The Good: Amazing performances, A couple of good character moments, Some actually awesome reversals
The Bad: Derivative plot
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides one of the best episodes of the series with "Self Control."
Sometimes, a show takes a turn that makes it pretty much impossible to discuss what comes after. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. did that in the first season when HYDRA was revealed in "The End Of The Beginning" (reviewed here!). With the climax to "The Man Behind The Shield" (reviewed here!) being what it was, it is impossible to discuss "Self Control," the subsequent episode, without revealing what that climax was. It is also tough to discuss "Self Control" without addressing the serious problem with the revelation at the end of "The Man Behind The Shield."
"Self Control" follows the unsuccessful attempt to rescue May from The Watchdog facility where Radcliffe had her and, apparently, the framework. "Self Control" opens burdened by the problem that followed that mission, as Fitz and Simmons - in questioning the timeline of their mission - came across a disturbing discovery . . . that the new LMD monitors had been disabled. In Simmons and Fitz coming to believe that Coulson, Johnson, Mack, and Mace had been replaced with LMDs, everything that follows is called into question. Or, it could have been. "The Man Behind The Shield" ended with LMD Coulson and LMD May, a scene which did not include either Fitz or Simmons. Genre fans who are inclined to believe that 4 LMDs infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters is a ruse and Fitz and Simmons are actually inside The Framework are pretty much debunked by the scene that has neither of them in it. So, "Self Control" opens with the viewer credibly believing that in our reality, all of the main field agents and the current Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been replaced with Life Model Decoys.
Aida is at her facility with the unconscious, framework connected S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, where she has Anton Ivanov (The Superior) in her clutches and she begins to cut him up. At S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Fitz and Simmons agree to keep quiet to the LMDs about their nature in order to survive the infestation. Coulson and Mace decide that the Inhumans should all be brought to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, which is part of their plans to kill the Inhumans for the Watchdogs and Aida. When LMD Coulson visits LMD May, he is shocked that May is repulsed by his nature.
Fitz and Simmons begin to experience real tension when the LMD detector goes off when they go into a lab alone. After a tense stand off, Simmons convinces Fitz to slit his own wrist and when he does, he attacks her to put her in the Framework. When Daisy makes preparations on the containment module, LMD Mack becomes concerned because he knows what she will find . . . an army of LMD Daisy's waiting to go online! When Daisy and Simmons reunite, Daisy is able to convince Simmons of her humanity and gain her trust at the same time. Aida finds that she is in conflict with Radcliffe over her two prime directives, so she finds a way to resolve the paradox. As the LMDs set the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Daisy and Simmons, the pair works to escape the base and save the Inhumans from extinction.
"Self Control" is somewhat disappointing in that the LMDs have been programmed differently from LMD May. As a result, all of the principle actors have to perform far more robotic and menacing. Clark Gregg, Jason O'Mara and Henry Simmons all rise to the occasion of playing robotic and . . . sparkless. Their characters fail as LMDs as none of the three characters seem at all like the main characters, they seem like robots.
The best performances in "Self Control" come early from Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge. The tense scene between the two in the lab is astonishingly good. Henstridge's reaction after Simmons makes the attempt to shut down the LMD Fitz is incredible. De Caestecker gives his performance of the series in the scene where Fitz convinces Simmons of his humanity. His tears look incredibly real. Henstridge shows the most pure moment of relief when Simmons hugs Daisy and that is pretty wonderful.
"Self Control" is the first episode of the season that gives Daisy an awesome role and actually relies some on her character. For the first time in a long time, Daisy mentions hacking . . . she started as a hacker. While there is a bit of plot derivation - Daisy being human (or Inhuman) in the lair of the enemy has been done multiple times now - but it is refreshing to see Daisy actually act like Daisy for a change. What makes little sense - outside the "cool factor" - is the big fight sequence Daisy is involved in. Daisy has the power to use her Inhuman abilities and yet the fight with Mace goes on far longer than it ought to have.
The episode climaxes with LMD May being given a pretty awesome role as well. Ming-Na Wen blows her brief part in the episode out of the water.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had some rough episodes in the fourth season as the show has tried to find its groove. The season was limited in its opening by getting off on the Ghost Rider tangent - which only served the purpose to introduce the Dark Hold and allow Aida to create the Framework. But "Self Control" takes where the show has meandered and made something truly awesome, setting up an alternate-reality episode for next week that could be awesome.
For an episode that utilizes a lot of reversals, "Self Control" is one of the best that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever done.
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© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.