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Recap / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S4 E17 "Identity and Change"

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Daisy and Simmons continue their efforts to recover their friends from the Framework and locate an exit from the virtual world. In the process, they learn more about the Resistance fighting against HYDRA's control.


Tropes in this episode:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: It's discussed in-universe that Coulson's past brainwashing experience with the T.A.H.I.T.I. program is what allowed him to break through his current brainwashing easier than the others, as it appeared to not fully take and led to him being a Conspiracy Theorist who knew things weren't quite right. Although still not 100%, aspects of Coulson's original personality, such as his ability to shoot, begin to manifest themselves as the episode goes on.
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  • Adaptation Species Change: In-Universe. Inside the Framework, Jeffrey Mace actually is an Inhuman, with all the same powers the Patriot serum gave him in the real world, showing that the big regret in his life that the Framework fixed for him was being a Fake Ultimate Hero who lied to everyone.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Jemma is accused as one by Mace after she told Ward that she loves Fitz.
  • Alternate Universe: Once again, it's emphasized that the Framework is an entire world that has grown beyond a mere computer program. Aida has told Fitz about the "other side," a world where "the worst happened" and S.H.I.E.L.D. won, resulting in her being treated like a slave. That's missing quite a few key details, but it's sufficient to convince Fitz that they need to invade that other world to remain free. To that end, Fitz is working on Project Looking Glass. It's also made clear that it's not the result of a simulation, but that Aida herself pushed it in a certain direction.
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  • Bait-and-Switch: It appears Mack and Hope are captured by HYDRA because Hope took a HYDRA drone. It's actually because Aida knows Daisy will sympathize with Mack and believe him if he claims to remember his life, which is used to trick her into admitting she's a traitor.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Inside the Framework, Aida has trapped Radcliffe and Agnes on an isolated island with everything they could ever want, provided they never leave. As he laments to Jemma, you can only do the same thing so many times before it loses its thrill.
  • Berserk Button: Madame Hydra loses her cool with Radcliffe when he calls her Aida, the name she despises now as it denotes her artificiality.
  • Big "NO!": Jemma lets out a heart wrenching one after Fitz shoots Agnes.
  • Blatant Lies: While Madame Hydra poisons Fitz's mind mostly with Exact Words, her claim about Dr. Radcliffe intending to replace her with Agnes is a complete lie.
    Dr. Radcliffe: "That couldn't be further from the truth! [to Fitz] This is Agnes. She's harmless, there's no threat. You have to believe me!"
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  • Blunt "Yes": During The Stinger after Fitz declared that he has ways to make Daisy talk.
    Daisy: Fitz, you don't want to do this.
    Fitz: Yeah, I do.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the season, Fitz mocked the fact that the acronym for Simmons' new job title — Special Assistant to the Director for Science and Technology — could be pronounced "sadist". In the Framework, Fitz has that job, and he's definitely HYDRA's sadist.
  • The Bus Came Back: Agent Burrows, who is killed in "The Patriot", returns as a Framework's virtual character.
  • Call-Back:
    • Coulson's squeeing at the Patriot brings to mind when he did a similar thing at Captain America in The Avengers, which also doubles as Mythology Gag because Jeffrey Mace in the comics is one of many Legacy Characters of Captain America.
    • Not the first time a hero escapes the Triskelion involving Elevator Action Sequence. Unfortunately, this time, the escape attempt fails.
    • One of Hope's favorite movies is Chopping Mall (with Mack fast-forwarding through the gory parts). It was previously mentioned when Mack and Yo-Yo went through all the killer robot movies they knew in "Broken Promises".
  • Child Prodigy: Hope is just as good with machines as her father, with Mack noting that she's smarter than most kids her age.
  • Children Are Innocent: When Mack tries to appeal to May this way, she just coldly blows him off, obviously still feeling guilty about letting Katya live.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Fitz has Radcliffe tortured for what he supposedly did to Aida. Daisy is also subject to a beating after she's exposed as a "subversive" by May.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Coulson is one in the Framework, and only pretends to be the loyal HYDRA apologist to stay under the radar. Some of his theories are correct, but he also believes strange things like HYDRA introducing topical mind control chemicals into most commercial brands of soap, which is why he makes his own.
