The Good: Good performances, Fun
The Bad: Telegraphed plot and character twists
The Basics: "What If..." rewrites Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a pretty terrifying way!
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been ramping up surprisingly well, especially considering how rough the beginning of the fourth season of the show was. By the time "What If..." begins, the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally settled on its villain. With all other serious options being eliminated, Aida is now the clear adversary for the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the show is refocused on liberating the protagonists from her grasp in order to thwart the treat represented by the LMDs. With Simmons and Johnson being the only two main characters not trapped unwittingly in the Framework, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. set up the newest episode strongly to be an alternate reality episode.
Teased at the very end of "Self Control" (reviewed here!), "What If..." was established to be an experience of the Agents within the Framework. Dr. Radcliffe, before his unfortunate demise, created a mechanism by which the people trapped within the Framework became less resistant to it by having their greatest regret removed. At the climax of "Self Control," the lives of the people trapped within the Framework were revealed, as well as the status of the two Agents infiltrating the Framework to rescue them. Mack, for example, had his child - who was only mentioned a few episodes ago - still alive, Fitz was married to a mysterious new woman, Simmons was dead and Daisy was in a romantic relationship with Grant Ward!
Daisy is shocked when she is called into work and told to wake her boyfriend and is shocked when she has no powers and her boyfriend is Grant Ward. Heading to the Triskelion together, Daisy and Ward are part of HYDRA's anti-Inhuman initiative. Skye learns that Simmons is dead, right before Simmons crawls out of her own mass grave. Simmons is rescued by a woman who gives her a ride until they run into an anti-Inhuman checkpoint and the woman sees her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge.
Skye is tasked with interrogating an Inhuman at the Triskelion and she recognizes the Inhuman as Vijay Nadeer. When Simmons runs into HYDRA members, she has to go on the run. Simmons tries to explain the real world to Coulson and others who are stuck in the Framework, but she is met only with resistance. Simmons attempts to access Coulson's memories by reminding him of T.A.H.I.T.I., which starts to erode his new programming. When Skye learns of Simmons's location, the two reunite, but they are confronted by Ward . . . who once again shows his true colors!
"What If..." is a fine-enough premise, though it is entirely unsettling that the Framework's world is one dominated by HYDRA where fear and hatred reign. Even more upsetting, though, is the fact that within the Framework Ward is alive, presumably created by the memories of Daisy and May. Strangely, HYDRA does not use lethal weapons in the world of "What If..." On the cool detail front, Simmons is dehydrated when coming out of the mass grave she awoke in and her voice is scratchy in her early scenes.
In "What If..." Phil Coulson is a teacher and in his first scene, Oz Scott's direction is problematic. Coulson is giving a lesson when he is questioned by one of his students. He lays a hand on the student and then the camera angle shifts as he walks back to the front of the class. The reframing is problematic in that it makes it look for several seconds like The Framework has adapted to the disruptive influence and reprogrammed the questioner. Alas, "What If..." is not quite that clever.
The world created in the Framework for "What If..." is the result of a very different outcome to Melinda May's mission to Bahrain and the ripple effect has strange effects, like Leo Fitz being an honest-to-goodness mad scientist working for HYDRA. While it makes sense that May would want to undo that one mistake of hers, the Framework creating a history based beyond that one point quickly undermines the other characters of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to create the alternate universe of the Framework.
That said, the performances in "What If..." are pretty wonderful. Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, and Iain De Caestecker all show off new depths in "What If..." Clark Gregg does fine as the meek, un-commanding version of Coulson, though fans of his have seen that side of him in other works, like The New Adventures Of Old Christine. While the universe of "What If..." might not be overly impressive - any fans of cop and spy shows will figure out the mole within HYDRA easily - the premise is fairly well-executed through the performances and the delight of the character twists. Unlike something like The Flash, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has not over-used the "alternate universe" conceit, so the twists in character and performance work fairly well for the show.
As such, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a decent, if not truly mind-blowing return with "What If..."
For other works involving alternate realities for characters, please visit my reviews of:
"The Inner Light" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Invasion!" - Arrow
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the fourth season here!
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.