Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Identity and Change”:

I didn’t love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first entry into the Hydra-fied “What If” world, if only for the fact that its artificial nature and rulebook felt like writers having their cake with an alternate reality, without establishing any actual stakes to the different choices and characters populating it (See: LOST’s flash-sideways). It’s a terribly timely vision on its own, to envision Hydra’s America as a police state rounding up “subversives,” but a world “What If” spent more time explaining and adjusting to than saying anything meaningful with its re-imagined cast.

“Identity and Change” still busied itself a bit in that regard – catching us up with Mack, Mace and Radcliffe – but definitely had a better handle on the underlying emotions of this brave new world. We’ve seen Mack’s reluctant-but-brutal heroics for three seasons, and even if the “Framework” felt a bit vague* with the significance of Mack’s daughter, it felt distinctly in line with the character that he’d aid Hydra to protect his child, but ultimately seek to right that wrong by joining Mace’s resistance. For brevity’s sake, Mace is already on the side of the angels, and writers were wise to keep Radcliffe as Radcliffe in order to explain some of Aida’s agenda in remaking the world.

*If you’ll recall, the real “Hope” died after only four days, making Mack’s daughter a projection, rather than memory. That’s where I get a bit fuzzy on this reality; like why Aida can rewrite the world to delete all exits, but still needs Skye to implicate herself before Hydra can arrest her. Shouldn’t Aida just *know* Skye doesn’t belong there, and order her capture? And what significance does killing Agnes have, if the character’s body is already dead in the real world?

And will someone give poor Brett Dalton the new bathroom code?

Still, Radcliffe’s return is where “Identity and Change” does some of its most interesting work; snapping into focus that Aida is now entirely sentient in her role as Madame Hydra. In her eyes, the real world is a “Looking Glass” where she’d been enslaved and humiliated with the initial for “Artificial” at the front of her own name. Mallory Jansen has gotten to play a great many sides to this character in Season 4, and the Madame Hydra personality sees Aida at her most fully realized; towering over her maker, and genuinely concerned with keeping Fitz in her vision of a happy (if totalitarian) existence.

It’s a disturbing notion that Fitz would reciprocate some genuine underlying affection for Aida, to fuel there relationship here, and the fact that he ultimately chooses to side with Hydra and kill Agnes speaks volumes about where the real Fitz’s head is at. That (and Simmons’ subsequent devastation) are the kind of emotional depths this “Framework” reality can plumb, as opposed to something like Ward’s return. At this point, Ward’s presence still feels more like an interest in re-hiring Brett Dalton, than anything that speaks to Skye’s memory of the character.

The only piece of this puzzle still missing is that of May’s utter investment in her role as Hydra muscle – decent foil for Skye though she may be –  and that ultra-bleak ending guarantees Skye and May will be spending more time together in the coming weeks. I still worry about the remainder of Season 4 losing ground for any events in the real world (remember how “The Superior” is a head in a jar now?), but tonight’s Identity and Change” had such a better handle on what this final “pod” can be.


  • More kooky, soap-making, superhero costume-sketching Coulson, please.
  • Did I miss a line explaining the absence of Hope’s mother? Probably for the best to concentrate on establishing one emotional bond, but still.
  • So, is Mace actually an Inhuman in this reality?
  • Moratorium on the phrase “make _______ great again,” now and forever.
  • Are the interrogation rooms themselves not bugged, that May wouldn’t hear Skye going easy on Hope, or confessing to Mack without a hidden microphone in his hands?
  • Mallory Jansen is 27 years old. 27! I’d have believed if you told me she was anywhere from 20-45.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will continue Tuesday, April 18 with “No Regrets,” airing at 10:00 P.M. on ABC.

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