Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All the Madame's Men

This week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode continued using the Framework story arc as real-world social commentary. Dialogue about the numbing drip-drip of propaganda, and the use of a television personality to spread what were literally referred to as "alternative facts" were a not-really-coded way of being topical. (And not the first time the world of the Framework has been used in this way, as a cautionary allegory.)

For long time fans of the show, the episode was also a reference-palooza. Second season right-hand man Bakshi returned to play a fascist pawn/newscaster. The news crawl on the bottom of his show was loaded with mentions of Bill Paxton's Garrett, Reed Diamond's Whitehall, and others my memory probably just wasn't strong enough to pick up. When Coulson told his story about turning down S.H.I.E.L.D. recruitment to teach instead (his apparent "one regret" for his life in the Framework), the speech he recounted, about being "part of something bigger," was Nick Fury's recruitment speech.

But it wasn't all about sly in-jokes and continuity. These Framework episodes continue to explore major drama that should weigh heavily on the characters even after they return to their real world. May holds herself responsible (and plausibly so) for the death of Mace, a fact that tortures her now in the dream world and will no doubt do so in the real world. (After Fitz, she's now the second main character to have killed an actual person inside the Framework.) Her need for atonement will be a powerful motivation in the episodes ahead.

Daisy had a great scene with Ward, coming face-to-face with this other, sweeter side of the man either long-forgotten or never-known in the real world. She spoke of how it forced her to rethink what she knew of Ward, and it sounded legit. (More solid acting from Chloe Bennet, her reaction when Coulson steps into the TV studio and delivers a pithy line; it wordlessly proclaimed, "that's the Coulson I know.")

The stakes of the overall plot were defined and escalated too. Aida is looking to shed her android body, in part so she can shed its moral limitations. Besides the jeopardy this adds for the main characters, it puts into play the possibility that she's actually trying to romance the "romantic" Fitz (and not merely using him as a means to an end). It will be interesting to watch that relationship play out.

Also hinted at was an interesting story arc for Radcliffe. He's always been too self-serving at his core to really mesh with the selfless heroes around him. Now that he knows he's dead in the real world (and unable to redefine the conditions of the Framework), he's finally stepped up and behaved more honorably. But now Fitz has threatened to give him "a reason to live." Presumably the same system that will give Aida a real-world human body can be used to save Radcliffe's life? And with a carrot like that carrot dangled in front of him, will Radcliffe revert to form, or finally and truly embrace his inner hero?

I found this episode a touch less compelling that the rest of the Framework arc so far, but only because of the high bar it has set. I give it a B+.

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