I will openly admit something straight out-of-the-gate: I am not a regular viewer of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
But, what I am a fan of is overall character progression, incredible acting, intense writing, deep subtext, quotes that will carry on for years, action that feels raw & visceral and stakes that can be measured on a personal and global scale. This episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is everything you could ask for from this show, but it’s everything you deserve from every show you binge and hold close.
And to top it off, it looks like Jed Whedon has finally stepped out of the shadow of his brother for a writer/director feature that is so award-worthy in it’s premiere, I’m starting to wonder what held back this level of talent in prior seasons. I will say, that this whole season has been on a level that I wasn’t expecting from the series due to it’s rocky “ups-&-downs” in the prior seasons. But, it seems like J.Whedon has completely blown past the Marvel shackles, network demands and character trappings to create a masterpiece of a story. And to even have who I thought was merely a henchwoman in the background become the main villain of the season is a masterstroke.
It’s also a bit ironic, because my favorite hour of television prior to this is an episode written/directed by his brother, Joss Whedon, for an episode called “Out of Gas” for the short-lived show Firefly. That episode pushed it’s characters to the edge of emotions they never felt before and gave them an impossible situation that left them raw, defeated, compassionate and hopeful in dire need. It showed the main character of the series, Malcolm Reynolds, as a man who relied on community, even more than his leadership skills, to fuel his constant fight for freedom, independence and hope. And it gave brief, origin vignettes to it’s crew members’ introduction to the ship that were equally hilarious, heartfelt and intriguing. And by the end, the story feels like a legend with each character further elevated in the eyes of the viewer. It is an outstanding piece of television.
So, when I say that “Self-Control” belongs on the same platter as “Out of Gas“, you know that it it takes a lot for me to give anything such an honor.
Upfront: If you haven’t watched this episode yet, skip to the end of the article to avoid the:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For those who haven’t kept up-to-date, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has been completely nailing it’s LMD(Life Model Decoy) storyline this season. While it seems like a cheesy trope at first to(once again) have multiple Melinda May‘s on screen, it showed how crucial this storyline could actually be and how easy failure could happen for our characters last week when 3/4ths of the entire cast(!!!) were swapped with evil LMD doppelgangers.
So, before the episode even begins, the series takes a huge risk by giving us a scenario that gives the viewers a sense of claustrophobia and possibly alienates them from their favorite characters. And even from the outset of the episode, there is a lingering paranoia that either Fitz or Simmons could also be an LMD, which I was entirely expecting to be resolved at the end of the episode. But, when the show intelligently chooses to have this solved at the top of the first act, it shows that all bets are off and only ratchets up the tension by 20 before the first 15 minutes even ends.
Speaking of this scene: Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge give the most gutteral, Hitchcock-esque, brutally confused and terrified performance that forces them to act against each other’s talents. They are literally fighting for the sympathy of the viewer and both of them are nailing it. This is acting ballet at it’s finest as they push and pull on the viewers’ expectations and emotions. It’s only two people in this room and there’s complete and utter chaos full of fear and inability to predict what the next move will be. Even past this point: We see Fitz nonchalantly mention he wants to spend his life with Simmons, which is almost menacing as it reads as someone who is giving away simple data about any situation.
But, the fatal moments of the scene are even more devastating, as Simmons clutches a blade with tears in her eyes while viciously stabbing away at Fitz, trying to ignore his agonizing cries of pain. The fact that gut-wrenching, death screams pouring out as he dies is a means of self-defense is a level of cruel that is beyond what I was expecting from this scene. And both actors sell it. If this were a stage play, this scene would be on every headline this morning.
And Elizabeth Henstridge never lets up, as Fitz and Skye share terrified and defeated moments that prove why these characters are both worth rooting for. They’re each using their vulnerabilities to prove to one another they can be trusted. But, they also continue to use that in their interactions for the rest of the episode. Their humanity makes them stand out and gives them reason to fight, and it’s a level of subtlety in their performances towards one another that makes what they’re doing special.
And Chloe Bennet is definitely no slouch, as he fight scene with the LMD Patriot starts with an homage to The Terminator and only turns up with her extreme athleticism and kinetic choreography against an immovable enemy. It’s intense, the setting is perfect and you can feel every single blow she takes and gives.
And finally, Ming-Na Wen kills it with her chance to be vulnerable, empathetic and accepting of her circumstance. She loses purpose and has been an LMD long enough to feel pain and evolve past her programming. The line “I’m all phantom limbs” is horrifying in a way that it’s a pain we will never know but is even more disturbing to understand. It hits you in the core and will be quoted long after this episode.
!!!!!!END OF SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!END OF SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!END OF SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congratulations, Jed Whedon. This is a masterpiece and everyone involved should be proud. The ending I won’t touch on because it feels like that will deserve it’s own article about who we are as people and what we truly want. And it looks like my favorite character may be returning(I hope as an LMD for season 5!).
And for the first time, what I truly want more than anything else is more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Be sure to leave your opinions and comments below or on @FanBrosShow