Airing in the UK on E4, Sundays 9pm
Writer: Drew Z Greenberg
Director: Jesse Bochco
Essential Plot Points:
- Previously on SHIELD!
- Mack proved the existence of the LMDs! Mace and Coulson had a serious heart-to-heart! Radcliffe turned out to be behind everything! May’s LMD discovered what she was!
- FIVE DAYS AGO
- Coulson apologises to May for the easy run she’s on. He promises to crack the bottle when she gets back. Radcliffe shows up, tries to talk May into letting him help and she shuts him down. No one touches the book. When this is done, she’ll destroy the book herself.
- She leaves. Radcliffe rings Ada and asks her to activate Sunset Protocol. She agrees.
- May goes to see Aida 2.0 who immediately drugs her. She apologises to her, punches her out and May is replaced with her own LMD.
- The LMD fires up, picks up the conversation from the exact moment before Aida attacked May and continues about her business.
- ONE DAY AGO
- May wakes up in a spa. She has no memory of coming there and instantly suspects something is up. She leaves, closes the door and…
- May wakes up in a spa. She has no memory of coming there and instantly suspect…
- May wakes up in a spa. She has no memory of coming there…
- So she punches the attendant out and wakes herself up via sheer force of will. May, because she is the baddest of badasses, yanks the feeding tubes out of her own head, almost takes out Radcliffe and Aida and… is knocked out.
- Radcliffe has May successfully sedated. Aida, with impeccable machine logic, asks why they can’t just kill her. Radcliffe, who we’ve just noticed appears to be wearing a camouflage pattern suit jacket, talks her down and reassures her that the second LMD they have active will be more than enough to ensure the job gets done.
- Elsewhere the May LMD puts her shirt back on and heads to a briefing. There they discuss the realities of Daisy, now back in the SHIELD fold, walking into the Capital Building and signing the Sokovia Accords. Simmons is not happy. Daisy’s calm approach to this, and Coulson’s willingness to help her doesn’t seem normal…
- The plus side is they want to use it as an opportunity to spy on Senator Nadeer. Talbot is NOT cool with this in the slightest. Coulson reassures him this is what SHIELD does.
- In Radcliffe’s office, Aida breaks a glass container and goes to fix it. May, who is not even a LITTLE sedated, wakes up and uses a shard of glass to start sawing her straps apart…
- Elsewhere YoYo and Mack are enjoying a very rare chunk of time off with, well, a lot of sex. Mack gets an odd text which shifts him from sweet, funny pillow talk to dressing and heading out. Suddenly he’s off the mission. YoYo is… not great about it.
- At the lab LMD May asks Fitz about just how much control Aida was in. She’s pretty clearly asking about herself and Fitz manages to guess this in a way that’s both very clever and massively wrong.
- Back in the office, May cuts her hand. Aida walks in, seconds from noticing the blood when Radcliffe calls her away to something else. May goes back to trying to escape.
- Rolling out for the mission, Coulson explains Mack asked for some personal time. Which is not what he told YoYo at all… Talbot picks a fight with Coulson over the stupid part of the mission and Mace goes in to bat for his agent. But as Talbot points out, that’s all he can do.
- Back at the office, May breaks loose. And is punched out through the door by Aida. One of the more exuberantly nasty fights in the show’s recent history follows in which a whole lot of furniture is bounced off Aida to no effect and May stabs her with a poker before heading out.
- The lesson here, as in all things, is this:
- Melinda May will END YOU if you mess with her.
- Daisy and Mace arrive at the hearing and have what may be one of our favourite conversations in the show’s history. They basically realise that they’re remarkably similar and Mace, in a roundabout way, reassures Daisy that it’s okay to come in from the cold.
- Then Nadeer shows up and makes it clear this is not going to be the meeting they think it will be…
- Elsewhere, YoYo and Coulson start their run. Coulson adorably, and completely, fails to convince YoYo to not talk about Mack. YoYo, adorably, fails to be convinced by Coulson that he and May aren’t a thing.
- Fitz and Simmons talk about Aida. Or rather, fail to talk about Aida despite Simmons’ best efforts.
- At the meeting, Nadeer fails to get a rise out of Daisy over Inhuman rights. The whole “Stole seven million dollars” thing? That she pretty much nails Daisy on.
- Coulson and YoYo plant the bugs but… suddenly every single one is turned off. YoYo notices something odd in a drawer, opens it and… is blown across the room. Security guards flood in.
