Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review: ‘Self Control’ Delivers on Four Seasons’ Worth of Promise

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 4, Episode 15, “Self Control”

There were significant plot developments in this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that are worth watching first hand. If you haven’t watched, please do. Otherwise read ahead at your own risk of Spoilers.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown an ability and willingness to shake up the status quo in the past, but not since the HYDRA reveal in Season 1 has the fabric of the series been so seriously altered in the course of one episode.

If “Self Control” wasn’t the best episode of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s run, then you wouldn’t need more than two or three fingers to count off the better ones. Much of the credit for the episode’s success goes to series co-creator and first time director Jed Whedon.

This hour relied on keeping the audience off balance while the story unfolded. It ratcheted up the tension which led to a jaw-dropping reveal, that opened another avenue of tension that ended in a jaw-dropping reveal, and so on until the end. Whedon’s use of the handheld and/or Steadycam cameras brought the audience uncomfortably into the characters’ personal space, as everyone tried to figure out who was an LMD and who was real.

Whedon also used the darkened, tight confines of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to enhance that feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia while at the same time use the contrast of the bright, open containment unit to sell the “field of Daisys” reveal.

The series has wasted no time moving plot this season, and “Self Control was no exception. The end of every act in this episode featured a plot reveal or cliffhanger worthy of a season finale, and the few moments of commercials (or commercial skipping) felt like an eternity.

With so much coming at the viewer from all sides it’s difficult to recap what transpired in a nutshell.

At the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, at first it looked like it was going to be FitzSimmons against the world with Mack, Mace, Coulson and Daisy all replaced by LMD robots. As I have speculated before, it turns out Fitz was replaced by an LMD and it’s Daisy and Jemma who are real. Any other show, this reveal would have been worthy to end an episode with; instead this unfolded in the first ten minutes of the episode, and served as an appetizer in the buffet of plot twists to come.

It starts a game of robot cat and human mouse that takes place in maze of hallways in the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Jemma and Daisy nearly kill each other in their first meeting. Once Jemma and Daisy ingeniously use Daisy’s powers to establish neither one is a robot, they hatch a plan to escape from the base and hack their way into Radcliffe’s Framework world, so they can locate where their friends are being kept and mount a rescue.

They make it out due in large part to RoboMay trying to come to grips with its programming. The other LMD replacements, especially RoboCoulson, accept their memories and experiences as something they themselves experienced. RoboMay is having an identity crisis because she knows as she watches it snow outside an office window, all the warm memories she has of times in the snow aren’t hers. This is the first time RoboMay has seen snow, and she’s having trouble merging the memories and the direct input.

When placed atop a giant bomb as the LMD’s last line of defense, RoboMay exercises free will for the next to the last time by letting Daisy and Simmons go past unharmed. This last time is when she trips the bomb blowing up the base and all the LMDs in it.

Aida is evolving at a pace faster than her programming can keep up. She’s having troubles dealing with the human emotion of regret. She knows that the Framework functions best as a prison once she removes the inmates’ deepest regrets. She also surmises that regret might one day cause Radcliffe to alter or even shut down the Framework. Aida’s prime directives ran in opposition to each other until Radcliffe started going on about humankind shedding their meaty prisons for a better life inside the Framework, opening the door for her to protect the Framework and Radcliffe by shoving him into the scanner, and pulling the plug on that mind’s living vessel. (There’s also a little bit where she turns the bland Russian guy into a head in a jar that controls a robot body by remote. I’m sure it will be important sometime, but it pales to what was revealed next.)

At the end, Whedon gives us the ultimate tease with a snapshot of what life is like as the audience follows Daisy down the rabbit hole, without regrets. Daisy is still an agent and is coupled up with what we only guess is a pre-HIVE Grant Ward. Mack is blissfully living in the suburbs with this daughter very much alive. Fitz appears to be some kind of tech billionaire. Coulson is a teacher that lectures anti-Inhuman propaganda. And finally, May has a new view as an agent in the very much intact Triskelion, that features the HYDRA logo at the top instead of the one for S.H.I.E.L.D.

This was a lot to take in but fortunately (or unfortunately) S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have until April to sort it out, as the series takes an extended break before its final episodes of what has so far, been an amazing season.

It’s fitting that Whedon was at the helm of one of this series’ finest moments. He and co-creator/wife Maurissa Tancharoen took a lot of blame when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stumbled out of the gate. To their credit, the pair has never stopped trying to make the show better, much to the delight of fans who stuck around after those uneven first dozen or so episodes. “Self Control” is what the creators and fans have always wanted Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be, as it opens the door to infinite storytelling possibilities that are just as exciting.

Craig Wack

For a weekly discussion of comic book TV shows please join Craig Wack and Tatiana Torres for the Agents of GEEK podcast updated every Friday and now on iTunes

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