“LMD”, the second pod of Agents of SHIELD‘s fourth season, has just concluded in spectacular fashion. Picking up from where the strong Ghost Rider pod left off in the fall, Season 4 continued its upward trajectory, setting up a tantalizing final batch of episodes ahead.
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Agents of SHIELD reviews here.
One of this arc’s smarter decisions occurred early on, at the end of the winter premiere, “Broken Promises”. A bait-and-switch reveal that the true villain corrupted by the Darkhold was not Aida, but Radcliffe himself. This cleverly avoided rehashing the cliche “evil robot” story—one that already happened in the MCU in Age of Ultron. Instead, the pod had more of a “mad scientist” vibe, allowing John Hannah to use his talents in new ways, as a main antagonist who truly believes he’s doing the right thing. It also gave Mallory Jansen’s chilling portrayal of Aida additional dimensions.
The main appeal of LMDs isn’t that they’re evil robots, anyway. It’s in the name: “Life Model Decoy“. They are androids that can take the appearance of anyone, and SHIELD used this to great effect. For example, replacing May with an LMD infiltrator. Aside from the inherent suspense, the fact that LMayD initially didn’t even know she was an android also led to some great character drama, especially with Coulson and May’s feelings for him. By the final episode, four of the main cast were replaced with LMDs. This led to a gripping Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario, with none of the characters—or the audience—knowing whom to trust.
Meanwhile, the Watchdogs storyline continued brewing. Through an alliance with Radcliffe, we finally met the Superior, played by the charismatic Zach McGowan, and learned of his vendetta not just against Inhumans but Coulson as well. Senator Nadeer enjoyed a strong character-focused episode as she grappled with her prejudice in the face of family, eventually murdering her own Inhuman brother. She too was finally killed when one of her henchmen turned out to be a rather explosive Inhuman. SHIELD‘s Inhumans-as-minorities metaphor isn’t as strong as in X-Men, but still led to interesting stories. How does a Watchdog react to an Inhuman family member? Does a Watchdog’s loyalty waver when he himself becomes Inhuman?
Director Mace also experienced some character growth, thanks to the reveal that he was in fact not an Inhuman at all. The earlier episodes of the season implied a sinister backstory, but this pod revealed his deceptions to be well-meaning. In the end, he was a sympathetic do-gooder who exhibited strength and bravery even without superpowers.
Everything eventually culminated in “Self Control”, the final episode of the LMD pod and one of SHIELD‘s best hours to date. This episode alone elevated the whole pod from good to great in retrospect. It was packed with powerful material, as Simmons and Daisy fought their way out of a SHIELD base controlled by LMD replicas of their friends. A standout edge-of-your-seat sequence saw Fitz and Simmons confronting each other—one of them was an LMD, but which? Both actors excelled in that scene, but Elizabeth Henstridge shone brightest (and almost carried the episode singlehandedly) as she confronted and tearfully, brutally “killed” a duplicate of the man she loved. LMayD also had a great final scene, May’s personality coming through as she sacrificed herself to allow Jemma and Daisy to escape. Not to mention the final montage, a snapshot of the agents’ lives inside “the Framework”: Radcliffe’s virtual reality, a world without regrets.
That montage teased SHIELD‘s final pod of Season 4, which will focus on Daisy and Jemma helping the agents escape from the Framework before the showdown against Aida and the Superior. One can only hope for the return of Ghost Rider to tie the whole season together. For now, Agents of SHIELD is on a well-earned six-week break after delivering yet another strong batch of episodes in a stellar season.