- In the hearing Talbot attempts to talk Nadeer down. At which point Coulson and YoYo are walked in, handcuffed as proof that SHIELD really is a criminal organisation.
- Later, Mace and Talbot give Daisy, Coulson and YoYo the good news and bad news. The good is they’re all free to go. The bad, a full investigation. Coulson and Talbot argue and Coulson accuses him of being the mole. Talbot points out SHIELD only exists because of him and that may be a mistake.
- May makes it to ground level. Aida tracks her down and round two commences. No furniture this time but May does kick her off a building and…
- She disintegrates into pixels.
- Aida reappears. Unharmed. She explains they’re in the Framework. A massive simulation. One that they can barely code fast enough to keep up with May. She realises even though they wipe her mind that she’s getting faster, she’s beating it. She sprints towards Aida, murder in her eyes and…
- She’s back in the office.
- In the lab, Simmons finally puts it together: Fitz turned on Aida’s ocular sensors. He put them ALL at risk. Simmons accuses him of being obsessed. He tries to reassure that it’s an investigation…
- LMD May shows up at Radcliffe’s house and cooks off at him. She thinks he’s cybernetically altered her and Radcliffe is DELIGHTED. She’s working way better than he expected. Especially when she tries to kill him and finds she can’t. She’s horrified and becomes even more so when it becomes clear Radcliffe knows everything about her. Including who she really wants to be with…
- And then the team kicks the door in. Simmons explains that Fitz figured out that Radcliffe had programmed Aida to interact with the Darkhold. May… lies about why she’s there.
- Back home, Mack arrives home and YoYo confronts him. She’s tired of playing games. Mack explains he’d gone to chat to his ex. He wants to talk to her about “hope” and… YoYo shuts him down. She does so very calmly and in a manner that absolutely gives her agency.
- Mack explains that Hope was his daughter and she passed 11 years previously. She only lived for days and Mack explains that it’s the eve of Hope’s birthday. That’s why he went to see his ex. He levels with her, YoYo apologises and they’re reunited.
- Back at SHIELD, LMD May and Coulson share a drink. Coulson berates himself for his recklessness and May comforts him in a distinctly close, intimate way.
- In the isolation cell Fitz visits Radcliffe. He explains that there’s a pattern; Radcliffe turns on everyone. He also implies that his suspicion was born in the horrific ways Ward manipulated them all.
- And then Fitz asks to borrow a side arm from the guard and shoots Radcliffe in the head.
- Radcliffe is an LMD.
- We see through the Radcliffe LMD’s eyes as he dies. Senator Nadeer reveals that she’s been working with Radcliffe but in order for this to continue, he’ll need to meet The Superior…
- Post credits, we see the real Radcliffe visits Aida 2.0 and real May. Who, he reveals, is now trapped in an endless cycle of the horrific events in Bahrain. Worse still, in this version, she saves the little girl.
How do you deal with a pair of concepts as fundamentally goofy as a partially sentient book of evil magic and the development of perfect, almost unkillable robot duplicates? Easy.
You glue them together. And it WORKS.
The consequences of Aida’s “death” and the Darkhold ripple up and down the season and this episode we see some major consequences. The first is Fitz’s investigation and how that leads directly to the discovery not only of Radcliffe’s guilt but of the Radcliffe LMD. The second is the catastrophic PR failure that is Daisy’s testimony and the associated operation. The third is the revelation that May is very, very far from home indeed.
Let’s look at the single one of these that maybe doesn’t work so well first. Coulson’s weirdly impulsive approach here could be two things; a man in a situation he’s been in before trying very hard to avoid it or an LMD doing their level best to ensure the worst possible outcome is ensured. We’re not quite sure which is which yet but we honestly hope it’s the first one. Coulson is one of TV’s greatest poker players, an unflappable games player who loses it about once every season and a half. He’s about due, and if any situation was going to make him stupid, it would be this one.
The entire episode – and we talk about this a little further down too – is either a brilliant shell game or one of the few times the show can do this. Everyone is a little off, a little weird and whether that’s the burgeoning paranoia of LMD replacement or not, it’s a well the show shouldn’t go to too often. That being said, there’s a raft of fun, “Is he?…”, “Did she?…” moments here which give it a welcome tension.
