not only emotionally but also thematically relevant, as a counterpoint to Fitz, with both stories illustrating Nature vs Nurture and how upbringing and influence of people in your life can shape a person. The show even made the parallel explicit, with Fitz saying, after Aida told him he was just trying to survive in a tough world and satisfy an overbearing father figure, “just like Ward, I’m just like Ward”. It’s all a part of the “what if” theme of how our lives and our personalities can be shaped and changed due to circumstances, influences and choices that set us on a certain path.

            I don’t understand how you can see that as “flimsy plot contrivance” while arguing that it makes more sense to attribute everything to Aida supposedly changing a whole bunch of things out of her own whim. This would be 1) incredibly lazy writing – explaining everything through “A wizard…eh Aida did it!” “why did this an this happen?” “Oh, well, an evil android did it! For… reasons!” which 2) would have no emotional or thematic significance whatsoever, and of course, 3) it also makes no sense at all. Why would Aida ever decide to make Ward a member of the Resistance/double agent inside of Hydra, working against Hydra (and in a relationship with Skye and trying to protect her)? How could that help her goals? What was in there for her? Why would that even cross her mind?

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            • I’m not saying that the Framework is entirely AIDA’s fanfic. I’m saying that the parts of it directly related to her are. Rewriting the past to be born & as raised a normal child is a huge change. She didn’t just graft herself onto Agnes’s life as she already had a separate existence in the simulation. Furthermore, she somehow managed to have the exact life experiences needed to grow up to the world’s most prominent political leader. AIDA’s exceptional in the real world because she’s an LMD with a magic book, but would she naturally rise to power if she was an ordinary human? I don’t understand why her meeting Fitz at SHIELD Academy would result in him never having met Simmons there. Even if they didn’t become FitzSimmons, surely he’d recognize the other geniuses in his class? Being raised by a chauvinistic yet supportive dad shouldn’t affect his memory.

              So AIDA exerted her influence to steer Ophelia’s destiny to suit her desire, while letting algorithmic causality shape the rest. That’s why Ward is heroic despite it being to her disadvantage. Without Garrett’s influence, however, then is it really likely Ward would’ve joined SHIELD/HYDRA? Victoria Hand being the one to inspire his loyalty to SHIELD seems like too much of a coincidence. The heroic Ward angle work perfect for an inverted morality alternate reality like “Mirror, Mirror,” but otherwise it sticks out.

              Given how anti-authoritarian Quake was in season 1, that attitude would not have improved by living under a dictatorship for years. I don’t see HYDRA recruiting her, even if they sent her to a reeducation camp. More importantly, Ophelia has real world knowledge that Quake is an Inhuman. As the beloved & unquestioned leader of HYDRA, she should’ve had Quake sent straight to Fitz to harvest her powers instead of letting her be a field agent. I’m sure Ward would try to cover for her once her got to know her, but he should’ve never had the opportunity to do so in the first place. This is the biggest plot hole in the arc.

              Your point that Coulson not being an agent could’ve affected the deployment of agents like Garrett got me thinking about the Bahrain incident since Coulson was originally part of that. It’s possible that May might never have gotten that assignment as a result of his absence. Her not being on the mission would be a lateral way to remove May’s guilt over killing Kayla. If so, maybe her replacement also would’ve killed Kayla? I know May does go on the mission & spares Kayla in the Framework before Coulson’s regret was incorporated, but it’s strange that his absence had no ripples on events he was directly involved in.

              There are many alternate scenarios that could ripple out of changing just one element of history. My interpretation of the Framework is that AIDA used the Darkhold & her programming skills to favor possibilities that would have the most benefit to her. By the very act of creating a brand-new life for herself, she also becomes the largest rock in thrown in the causality pond. The ripples of her existence have greater impact, so she already has more advantages than anyone else in the simulation whether she admits so or not.

              I don’t think we’re ever going to be on exactly the same page, but I’m going to bow out of the conversation now. Thank you very much for stopping by to debate.

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              • “As the beloved & unquestioned leader of HYDRA, she should’ve had Quake sent straight to Fitz to harvest her powers instead of letting her be a field agent. I’m sure Ward would try to cover for her once her got to know her, but he should’ve never had the opportunity to do so in the first place. This is the biggest plot hole in the arc.”

                This is not a plot hole. It only seems that way to you because you starting with the premise that Aida/Ophelia could do anything she wanted, and ignoring the basic premise of the Framework arc: that it was built because Radcliffe wanted to build a virtual paradise for people he wanted Aida to plug into it. Aida was an android before episode 2.21 and was limited by her programming, which included the prime directives of protecting the Framework, protecting the people who are plugged into the Framework, fixing “one biggest regret” in their lives, and protecting Radcliffe’s life. Even when she wanted to do something that went against it, she had to find a loophole: like killing Radcliffe’s body and plugging him permanently into the Framework, since he was then still alive in the Framework (when he told her that Framework life is the same as real world life, she felt it gave her the justification to do that). Her programming was to plug Daisy and Jemma into the Framework as well. If she had managed to capture them and scan their brains and plug them into the Framework, she would have did the same for them as the others – fixed one regret and make them forget real life. Doing that, she would have to reset the Framework. The sequence of events would change so Jemma would not be dead, and something else would presumably be fixed too, and Daisy’s life would also be fixed to accommodate her regret. That would have erased the previous lives their avatars had in the earlier version of the Framework (the ones where Jemma was murdered, and Daisy was a Hydra agent in a relationship with Ward, the lives into which they hacked in) and presumably, nothing that happened would have remained in effect. It would therefore be pointless for Ophelia to change reality to have Fitz torture the Skye avatar and extract her Inhuman powers, when this would be undone the moment Aida plugged Daisy into the Framework and reset the reality to create a new life for her (say, one where she is living somewhere happily with Lincoln and neither of them is captured by Hydra).

                As for Bahrain, I don’t see why Coulson not being there would result in May not getting the assignment. She was a prominent and experienced agent in her own right and did not get the assignment because of him. It would be some other agent there instead.

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