The Good: Good performances, Decent plot progression
The Bad: A few predictable reversals, Continues to build toward an unfortunately predictable
The Basics: "Identity And Change" is a good next act for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., even if it is hard to believe the payoff might be worth it.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed to write itself into a corner. As "Identity And Change" begins, the show is teetered on a precipice whereby the show will either move to a predictable season end or write itself out of relevance. The show managed to get there surprisingly organically, but the ambition and order of the plot development of the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Much earlier in the season, Agent Melinda May was taken hostage by Dr. Radcliffe and Aida for use as a guinea pig for his LMD program and the accompanying Framework. As Radcliffe figured out how to keep May content and busy within the Framework, he created different iterations and he realized that maintaining a world filled with conflict was imperative, but that to keep May docile, one deep-seated regret must be undone. All that is sensible, but the result is a bit of a mess.
May's big regret, as revealed in the episode "What If..." (reviewed here!), was in killing the Inhuman child on her infamous mission to Bahrain. Removing that regret reshaped her entire world, so the world inside the Framework has May as a leader within HYDRA, Inhumans on the run and being executed and Aida in command of HYDRA. The thing is, all of the other characters who have since entered the Framework have had to conform to May's dramatically-altered reality, which is a very tough sell. Most of the backstory for characters like Coulson and Fitz would be dramatically altered by suddenly waking up in May's HYDRA-dominated world and it is hard to believe that a single regret could be removed from any of their pasts to make them buy into the Framework. That is the burden going into "Identity And Change." "Identity And Change" picks up moments after the end of "What If. . ." and it finally brings Mack and Mace into the narrative within the Framework.
Daisy informs Coulson about the truth of the Framework moments before Ward calls to let her know that HYDRA agents are headed to pick up Coulson. Daisy rescues Coulson and brings him to Simmons. Elsewhere, Mack and his daughter are building drones and Mack is alarmed when his daughter uses parts from a crashed HYDRA drone. At HYDRA Headquarters, Fitz expresses concern for Ophelia (Aida, the Head Of Hydra) and he learns that Simmons is alive and a subversive and he sets to targeting her. When Coulson and Simmons go in search of the subversives, they end up at the old S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, where Mace is in charge.
Daisy finds Holden Radcliffe within the Framework and Ward, Coulson and Simmons head out to find him. Daisy, in the meantime, is stuck on a HYDRA mission, one that puts her on the course to capture Mack and his daughter. Mack ends up at HYDRA headquarters, where he is interrogated by May. When Simmons confronts Radcliffe, they discover that he is very aware of his place within the Framework and that his escape route from the Framework has probably been compromised. Moments later, Madame Hydra and Fitz arrive and Fitz illustrates just whose side he is on!
"Identity And Change" returns Grant Ward to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a decent and vital way. Brett Dalton was in "What If..." and his part in the episode as Ward was basically setting up his return and the reveal of his usual duplicitous nature. In "Identity And Change," Ward is a vital member of the subversive team and it is enough to remind viewers that there was a time that he was at the core of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Grant Ward within the Framework is efficient and Dalton plays him as unsettled by Simmons acting suspicious of him. Dalton leaps back into the role and makes Ward interesting and fun to watch again.
Henry Simmons gives a great performance as Mack, though it is one of the saddest performances of the series. Simmons has long played Mack as strong and smart and he is usually commanding as Mack. In "Identity And Change," Mack is hamstrung by the presence of his daughter and when Simmons plays Mack begging for his daughter to be set free, it is heartbreaking to watch.
Ming-Na Wen is unfortunately underused in "Identity And Change" and the episode still has not managed to find a way to make Jason O'Mara's Mace interesting. Mallory Jansen continues to shine in the dual roles she plays in "Identity And Change."
"Identity And Change" is decent, but it continues to progress Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the direction that can lead to only one of two places. Either the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents overcome the Framework or they fail and the last echelon of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends up lost forever inside (essentially) The Matrix. "Identity And Change" continues to explore the dark side of The Framework and its direction implies heavily that not everyone will escape the Framework, which could set up a fairly predictable season finale like the third season ender. But, for what it is, "Identity And Change" acts as a fairly decent bridge episode between establishing and escaping the world inside the Framework.
For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a listing of all the episodes and seasons I have reviewed!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.