Especially given just how badly Daisy’s testimony goes. Nadeer is a great adversary for these characters and Parminder Negra is having great fun in the role. Plus it’s difficult to not see at least some of her and Talbot’s point; SHIELD have to be seen to be above board for years before they can be trusted again. Coulson spying on her is absolutely understandable (OR IS IT? See, paranoia!) but at the same time it’s the worst possible thing for SHIELD. It’s a difficult, fun situation that the show mines for some really impressive views of the espionage side of the Marvel Universe. Phil and his team have a very difficult job and this week it became even tougher. Plus isn’t it nice to see the Sokovia Accords mentioned? See? It is all sort of connected still!
Finally there’s Radcliffe. And while we loved the brief Radcliffe and Fitz, TEAM SCOTTISH SCIENCE BROS! moment, this episode it’s just a sideshow. The real meat of the character is in his unshakeable belief in what he’s doing and his inability to see how many lines he’s crossing. What he does to May the first time is horrific, what he does to her the second time, with the Bahrain incident, borders on the obscene. Radcliffe is becoming one of the most nuanced and interesting villains in the show’s history. He’s going down, HARD, but he’s going to be fun before he does.
This is a fiercely smart, driven, urgent piece of TV that can stand side by side with the best of Marvel’s TV output. It’s complicated, fun and immensely confident storytelling and it bodes very well for the future of the company’s longest serving TV show.
- The direction. Jesse Bochco handles small-scale action brilliantly and the two fights this episode are two of the best choreographed we’ve seen in a long time. Likewise, the idea that the Framework is still being built is a great in-world explanation for the suddenly deserted apartment May finds herself in.
- The atmosphere. There’s real unease everywhere this episode and Greenberg’s script delights in putting everyone in the spotlight and having other characters point out just how oddly they’re behaving. Like we say below, that’s not sustainable beyond the short term but it’s great fun to watch right now.
- Fitz. The tiniest hint we get here of Fitz still having trust issues after the years of horror with Ward is the sort of brilliantly realised continuity a show can, only do at this time in it’s life.
- Talbot. Who knew Adrian Pasdar with the worst hair of his career would become such a fun part of the show?
- Senator Nadeer. Not only because Parminder Negra is great but because a non-Caucasian character being the show’s leading racist is a choice as brave as it is successful.
- Ming-Na Wen. Agents of SHIELD, even in its immensely troubled first year, had the most interesting female character in the MCU. Now she has a little company (Jessica Jones, Patsy Walker, Claire Temple, Karen Page, Colleen Wing and, of course, Maria Hill) but May is still one of the most interesting, nuanced characters across the MCU.
- Radcliffe’s plan, especially his use of Bahrain, may be the single most horrific thing this show has ever done. Brilliantly nuanced, understandable and at the same time a disgusting invasion of personal space.
- The Sokovia Accords! Deathlok optical technology! Welcome back, continuity!
- “Which part is the second part again?”
“The stupid part.”
- Oh Talbot. Never change.
- “Because if you enter every room thinking you have to do a song and dance, eventually everything becomes a performance. And believe me I know what it feels like to put an act on full time.”
“Yeah. You do, don’t you?” We LOVED this scene. Two of the most damaged, careful people on this show realising that maybe they can actually trust one another.
- “You know, no one likes a smartass.”
“That hasn’t been my experience.” Line of the episode, right here.
- “Did you program me so I can’t tell anyone?”
“No. I programmed you so you wouldn’t want to.” This is just chilling. And brilliantly delivered by John Hanna.
- “Today wasn’t great.”
“Cauliflower isn’t great. Today was a kick in the balls.” Phil definitely tried that cauliflower pizza recipe that did the rounds a few years ago didn’t he?
- Not so much bad as possibly deliberate shell gaming. Everyone feels a little off this episode. Mack’s explanation to YoYo, YoYo pushing Coulson for details, Coulson being reckless, Fitz’s obsession, Simmons’s remarkable lack of sustained anger at him. The show seems to have made a very brave and very deliberate choice to make everyone a possible LMD. Short term that feels weird but long term it’s going to pay off big time we suspect.
And The Random:
- There is the tiniest hint of the artificial nature of May’s reality shortly before we get it. Given she spends the entirety of her “escape” barefoot, runs through at least one door’s worth of broken glass and doesn’t bleed, it seems likely that Radcliffe is still dropping the damage routines into the world’s code.
Review by Alasdair Stuart