TV Show Review

TV Review: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 4, Episode 16: What If… [ABC]

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What If...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: What If… Review

ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 4, episode 16, ‘What If… ,’ was a good question, with a good answer. Between the surreal nature of the material, and the fantasy-within-a-fantasy aspect of its source material, I’ve decided touse poster illustrations for these episodes – as an ode to that source material. Don’t let that distract you, though – the good answer, to the good question, was a better question; so I’m going to need you to follow me around this one.

Actually, I might need you to follow me around the whole arc, come to think of it.

The titular question served as a domino effect trigger point, that took the footing out from under various characters; the answer was where they respectively landed. Arguably, some, like Coulson (Clark Gregg), may have been better off, in their own right; but none of it was right, of course – making the answer the bigger question, for its would-be rectifiers.

In Daisy’s (Chloe Bennet) case, waking her work family, from the Sleep of Reason, meant waking to nightmare of her own. Of course, some would regard the return of Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) – as established boyfriend to ‘Skye’ – as wish-fulfillment. I suppose it was only fair that if Daisy had to deal with Ward, again, the rest of us had to deal with Skyward shippers getting back on the boards.

Now, as much as I’ve railed on Ward (and his apologist fans), over the years, I’ve always maintained some appreciation for his humorous edge (once he got out of his regulation stiff-suit, anyway); so it was good that he was reintroduced with a little fun at Daisy’s expense, over her deer-in-the-headlights introduction to Skyward.

Daisy, on the other hand, should be enough of a secret agent to know you can only afford so many space-out moments, before becoming suspect – especially when living in a HYDRAted Police State. A fact that should’ve been driven home by the Re-made May (Ming-Na Wen), who clearly didn’t suffer space cases.

So should I be giving Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) extra credit – for catching up faster, after waking from a dirt nap – or was it Simmons being Simmons, and Sky being a space cadet? Once Simmons got past the programs-are-people-too aspect (yes, that was another thing the Matrix sequels brought to its mythology), however, she started to apply the same real world preconceptions that Daisy had. Sure, Simmons can’t help but be earnest with the ones she cares about; but she’s done undercover work (within HYDRA, even), and should’ve known better than to brute-force her way into Flip Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) subconscious.

I mean, it worked, sure, but it was still a heavy-handed & emotional approach, for a scientist with some idea how the sausage was made.

Faux Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), on the other hand, was a good example of what the scientific can get done with sentiment out of the equation. Typically, that’s a lot of bad, for the greater good. Of course, the whole point of the Framework exercise is to steer its subjects into a direction they then barrel down, themselves. In Faux Fitz’s case, it was “release your anger;” but since the last guy sent his enabler plummeting down a shaft, the idea was to have Faux Fitz run cold, rather than hot. Keep what happened to that last enabler in mind, though.

The problem with subverting established roles is that it sort of maps out what to expect from known quantities. In other words, the Ward reveal was telegraphed. Took some of the fun of it, for me; but I can appreciate what it must’ve meant to some fans (trying not to imagine the squeals, though). It also made for one tragic thought: it’s worth mentioning that Bill Paxton couldn’t reprise his role, as a more noble reason Web Ward went wayward.

It’s likely that the resolution to this Looking Glass trip has been telegraphed as well – what, with Daisy & Simmons having already worked out where all the redirects were made. Not accounting for Aida (Mallory Jansen) providing live support, as a sentient program – that was just careless. So, desperation brought us back to the brute-force sentiment strategy. Did they really think it would be that easy? Oh, wait….

‘What If…’ earned its title, as a tribute to Marvel’s ground-breaking character & mythology subverting concept. A concept that has been somewhat eclipsed by broader DC efforts, like Crisis & Flashpoint Paradox; so I expect some to dismiss the ep, as an attempt to copy DC’s more recent use of the multiverse idea. Read a book, already.

The good answer, to the good question, left us with a better question. We’ve seen just how broken the mold can get; now we’ll be wanting an answer on how to fix it. That’s just good storytelling.

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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