11:00 pm EDT, February 21, 2017

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×15 recap: The whole world in her hands

LMDs took over, Fitz and Simmons had an adventure, and then things got really crazy on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×15!

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×15 recap

I’m going to say this upfront: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×15 is a sprawling, devastating, and audacious masterpiece.

So if you don’t mind, I’d like to bring your attention to two parallel moments in “Self Control” between which I believe the true story is suspended. It’s a small thing, but bear with me.

The first moment comes early in the episode. Fitz and Simmons, hands clenched together, white with fear as the horror of their LMD infested base dawns on them. The second comes much later — Simmons and Daisy, hands locked as the Zephyr tears away from conflagration of the Playground below.

Between these two points in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×15, pretense is stripped away. While the male elements of the team snooze unsuspecting in the still-hidden Framework, it is the women who get the work done.

And it is the women who pay the price.

At first, the burdens of plot and emotional story of land directly on Simmons. It is she who discovers, in an exceptional (and excruciating) display of cinematic tension, that Fitz is an LMD. Weakened and bleeding, Simmons is forced to destroy the carbon copy of the love of her life. She beats away his idle suggestion of marriage, stabbing down through a body she loves to save her very existence.

And since I may not get another opportunity to say this about her, it must be observed that Elizabeth Henstridge’s performance is increasingly tremendous as the pressure builds. Seriously, she’s amazing.

Thankfully, Simmons isn’t forced to bear the brunt of all this story by herself. Daisy has also escaped being body-swapped, and awakens to the reality of her situation when she finds a room full of body doubles and Mack tries to kill her.

She’s a quick one, that Daisy Johnson!

In a ridiculously moving sequence, Simmons and Daisy collide. Delirious with grief and suspicion, the two women can barely communicate across the canyon of distrust torn between them. With words turned useless, Daisy embraces her friend and and gently sends her power reverberating through Simmons’ bones.

In a series that has been light on sex and high on tension, this desperate hug is one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s most intimate moments to date. It also represents a shift in the momentum of “Self Control,” because Daisy and Simmons are terrified, wounded, and isolated — but they’re together.

And together, robots be damned. They can kick ass.

The path of kick assery leads Simmons and Daisy to gather up the remaining human S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (who make up a pretty adorable crew.) But on their way out of the base, Daisy and Simmons are confronted by the LMD of May, sitting on a crap ton of dynamite.

And thus is another leg of female excellence established in “Self Control.”

Perhaps for the first time, LMD May follows her own directive. She allows Daisy and Simmons to pass, and bars the way to LMD Coulson — the creature she ostensibly loves. For all that she is metal and make, May fears death, and yet, she embraces it.

LMD Coulson never has a hope of catching on. He is a shadow of the true Coulson, compelled by the mere fact of his own existence. May has no such illusions.

May’s sacrifice (and a sacrifice it is, LMD or no) is what allows for Simmons and Daisy’s hand-clenched triumph as “Self Control” enters its final movement. It is here that another female figure intrudes onto this lovely and powerful arc, reconfiguring the calculus of triumph into what looks like almost certain tragedy.

That’s Aida, of course.

Aida has constructed the Framework, trading the realities of flesh and blood (which mean nothing to her) for a set of victory parameters she has newly invented. Each player in her sick, Sims-y world walks a warped path with very real consequences in the realm of the flesh.

Aida murders Radcliffe to preserve the Framework, substituting his true life for an imaginary Heaven. Aida also warps reality itself, transforming the wounded Superior into a false creature controlled by his own disembodied head.

(It’s creepy AF.)

But as Simmons and Daisy slip into the Framework to find their S.H.I.E.L.D. family, it becomes clear that Aida’s most devastating consequences come to bear on the women of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The men seem to be doing okay. Coulson is a professor, Mack, the happy father of a healthy daughter. Fitz… well, Fitz is rich, and famous, and not lonely.

But May is working for Hydra, which has burst out of hiding. Daisy is dating Ward, which is honestly something I never thought I would type again.

And Simmons? In the Framework, Simmons is dead.

Simmons, who forcefully assured us that death within the Framework would lead, without exception, to death in reality. Yes, I appreciate the appalling irony.

So with all of its cruel Whedony elegance, I wonder if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×15 isn’t itself pondering the significance of clasped hands. Pondering the profound power of selfless bonds between women, and the cataclysmically destructive strength of selfish preservation.

What remains — what matters — when there’s nothing left to matter?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for Bizarro World on April 4.

What are your reactions to the utter insanity of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 4×15?

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