Agents of SHIELD” returns to the Framework as Daisy and Jemma try to find a way out. They find a new ally in Jeffrey Mace, but Daisy-as-Skye gets pulled for a Hydra mission with May as Jemma, Coulson, and Ward turn to Holden Radcliffe for help.

Mack joins the story

We didn’t get to see much of Mack before now, beyond the fact that his daughter is alive and well in the Framework. Here, we discover just how bright his daughter is, and just how close the two are. We don’t see Hope’s mother, but Hope has lived well beyond her cancer to have a love of technology and mechanics, just like Mack, and even a love for cheesy robot movies.

She’s adorable, and seeing Mack eventually be convinced that this world isn’t real is going to be incredibly painful as a result. Fitz might be in deep with Hydra thanks to Aida’s avatar leading the organization, but it’s Mack who has the most personal stake in the virtual world.

Jeffrey Mace is a hero

We also get a look at just how Jeffrey Mace fits into this world. Since he wanted to be a hero so badly in the real world, he gets to be the leader of the Inhuman resistance in this one. He’s more self-assured and more superhero-like in this world. In fact, he even gets Coulson’s hero worship here, with no hint of Captain America, which is a nice nod since Patriot took up Captain America’s shield for a while in Marvel comics, but it also raises an interesting question: did the Avengers never form? After all, they didn’t have Coulson’s death to bring them together.

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Project Looking Glass

With a nice nod to “Alice in Wonderland,” Madame Hydra, who gets her comic book name Ophelia, reveals that there is another world “over there,” and that Hydra is working on the way to get there. She gives the reason she wants to get to the other world so badly: keeping her and Fitz together so that SHIELD can be defeated. Madame Hydra isn’t just Aida’s avatar but has her agenda. She wants to find a way to bring the Framework versions of themselves into the real world, effectively making Fitz her new Radcliffe and allowing her to stay out of harm’s way.

Those Easter eggs

The Framework is clearly going to be full of things for fans to catch that are nods to the real world of “Agents of SHIELD,” as established in last week’s “What If,” but it’s also got some other fun nods.

The island that Radcliffe is hiding out on, for example, Ogygia, is also the name of the island where Calypso resided in Greek epics. The article that Coulson produces also has some Easter eggs for other SHIELD characters, like Raina, who he cured of Inhuman abilities if we can term that cure.

“For the season, it’s been unusually rainy” is a nod to the old Captain America era password to get into an SSR base as well. Daisy’s elevator fight scene even gives a nod to Captain America in “The Winter Soldier.” We also get more nods to the TAHITI program, Fitz jumping through a hole in the universe for Jemma, Madame Hydra’s comic book outfit, and Ward being a double agent. All of these Easter eggs continue to be embedded into the Framework to show us that bits and pieces of the real world had to bleed through.

The Fitz and Simmons of it all

Fitz finally gets a look at Jemma in a picture from her Academy days, and while he keeps looking as though he can’t place her throughout the episode, his emotions are clouded by the Madame Hydra aspects of his new life, which have neatly slotted into a twisted version of his real-world relationship with Jemma.

Iain de Caestecker has done a fantastic job at playing evil, but this is the episode where glimpses of old Fitz peek through. His expressions when seeing Jemma’s picture, when confronted with a screaming and crying Jemma, return to the same one he’s always fixed her with in times of stress. De Caestecker’s work is masterful.

If Mack’s story is going to break our hearts, Fitz and Simmons might just rip them out.

The verdict and what’s next

Though this feels more like a set-up episode than anything else, there are so many fun nods to earlier seasons and hints for what’s to come that it’s still better than the average episode.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Next week in “No Regrets,” it’s Fitz’s story that takes center stage.