  • Continuity Nod: Radcliffe instinctively mistakes Ward as Hive before realizing that Ward is Hive's prominent host whom he never met before.
  • Darkest Hour: At the end of the episode, Agnes is Killed Off for Real, Daisy and Radcliffe are under the "loving care" of Fitz, plus Ward and Jeffrey are angry at Simmons for botching their mission.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Mack gives his daughter Hope, who is still alive in this reality, the nickname "Sparkplug," naming her perhaps subconsciously after a man he never met in this reality, Lincoln.
  • Deader Than Dead: Agnes is killed in the Framework, and since her real-world body already died, she's now been Killed Off for Real.
  • Death by Adaptation: The virtual Billy Koenig of the Framework was killed acquiring the location of the Playground for the Resistance.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Aida tells Radcliffe not to call her Aida anymore, as the name is an acronym which denotes her artificiality.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: During her escape from the Triskelion, Daisy ambushes some HYDRA mooks in an elevator. When she reaches the next floor, all four are down.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Radcliffe is pretty upset about what Aida has turned the Framework into and isn't afraid to call her out on it.
    • Mack is disgusted by helping HYDRA trick Daisy, so he turns himself over to S.H.I.E.L.D. to help in any way he can.
  • Evil Is Petty: Killing Agnes is pretty irrelevant to Aida's overall goal and she only had her killed out of spite to Dr. Radcliffe.
  • Exact Words: Aida influences Fitz by the use of carefully phrased explanations that are technically true because of how she worded them. She claims that she comes from another world with different versions of everyone, which is true in the sense that in that world she's trapped the cast and has deliberately altered their fates.
  • First Girl Wins: A gender-bent version: Fitz is the first person we see Aida meet on-screen (and, possibly, the first she met outside her creator), and ends up being her partner in the Framework. Possibly played with even more, it's unclear if she is the original Aida or the second one, and in that case if she retains the memory of the original one or not.
  • Frame-Up: According to Coulson, the Inhuman girl from Bahrain was never supposed to be out in the general population; HYDRA put her at Cambridge knowing it would cause an incident that they could use to take control.
  • Freudian Excuse: May clearly has no soft spots for children after what happened in Bahrain.
    Mack: She's just a kid!
    May: That doesn't mean she's innocent.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end of The Stinger, Fitz is looking at the camera twice. First is when he answers Daisy's "You don't want to do this." with "Yeah, I do.". Second is when he says "I guess you don't know me at all." as Daisy is being dragged away to be tortured.
  • Gilded Cage: Radcliffe's and Agnes' fate is to live on a beautiful island in early retirement. They're forbidden to leave or interact with the outside world.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Played for Laughs when Ward realizes that Daisy has hacked into Madame Hydra's restricted files because "the soap made me do it". Previously, Coulson shares a ridiculous conspiracy theory that HYDRA makes a brainwashing soap.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: As HYDRA's top interrogators, Daisy (as "Skye") and May function as this. Daisy is caring and tries to be as helpful as she can, while May is very aggressive in her tone and boasts about her torture abilities to Daisy.
    May: I haven't broken him, yet.
  • Hope Spot:
    • During Mack's interrogation, Daisy visits him after May talks to him. It looks like he remembers the real world, getting Daisy excited and explaining the urgency to get back to reality. When Mack is unable to remember Yo-Yo, she realizes Mack has been lying to her and he reveals it was a trap set by May (with intel likely fed to her by Aida).
    • In order to get Radcliffe to reveal where subversives are hiding on the island, Fitz pulls a gun and threatens to shoot Agnes. Jemma discourages Ward from taking a shot because Fitz is her love and she knows he is a good man that has been brainwashed by Madame Hydra. Unfortunately, she sees firsthand how different he is in the Framework when he kills Agnes.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Defied by Fitz. All attempts to reach the man he's supposed to be fail; in this world, he's a sadist and there's no talking him out of it. There's a slight chance that Jemma could get through to him, given his lingering look towards her at Radcliffe's island, but she never gets the chance as he's taken away by HYDRA's goons.
