Friday, February 24, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 15: Self Control

This week Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gives us what is possibly their finest episode yet, as they wrap up the LMD storyline.

I say it every week, but it's worth repeating— the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. writers have figured out the secret to writing serialized dramas. So many shows out there feature one plot per season, and give us numerous filler episodes to pad out the season (yeah, I'm lookin' at you, The Walking Dead!). 

Not so with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. They give us two, and sometimes three different storylines per season. The show's writers call these "pods." Silly name, but whatever works. By giving us two or three pods per season, there's no filler or padding, and the storyline moves right along at a nice, quick pace. Even better, this means the audience doesn't have time to become bored with a particular storyline!

I wish more shows would adopt this business model, but I don't see it happening. Having three pods per season is a lot more work. It means coming up with three story arcs instead of one they can milk for a whole year.

It's amazing how much this series has improved since its admittedly less-than-stellar first season. Those early episodes chased away a lot of viewers, which is too bad. You guys who bailed have no idea what you're missing!

The end of this week's episode set up the next "pod," which looks like it's gonna feature an alternate "what-if" kind of world. Sort of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s version of the Flashpoint timeline over on The Flash.

There were many awesome and memorable moments in this episode, so let's get to it, shall we?


The Plot:
As AIDA busies herself, we see Coulson, May, Mack and Radcliffe strapped onto tables, as their minds are plugged into the virtual world of the Framework. AIDA works on The Superior, who was badly injured in his battle last week with Daisy. The Superior tells AIDA to let him die, because he doesn't want to become "a thing" like her. She tells him, "Don't worry. You'll be many things." She then starts carving him up with a power saw while he's still awake, which is the most horrifying thing I can imagine.

At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, FitzSimmons are terrified after discovering that Coulson, Daisy, Mack and Mace have been replaced with LMDs. Fitz says they need to stay calm and act natural so they don't draw attention to themselves. Sure, that's exactly what Fitz would say, isn't it? 

LMD Coulson enters and says they're going to round up all known Inhumans to keep them safe from The Superior, whose mission is to wipe them out. 

Outside the lab, LMD Mace tells LMD Coulson they need to scan and replace FitzSimmons as soon as possible. LMD Daisy says they need to contact Yo-yo to help bring in the other Inhumans.

LMD Coulson finds LMD May watching the snow fall. She's horrified and repulsed when she realizes Coulson's been replaced. She's still having trouble accepting the fact that she's not real. LMD Coulson says none of this matters, as their real minds are already living in the Framework, a painless version of the world, where their greatest regrets have been erased.

As FitzSimmons move some equipment to another lab, the LMD detector goes off. Simmons instantly pulls a gun on Fitz, believing he's a robot. Fitz tells her that he believes he's real, but admits that LMD May didn't know she was a robot, so it's impossible to be sure. For some reason, Simmons tells him to cut his wrist (instead of a less deadly body part) to prove if he's real or not. He slashes his wrist and begins moaning and bleeding profusely. Simmons gasps and moves to help him, and he immediately grows cold and emotionless, stabbing her in the leg and knocking her out. I KNEW he was an LMD all along!

Back at Radcliffe's lab, wherever that is, he comes out of the Framework. He's angry that AIDA's altered the Framework without his permission. She says it was necessary to provide "regret-free" virtual lives for all the new inhabitants. We see that Fitz is hooked up to the Framework, but Daisy's not. Huh? More on this later.

At S.H.I.E.L.D., LMD Fitz places a headset on Simmons so he can scan her brain and replace her with an LMD. While he busies himself with settings, she crawls across the floor and grabs a mallet. Instead of hitting him with it, she uses it to knock over a heavy piece of machinery on him. She then stabs the holy sh*t out of LMD Fitz, causing him to short out and "die."

Daisy goes downstairs to check out the Inhuman containment area, and finds a room filled with twenty or so identical LMD copies of her (?), all dressed in black sports bra and panties. Mack, who didn't want her to find this room, comes looking for her. She strips down and hides amongst the copies as he enters. As he tries to flush out the Daisy, she stuns him from behind with a quake blast.

Daisy hides in a closet and taps into the security cameras on her tablet. She sees LMD Coulson and LMD Mace find LMD Fitz's body, and watches in horror as they slaughter several S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts who discover them. Well, that took a dark turn!

Daisy then sees a trail of blood that leads to Simmons. Once again, each suspects the other of being an LMD. Finally Daisy grabs her and gently quakes her, just enough to feel if Simmons has bones or a metal skeleton under her skin. She feels bones, and Simmons realizes an LMD wouldn't have quake powers. The two embrace.

Meanwhile, AIDA tells Radcliffe there's a paradox in her programming. She's programmed to protect both Radcliffe and the Framework, but she fears he'll someday want to shut it down. He tells her that'll never happen. She thanks him, saying he's just solved the paradox for her, and slashes his wrists (!). She places his mind back into the Framework, as his body slowly dies. Yikes!

LMD Coulson and LMD Mace gather all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and announce that Daisy and Simmons are robots, and they want them capture "alive." Daisy and Simmons release sleeping gas into the base (why do they even have such a thing in storage?), causing all the human agents all drop like flies. The LMDs are unaffected of course, as are Daisy and Simmons, who dosed themselves with "sleeping gas antidote." Sure, why not?

LMD Mace then attacks Daisy. They battle for a good five minutes, until she finally defeats him. She's then shot twice (!) by LMD Coulson and LMD Mack. As LMD Coulson monologues, she secretly forms a couple of balls of quake energy in her hands, then flings it at them. LMD Coulson is knocked out, while LMD Mack's head is blown off (!!!). 

Daisy then joins Simmons, who uses the sleeping gas antidote to wake four S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts. The agents fear the two are LMDs, but they somehow convince them they're real. They order the agents to power up the Zephyr One and wait for them. As Daisy and Simmons prepare to exit the base, they're confronted by LMD May, who's sitting on several barrels of explosives, a detonator in her hand. Uh-oh!

LMD Coulson wakes up and finds that LMD May apparently let Daisy and Simmons pass. He tells her to put down the detonator, but she says she can't handle the fact that she's not real, and wants to end her pain. She detonates the explosives.

The blast rocks the hangar as Daisy, Simmons and the four agents take off in Zephyr One. They pick up Yo-yo, and fill her in on the situation. They want to rescue Coulson and the others, but unfortunately there's no way to figure out just where AIDA and the Framework are located. However, Simmons says if they enter the Framework themselves, they can inhabit the versions of themselves that live there, and work out the location. Sounds perfectly logical to me!

Simmons lays out the rules of the Framework for Daisy (and the audience), saying if they're killed in the virtual world, they'll die for real. She also says they can't stay inside the Framework for too long, or their real bodies will die. Lastly, she warns Yo-yo not to pull them out of the Framework without warning, as that will fry their brains. Foreshadowing Alert!!!

Daisy and Simmons then lie down, put on their headsets, close their eyes and enter the Framework.

Daisy wakes up in her Framework avatar, who's taking a bath. She gets a text telling her to wake her "boyfriend" and come in to work. She assumes her boyfriend is Lincoln, but as she walks into her bedroom, she sees a framed photo of herself and Grant Ward!!!

Coulson is apparently a high school teacher in the Framework. Mack is at his house, picking up a little girl's bike that no doubt belongs to his daughter Hope, who's still alive in the Framework. Fitz is now a tech billionaire with a mysterious, unknown woman at his side. Simmons is apparently dead in the Framework, which seems more than a bit odd. Lastly, we see May working inside the Triskelion, which is now branded with a HYDRA logo. Wow!

In the final scene, The Superior wakes up, puzzled to find his body's whole. He asks AIDA what she did to him. She assures him that his mind is alive and well, and still inside his head. He calls her a liar, saying he can feel his robotic body. She points to a table, where he sees his head is now resting in a jar, and apparently controlling this new robotic body! 
She says she needs him whole in order for him to protect the Framework, and she wants him to still be able to feel genuine emotions, such as joy. He asks her when exactly she thinks he'll ever feel joy again. She replies, "When I am able to feel those things myself."


• For weeks and weeks now I've been saying that Fitz was secretly an LMD who, like May, was unaware he was a robot. The writers did an excellent job hinting around at this, but never quite confirming it, keeping the audience guessing and wondering.

The clues were all out there in the open though, if you knew where to look. For me, the moment that confirmed my suspicions came in BOOM. Fitz is carrying Mace's new costume on a clothes hanger, and sets off an LMD detector when he walks by. He casually dismisses the alarm though, saying the metal hanger must have activated it. When's the last time anyone saw a metal clothes hanger?

Kudos to the writers for coming up with an actual well-crafted mystery, complete with subtle clues!

• Let's talk about Daisy and the LMD detector, shall we? I'm VERY confused by this whole situation. Last week, at the end of The Man Behind The Shield, the LMD detector goes off in S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Simmons checks the security footage, and is horrified to see that Coulson, Daisy, Mack and Mace have apparently all set off the detector. The readout clearly says "[4] LIFE MODEL DECOYS DETECTED."

