With the second half of this season, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ drops Ghost Rider and starts a new storyline subtitled ‘LMD’. (That stands for “Life Model Decoy”… i.e. robots.) I support this decision, mostly because I didn’t care for Ghost Rider. The LMD stuff is OK so far, I guess.
Perhaps the best part of the winter premiere episode is how much and how frequently it acknowledges its own derivativeness. As revealed in the last episode before the break, Dr. Radcliffe’s android Aida developed consciousness and turned evil. Throughout the episode, Mack repeatedly points out how inevitable that was, drawing comparisons not just to Ultron but to the countless movies that have been made about evil robots. “The robots always attack,” he chides.
Unbeknownst to the others at first, Aida has killed a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and kidnapped May, replacing her with a lookalike Life Model Decoy. Wanting to close the books on the last mission, Director Mace orders that the ‘Darkhold’ book be destroyed and that Aida’s memory be wiped. When Radcliffe and Fitz go to take care of that last part, Aida attacks them and escapes. Later, as they formulate a plan to deal with her, Aida hacks and invades S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. She wants the ‘Darkhold’ back so that she can use it to become even more powerful. Obviously, that wouldn’t be great for anyone else.
While working to lock down the base, Coulson and May (who’s really Robo-May, but nobody knows that yet – apparently not even Robo-May herself) are confronted by Aida. She knocks them both out and makes an incision above May’s brow. I thought this meant she was going to take Robo-May’s face and put it on herself, but that isn’t what happens. Instead, she locks them both in a room, where they wait for Fitz and Radcliffe to take control of the base again and let them out. In the meantime, they make small talk and Robo-May tries to get Coulson to reveal where he hid the ‘Darkhold’, all while Aida watches video through May’s eyes. (I guess that’s what the incision was about, but I’m puzzled why Aida wouldn’t already be able to see through May’s eyes anyway.)
Aida hacks a quinjet in the hangar and attacks Mack and Yo-Yo. Meanwhile, Fitz and Radcliffe debate whether Aida is actually alive. Radcliffe theorizes that the ‘Darkhold’ gave her emotions, which she’s struggling to process, like an infant having a tantrum.
Eventually, Coulson tells May that the ‘Darkhold’ is hidden in Mace’s office, cloaked so that it’s invisible. Aida finds it, but isn’t able to get out of the base because Fitz has successfully taken the building offline and released Coulson. Fitz tries to talk Aida down by appealing to her rationally. Just as she’s about to give a big Talking Killer speech, Mack sneaks up from behind and decapitates her. It’s a good thing robots can’t function without all their parts attached.
Coulson takes the ‘Darkhold’ back, and for a moment wonders how she found it.
This would seem to be the end of Aida… except… Dr. Radcliffe returns to his lab and there’s another Aida there with him! He built two, and was behind Aida 1 going evil the whole time. He programmed her to mimic being conscious so that she’d steal the ‘Darkhold’ for him and he could blame a rogue robot for it. He’s of course an evil genius right in the team’s midst. He explains to Aida 2 that, with this plan having failed, now they need to play a long game if he’s going to get that book. Luckily, they still have Robo-May as their ace in the hole. Not only does Coulson trust her, he may even be falling for her.
Not present for any of the Aida business are Director Mace, Daisy or Jemma, who flew out beforehand on a separate mission to rescue the man that Jemma helped free from the Terrigen cocoon and is now (they believe) being held captive by Senator Nadeer. While doing research on the Senator, Jemma recognized a photo of her brother, Vijay.
Vijay wakes up at his sister’s fancy lake house. They have a nice breakfast and talk. She says that she wants to give him time to recover. However, she has a bunch of heavily-armed Watchdog goons allegedly working security, led by a guy named Terrence Shockley (John Pyper-Ferguson, who looks like he walked directly off the set of ‘The Last Ship’ still wearing his wardrobe from that show). Shockley is a vile anti-Inhuman bigot and wants to execute Vijay. Nadeer hesitates when Vijay insists that he didn’t transform. He claims that he was stuck in the cocoon for so long because he fought the process the whole time. Nadeer can’t bring herself to kill her brother and orders Shockley to stand down.
Mace, Jemma and Daisy arrive at the house and try to barge their way in. While Nadeer deals with them, Shockley receives orders from someone called “The Superior” to execute Vijay anyway. He tries, but Vijay reveals that he in fact is Inhuman now, and has the power of super-speed. He fights off Shockley and the other goons. Jemma asks Vijay to come back to S.H.I.E.L.D. with them, but he’s skeptical and his sister begs him to run away with her instead. He rejects S.H.I.E.L.D. and gets on a helicopter with Nadeer and Shockley. That was a mistake. The Senator shoots her own brother dead to prove her loyalty to the anti-Inhuman cause.
Nadeer and Shockley dump Vijay’s body out of the helicopter into the lake, tied to something to weigh him down. As it sinks to the bottom, the corpse cocoons again. I think we haven’t seen the last of Vijay just yet.
I actually like the twist with Radcliffe being behind Aida, because (as mentioned) the evil-robot thing is kind of stale on its own. That said, is it really supposed to be a shock that Radcliffe would be evil? He hasn’t been with S.H.I.E.L.D. for very long, and it felt strange to me that anyone would ever trust him in the first place.
This seems like a more promising storyline than the last one, but I’m still not really enthused about it. The show feels like it’s running out of steam this season.