Agents of SHIELD returned this week with an episode that takes place entirely within the Hydra-dominated simulation in the Framework. And even though everything we see is "fake", it's allowed the show to reflect our world in the way only dystopia can.
This week's episode wasn't exactly subtle in its points, but sometimes subtlety is less important than taking a stand. And, boy, did it.
The Hydra-run world in the Framework is some of the best stuff Agents of SHIELD has ever done, and it's all in the warping of things we know intimately. And even with scenes like Simmons digging herself out of her own grave and Fitz's alternate self being a terrifying boogieman known as "the Doctor", the most chilling scene is actually Mr Coulson's lesson in Hydra-approved history.
It's an unflinching tackling of current events and events in Marvel comics right now. First, Coulson talks about how the world, pre-Hydra takeover, placed the interests of individuals over the state and that it was a "mess". Back then, he says, "They had their own truths, their own media, their own agendas."
It's a situation that sounds awfully familiar. SHIELD's writers lean even harder into current events by reframing Melinda May's infamous Bahrain mission as what gave Hydra its excuse to take over. There was a refugee from Bahrain, explains Coulson. "A girl, sympathetic. Even though SHIELD knew she was Inhuman, they brought her back to the States and put her into a classroom. The rest is history."
"But what inspires me is the way our country reacted, the way we came together. When no one would tell us the truth, Hydra stepped forward. They brought us law and order. Purpose," continues Coulson. "They galvanised us for the good of the state over individual interests."
And that's when one of Coulson's students brings up that Hydra's origins as the scientific arm of Nazi Germany. Coulson's response?
"That's not true. Never say that."
"Anyone who's informed knows that Hydra originated centuries ago. So they couldn't be Nazis. That's just propaganda. But this is good. This shows how important it is to separate fact from innuendo."
The writers aren't pulling any punches here. The proliferation of fake news and attempts to fight it are tied to authoritarianism. The fear of Inhumans was explicitly tied to refugees. And Nazis should be called Nazis.
The issue of fake news was the most nuanced. In just a few words, the show points out that the problem stems from freedom of speech and press. And that, while we'd like objective truths to prevail, you can easily end up with authoritarians abusing the situation to control things.
Agents of SHIELD also wants you to know that when anyone in this show says "Hydra", you should hear "Nazis". While debate rages about that label, Agents of SHIELD's sticking hard to the idea that you can't separate certain ideas and organisations from their origins. Later in the episode, Simmons says, "For the record, Hydra? They're all Nazis. Every last one of them and don't you let anyone forget it."
The show has turned Aida into Madame Hydra, and Hydra is once again the main villain of the series. And with this episode, Agents of SHIELD is making sure we remember that, no matter what euphemisms we may hear — and from the mouths of characters we love — we're dealing with Nazis. And cutting through garbage to the core of things seems to be a theme the show wants its audience to embrace.