Yes, folks – you read that right – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agents of HYDRA as it’s come to be known – that low budget, watered down, but always fun Joss Whedon side-project for his family has become one of TV’s most well-told and compelling shows.

Showrunner Jed Whedon, his wife Maurissa Tancharoen, her brother Kevin et al made a good fist of the first few seasons providing plenty of thrills and spills along the way, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. always remained as guilty pleasure; popcorn TV for kids.

But after the first half of this season saw Ghost Rider come (and go because the CGI was too expensive for 22 episodes) the second half of season four has upped its game to become not only the show’s best ever story arc, but one which demonstrates several of the most important storytelling elements in existenZ.

Taking place in a digital hologram, made possible with spiritual science from the Darkhold and via the domain of Doctor Strange, Season 4b has become part Matrix, part Lost and part Marvel “What If” comic book or more so The Man in the High Castle. 

In this other dimension, Hydra rules with an iron fist because Doctor Holden Radcliffe’s android, Aida has imprisoned our heroes and created a Matrix-style digital dimension called The Framework where (despite being zeroes and ones) no-one has any regrets.

Agents of HYDRA framework

Not only does this sound great but it’s also straight out of the flash-sideways world of Lost. How so? Well, everyone from S.H.I.E.L.D. past and present, dead or alive keep being reunited as alternative versions of themselves and in a world where “One sentence like I love you” can change who you become so… there’s a very Lost-like sense of waking up and not being able to escape fate.

Just like Jack Shephard had a son in the afterlife, Mack’s daughter never died, Melinda May never killed that little girl in Bahrain, Fitz’s father never became an abusive drunk and Phil Coulson never joined up so became a high school history teacher, just like alt-Benjamin Linus.

Grant Ward is now on his third, fourth or maybe even fifth incarnation. First, he was good guy Grant Ward. Then he was double-crossing Hydra agent Grant Ward and then he was possessed-by-death-itself, evil Grant Ward.

Agents of HYDRA

Here, in The Framework, he started off as Skye’s boyfriend and a real Hydra agent but was revealed to be resistance fighter so I make that five versions. Even though he seems pure as the driven snow, half the team can’t even look at him. It’s very difficult to keep flipping that on its head, keep it fresh and not descend into parody. And they do it with aplomb.

Skye and Jemma are the only two to have crossed over from our real world and have Charlie and Desmond’s role to slowly wake everyone up. Kinda.

So there we go, not only does The Framework demonstrate the-several-thousand-year-old adage that life is an illusion, but also an emotional message – it is regret that makes us who we are. For without it, The Nazi’s win the war, Agents of HYDRA rule and fascism prevails.

In this digital facsimile, Aida makes a good, if underused Madame Hydra, though I admit to cheering when Skye quake-forced her out of a seventieth floor Triskellion window, breaking her back!

Madame Hydra’s lover, Fitz is a Nazi science experimenter and now in charge of Hydra. In another reality is an illusion ref, he’s under some kind of daddy-issue brainwashing spell. Melinda was HYDRA’s next in line until she woke up and switched sides to the resistance.

And here, in this alt-world just as “President” Trump took power, Agents of HYDRA. has grown into an adult show with a political message; even having a Homeland-like Brett O’Keefe slash Alex Jones (Infowars) newscaster puppet in the form of Sunil Bakshi spewing right wing propaganda and whipping up inhuman-hate (read race-hate – the X-Men; Marvel’s original Inhumans was first published in the 1960’s and a metaphor for civil liberties) through lies, false flag operations and fake news.

Phil Coulson wins the Internet with the peach of a line “We’re smart enough to know when we’re being fed alternative facts.”

Agents of HYDRA Coulson

I just wonder if we’ll be seeing this scene from any Agents of HYDRA as they wake up

The Agents of HYDRA story arc is the most interesting this show has ever offered, it has everything that I love – which, of course, is all connected. The Hindu idea that reality is an illusion. A cosmic sense of inescapable fate and a sock-it-to-The-Man message.

What more could you ever want from a watered-down, low budget spin-off… ya know; for kids?

The bad news is there are only three more episodes of the season, but I’m sure the writers will get a few more anti-Trump digs-to-the-ribs in before they all go on strike and this weekend’s HYDRA government shut-down!

Hail Hydra!