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What If… the Agents of SHIELD had never been?

Greetings, fellow Watchers!

The Watcher @ JPLimeProductions.comSince time immemorial (or four television seasons, at least) we have tuned in live, recorded, and observed the events of Earth-199999, watching a dedicated group of crime-fighters come together, fight against the forces of Hydra, and become even more family than team. So it was… in our world.

But there are worlds within worlds, realities which exist side by side with our own, tethered to ours by the thinnest thread of cosmic possibility, diverging from our continuum at critical points–!  And in these other realities, what might have happened on our world is, indeed, what did happen!

Thus it is that we are faced with a question, nearly inconceivable in our world, but entirely possible with the smallest of alterations to the timeline of this reality-

What if our favorite Tuesday night team had not come together?  What If… the Agents of SHIELD had never been?


********SPOILER WARNING********



We good?  Off we go then.




What If… the Agents of SHIELD had never been?

Welcome back, True Believers, as we explore a twisted world not completely dissimilar from our own, that of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Hydra, Season 4 (pod 3).  In the season’s first two semi-seasons we saw a number of elements from Marvel canon converge, including the not-yet-understood magic of the Darkhold, LMD’s and the AIDA storyline (ADAM in the comics), and alternate dimensions/realities as introduced to the MCU by Doctor Strange {actually intro’d by AoS, but let’s not split hairs. –Prof}.

This “pod”, as the broken up season arcs are affectionately called, is crafted like one big issue of a long-standing line of Marvel comic books and a personal favorite of mine, the What If… series.  For those unfamiliar, the What If… comics imagine alternate versions of Marvel comic history by splitting from our reality at very particular moments or actions.  For example, [#1] ‘What If… Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?’ (Sue Storm gets pushed out, ends up with Namor) and [#5] What If… Captain America hadn’t vanished during WWII? (he gets old, passes on the mantel to Bucky Barnes and then Rick Jones).  Each comic is narrated and hypothesized/seen by The Watcher Uatu, a member of an alien race that lives in the Blue Area of Earth’s moon, charged with observing and recording but never interfering with the events of our world.

Below are some other standout editions of the What If…  series:

#2 – What If… The Hulk had the brain of Bruce Banner?

#3 – What If… The Avengers had never been?

#11 – What If… the original Marvel bullpen had become the Fantastic Four?

#46 – What If… Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben had lived? (Aunt May dies instead); #19 – What If… Spider-Man had never become a crime-fighter?; #7 – What If… someone else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider? (3 alternate realities)

Much the same way that AIDA/Ophelia explains to Skye that the Framework is a natural algorithmic progression from single changes that she made to each of their histories, each moment or choice shown by Uatu in What If… follows a similar type of progression to strange and often differently heroic conclusions.

3 What Ifs about Spider-Man @


What If… Agent May didn’t kill the girl in Bahrain?

In a brilliant move of story construction, the AoS showrunners have crafted The Framework to be its own What If…, under the guise of plugging in the main characters, each with a key regret removed from their past, and creating a twisted shared alternate reality.  When looking at the story in hindsight, one can see how far ahead it was seeded through the first two pods, given that putting May into the Framework long before the others means that her change has the most dramatic effect on the simulated reality.

Indeed the What If… concept central to the pod revolves around May and her not killing Katya, the girl in Bahrain.  In the Framework world, this choice leads to the Cambridge Incident, wherein she kills 279 of her fellow SHIELD Academy students and teachers, which becomes the catalyst for an authoritarian takeover by Hydra in the name of national/world security.  Though the changes made to the other characters’ pasts are also of severe consequence, May’s is the most instrumental in the construction of this alternate world.

But Coulson’s decision not to join SHIELD, choosing instead to live a normal life as a school teacher, would seem equally if not more influential towards bringing the individual members of the team together.  Without him would the new Hydra have seen the potential in Skye as a hacker and recruited her as an agent?  How would she come to know Ward, May, and even Fitz, which the Framework Skye clearly does?  Perhaps a better reading would be that yes, it’s tactically possible some of them would have come together under Hydra May, but without Coulson as the voice of their collective heroic conscience they would never be guided by the same sense of purpose.


What If… I didn’t need to kill her?

The sharpest turn of character within the Framework is Fitz, now “The Doctor” ranking as Hydra’s #2.  Unfeeling and sadistic, it’s an awesomely villainous turn no fan could have seen coming, and in “No Regrets” we’re able to more fully see just how complicated the change of character is.  Through the first three episodes it is made intentionally unclear whether the “fixed regret”/central switch for Fitz is ‘What If Fitz had known his father?’ or ‘What If Fitz lost Simmons?’.  In Ep. 4.18, we finally meet Fitz’s “dad”, Alistair Fitz, who serves as a personal advisor to The Doctor.  In their conversation we begin to see cracks in The Doctor’s ice-cold persona, questioning whether his decision to kill Agnes was necessary and justified.  His dad is able to coax him back to believing in his decision and we see with chilling clarity that he is a bot designed to keep Fitz loyal to Madame Hydra:

Fitz: I honestly don’t know what kind of man I’d be without you, Father.

