Photo Credit: ABC/Jennifer Clasen

“What If…” Plot Summary:

Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) look for their friends in the Framework, a virtual reality that Aida (Mallory Jansen) has trapped their team in.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally back! While there’s nothing like a good cliffhanger, it’s nice to get some answers. Of course, one of the questions was whether or not the show could successfully follow-up such a monumental episode. Excellence can be hard to sustain.

I wasn’t really expecting S.H.I.E.L.D. to deliver another “Self Control” this week, and it doesn’t. But this is still a strong installment. While giving each hostage his or her own personal virtual life would have made the most sense, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. The episode gives us some clues into why Hydra rules the Framework, but it’s nothing definite. The more we see of Aida, the more we’ll find out.

As “What If…” goes on, it becomes more evident how Hydra could win over the good guys. In addition to planted memories, the Framework provides a narrative where an Inhuman caused a horrifying disaster. It’s quite easy to see the parallels to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. The Framework also gives the occupants things they want, which would make them more susceptible to suggestion. One of these gifts come with a price though, with May (Ming-Na Wen) not killing the Inhuman child in Bahrain leading to the Cambridge catastrophe.

One of the most exciting details going into this episode was Brett Dalton reprising his role of Grant Ward. I mean, technically Ward has been dead since last season and this is a digital version of him, but still. While it’s cool to see him, the twist that he’s working with the Resistance enhances his appearance greatly. It will be fun to see Grant be the hero we thought he was back in the day. I’m just wondering what the purpose of the Resistance is in the Aida’s plans.

If there’s one weak point in this episode, it’s that Daisy continuously forgets to the play the part of Hydra agent. If she’s going to blend in, then she needs to act how Hydra expects Skye to act and remember that the Inhumans in the Framework aren’t real. I’ll chalk it up to her instincts, but this episode would have been a bit better if she wised up after awhile.

It looks like we’ll be seeing what’s left of S.H.I.E.L.D. next week, as well as Radcliffe’s (John Hannah) consciousness. Speaking of consciousness, it makes sense that Tahiti would remain in Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) subconscious, as a result of his resurrection. If our heroes are going to get through to anyone, it should be him.

“What If…” is not another grand slam episode, but it’s at least a triple, maybe even a home run.

RATING: 8 OUT OF 10 (GREAT)

Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., 24: Legacy, and Designated Survivor, among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.

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