Welcome back, True Believers! Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz and Simmons believed that the returning Agents had failed their mission in saving Director Mace, only to be replaced by a cadre of duplicates in the forms of doppelganger Life Model Decoys. This episode takes a page from John Carpenter’s The Thing, and while an earlier episode of Agents had done something similar to this one albeit unsuccessfully with Hive and the Inhumans in Season 3, I’m happy to say that “Self Control” manages to make itself one of the best episodes of the season (even sans Ghost Rider!).
Paranoia abounds as each member of the team tries to figure out who is really who they say they are, and the episode manages to throw in a few well placed curveballs along the way. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may not always be able to run alongside the movies taking place within its universe, but once in a blue moon, it does manage to stand toe to toe with them; this is, happily, one of those times.
As Fitz and Simmons recoil in horror with their discovery that all of their friends have been replaced with robotic duplicates, the duo attempts to figure out what the best course of action is for them to take. The actors seem to be really stretching their range with their roles here, with the LMD models managing to give off a very eerie air to them while still pretending to be their human selves. Clark Gregg especially manages to send a shiver up your spine when he’s delivering his lines in this episode with cold efficiency as a robot. While the LMDs are running around unabated, Simmons discovers the horrifying truth that, of the four sent to them, one just so happened to be her beau Fitz! At some point, Radcliffe had managed to take the brainy Agent and replace him with his double, sending Simmons for quite the loop here. The two attempt to figure out which of them was in fact the robot, with even Jemma questioning if she herself is human but this game of cat and mouse eventually ends with Simmons flying off the handle and repeatedly stabbing the downed Fitz. As “Fitz Bot” is stabbed repeatedly, he attempts to talk his way out of it, strangle Jemma, then eventually die once he receives a puncture to the neck. It’s quite a chilling scene to be honest and is played up well.
Meanwhile, Daisy has discovered that her companions are in fact robots and she attempts to escape by hiding among a literal army of her robotic doubles that have been deactivated. Yes, an army of unconscious Quakes stand at the ready thanks to Aida, Radcliffe, and the Darkhold. Luckily, Daisy manages to slip past fake Mack and finds a despondent Simmons. The two question one another frantically, as both are seemingly at the end of their ropes in this scenario. This made for a nice scene, especially when Daisy delivers the fact that she knows that they’ll win in the end because she’s never been more sure that Fitz and Simmons’ agonizingly long love story doesn’t end this way. The two craft a plan to attempt to take out the rest of the LMDs through a mix of a gas-encased ATV and their wits. After knocking out everyone who isn’t a robot in the base, Quake begins to fight the LMDs in front of her.
Props have to be given to Chloe Bennett here, as she gives Daisy some pretty badass moments as she takes out the robotic fiends in front of her. In one particularly great display, she tears apart Mack-bot and flings Coulson through a plate glass window, which the show presents fantastically in slow motion. I think this action beat works that much better in that this felt like such a dire scenario with the usually unflappable Agents being hit hard by the replacing of their friends. Simmons and Quake feel like they’re on their last legs as they run through the house of horrors before finding the original May clone waiting for them with enough TNT to blow the headquarters to kingdom come. Luckily, LMayD has a change of heart, finding her humanity through her pistons and gears, taking out herself and Coulson in the process as she grapples with her own perceived humanity, a nice nod to Isaac Asimov.
As Simmons and Daisy escape, they find the only way to save their friends is to jump into the Framework, the virtual reality created by Radcliffe and Fitz as training software but now used by Aida to store anyone she can inside it. As the two enter this new virtual world, they find things to be much, MUCH different from the real world. Daisy is in a relationship with now deceased Agent Ward, Coulson is a teacher who seemingly hates Inhumans, Mack is living the suburban life, and Fitz has found a life of prestige and glamour as Simmons is apparently dead. The biggest change appears to be with Agent May who finds herself in Washington D.C. reporting for duty at her job with Hydra! Needless to say, a nice twist and progression of the LMD storyline, adding an interesting departure to our characters’ trajectories from simply having to fight robotic clones. Our episode ends with Aida, having just dispatched Radcliffe by slashing his wrists and physically shoving him into the framework, waking up Anton and showing him his fate: a brain without a body controlling an LMD of himself fueled by the Darkhold. It’s quite a horrific scene but manages to make for a nice stinger at the close of the episode.
Needless to say, I loved this episode. I thought it managed to hit all the right beats for the storyline and escalated the arc to an entirely new place that I wasn’t at all expecting, but am happy to see. Seeing all our characters in entirely new lives makes for a nice change of pace and I hope we get a few episodes to explore how they are now different from their former selves. “Self Control” knocks it out of the park with this episode and should stand as one of the top installments of the series to date.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent