Synopsis 4×15: With the conclusion of the LMD storyline, the episode follows the emotional revelations of each team members’ existence as either LMD or real, and leaves open the door to interesting implications about what they each truly want in life.
This week’s Agents of SHIELD more than made up for any storyline and character development plateaus of this and previous seasons. Incorporating paranoia and espionage, the episode, perhaps for the first time since the reveal of Agent Ward as Hydra, made viewers feel things. At once both touching and traumatizing (don’t even get me started on my emotions surrounding FitzSimmons), the LMD storyline came to a close, for now, with the team facing their deepest fears: each other.
Immediately following the revelation from the end of last episode that the majority of the team had been replaced by LMDs, Fitz and Simmons cautiously wander through the base, avoiding the possibility of being caught alone with any of the perceived LMDs. The Director, having made a “quick recovery,” begins strategic plans between himself and Coulson to replace the remaining members of SHIELD. Daisy and Mack work closely with one another to bring in all Inhumans; for those non-LMDs, the belief is that they are safer in the base, but for the LMDs, the plan is to destroy them.
The LMD storyline, if nothing else, has created an interesting dialogue about reality and free will (if you want to call it that). LMD Coulson and LMD May seem at odds with one another; May still holds to the emotions and motivations of her true-self, simply guided by the coded orders of Radcliffe; Coulson perseverates on the perfection that is his LMD form, where he feels no pain and knows his original consciousness can live out a lifetime in the Framework. Regrets. That is what motivates him; the belief that in the Framework, none of this matters.
These two characters provide a unique opportunity to delve into a complex subject, what makes someone alive. From May’s perspective, all you need is choice. Their entire interaction this episode was raw, with LMD May making me feel perhaps more for the character of May than I ever have before. She is terribly complex and deserves so much more than to be simply the cavalry, sent in to clean up others’ messes. And for once, maybe she’ll get to do just that.
For Fitz and Simmons, the pain of all their past failings, their past losses, comes to the forefront. But instead of facing the death of each other, they are forced to face the possibility that one of them is an LMD and is likely programmed to kill or harm the other. Even having watched the episode twice over, I still can’t believe the anguish their interaction invokes. In a twisted way, even in LMD form, they care about each other more than anything else.
With a gun pointed at him, Fitz slits his own wrist, but as Jemma draws near, with the most abrupt and alarming change of emotion, LMD Fitz (that’s right) drives the knife into Jemma’s thigh and knocks her unconscious. Was the emotion real or fake? After Jemma regains consciousness, LMD Fitz seems to express concern for Jemma, as he plans to keep them together forever within the Framework, even kissing her on the forehead. But LMD Fitz underestimates Jemma (hopefully not a sign of Fitz’ true beliefs).
Nobody puts Jemma in the corner… or the Framework. What follows is perhaps one of the most disturbing moments in Agents of SHIELD history. Jemma stabs at Fitz, who cries out in anguish, before trying to choke her, and as she continues to stab, he calls out for her to stop, until she destroys him.
Standing in a literal field of Daisys, Daisy comes to realize that she is one of the humans, and others of the team must have been replaced. To momentarily evade Mack, Daisy steps amongst the rows of herself (how very Westworld), and unleashes a quake to get away. What a female centric episode this is, and for once, it feels purposeful and empowering.
It seems surprising that no one else at SHIELD has noticed the chaos, until two agents come across the body of Fitz. Coulson tries to spin the situation as an LMD Daisy and Jemma attacking the team, but is foiled when the agent kneels to inspect the body and realizes it is itself an LMD. LMD Coulson is then forced to do the most un-Coulson like thing, shoot them. LMD Coulson doesn’t mess around with a plan. And he has no regrets, because he believes his regrets will all get worked out in the Framework.
Having been forced to kill, for all intents and purposes, the love of her life, Jemma is understandably distraught. But when faced with the possibility of killing Daisy, she seems resolute. The two discuss the reality of their situation, because if they really were LMDs, they might not even know. Finally Daisy grabs Jemma to move her out of the spotlight of the searching SHIELD agents and quakes them both.
Daisy’s ability to use her Inhuman power and the ability to vibrate the bones of Jemma rather than the metal of an LMD, leads the two to realize that they are the remainder of their team. Only they can save the day. Or at the very least, try to survive. However, Jemma reminds Daisy that she doesn’t need to sacrifice herself to atone for anything. Again, regret.
Even for Aida, this episode draws upon an interesting paradox: protect the Framework or protect Radcliffe. To solve the situation, she kills Radcliffe after locking his mind in the Framework; for him, the Framework is reality. Again, Inception at its finest. If the person is content within the reality of the dream, what does it matter?
For all the emotion of the episode, there are some humorous quips along the way, particularly between Daisy and Jemma. When outlining the insane challenge ahead of them to rescue their actual team, Daisy responds, “Don’t say it out loud, because that made it sound way worse.” Of course, the two are brilliant and strong, and soon think their way out of their predicament: a stockpile of sleeping gas. LMDs may be impervious to it, but at least they won’t have to fight their fellow human agents.
Daisy takes on LMD Mace, proving that not only is she a kick-ass fighter, but she’s also tough as nails. Bullets in the shoulder, no gauntlets, and yet this girls blasts LMD Coulson and Mack to kingdom come. Or wherever it is that dead LMDs go. Jemma gives antidotes to three agents, and proves that she is not an LMD and that they need to help her and Daisy accomplish their plans. Luckily for them all, the tall agent sheepishly admits that he has recently begun training for flying the Zephyr. They now have an escape route.
The three agents head out to find any other humans to save and to prepare the Zephyr for flight, while Daisy and Jemma load necessary hardware for the Framework into the loading bay (mostly so that they are separated from each other, but that’s fine). When the two enter the cargo hold, LMD May awaits.
The problem is, she seems concerned about… regret. Dead or not. As Coulson arrives looking for Daisy and Jemma, he realizes that May let the two go. She chose. She realizes that she is not May, but she can make decisions that May could live with. “I’m all phantom limbs. That doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real.”
She brings the episode to its emotional conclusion, regret is what makes us human. The ability to feel pain or regret, that is humanity. Before he can stop her, she detonates a massive explosion as Daisy, Jemma, and the three random agents fly to safety (here’s hoping we get to see more of those poor agents).
Eventually they pick up Yo-Yo, and Jemma and Daisy decide to plug themselves into the Framework, in order to find the remaining team members and escape through a backdoor (Anyone hoping it has something to do with “Joshua”?).
In a both calm and jolting entry into the Framework, Daisy awakens in a tub (again with the Inception reference), believing that Lincoln will be waiting. That in itself would have been an interesting storyline; do you choose to stay if someone you love exists again? But as she walks across the room, the camera lingers on a photo… of her and Ward.
As the calming tones of “Have You Heard, Pt. 2” by the Moody Blues begins to play for the second time this episode, the scene scans over the lives of everyone in the Framework. Coulson teaches in a classroom about fear of Inhumans. Mack picks up a bicycle belonging to, we can assume, his daughter. Fitz steps out of a limo in the dapperest suit. Jemma appears only as a tombstone. And May stands in the Triskelion, Hydra logo barely visible on her shoulder.
This episode was not just a good episode of Agents of SHIELD, it was a good hour of television. If they can maintain the emotion and characterization and action of this, then I’m once again hooked on SHIELD.
As is often the case, the episode has one final cut scene, with the Russian Watchdog awakening in a synthetic body, with his real head inside a helmet on the table as it guides his body. For this, I can only imagine they are somehow setting him up as someone from the comics, but I can’t quite figure out who. I guess we have to wait to find out.