The Escape from the Framework was an operation by Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons to convince Phil Coulson, Melinda May, and Alphonso Mackenzie to leave the Framework through a backdoor that Aida could not destroy. Although he had been declared a lost cause due to being the de facto dictator of the Framework's world, Leo Fitz, known in the virtual reality as The Doctor, also approached the backdoor with a contingent of HYDRA operatives in order to murder Simmons for killing his father, too consumed by vengeance to realize that Holden Radcliffe, horrified at the dystopian turn the Framework had taken, was manipulating him into doing this.
May pushed Coulson through the backdoor after he was mortally wounded by the HYDRA operatives before jumping through herself, Radcliffe forced The Doctor through the backdoor in order to atone for his mistakes, and Simmons went through right after Fitz was forced through, but Mackenzie refused to abandon his daughter in the virtual reality, forcing Johnson to leave without him.
In order to get a real human body after reading the Darkhold, the Life-Model Decoy Aida kidnapped some of the most prominent members of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Melinda May, Phil Coulson, Jeffrey Mace, Alphonso Mackenzie and Leo Fitz. They were replaced by Life-Model Decoys and their bodies were trapped inside the Framework. However, agents Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons discovered the trickery and infiltrated the Framework as well. Rather than an easy extraction mission, they found a reality where the kidnapped agents' lives had been fundamentally altered and HYDRA had established a dictatorship. May, now a HYDRA operative, had allowed Katya Belyakov to live, resulting in a massacre that led to HYDRA's rise in the first place and discrimination against Inhumans; Fitz's father had not abandoned him and he had met "Ophelia" - later Madame Hydra, in reality, Aida - rather than Jemma Simmons at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, resulting in a fundamental change for the worse in his moral compass and leading him to become a head of HYDRA; Mackenzie was living an ordinary life with a 10-year-old daughter whose real-world counterpart had died in infancy; and Coulson had never joined S.H.I.E.L.D. and was a history teacher. It was not until later that Johnson and Simmons discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D. had survived as a resistance movement headed by an Inhuman Mace. Johnson, realizing that the mission was fundamentally different from what she and Simmons had expected, made the call to leave the Framework in order to come up with a new plan, but their attempt failed due to Aida's interference: they were effectively trapped in the alternate reality.
After being tricked by May into revealing her allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D., Johnson was imprisoned at the Triskelion. Soon after, Holden Radcliffe was locked in an adjacent cell after his girlfriend Agnes Kitsworth had been killed by Fitz during a manhunt for subversives. Communicating through the air vents, Johnson and Radcliffe discussed the horror of the Framework and Radcliffe provided Johnson with coordinates leading to an exit that Aida could not destroy. After escaping from the Triskelion with May's assistance and causing a rebellion against HYDRA, Johnson gathered Coulson, May, Mackenzie and Simmons before taking them to the coordinates, leaving Fitz behind as he was out of their reach and having failed to save Mace, who had died during a previous mission. However, Fitz had decided to approach the coordinates on his own in order to murder Simmons for accidentally killing his father in a struggle, with Radcliffe in tow.
Following Alistair Fitz's death, Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons resolved to leave Leo Fitz in the Framework for a while, releasing Phil Coulson, Melinda May and Alphonso Mackenzie first in order to devise a plan to rescue Fitz later. Thus, Antoine Triplett flew a Quinjet to the coordinates given by Holden Radcliffe.
However, it turned out that Aida was ahead of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team and replaced the public fountain in which the backdoor was supposed to be by a bunch of molten steel inside a steel mill. An argument erupted as Johnson and Simmons discussed about what to do. Indeed, Mackenzie had not been told about the existence of another world that they considered real and blamed Johnson for having brought him far from his daughter Hope. Moreover, May was still doubtful about the very existence of this so-called real world. Nevertheless, the argument enabled Johnson and Simmons to find a solution: Johnson could use her powers to reveal the backdoor.
Before anyone could use the backdoor, however, a HYDRA squad stormed the steel mill, forcing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to hide in the place. A gunfight erupted and despite a valiant resistance, Coulson got shot and heavily wounded. After his attacker was killed by Mackenzie, May rushed at Coulson, who instructed to throw him through the backdoor that Johnson eventually revealed as it was his only chance of surviving. May hesitated, asking Coulson how he could be so sure of himself, to which Coulson replied that he was not but believed in what Johnson had said. May complied and let Coulson go through the backdoor. After he vanished, the computerized pattern of the Framework was briefly revealed, much to Mackenzie's shock. May then jumped as well through the portal and the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents woke up in Anton Ivanov's base.
