You can thank The Matrix for making death possible in fake, simulated realities. In this week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., titled “No Regrets,” one of the ensemble’s strongest and arguably its most interesting character sacrificed himself in AIDA’s virtual reality. It’s a devastating loss not only because of how dimensional and fleshed-out he had become in such a short time, but because he didn’t have to be this selfless — but he believed he should.
Spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. below.
As Daisy (Chloe Bennet) remains under Hydra custody, the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. — plus Mack (Henry Simmons), who still isn’t aware of the truth and loves his fake daughter — plan to break her out. Eventually, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Jeffrey Mace (Jason O’Mara), aka the Patriot, sneak into a Hydra “correctional facility” (a prison camp), and in the process, Coulson unexpectedly reunites with Trip (B.J. Britt). Trip wasn’t killed in this reality and is still the same, loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as he was in his real life, right down to his grandfather’s history as a Howling Commando.
But where S.H.I.E.L.D. giveth, S.H.I.E.L.D. taketh away. Jemma (Elisabeth Henstridge) informed Mace and Ward (Brett Dalton) of the truth — they’re living a lie. But they don’t buy it, at least not completely. Mace assures his life is real, which compels him to sacrifice himself to save a kid when the facility is attacked by a Quinjet controlled by AIDA. Mace absolutely didn’t have to save the kid — as Jemma puts it to Coulson, these people exist as just ones and zeroes who don’t even feel cold or warmth — but the power of AIDA’s reality is so potent it even tricked Mace.
Unlike their real world, Mace was a legit Inhuman in AIDA’s reality, which alludes to what AIDA told Daisy early in the episode: All she did was remove people from their biggest regrets. Was Mace’s regret that he wasn’t a real superhero? If it was, then it really gives meaning to Mace’s meaningless sacrifice.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays on ABC.