Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 4, Episode 18, “No Regrets”
There are few people who make it to adulthood that don’t pick up a moment or two that they’d like to take back to alter the course of their lives.
It’s a simple idea, and also, a very powerful one. It’s the same concept that led to Aida’s breakthrough when perfecting the virtual prison/paradise that is The Framework. Find a person’s deepest regret, let them make another choice about it, then let the algorithms take the simulation from there.
There haven’t been a lot of big action sequences while in The Framework, but it’s more than made up for a lack of explosions with some deep character work that has shed new light on beloved characters. For some it works out sweetly, like seeing Mack and his daughter together. For others — Fitz or May — it’s a darker path.
Characters are confronted by their regrets throughout the episode. Madame Hydra offers Daisy the opportunity to live a life of blissful ignorance with Lincoln. May questions her loyalty to HYDRA when she sees kids in “reeducation camps.” Then there’s Fitz, who is only partially motivated to protect Aida. Most of what has made Fitz evil is the relationship with his hardscrabble, authoritarian father he always wished he had.
As an outsider, Simmons is having her own troubles with the Framework. While she tries to keep on mission, she runs into people from her life that have brighter lives (or lives at all in the form of the resurrected Tripp) in the Framework.
One of those people is Mace, who is finally the take-charge, superpowered hero he’s always wanted to be. As much a fraud as he seemed in the real word, Mace naturally takes to being a hero and a leader in the Framework.
In the episode’s pivotal moment, Coulson is making up for a regret by attempting to rescue one of the students snatched from his classroom, while on a second, extraction mission to get the resurrected Tripp and some vital information on a HYDRA superweapon into the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It leads to a showdown between Mace and a juiced up May that Mace wins. When Mace goes to offer aid inside the reeducation building, HYDRA chooses to blow up the building in order to bring Mace down. It’s a strategy that mostly works, Mace does get buried in an avalanche of debris and die (Aida pulling the plug on him in the real world was cold). However, between seeing what HYDRA is doing with children, the “terrorist” Mace saving the lives of the innocent, and Coulson telling her to snap out of it, May once again begins to doubt her surroundings, leading to the episode’s stinger where May evens the odds by having Framework Daisy go through Terregenisis, and giving her powers.
This was an episode of deep thoughts and big shocks. It maintained the story momentum by not dwelling too long on any one character, which kept the audience off-balance in a good way because everyone, Aida included was trying to navigate their way through the chaos of this “perfect” world.