Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S04E15 “Self Control” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- At SHIELD HQ, knowing some of their colleagues have been replaced by LMDs, Fitz and Simmons try to work out what their next move is.
- What Simmons doesn’t realise is that Fitz is the fourth LMD, not Daisy.
- When Fitz accidentally sets off an LMD alarm they have an incredibly tense and paranoid face off. RoboFitz wins round one; Simmons wins round two and leaves RoboFitz with his wires hanging out.
- Meanwhile Daisy twigs there’s something wrong when she discovers a containment module full of LMD replicas of her. She goes off the grid.
- Meanwhile, back at Ivanov’s gaff, Aida is having a very busy week.
• She plugs Fitz, Mack, Mace, Coulson and May into an upgraded version of the Framework’s virtual world which she has adapted the to fix one regret each in their lives.
• She decapitates Ivanov and sticks his head – with still functioning brain – in a fishbowl, and creates a new robot body for him.
• She kills Radcliffe after he clears up a paradox in her programming; she is supposed to protect both the Framework and Radcliffe, but she’s sees Radcliffe as the biggest potential threat to the Framework should he ever, you know, feel a bit guilty about what he’s doing. But after he tells her that he fully believes life inside the Framework is a happy and fulfilling experience, she’s free to dispose of his real body.
- Back at SHIELD HQ, RoboMace, RoboMack and RoboCoulson tell the troops that Daisy and Simmons have been kidnapped and if they’re spotted on the base, they’ll be LMD copies.
- Daisy and Simmons hook up after Daisy uses her Quake powers to prove both of them are real.
- They concoct a cunning plan of escape involving sleeping gas, grabbing an agent who can fly the Zephyr and quaking the hell out RoboMack.
- RoboCoulson calls in RoboMay to help capture Daisy and Simmons but she’s in the midst of a very logically thought-through existential crisis and blows up herself and Coulson instead.
- Having picked up Yo-Yo and parked the Zephyr somewhere safe, Daisy and Simmons secretly enter the Framework using Daisy’s hacking skills; if all goes to plan they’ll wake up inside the Framework in the virtual bodies of their own avatars.
- Inside the Framework, Daisy comes to in a bath. She receives a text saying, “Wake up your boyfriend – we’re being called in.” A photo reveals her “boyfriend” is Ward.
- Also inside the Framework: Coulson is a teacher; Mack appears to be living a happy suburban life; a sharp-suited, sour-faced Fitz is travelling in a chauffeur-driven car with a mystery woman; May works for Hydra; and Simmons… is dead!
“Self Control” is one hell of an episode, far and away the best episode of season four so far and a very strong contender for best episode of SHIELD ever. Starting off in an atmosphere of paranoia so thick it near crushes the characters, it then twists all over the place, keeping you guessing throughout. It’s also packed with scenes (such as the RoboFitz/Simmons face-off, Aida killing Radcliffe, RoboMay’s sacrifice, the montage reveal of the inside of the Framework) each of which on its own would have dragged an average episode up a star rating point; together the accumulate into a jawdroppingly exciting 45 minutes of TV.
Amazingly this is exec producer Jed Whedon’s first stab at directing a TV episode of any sort. Why has he waited so long? Scared of comparisons with his bro’? He shouldn’t have worried. This is an incredibly competent debut with note-perfect pacing and editing. Working from his own lean, mean script he’s produced an episode that fires on every cylinder; it’s not just the action and the revelations that make “Self Control” so magnificent but some nuanced character work and blistering performances as well. Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen all have excellent material to work with and they all take it up a notch.
The only real problem is that the episode makes you realise how middling the show has been for much of the rest of the season. Like the “Ghost Rider” arc, too many episodes in the “LMD” arc have felt a tad anaemic and overstretched. While it’s clear they were all setting things in motion to culminate with this massive gamechanger, perhaps they didn’t have to feel quite so much like setting up at the time?
On the other hand, the next episode has to fun, surely? Alternate reality stories have a built-in hook as we get to see all the differences they throw at us. We can’t wait!
- The entire sequence with Fitz and Simmons trying to work out which one of them is the LMD is just about the most tense moment of sci-fi paranoia since the blood test scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Superb, intense acting from both Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge that keeps you guessing. (To be honest, our money was on Fitz all along, but even saying that, we wouldn’t have been surprised if it had turned out to be Simmons.)
- RoboFitz stopping screaming then looking calmly at Jemma while she’s stabbing him is a chilling moment.
- Daisy discovering her LMD copies is a great image.
- Daisy doesn’t just touch Simmons so that she can use her Quake powers to prove they’re both real; she full-on hugs her, which is a really sweet moment.
- The Daisy/Mace fight scene is pretty epic…
- …But the special FX when she Quakes RoboMack into little bits are even better. It looks like something out of the Ghost In The Shell anime (well more like anything from the Ghost In The Shell anime than anything in the Ghost In The Shell film did).
- All those glimpses we get of life inside the Framework are brilliantly tantalising. But what does Simmons being dead in there mean for our Simmons?
- “I don’t want to be a thing like you.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll be many things.” Oh, Aida, so chilling in your literality.
- “I have so many memories of snow. My first time ice-skating on my neighbour’s pond. A month stationed near the French Alps. But the truth is… this is the first time I’ve seen it.” An achingly poignant speech from RoboMay.
- “More importantly, I understand a basic truth that you don’t realise yet.”
“And what’s that?”
“That our bodies don’t matter.”
- “I was programmed to protect the Framework but also to preserve your life above all others.”
“Well, how is that a contradiction?”
“Because the greatest threat to the Framework, Doctor… is you.” Somebody’s been reading Asimov’s Three Laws and cleverly repurposing them.
- “Reality is just perception. They perceive it as real, which makes it real.”
“They might not believe that.”
“Yeah, but I do. I know it. I believe it to be true, wholeheartedly.”
“Thank you for clarifying. That statement fixes the paradox. I can now solve both problems at once.” Radcliffe chillingly dooms himself with his own words. One of the most powerful moments on SHIELD ever.
- “Why don’t you and I have a glass of Scotch … or many… and talk this out, like we always do?”
“We? We’ve never done that before.” RoboMay, every bit as pragmatically noble as real May.
- Ivanov’s head in a fishbowl looks vaguely silly – we blame Futurama.
- We’re really not convinced that Coulson’s regret would have been signing up for SHIELD; for all the grief that decision has given him, he also seems to understand that his experiences have made him a better man, and that he has played an important role in saving millions – perhaps billions – of lives. Let’s put it down to Aida mistaking wistful pondering for regret.
- Jemma and Daisy (like Coulson before them a couple of weeks ago) have this touching faith that being alive in the Framework equates to being alive in real life based on absolutely no evidence at all (while the audience has even more evidence that it is blatantly untrue).
- The fact that the hangar doors are usually kept is quietly ignored when Daisy, Simmons and co escape in the Zephyr.
And The Random:
- The building in which May is in at the end is the Triskelion from Captain America Winter Soldier with the addition of a Hydra Emblem.
- Ivanov’s “good music to be born to” track that opens the episode is The Moody Blues’ “Have You Heard, Part 2” (1969)
- Amazingly, this is the first ever episode of Agents Of SHIELD written and directed by the same person.
- The tombstones either side of Jemma’s in the Framework bear the names Ian Beavers, an Office Production Assistant on the show, and Jeffrey Steck a production accountant on the show.