  • Idiot Ball: Ward, hidden in the bushes, has a good chance to kill the evil Dr. Fitz with a sniper shot, which leads to a discussion with Jemma (as she is aware that this would kill him in the real world, which Ward doesn't take into account). For this discussion to take place, Ward overlooks his chance to snipe a much better target: Madame Hydra herself!
  • Irony:
    • May sets a trap for Daisy because Aida suspects the real Daisy has taken over her simulated counterpart. Meanwhile, Ward, the actual mole, is allowed to leave. ZigZagged, however, since Daisy has actually taken over her counterpart.
    • In the real world, Fitz was the most accepting of Daisy after she became an Inhuman, while Mack was lightly suspicious because of his experience being mind-controlled by the Kree. In the Framework, Mack tells his daughter that Inhumans are people just like them, while Fitz has full-blown Fantastic Racism.
  • The Leader: Mace is the actual Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in this reality, as opposed to a puppet installed by Talbot and later kept there by Coulson.
  • Like a Son to Me: Dr. Radcliffe says this verbatim in his "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight speech to Fitz. They worked together in the lab and then went out for a pint (or six)!
  • Locked Out of the Loop:
    • Poor Ward is completely confused when Jemma and Radcliffe are talking about the Framework and the Crapsack World inside it. Coulson is partially confused as well, since his memory isn't fully recovered yet.
    • Agnes is apparently totally unaware about the world is taken over by a fascist government. She doesn't even know that her captors are HYDRA. Radcliffe tells Simmons he made her that way so she can live peacefully in the Framework.
  • Loophole Abuse: Noted by Radcliffe when he explains that Aida betrayed and murdered him in the real world despite protocols which should have prevented exactly that. He admits he'd actually be quite impressed by it, if it wasn't accomplished by killing him.
  • Love Makes You Crazy:
    • Fitz's devotion to Aida is clearly driving his worst instincts. He ends up killing Agnes to prove his love, even though Agnes did nothing wrong.
    • Ward has a bit of this as well, it's just that his obsession is driving him away from HYDRA instead of towards it. When he says he would die for Skye, Jemma looks disgusted and has to step away, since she remembers where his love led last time.
  • Missing Mom: Hope's mother is nowhere to be seen or mentioned.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Aida's reason for all her actions is because she felt used by everyone, not being treated like a person but as a thing. She even sounds sincere in her belief when she tells Fitz her skewed account of the real world.
  • Motive Rant: Aida explains that she never felt treated like a person, but always like a thing.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: It's heavily implied Aida engineered Jemma's death to have Fitz to herself, given Fitz had to look through her files to get the truth.
  • Must Make Amends: After helping May entrap Daisy, Mack finds that he can't look his daughter in the eye anymore, and goes over to S.H.I.E.L.D. to set things right.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Fitz calls Aida's avatar "Ophelia". Ophelia Sarkissian was the real name of Viper, the first character to use the Madame Hydra title in the comics.
    • The HYDRA team sent to Mack's home wear green uniforms instead of the usual black, a possible nod to the classic comics outfit.
    • In the Framework, Mace is known as Patriot, his comic book counterpart. And Coulson seems to have the same fanboy glee he has toward Captain America.
  • Never-Forgotten Skill: Coulson subconsciously remembers how to use a gun, which he finds surprising.
  • Never My Fault: Even though Aida is pretty blatantly manipulating the Framework world for her own ends, she insists she isn't responsible for HYDRA's rise because she only did as Radcliffe directed. That the Framework extrapolated HYDRA taking over from that is simply the computer calculating a likely scenario.
  • Oh, Crap!: Radcliffe has a huge one when he sees Ward, convinced he's Hive, but calms down after he's told the truth. Ironically, he doesn't have one when he sees Aida coming, and she ends up being an actual threat to him.
