Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 15
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD closes off the LMD arc with members of the team replaced by LMDs creating uncertainty over who can be trusted.
The reveal at the end of last week was a real punch to the gut in many ways. Mack, Coulson, Daisy and Mace all under Radcliffe’s control while Fitz and Simmons have to deal with it is already a tense prospect that could have simply resulted in a competent cat and mouse thriller within the S.H.I.E.L.D. base but this episode goes far beyond that in the best way.
It’s rare to have a twist surprise me as they are so often easily telegraphed but I didn’t see that one coming and I certainly didn’t think there was more to it. The reveal that only Mace, Mack and Coulson had been replaced last week with Daisy still being the original was completely unexpected as was Fitz turning out to be an LMD. I suspected earlier in the season that Fitz might have been replaced and it seems I was right but I didn’t expect it to come out like this. Separating Fitz and Simmons is a good idea because they do have a tendency to become codependent at times so the stakes feel higher when they are apart.
The beauty of the LMDs is that they can hurt the characters on a deeply personal level since they are essentially the people they are pretending to be. The Fitz LMD -to use an example- looks like him, thinks like him and shares all of his memories so on some level it is actually Fitz. Everything he says to Simmons is completely honest so it’s easy to imagine how difficult it is for her to point a gun at him and keep the fact that it’s not really him in her mind. The only major difference other than the fact LMD Fitz is an android is that his programming makes him behave in certain ways. Even at that it still comes across as Fitz doing those things so the threat is a deeply personal one with a powerful emotional connection.
Elizabeth Henstridge plays that conflict perfectly as she uses all of her willpower to keep herself from trusting Fitz. At one point she isn’t certain of the truth and seems ready to surrender to her instinct to trust him but sheer force of will keeps her from trusting what LMD Fitz says. At the same time Simmons is also doubting her own identity as she could easily be an LMD programmed to fully believe that she is the real thing. I love how the conflict continues when she brutally cuts the Fitz LMD and it is made clear in the performance that Simmons on some level feels like she is killing the real Fitz. The way the LMD stories build paranoia in every circumstance is incredible and tests the characters in really unique ways.
The episode expertly shifts gears from what initially seemed like a Fitz and Simmons story to a Daisy and Simmons story. Once Daisy gets wind of the fact that people around her have been replaced the cat and mouse thriller begins in a different way than intended. I really liked the scene between Daisy and Simmons where they both tried to figure out if the other could be trusted before Daisy came up with the solution of using her powers to feel if Simmons’ bones were made from actual bone. One thing the LMDs can’t mimic is Daisy’s powers so it becomes a way for Simmons to trust her as well.
I love how the tension gave way to relief as they hugged to express how happy they were that neither of them was alone in this situation. Of course two against the entire base isn’t great but it could be a lot worse and the fact that they each have someone to trust gives hope when there wasn’t any before.
If the episode has a flaw it’s that the cat and mouse section didn’t go on for long enough. There were two major engagements and then it was over. I would have liked to see Daisy and Simmons sneaking around the base trying to outwit their opponents more but it’s such a minor criticism. The engagements were excellent with Daisy’s taking on LMD Mace being the most impressive. I loved the fight choreography and the suggestion of strength from the Mace duplicate. Daisy’s little ball of Quake energy when cornered by two LMDs was a really cool effect as well so the episode delivered on the action in really big ways.
Beyond that the episode manages to explore some existential ideas. The LMDs create the opportunity to explore what makes people who they are. I mentioned earlier that the LMDs are essentially the people they are imitating in the way they behave but they are programmed to mimic that behaviour based on the memories they have had downloaded into them. It creates an interesting debate because unless you know that they are a copy then there’s no way of telling the difference. From the outside perspective the LMD is in essence the person you know.
The LMDs themselves are able to question their own existence because their behaviour mimics how the real people would react in that situation. It may only be a simulation but it seems real so it allows the LMDs to have conversations that the people they imitate would. This is best explored by LMayD who is fully aware of her true purpose and hates her own existence, or at least mimics hatred of her existence. If May were in this situation then she would definitely hate it so this extends to her LMD. The line “I’m all phantom limbs” when Coulson’s LMD explains that he feels whole now that each part of his body essentially belongs to him is really powerful because LMayD will never think that way.
