Welcome back, True Believers! When last we left the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., most of the crew had been kidnapped and placed into the “Framework.” The Framework was originally supposed to be used as a training device for the organization, but in the hands of Dr. Radcliffe and the villainous Life Model Decoy, Aida, it’s been turned into something straight out of the Matrix. Now, Daisy and Simmons have jumped into the Framework themselves, only to find their friends living in a world where each has fallen under the sway of Hydra in their own unique ways. Fitz has turned into the Joseph Goebbels of the antagonistic cadre alongside Agent May who acts in the same capacity she did for S.H.I.E.L.D., only now with a penchant for ruthlessly efficient evil. Agent Ward is now back, dating none other than Skye. The pair are also agents of Hydra, hunting for Inhumans. Coulson is a school teacher and as for Simmons, she’s well, dead. Needless to say, it’s an interesting world to delve into and quite the departure from the previous season’s focus on Ghost Rider and LMDs.
Obviously, this episode doesn’t necessarily focus on a ton of character work, but rather on establishing the new world that we find ourselves in. The world according to Hydra is a terrifying one in that it’s very similar to our own. You can still go out and buy a cup of coffee, you can still listen to music and have discussions that challenge authority in the classroom, but a dark cloud hovers silently above the populace. Checkpoints to verify whether drivers are Inhumans, or just enemies of Hydra, children pulled from their classrooms to parts unknown, the general populace moving in lock and step with one another expressing only rage and suspicion as their emotions; it makes for a bleak portrayal of the world when an organization like Hydra calls the shots, and the episode does a good job of giving audiences the lay of the land in the time we have before hitting the throttle with our characters.
Brett Dalton has, of course, found a way back into the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here as an agent of Hydra. Agent Ward is of course dead in the real world, as (formerly) an undercover member of Hydra in the ranks of our heroes, until venturing off on his own and meeting his fate as the alien Hive in Season 3. Here, Skye and Ward are an item on the rocks, with Ward afraid to commit and Skye completely out of sorts as she tries to figure out what the heck is going in on her new world that she’s dropped into. It makes for a fun excursion, with Ward attempting to figure out what is wrong with his beau while being scared by the darkly grim Fitz and May. Ultimately, the best twist of the episode is that Ward is actually a double agent for S.H.I.E.L.D., twisting his allegiances in the exact opposite direction from what is true in reality. It will be interesting to see how/if they continue to incorporate Ward into the mix when it comes to future seasons, if the series is renewed.