Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 15: "Self Control"
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has evolved from a Marvel Cinematic Universe side shoot to a captivating ensemble action series that’s carved out its own corner of Marvel's world on television. Along the way, the show has introduced TV viewers and the MCU to Ghost Rider(s), Inhumans, and Life Model Decoys. S.H.I.E.L.D. has spun each of these concepts from the comics into a sprawling lore packed with alternate dimensions, science-magic, and nail-biting scenes of doppelgänger paranoia.
With this week's “Self Control,” the LMD arc was supposedly brought to a close as the show heads into a six-week hiatus before returning for its final batch of episodes. In reality, Aida, the Superior, LMDs, and the Framework look as though they’ll continue to dominate the plot moving forward. The latter will be taking on particular significance, as most of our heroes are now inside the artificial world based off of a more perfect version of their lives. With only a few mysterious hints as to where the story is heading next, we take a look at where S.H.I.E.L.D. can go next.
Life Inside The Framework
Though the producers have claimed the fourth and current season of S.H.I.E.L.D. is made up of three separate ‘pods,’ they’ve actually been telling one long story over the past fifteen episodes. Given how things ended yesterday, those elements and characters aren’t likely going anywhere. While Robbie Reyes may not return, almost every other plot set up this season is still in play - even the Darkhold remains as a vestige from the Ghost Rider plot. In fact, it’s the reason Radcliffe and Aida have been able to build such a realistic representation of everyone’s life.
In the climax to “Self Control,” we got a quick glimpse into what each agent’s life would be like had they rectified their one regret. The result works like a multifaceted cliffhanger, teasing us with the questions of what plagues each character, and how would their life be different if they could change those moments. Mack’s is the most straightforward, at least on the surface, as he appears to have his daughter Hope back. Though less fantastical than some of the other stories, it will still provide plenty of emotional resonance for a character that’s long been the conscience of the show.
The other flashes were a lot more cryptic. After an obvious fake-out, Daisy is shown to be in a relationship with Grant Ward. While this seems like an odd thing for her to regret, as they long ago grew apart and never quite got together to begin with, there’s likely more to the story than we realize. What’s more interesting is whether Daisy will realize this is all fake, as she put herself into the Framework rather than being forced into it. Fitz appears to be both swaggering and wealthy, which is quite a far cry from the bumbling man of science we’re used to. What exactly does he regret? His life has always been so intrinsically linked to Jemma, so seeing him happy without her brings up a number of questions. As for his wealth, it’s not hard to imagine the genius inventor living a Tony Stark-like lifestyle in a slightly different world.
Speaking of Simmons, the shot of her headstone brings up a number of questions moving forward. Is her death due to her brain never being properly mapped? Or does it have something to do with Fitz’s regret? More intriguing is what happened to her mind once she was added into the Framework, as she’s most certainly not dead. Perhaps she’ll be the one who retains her memories, as a reality wasn’t constructed for her. There’s also the possibility of her meeting up with Radcliffe, as we know Aida has forced him into the Framework as well.
Outside of mere personal beats, the flashes of Coulson’s and May’s life open up the biggest possibilities for the show moving forward. We’ve already seen a promo teasing the return of Hydra, and May standing in the Triskelion seems to indicate that the group’s coup in The Winter Soldier went as planned. While that opens up all sorts of questions about Ward, Daisy, and May and where they lie as agents, it also gives us our clearest indication that this new reality is radically different from the real world. With Hydra on top, how much influence do they have in the world? Like The Man in the High Castle, the final arc of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks like it will explore a world where the Nazis win. It’s a bold move, and will allow the writers and producers to spin a number of wild stories as the explore the possibilities of this new status quo.
Coulson’s life may be easy to understand given his LMD’s speech to Nay (aka Not-May) earlier in the episode, but his lesson on Inhumans brings up even more questions. The Winter Soldier showed a Hydra set on eliminating enhanced threats, and yet last season of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed the organization began its life as a cult devoted to Inhumans. In a world run by Hydra, are Inhumans a threat or a boon? Assuming they control government institutions like schools, is Coulson following the company line, or deviating from the playbook? And is his lesson about fearing Inhumans designed to stoke that fear, or quell it?
A World Of Possibilities
Earlier this week, we heard from showrunner (and the writer and director of the episode) Jed Whedon and stars Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet about where S.H.I.E.L.D. will be headed for the rest of the season. Along with reassurances that longtime fans would be rewarded, they hinted at the idea of past characters returning. A name specifically brought up in the discussion was Graviton, the supervillain moniker of Dr. Franklin Hall in the comics. Back in season 1 of S.H.I.E.L.D., we met Dr. Hall and his creation, Gravitonium. The episode ended with him being absorbed into the substance, teasing his rise as the gravity-controlling villain. Sadly, he’s been AWOL since then, with the substance last popping up during a brief scene following the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. Knowing Hydra is in charge inside the Framework, however, opens up the doors for Graviton and other past plot threads to return.
While the ownership of the Gravitonium was likely lost in the shuffle as Hydra fought S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s highly probable that we could see its return now that the rogue’s have triumphed. After so many years, it’s possible that Hydra were even able to extricate Dr. Hall from the substance, with him emerging as a fully-formed Graviton. By establishing an alternate reality, the writers and producers of S.H.I.E.L.D. now have a sandbox to play in involving all the discarded characters and elements from seasons and episodes passed. Using this new narrative device, characters like Deathlok, Blizzard, and Blackout could seamlessly be brought back without the need for much set-up or explanation.
We know Brett Dalton will be returning as Grant Ward, but this new development opens up the doors for Garrett, Sitwell, and other Hydra agents to come back from death or prison as well. Despite Hydra having been defeated in the real world of the show, it seems clear that they’ll be the prime focus moving forward. While the story will be entwined with the Framework, Darkhold, and LMDs as well, it looks as if the final chunk of episodes will be all about ghosts from the past. As such, the minds behind S.H.I.E.L.D. have a glorious opportunity to truly reward longtime fans of the series while playing out the rest of the season like one of Marvel’s What If… ? comics.
While we’re sure to get teases about the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the weeks to come, the mystery of it all is part of the excitement. The show has increasingly pushed itself into uncharted territory over the past few seasons, and the upcoming episodes look to be the most ambitious yet. The future of the show beyond Season 4 may still be in question, but S.H.I.E.L.D. looks like it’s going to make sure it leaves its mark this spring.
What are you hoping to see when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns? Let us know in the comments.
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