Yet in this episode we find out Daisy hasn't been replaced after all, and is still human. So what gives? How could she still be real if four people entered the base and the detector says they're all LMDs?

Unfortunately I don't have a good answer for this, and it seems like a huge goof on the part of the writers.

The only possible explanation I can come up with is that maybe the LMD detector's totals are cumulative. If you look closely at the readout on the detector, it says, "Memory Buffer  Compile All Report Totals." I think maybe when it says it detects four LMDs, that's the aggregate number, not the current number. In other words, the detector is counting the total number of LMDs it's recognized since it was activated (which would be four Fitz a couple weeks ago, then Coulson, Mack and Mace now). It's not counting the number of LMDs currently entering the base (which would be three).

Ouch. I think I just threw out my back bending over backwards to explain away this mistake for the writers.

If this explanation is right, then that's a VERY confusing way for a device to keep track of the LMD population. It's a little too subtle and convoluted. 

I suppose it's also possible that LMD Fitz messed with the detector to alter the readout and make Simmons think that Daisy was a robot as well. If that's the case, a simple little line of dialogue was needed to explain it.

I'm all for not spoon-feeding every little detail to the audience and letting us make connections on our own, but not when it seems like the writer's screwed up. I'm going to go ahead and chalk it up to being a mistake.

• Surely there's a better way to prove if a person is real or not than by forcing them to slash their wrist? Sure, if the subject is an LMD it does no harm to them, but if they're real... "See, I'm a real person! Now help me lie down so I can quietly bleed to death."

Last week I had many questions about how replacing most of the S.H.I.E.L.D. staff could possibly work, which I assumed would be answered this week. And I was right. Most of my questions were adequately dealt with.

First off, I kind of wondered why LMD Coulson, LMD Mack and LMD Mace seemed to know they were robots, when LMD May didn't (until she did). That's covered this week, when Radcliffe asks AIDA, "Are their commands working on a subconscious level to avoid detection, as with Agent May?" AIDA replies, "There wasn't time for such subtleties. They're much more... objective-driven." So that explains that!

I also asked why LMD Coulson would reactivate LMD May, since everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. already knows she's a robot. Wouldn't that give away the fact that he's an LMD too? As we find out in this episode, he locks LMD May in a room, so no one else can see her. Also he's on a tight schedule to either replace or kill everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as round up all known Inhumans and kill them, so he doesn't really care if anyone figures out he's an LMD. So that was covered as well.

And last week, when I thought Daisy was an LMD, I questioned whether AIDA was able to give her quake powers, and whether that would tip her off that she was a robot or not. Again, these questions were dealt with in this episode. Well done again, writers!

• Maybe I'm missing something, but why would AIDA create an entire squad of scantily clad Daisy LMDs? Other than to give the horndogs in the audience something to ogle, of course.

As we've seen, the Daisy LMDs don't have quake powers, so they weren't created for that reason. Daisy's a kickass fighter though, and the LMDs would all have her skills, and they'd be stronger than normal, so maybe that was AIDA's plan.

When Daisy hears LMD Mack coming for her, she strips down and blends in with the copies of herself. What a lucky break for her that she just happened to be wearing the exact same undergarments as all the copies!

By the way, this whole "Hiding Among The Copies" scene is lifted practically shot-for-shot from I, Robot (with a dash of the Westworld TV series thrown in for good measure). 

• LMD Mace seems to have the superstrength that the original naturally lacks. Handy!

• When Daisy's being chased through S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ by LMD Mace, she picks up an iMac from a nearby desk and smashes it over his head. I actually cringed when I saw that! I use an iMac at work and thought, "Welp, there went about $3,000 of this week's budget!" Hopefully they used a dead computer that was destined for the scrap heap.

• One of the best moments in an episode filled with them, was when Daisy gently quaked Simmons to see if she was real or not. I loved the look of sheer relief on both their faces when they realized they were both still human. Kudos to Chloe Bennet and Elizabeth Henstridge!

• Man, that Daisy's quite the resilient lass. After her battle with LMD Mace, LMD Coulson shoots her twice (!). Once in the shoulder, and once in the leg. Even worse, he appears to shoot her with an actual handgun and not an Icer, as I didn't see a blue muzzle flash.

Daisy then simply shakes off these grievous injuries, limping along slightly for the rest of the episode. In fact by the end she's well enough to enter the Framework and rescue her teammates. Amazing!

