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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: Android Invasion Causes Loss of ‘Self Control’

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: Android Invasion Causes Loss of ‘Self Control’

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Proceed with caution, agents. If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “Self Control,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Then let’s go.

As befitting a show co-created by no less a pop culture maven than Joss Whedon, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always worn its influences on its sleeve. But what makes “Self Control” so effective is how — in fine Mutant Enemy fashion — it effortlessly transforms those influences into the most balls-to-the-wall action-packed episode so far this season.

Picking up exactly where “The Man Behind the Shield” left off, this week’s episode begins with Fitzsimmons still processing the fact that most of their close friends and colleagues have been replaced by android duplicates. It’s an absurd albeit well-worn science-fiction premise that, in the wrong hands, can quickly descend into self-parody. But writer-director Jed Whedon finds exactly the right note of paranoia to play, with a vengeance, capturing Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ anxiety over the loss of self, and using it as a metaphor for any couple who finds themselves questioning each other’s trustworthiness. The first of many gasp-inducing moments arrives when Jemma learns Fitz too has been captured and replaced, and must bring herself to look her pleading lover in the eyes and slam a knife into his automated brain.

Elsewhere, it turns out Daisy, whom we thought was duplicated, isn’t. Though she’s marked for replacement by Robo-Mack and Robo-Coulson. Robo-May, however, is having second thoughts about their mission, since she developed genuine feelings for Coulson as she evolved beyond her programming. His android dupe can’t fully reciprocate, even though he possesses the director’s memories. In the end, she’s sophisticated enough to violate Aida’s prime directive of preserving the Framework at all costs, even if it means sacrificing herself and the man she loves, or at least his spitting image. (It’s almost the opposite of Ex Machina, since she’s not above destroying him, but in this case for altruistic rather than selfish reasons.)

Agents of SHIELD 2

Daisy, however, is unencumbered by any romantic attachments, and after finding a “truckload” of her robot doubles, goes on a blood-soaked rampage. After finding Jemma, she’s determined to give her the happiness she herself has been so long denied, and swears to reunite her friend with Fitz. There’s more than a little of Terminator 2‘s Sarah Connor in the way she cocks her rifle, and a healthy helping of Ripley in the way she appoints herself Jemma’s guardian and protector in the heat of battle.

And, man, is there a lot of blood in “Self Control.” Sure, most of it’s synthetic, covering metal bones, but it looks close enough to the real thing — as does the flesh wrapped around it — to give the episode the heavy veneer of a horror film. With its abundance of slashed wrists and decapitated heads, “Self Control” revels like no other episode this season in the freedom afforded the show by its season 4 move to 10 PM. And to think I was worried things would lighten too quickly once Ghost Rider left… Not that there’s a total absence of humor. Robo-Fitz gets the best line as he stands over the remains of a Robo-Mack mutilated by Daisy — “This’ll take a while.”

The biggest events of the episode, however, are saved for the final scene, after Daisy and Jemma have taken it upon themselves to enter the Framework in an attempt to free their teammates. We’ve already learned from Radcliffe that he admitted people into the Framework in order to improve their lives, and removed one deep pain from each member of S.H.I.E.L.D. Here, Daisy’s startled to find she’s living with Ward, Mack is a happy father living in suburbia, Fitz is a corporate tycoon, Coulson a schoolteacher, May a member of Hydra (!), and Jemma is…dead? I’m sure it’s not that cut and dry. May could be a mole in the rebuilt Triskelion, and Jemma’s death could have been faked (we still don’t know who’s about to get out of that limo with Fitz). Though I applaud the show’s efforts to bring Brett Dalton back on, if only for a short while. Now if only we could see Bobbie and Hunter again in this virtual wonderland.

One thing’s for certain though — Radcliffe, at least as we knew him, is dead. Murdered by Aida, who, like the substitute May, has outgrown her programming. But in the Framework, what form will Radcliffe take, and on whose side will Aida fall when all is said and done? Like everyone else on this show, she’s ultimately just looking for a little happiness. But what would make her happy? And, more importantly, how many people does she have to kill to get it?

Agents of SHIELD 3

Declassified Deliberations

— “Don’t worry. You’ll be many things.”

— The Framework continues to serve as a valid metaphor for any means of escape, from online shopping to drugs to pornography. And God knows even those us who aren’t addicts can relate to anyone seeking escape from reality these days.

— The Fitzsimmons romance deepens even in Fitz’s absence. This week we learn he’s been giving serious thought to marrying Jemma. Might this season lead to our first S.H.I.E.L.D. wedding?

— It’s played deadly straight, but the scene in which Daisy hides from Mack amidst her android doubles brings to mind a similar scenario in countless episodes of Scooby-Doo.

— “Through all the insane crap we’ve gone through, the one thing I’ve known without a doubt, the whole time, is you and Fitz belong together. This is not how your story ends. So I’m gonna beat the screws out of those junkers and the two of us are gonna get the hell out of Dodge. Deal?”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Images: Marvel/Disney/ABC

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