“What If…” is episode sixteen of season four of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
After the events of the previous episode, “Self Control”, Aida is now definitely in control. Her two prime directives, to protect the Framework and to protect Radcliffe, had apparently conflicted, as she had determined that Radcliffe was the greatest danger to the Framework. Radcliffe’s statement that, as far as anyone in the Framework was concerned, it was reality helped this – so Aida sliced his wrists (presumably killing him) and stuck him in the Framework, where his mind could live on. Aida also has plans for Ivanov. She has fixed him up and told him that, as he stated, his mind has been left in his head. His head is no longer attached to a body though; instead it’s remotely controlling what is presumably another LMD.
Simmons, Daisy and some other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents escaped from HQ, with the help of Fake May, who blew both herself and Fake Coulson up – her motivations were rather different to the later LMDs. Daisy and Simmons are going into the Framework directly, taking the place of the avatars currently playing them, so that they can find the location of the bodies of the others in the real world and rescue them. Things are rather different inside. May is working for HYDRA, and Fitz looks to be fairly important in the organisation (and has a relationship with someone undisclosed as yet), which appears to be in control. Coulson is a schoolteacher promoting anti-Inhuman propaganda. Mack is a father (in “Wake Up” it was revealed that his child had died). Daisy is possibly also working for HYDRA, and has a boyfriend. Simmons, in the Framework is dead. There are a lot of questions that need answering.
This episode opens with Daisy immediately going to check on her boyfriend, to see if it’s Lincoln (who died in the season three finale “Ascension”). She gets a shock when she finds out that it’s actually Grant Ward. It also seems that she has no powers, and is still called Skye, as is working for HYDRA. The opening logo morphs into Agents of HYDRA.
Daisy/Skye and Ward both head into headquarters; HYDRA is based out of the Triskelion, which has not suffered the damage it had in the real world during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. was revealed. In the building, Daisy finds out Simmons is dead and buried in UK. She bumps into May, but May does not remember her, or her former life, and is both not very nice and extremely high up in HYDRA. Daisy’s first assignment is to interrogate someone she knows is actually Vijay Nadeer, Senator Nadeer’s Inhuman brother.
As bad as Daisy’s introduction to the Framework is, Simmons’ is much worse. She digs herself out of the ground of a mass grave on the site of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, wearing clothes that bear the sign of gunshot wounds, showing that her avatar was murdered. There are checkpoints for Inhumans, as HYDRA has taken control of things, Inhumans are hunted, and everyone needs officially issued ID from HYDRA. All Simmons’ body has is S.H.I.E.L.D. ID, which is really not helpful – S.H.I.E.L.D. has been destroyed by HYDRA.
Some of the history of the world is revealed through Coulson’s teaching, although HYDRA is rewriting history to suit itself. Radcliffe created the Framework to remove peoples’ pain, and May’s pain was the first. Removing what caused this had an appalling knock-on effect, and every new person introduced into the Framework changed things. Although Coulson, May and Fitz – the latter a not very nice person simply referred to as the Doctor, and apparently second in HYDRA – have all had their memories removed. Coulson at least seems to be having glimpses of his real life.
There is a funny moment when Daisy and Simmons finally meet ‘Wait, are you still dead?. ‘No, I’m feeling much better’ and the entire world is given a look that is partly drained of colour, presumably to distinguish it from real life, as the entire episode takes place in the Framework. Daisy and Simmons get a completely unexpected ally.