By the way, when LMD Mace gathers the nondescript S.H.I.E.L.D. agents together and tries to convince them that Daisy and Simmons are robots, he says, "Shoot to maim. Stomach. Spine." Good thing for Daisy that LMD Coulson didn't listen to him!

• Is there any good reason why S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ has a storage room full of knockout gas? And a supply of knockout gas antidote? I didn't think so.

• LMD Coulson and the others are eventually undone by LMD May. Apparently Radcliffe programmed this robotic duplicate a little too well, as she's so much like the real May that she can't allow LMD Coulson to succeed, and destroys him (along with herself).

This "Robotic Duplicate Undone By The Original's Goodness" subplot was very similar to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In that film, the alien space probe V'ger kills Lt. Ilia and makes a robotic duplicate of her to study the Enterprise. Unfortunately for V'ger, it makes the Ilia-bot a little too perfect, and it falls in love with Commander Decker, a loophole that Captain Kirk exploits to defeat the probe.

• Near the end of the episode, Daisy and Simmons realize the only way they can rescue their teammates is to find AIDA, who could be anywhere in the world. They decide the only answer is to enter the Framework themselves, inhabit the avatars of themselves inside it, and figure out where it's located.

Earlier in the episode, AIDA said to Radcliffe, "You even asked me to repair one regret for each person entering the Framework." I interpret that as meaning that each of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is living out an idealized life inside the perfect world AIDA created. Some of these lives deserve some scrutiny. Let's take a look at them, shall we?

First up we see Daisy taking a bath (man, they were obsessed with getting her naked in this episode, weren't they?). She assumes she's living with her late flame Lincoln, but discovers she's apparently shacking up with former agent Grant Ward (!). 

Daisy and Ward had a long history together as fellow agents and student/trainer. Later on she was even possessed by Hive, who looked like Ward. I guess it's entirely possible she could have secret feelings for him and regrets not acting on them.

This is clever way to bring back Ward yet again, but I worry it might be one time too many. On the other hand, actor Brett Dalton's probably happy to return to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. so he doesn't have to star in more dreck like The Resurrection Of Gavin Stone.

Next we see Coulson, who's apparently a high school teacher inside the Framework. This makes sense, as earlier in the episode he— or rather the LMD copy of him— wondered what his life would have been like if he'd never become a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

What doesn't quite make sense is why he's apparently teaching a lesson in Inhuman fear-mongering.

We then see Mack, who's living the good life as a family man in the 'burbs. His late daughter Hope is apparently alive and well too.

This all makes perfect sense, as the death of his child would be Mack's greatest regret.

Next is Fitz, who's apparently some kind of tech billionaire, with a mysterious woman on his arm.

I guess from this scene we're to assume Fitz regrets not using his genius for monetary gain? I suppose I could see that.

Oddly enough, we then see Simmons' tombstone (with her date of death conveniently obscured by leaves)! Apparently she's dead in the Framework! Does that mean her greatest regret in the real world is that she's alive?

I'm hoping this is a fake grave, and that Simmons' Framework avatar is still alive and well and living in secret. It'd better be, otherwise she's going to spend the next six or seven episode in the body of a dead avatar, buried six feet underground!

Lastly we see May riding an elevator inside the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s headquarters that was destroyed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Oddly enough, in the Framework the Triskelion is branded with the HYDRA logo! Yikes!

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. Does this mean May regrets that she never joined up with HYDRA? What else could it mean?

• At the end of the episode, we see The Superior doing his best The Brain That Wouldn't Die impression. Even though this is just a simple "head sticking through the table" effect, something about it is absolutely horrifying!

So apparently AIDA severed The Superior's head, and it's now remotely controlling a robotic duplicate of himself. Not sure how that's better than just putting his living brain inside an LMD, but whatever.

• This week's best lines:
Simmons: "Cut your wrist. If you're the LMD, I'll see your substructure and I'll know. And if not ..."
LMD Fitz: " Not, then you're the android, and you just convinced me to slit my wrist."
Simmons: "Do it!"

Daisy: (to Simmons) "Are you a robot? Because I just saw a truckload of myself, and Mack is in on it. And Coulson just bashed an agent's head in ..."

Daisy: "Simmons... it's me. What about you? Prove to me that you're not a frickin' robot. Because it looks like you're malfunctioning."

Daisy: (to Simmons) "So, we fight our way through the trained military personnel, then the ultra-powerful android doubles of our friends, somehow make it to the Zephyr, which we can't fly, to escape the base and try to plug our minds into an alternate reality. Okay, well, don't say it out loud, because that made it sound way worse."

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