Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"No Regrets" On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Means The Ruthless Conflict In The Framework Is Coming To A Head!

The Good: Good performances, Decent direction, Moments of character
The Bad: Ambling plot, Overstated character moments, Emphasis on character cameos.
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. escalates the Framework danger in the average "No Regrets."

As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. works toward its fourth season finale, the Framework storyline is getting necessarily dark. By the point of "No Regrets," viewers are pretty much lost if they have not been keeping up with the show. While the show has become surprisingly engaging, it does appear - despite the rising danger factor - to be going in one of two pretty clear directions. Either Daisy and Simmons are able to find a way out of the Framework and manage to rescue some (or all) of the main cast members who are trapped within (a decent bet could be made that Jason O'Mara's Mace could be killed within the Framework and thus leave his body dead in the real world) or they, too shall be trapped within the Framework and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will end . . . or end until some post-credit scene finds someone like Tony Stark walking up to the plugged-in agents and unplugging them or some such nonsense.

So, with the stakes pretty high already, but a pretty obvious end-point in sight, "No Regrets" begins. "No Regrets" follows on the heels of "Identity And Change" (reviewed here!), which had Daisy and Simmons trying to get to Radcliffe in order to escape the Framework. In the process, they learned that Fitz was pretty much rewritten into a murderous bastard, Mack wanted to join the Resistance with Coulson, Mace and Ward, and Skye was captured by HYDRA, which seems pretty intent on torturing her to death.

Mace and Coulson are preparing an ambush for a HYDRA transport that they hope might have Daisy when they discover that HYDRA is just transporting their victims. With their quest for Daisy coming up short, Mace and Ward debate using more aggressive tactics to get information from Simmons on what is actually going on. May is committed to defeating The Patriot and she enlists the aid of a HYDRA scientist who has a serum intended to give her a limited boost of super strength. Against Coulson's best judgement, Simmons tells Mace and Ward about the real world. Mace rejects her assertions because he can tell Simmons does not actually know him well and he has such strong memories of his recent years (in the Framework).

At HYDRA Headquarters, Fitz continues to torture Daisy, while Madame Hydra prepares Operation Looking Glass. Madame Hydra has an honest discussion with Daisy, where she offers Daisy the chance to properly enter the Framework and have her regret wiped. Madame Hydra wants to know where Daisy is in the physical world, but Daisy rejects her offer. Both Simmons and Fitz - separately - are unsettled, Simmons by seeing how happy Mack is with his daughter, Fitz by a visit from his father. Coulson and Mace head to the HYDRA re-education camp to try to rescue Antoine Tripplet, one of Mace's best agents. Fitz boosts May's strength and sets her off against Mace. But when Coulson becomes distracted by his former students are being kept by HYDRA, the conflict takes a very different turn.

"No Regrets" finally brings Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. back to May, who has been vastly underused in the fourth season of the show. The world of the Framework was essentially created around her core regret and "No Regrets" is, arguably, named for her personality within the Framework. Lacking the regret that gave her some compassion and perspective, May is absolutely ruthless.

Balancing May's story is Simmons continuing to grow as a character. Shocked by witnessing Fitz murder, Simmons struggles to convince others of the truth about the Framework. Unable to convince Mace and Ward, Simmons is given a subtle moral dilemma when she sees Mack. Elizabeth Henstridge does an excellent job with expressing with her eyes the internal conflict in Simmons on whether or not to tell Mack the truth or let him live happy. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. seldom plays subtle, but "No Regrets" manages to do it well in Simmons's arc.

Chloe Bennet also manages to play shock incredibly well as Daisy finds out that Fitz killed Agnes. Bennet, whose birthday is today so "Happy Birthday!," plays Daisy as far more mature than her twenty-five years! Daisy starts looking for the back door out of the Framework and Bennet convinces the viewer of her professionalism and ability in "No Regrets."

While there are some decent performances in "No Regrets," the episode is somewhat aimless on the plot and character fronts. The viewer is treated to seeing how Fitz has been kept in line in his new personality inside the Framework. Unfortunately, seeing it for Fitz is not truly exceptional; we get the concept already, we've seen it with the other characters. Seeing Fitz actually emotionally kept in check by his father does not actually deepen his nefarious character beyond the mad scientist he already was.

"No Regrets" is all over on the plot front as most of the characters are in holding patterns while waiting for the big action and May's inevitable beat-down with Mace. To keep the sense of novelty in the episode, "No Regrets" features guest appearances by multiple characters who have appeared in prior episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. From Kenneth Turgeon, who was a short-lived HYDRA mad scientist, to Fitz's father, the cameos are marginally-entertaining, but do not hold up under much scrutiny. While Triplet might reasonably be a construct from Coulson, Fitz and Mack's memories, Turgeon's presence in the Framework makes no rational sense (he was only encountered by Bobbi Morse and Simmons). Given that the Framework does not draw on Simmons's memories Morse is long-gone, Turgeon could not actually have been constructed (reasonably) within the Framework.

That said, "No Regrets" is not bad, it is just not superlative; it moves the plot toward its obvious conclusion with the sense that the writers had a set number of episodes to fill for the season, more than an organic sense of story flow. The result is a very average episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

For other works involving alternate realities for characters, please visit my reviews of:
"Mirror, Mirror" - Star Trek
"Sleep No More" - Doctor Who
"Welcome To Earth-2" - The Flash

[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 elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a comparative list of how all the shows, episodes and movies in the universe stack up against one another!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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