Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Self Control”:

What a fascinatingly weird, and emotional event the close of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “LMD” arc has turned out to be. I wrote at the beginning of January my appreciation for “Broken Promises” not wasting any time with the more action-heavy robot uprising tropes, but if that base battle was the Agents iteration of Terminator, “Self Control” is very much its Terminator 2, right down to the obvious homage of Daisy firing shotgun blasts at a T-1000-esque Jeffrey Mace. The fusion of horror and action on display tonight was leagues above what many would think Agents capable of, to say nothing of whatever insane Matrix shenanigans were set up by that cliffhanger montage.

There was a lot going on in this episode, so much so that certain beats like Daisy and Simmons needing to take on an army of turned agents seemed like they had to be fairly quickly shoved aside. As I guessed last week, we weren’t getting the full story of who had been replaced by an LMD in the final minutes of “The Man Behind the Shield,” though credit is due tonight for extremely effective use of those reveals in a limited time, including the fake-out that Daisy was part of the LMD plan to recall S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Inhuman assets. The face-off of Fitz and Simmons believing one another the LMD was also exceptionally gripping and well-handled by Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain de Caestecker; so much so that the situation could believably have gone either way, if not a fake-out on both. It’s a huge testament to everything Henstridge was called on to to do tonight, including another emotional standoff with Daisy (Quake hug!), that wrenching moment of having to stab the screaming Fitzbot, or taking command to order Agent Piper and the others to follow her, regardless of their suspicions.

Reacting to or playing against modified versions of these characters has been half the fun of this LMD arc; also allowing us to keep certain actors in play, or explore different layers of the robots’ programming. Obviously AIDA 2.0 and the newest model of LMDs all have a self-aware sinister streak, leaving the door open for previously unaware characters like the Maybot to develop more genuine feelings, and in “Self Control”s case, actually save the day. It’s odd, perhaps, that the final showdown between LMD May and LMD Coulson follows two (essentially) non-characters whose conversation and relationship is completely obliterated by the blast – with zero bearing on the actual cast – but nonetheless proves pretty wrenching juxtaposed with the others’ escape.

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in … well, I guess that’s snow.”

Impressive action beats like Skye’s battle with Mace, and subsequent obliteration of the Mack-bot aside, that bonkers ending within the Framework also leaves us a lot to chew on. I didn’t completely follow LMD Coulson or Aida’s talk of the simulated world being upgraded and refreshed to project each character’s lives without their biggest regrets, and the program has clearly changed from the version of May saving the girl in Bahrain. It’s not especially easy to track the meaning behind some of those visions, either, as despite sinister tweaks like Coulson teaching a classroom of kids to fear Inhumans, or May working in a Hydra Triskelion, Skye having a life with the real Ward* doesn’t seem too far removed from the show’s early days, nor does Fitz leading a Tony Stark-esque playboy career feel too farfetched. Mack seems to be the only one with a straightforward happy life, while Jemma’s apparent grave raises nothing but question marks, and likely some Buffy-style coffin-clawing when we come back

*I wasn’t initially aware that “Self Control” marks the last S.H.I.E.L.D. until April, nor what any post-episode promo might show, but I assumed if we were really going to see Ward again, they’d have actually shown Brett Dalton in bed, rather than rely on a photograph to make that point. Apparently, I was wrong.

Enough happened tonight that beats like Radcliffe’s death or AIDA’s experiments on the Superior all felt a bit overshadowed, but that’s generally a great problem for an hour like “Self Control” to have. This was a meal of an episode; one which threatens to go delightfully weirder when we return for the final Season 4 episodes in April. And that’s before the roomful of Chloe Bennets I can only hope comes back into play.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Sure, I’ve been calling Fitz as an LMD for about four weeks now, but still. CALLED IT.
  • Incidentally, why did the Fitz-bot go along with Simmons for as long as it did? Had they just not counted on her being notified by the scanner, and needed more time to get her alone?
  • Incidentally, why is it the LMDs can’t just communicate with one another wirelessly?
  • It wasn’t clear exactly how much of the base May’s explosion affected, so I presume the roomful of Daisys (as well as the Fitz LMD) have greater purpose than what I presume was an I, Robot reference.
  • Definitely strange that the episode would invoke Lincoln twice, but have Ward be the man in Daisy’s Framework fantasy.
  • It seems equally odd that Yo-Yo only makes an in-person appearance at the end of the hour, and doesn’t go into the Framework. Perhaps she’s part of Mack’s home-life there?
  • I presume Radcliffe will be found in there as well, along with AIDA’s model Agnes.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will continue Tuesday, April 4 with “What If,” airing at 10:00 P.M. on ABC.

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