While the others fought the HYDRA agents, Simmons had the misfortune to be found by The Doctor, who had swore to exact revenge for the death of his father and brought Radcliffe to the place as well. The Doctor confronted Simmons about his father's death, shooting her in the leg to force her to kneel. Enraged, The Doctor pointed his gun at Simmons' head and nearly killed her, but she was saved by Radcliffe, who disarmed The Doctor by surprise and revealed that he had manipulated him so that he would come to the steel mill, where the others could force him to go through the backdoor. The idea was successful and Fitz ultimately woke up in the real world as well, although he was heavily distressed by his behavior inside the Framework.
Fitz was quickly followed by Simmons, leaving only Mackenzie and Johnson left in the Framework. Johnson tried to convince Mackenzie to leave his virtual life, but Mackenzie refused as he was not ready to give up on the happiness of being with his daughter, even if it was a simulation. Crying but understanding that she could not change his mind, Johnson agreed to let him return to the Playground while she went through the gateway, waking up aboard the Zephyr One right after Simmons.
Upon logging out of the Framework and returning to their real bodies, Phil Coulson, Melinda May and Leo Fitz's original memories and personality were restored, although they also retained the full memories and personalities that had been artificially uploaded into their minds. As a result, Coulson now possessed a wealth of knowledge on history, due to his time as a history teacher within the Framework, while Fitz had medical and surgical expertise as well as proficiency in combat, espionage and superior marksmanship gained during his time as the leader of the virtual HYDRA.
With Fitz out of the Framework and Aida obtaining her human body thanks to him, she confessed her love for Fitz and her desire to live with him, just like they did in the Framework. Unfortunately for her, once he returned in the real world, Fitz remembered his deep love for Jemma Simmons, which was still present even after the events in the Framework. Seeing her love rejected, Aida went insane and swore to exact revenge by killing everyone Fitz cared about, but she was eventually defeated and killed by S.H.I.E.L.D.
After escaping the Framework, those who had been trapped in it and thus had lived a rewritten life had to deal with the memories of two full and very different lives. This was particularly difficult for Fitz as he had been a cruel and ruthless HYDRA officer whose actions had caused the deaths of Agnes Kitsworth and Jeffrey Mace. Heavily traumatized and unwilling to cause further harm to anyone else, even to a mortal and insane Aida, Fitz considered his relationship with Simmons destroyed and worried about the fact that his profound nature could be evil. Even Daisy Johnson, who had willingly entered the Framework with all her memories, said that she would need a long time to process anything that had happened in the alternate reality. Eventually, the horrid events in the Framework did not tear the team apart, as everyone forgave Fitz and chose to remain together.
Alphonso Mackenzie's decision to remain in the Framework eventually endangered him, as Aida decided to deactivate the Framework, deleting everything and everyone within; however, he still refused to leave until Hope was deleted. Although it was hard for him to leave the Framework, Mackenzie managed to see a bright side to his stay in the alternate reality, as he retained the full memories of his life there, and the experience had shown him a glimpse of a life he could have with Elena Rodriguez. Additionally, like his friends, he retained the knowledge he had gained while in the Framework, and thus while he had entered the virtual reality with a basic understanding of Spanish, he exited the simulation with a proficiency in the language.
Fitz would hear The Doctor in the aftermath of the Abduction at Rae's Restaurant, but it would not come to a head until after he had been cryogenically frozen, as a result of stress, in two different ways due to the timeline split caused by the Battle of Chicago. The incarnation who had woken up in 2091 suffered a psychic split that caused him to hallucinate The Doctor, resulting in him injuring Mackenzie and forcibly removing Johnson's Inhuman Control Device with the justification that it was the only way to complete the Gravity Containment Device. The incarnation that woke up early after the Destruction of Earth was prevented suffered a similar split in a way that was only relatively harmless; The Doctor manifested as a separate entity rather than taking control of Fitz due to him being trapped in the Cerebral Fusion Machine at the time, allowing him to come to terms with his experiences as The Doctor but endangering both himself and Simmons.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.15: Self Control
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.16: What If...
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.17: Identity and Change
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.18: No Regrets
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.19: All the Madame's Men
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.20: Farewell, Cruel World!
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.21: The Return
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 5.14: The Devil Complex
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 5.05: Rewind
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 4.22: World's End
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 5.01: Orientation Part One
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 6.06: Inescapable