Dad: That’s why I’m here, son.

How will Fitz’ decisions, specifically to kill Agnes and torture his friends, affect him once he’s returned to the real world?


The writers also continue their not-so-subtle political allusions with Fitz this week uttering Mitch McConnell’s “Nevertheless she persisted” line in reference to torturing Skye.  Coulson first sets up the totalitarian environment as he gives his classroom history lesson in Ep 4.16, touching on themes of misinformation and social division around the issue of Inhumans and the fight for control.

“People were divided,” says Coulson, “they had their own truths, their own media, their own agendas… There were so many untruths about Inhumans out there that some people saw them as these heroic magical creatures.”

The Doctor is a key figure in this new world order and continued prods such as his pledge in Ep 4.17 to “Make our society great again” serve as a welcome wink to us fans troubled by the administration of Commander Cheeto.


The writers have also found space amidst the gravity of the Framework for moments of levity, often with a British accent, such as the “It’s Dr.” line, paralleled by Fitz and Simmons in this week’s episode, and originated in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, and this Monty Python-inspired exchange from Ep 4.16:

Skye to Simmons, noting her gray appearance: Wait, are you still dead?

Simmons: No, I’m feeling much better.


What If… Mace was actually an Inhuman known as the Patriot?  What if Hope had lived?

While the changes to May and Fitz had turned them into more evil versions of themselves, not all effects on the Framework residents have been negative in sum. For two of our characters, leaving the Framework and re-entering the real world may have proven to be unwelcome and even painful changes.

Inside the Framework Mack lives happily with his daughter, Hope, the child he lost with his former wife.  It’s a touching moment when he opens up to Yo-Yo about the tragedy in a past episode, adding to Mack’s focus on family that we’d seen with his younger brother.  Even once the group has explained the nature of their reality to him, how will Mack possibly agree to leave Hope?


In the Framework, Director Mace actually becomes the Patriot (rather than just being hinted at), complete with Inhuman abilities and the requisite superfandom from Phil Coulson.  For Mace, AIDA altered his central regret of not having the powers necessary to support his heroics, which he then uses to lead the Resistance.  It’s a turnabout that may have made his return to the real world difficult and/or disappointing.  This, however, was answered this week as the Patriot was given a true hero’s death, one that cleverly mirrored the staged moment from The Vienna Incident, shielding a young boy and then allowing the team to make it out of the building.  In those final moments, as Coulson called him Jeffrey, did Mace remember who he was?


Other thoughts and remaining questions

In what began as a confusing and disparate reality, many questions remain to be answered over the season’s final four episodes.

-Are AIDA and Ophelia somehow separate entities? In this week’s final moments we watch AIDA return to the real world and monitor the bodies plugged into the Framework.  As she approaches Mace, recently killed in the strike ordered by Ophelia Fitz, she seems surprised or confused by his lifeless status before switching him off.  What is the nature of this disconnect between her and the version of herself she created within the Framework?

-What exactly is Project Looking Glass?  Ophelia has described it to Fitz as a weapon to protect against invaders from the Other World; is it meant to close the main characters within the Framework permanently?  Or is it intended, as I believe it is, to transport herself and The Doctor and whomever else they see fit into real world LMD’s, finally achieving her Pinocchio-esque goal of becoming “real” (though admittedly with a world-destroying psychopath bent)?

-THEY BROUGHT BACK TRIP! (#TripLives) AoS-nation collectively cheered as Mace freed him from his cage, but is there any possible path to him returning full-time (i.e., LMD)?  If not, how will this version heroically perish?

-To that end, there’s been a great deal of talk in the rumor mill about bringing someone who exists only in the Framework back to the real world as an LMD, using something similar to the body AIDA created for The Superior.  Chief candidates: Ward, Tripp, Radcliffe.  Will the show’s writers go this route?

-What role will Radcliffe play as the season concludes?  With his pain at the loss of Agnes, the mad scientist has been humanized, leading us to root for the redemption his character certainly needs.  He’s helping Skye to locate the Framework’s back door and he is well aware of AIDA’s terrible grip over the false reality.  What will his final showdown with AIDA look like and will he ultimately sacrifice himself for the good of the team and world?

-Will Ward heroically stay behind to ensure the Framework is destroyed and/or to save Daisy?

-Did May actually snap out of it by watching the Patriot’s sacrifice or is she simply turning against Hydra within the Framework?

-Will Skye’s terrigenesis give her the same powers she has in real life or different ones?

-Simmons was murdered, shot by whom?

-Anybody think that it’s sandwich with a hint of pesto aioli that snaps Fitz back to reality?

Please hit up the comment section below with your thoughts, questions, and theories.  Let me know what turns you think the final four episodes will take, who will and won’t “survive” the Framework, and how the season will conclude.

Agents of Hydra @

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