This pays off in a big way when LMayD sacrifices herself so that the same doesn’t happen to Daisy and Simmons. It’s wonderfully complex character development done through the lens of an artificial being mimicking sentience and it turns out to be really thought provoking when you dig right into it.
The whole idea of the Framework ties into the debate over identity in a really big way. Dr. Radcliffe feels that the human body is a fragile expendable shell that only houses the greatness that is the consciousness. This comes out through Aida telling him that she has encountered a paradox in her programming. Her two main directives are protecting him and safeguarding the framework but she can’t do both as spending time in the Framework will eventually cause his body to wither and give out. Essentially she can’t can’t safeguard the Framework and keep him alive at the same time so her programming is in conflict. Radcliffe’s bold claims about how worthless the body really is helps her resolve that conflict and allows her to kill him in order to protect him by leaving him in the Framework. From Radcliffe’s point of view that is some cruel irony and it certainly is what he deserves though I doubt his story is over yet.
Aida may not be sentient but she clearly has some desire to be. Her programming may tell her that being sentient is the best way for her to carry out her directives. She expresses a desire to experience true emotion rather than simply mimic it. In her own words she points out that she understands the concepts of emotions but not how they actually feel. This could definitely result in some excellent stories down the line. I really liked the way that she had the Superior controlling his synthetic body remotely. He could potentially become a tragic character as he is essentially trapped inside an existence he hates without having any choice in the matter. It should also be noted that this is very similar to what happened to Dum Dum Dugan in the comics.
We’ve heard a lot about the Framework over the past few episodes but this is the first time we see it in the form that Radcliffe has created. It is repeatedly mentioned that the Framework is designed to undo a single regret for each of the inhabitants and folds that into the world that surrounds it. This brings up another existential point about what defines people. LMayD said that her pain and regrets define May because she has used them to learn and grow. For better or for worse she is what her life has made her and the same is true for everyone on Earth.
The counter to that argument is that many of us have things in our lives that we wish we could change. A popular fantasy for people is the “if you could go back in time…” scenario. People will always wonder “what if?” as the road not taken is a powerful curiosity. The Framework allows the exploration of that road not taken but the trade-off seems to be that nobody realises what is different about their lives. Effectively without that major regret to help define them they are no longer themselves and I imagine the next arc is going to be about what makes these characters who they are.
We only get a brief glimpse into the Framework in this episode but it’s a fascinating one. It seems to me -though I’m not completely sure- that the world is built around the removal of all of the regrets so everyone plugged in shares the world but has helped to shape it in some way. I could be wrong and the scenarios may be individual but it certainly seems that it’s a shared hallucination.
There is a glimpse into the altered lives of each of the characters. Daisy is apparently in a relationship with Ward which suggests that her regret was not pursuing that though her first instinct was Lincoln, Coulson is a teacher which makes sense given his desire for a simple life that has been mentioned, Fitz is rich and with a mystery woman which surprised me as I never got the impression that he desired wealth, Simmons is apparently dead which baffled me as I can’t imagine what regret that undoes and May is an Agent of H.Y.D.R.A. working in the Triskellion. An earlier episode showed that saving the girl that she was forced to kill was the regret that was undone though that may have changed but I’ll be interested to find out how that translates into her working for H.Y.D.R.A. and how they seem to run everything in this Matrix-like fantasy world.
A nearly flawless episode that brings in an early unexpected twist that changes the momentum of everything after it. Flipping the script from a Fitz and Simmons cat and mouse thriller to a Daisy and Simmons cat and mouse thriller was a clever touch and allowed for some strong moments between the actors. The cat and mouse section was really impressive though it could have been longer but boasted some really cool set piece moments.
The episode also explores the notion of identity on a fascinating existential level through the LMDs and the Framework. Both allow for interesting perspectives on what makes people who they are and the episode does a great job exploring that. Aida managing to resolve the paradox in her programming when Radcliffe essentially gives her permission to kill his mortal body while preserving his essence and the Framework was a clever twist and it seems that Aida will continue to grow in the next arc. The ending showing where the characters fit into the world of the Framwork was an exciting cliffhanger and I can’t wait for the next part of the season.