  • Papa Wolf: Coulson instinctively protects Jemma when the firefight ensues, showing that even though he still can't fully remember her, he doesn't lose his paternal instinct.
  • Perma-Stubble: Contrasting clean-shaven Mace in the real world, Mace in the Framework has stubble to show him as a hardened Rebel Leader.
  • Police Brutality: Daisy is beaten by the HYDRA agents after she's cornered during her escape attempt.
  • Reality Ensues: It may seem weird that Coulson previously refused to believe Jemma and then believed Daisy rather easily. But he had plausible reason not to trust Jemma because of her somewhat aggressive You Have to Believe Me! rants and attitudes that only made him agitated/cornered as she asked him to remember many things from his past life in the real world, while Daisy got him to remember with a slow and careful method by doing a variant of Something Only They Would Say (telling Coulson he's like family for her). Even then, Coulson only remembers some fragments of his past life. In real life, most amnesiac people can't be pressured to remember many things at once, and they need time to remember their forgotten past slowly and piece by piece.
  • Sadistic Choice:
    • Mack is forced by May to trick Daisy into revealing herself as subversive to save his daughter.
    • Ward attempts to shoot Fitz when the latter pulls a gun on Agnes, an innocent woman. Jemma convinces Ward not to shoot Fitz by telling him that Fitz is her love. This results in Fitz killing Agnes.
  • Schizo Tech: Expanding from the previous episode, where Jemma noted a lack of smartphones, this episode reveals that HYDRA has labeled modern computer technology as contraband and confiscates it accordingly. Information is the natural enemy of any oppressive regime, after all.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Comic Relief Billy Koenig is dead in the Framework's reality, to show how much of a Crapsack World it really is. There's no mention of the other Koenigs, assuming they exist at all in this reality.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Stealth Pun: Along with Mythology Gag, Aida as Madame Hydra poisons Fitz's mind to ensure he doesn't remember his life with Jemma in the real world, as well as to manipulate him into killing Agnes, her template from the real world. In the comics, Madame Hydra is best known for using poisons, including Poisoned Weapons, as well as having immunity to poisons.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jemma doesn't hide her animosity towards Ward and Ward doesn't trust her.
  • Tranquil Fury: Aida is visibly pissed off when she rails on Radcliffe about using her like a slave, but despite this, she barely raises her voice.
  • Unwitting Pawn: You know Daisy's already one as soon as May told her that Madame Hydra specifically demanded Skye to participate in capturing possible subversives (Mack and Hope). This results in her revealing herself after Mack is forced to trick her into doing so.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Fitz says this to Daisy after she fails to get through to him.
  • Wham Line:
    • In-universe, Jemma's telling Ward that Fitz is her love is this because, as far as Ward knows, he's now with the woman who is in love with his enemy.
    • Aida/Ophelia saying "I love you" to Fitz, indicating her quest to become human has gone up a notch (assuming her feelings are genuine and not manipulation).
    • After Ophelia told Fitz that she and Jemma are from the other world, instead of being skeptical, Fitz responds with "I thought that was impossible."
  • What Is Going On?: Ward doesn't even remotely understand what Jemma and Radcliffe are talking about. Coulson has a better idea, though even he admits he's a little confused by their conversation.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Aida's growing sentience leads her to confront Radcliffe about his treatment of her as an android/gynoid. It goes as her revealing that she now despises the name "Aida", given that it was an acronym for "Artificial Intelligence: Digital Assistant". Not long after, she tells Fitz that she loves him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Mace gives one to Simmons for stopping Ward from killing Fitz, who from his perspective is the sadist who holds the #2 position in HYDRA.
  • Would Hurt a Child: May is clearly not averse to harming Hope, though in the end she doesn't have to.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Dr. Radcliffe while trying to convince Fitz that he's a good man in the other world. He also drops the trope name verbatim while trying to convince Fitz that Madame Hydra was lying about Agnes being her replacement. Fitz doesn't buy any of it and responds by shooting Agnes in cold blood.

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