It took four years, but I think Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD may have finally achieved near perfection.
For four seasons now, Marvel Studios’ inaugural series has hovered around greatness but never quite achieved that milestone. Think about it, when Agents of SHIELD began, it was a show that continued the story of the likable SHIELD agent dude that Loki killed in The Avengers, and that was pretty much it. People were expecting the ABC actioner to be an extension of the Marvel films, but it soon become apparent that Agents of SHIELD would be movie-adjacent at best.
Since then, Agents of SHIELD has introduced some new concepts into the MCU such as the Inhumans and Ghost Rider while developing HYDRA into a more multi-layered threat. But the series never quite hit that epic apex that the Marvel film releases seem to nail so effortlessly.
Well, tonight it did.
While Agents of SHIELD has always had a difficult time finding its narrative purpose, and it’s even had a more difficult time finding grade A-villains, it never really had a problem introducing enjoyable protagonists. Coulson, May, Fitz, Simmons, and Daisy have grown into beloved Marvel icons thanks to season after season of character-building conflicts. I didn’t really know how much I love these people—no, these heroes—until tonight’s episode. This evening, some of these characters fought for their very lives against LMD doubles of their friends, and this reviewer realized how much he would miss these characters if they were lost in this battle.
Last week, it seemed like Coulson, Mace, Mack, and Daisy were replaced by LMD duplicates. Well, it turns out that this episode still had some cards left to play. For instance, it wasn’t Daisy that was replaced by AIDA and Radcliffe. I overlooked it last week, but how was AIDA going to replicate Daisy’s Inhuman Quake powers? Answer: she wasn’t, but there was still four LMDs inside SHIELD, and this is where things got tense.
Daisy is not an LMD, but there are four remaining LMD infiltrators. Last week, it looked like Fitz and Simmons would have to fight for their lives against the LMDs. That statement would be half-right, because it was Simmons alone that would have to do battle with her friends’ android doppelgangers because it is revealed that Fitz is an LMD!
This is where the hour packs a potent punch. Since the first season of the series, it really has been Fitz and Simmons that have been the beating heart of Agents of SHIELD. The two have fought through countless battles, they have literally been separated by galaxies, and they have survived crippling injuries to find love in each other’s arms. With the LMDs inside of SHIELD, it is that well-earned love that is in so much danger. As a fan, one just really wants to see Fitz and Simmons’ romance survive, and this week, that love is in more danger than it has possibly ever been. So you’re rooting for Fitz and Simmons. You’re pulling for them every second to find a way to beat the LMDs, and then, the rug is pulled as Fitz reveals himself as a Cylon, er, I mean LMD.
And the best part is that when this is revealed, Simmons is of course horrified, but she almost instantly fights back and stabs the electronic shit of her lover’s robotic double. In that one moment of bravery and startling violence, Simmons defines herself as a woman of action and as a hero. She is a gentle and refined woman who loves deeply, but when danger to SHIELD is about, even if that danger looks exactly like her soulmate, Gemma Simmons stabs the bejeezus out of it.
But Simmons is not alone in her struggle. Again, Daisy is not an LMD, but there are still Daisy LMDs ready to go. Happily, for our heroes, Daisy discovers those LMDs in a very Westworld like scene and takes the fight to the ‘bots. She teams with Simmons and dedicates herself to battle for the love of Fitz and Simmons. The fight between Daisy and Mack and Coulson might very well be the most heart in throat moment in Agents of SHIELD history. Daisy without her quake harness and gloves versus two robot killers that wear the face of her best friends. And Daisy wins by shaking robot Mack apart. Robot Coulson survives but this moment serves a reminded just how powerful and capable Daisy has become. A long way from that snarky computer hacker from season 1, huh?
It’s hard to cover every moment that makes this week’s Agents of SHIELD the show’s finest hour. I’ll just say that this was Jeb Whedon’s directorial debut on SHIELD, and man, did he ace every freaking frame. Every struggle seemed so important to both plot and character, and what else can you ask for?
But how do Daisy and Simmons escape the LMDs you ask? It seems that one LMD discovers her humanity. May is so well programmed to replicate the real Melinda May that she cannot overcome her sense of duty to her friends and to SHIELD. Robot May blows herself and the base up, allowing Daisy and Simmons to escape. Amazing, powerful stuff.
There are some developments on the villain said of things as it looks like we must bid farewell to Doctor Radcliffe. Radcliffe was in the Framework when AIDA pulls him out and tells him about Simmons and Daisy’s escape from the LMDs. She then proceeds to tell Radcliffe of a paradox that exists in her programming. She’s supposed to protect the Framework and Radcliffe at all costs, but Radcliffe and his stormy emotions present a constant threat to the Framework should he have the whim to shut the Matrix like simulacrum down. So AIDA kills Radcliffe but plugs him into the Framework moments before his death. Now, the dying doctor can live a lifetime in the Framework while he bleeds out in reality. Heady stuff, that.
Yet Radcliffe isn’t the only player that goes in the Framework. You thought this episode had it all before? Well, get this: Daisy and Simmons enter the Framework to bring the whole thing crashing down. Before the episode ends, we get to see what each agent is doing in the electronic paradise. It’s all very Black Mercy as we see that Mack is a family man, Coulson is a teacher, Fitz is a successful and rich, Simmons is dead (!), May is the head of – HYDRA-, and Daisy is living in blissful harmony with, no, not Lincoln, but Gant F’n Ward. Yeah, I can’t take it either and it’s going to be a long hiatus until April.
Between the death of the LMDs, the death of Radcliffe, the creation of an android Superior, the revelations of the Framework, and the non-stop action this week, one has to say that “Self Control” will go down as the best episode of Agents of SHIELD in the four-year history of the show.
For the first time since the mid-season break, I didn’t even miss Ghost Rider.