Promises are made and broken as the team gets closer to figuring out who's really pulling their strings

By Christian Holub
January 10, 2017 at 11:00 PM EST
ABC/Eric McCandless
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Welcome back, True Believers, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midseason hiatus. This episode certainly had enough reveals and plot twists to make the wait worth it. Let’s dive in.

The episode picks up almost exactly where the midseason cliffhanger left off. AIDA has just killed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nathanson (poor guy didn’t even get a second name before his neck was snapped) and replaced Agent May with a Life Model Decoy of her own. Now, AIDA goes about covering up her treachery best as she can, removing her blood-stained blazer. Accompanied by such soft music, the sequence feels weirdly like a commercial for luxury stain-remover, though it does have a story purpose. AIDA notes that music helps dopamine levels, and she needs to keep the real May (hooked up to an IV keeping her unconscious) out of the way until LMD May serves her purpose.

Meanwhile, Director Jeffrey Mace has assembled a veritable Council of Elrond to figure out what to do with the Darkhold. They all know letting AIDA read it was a mistake in and of itself. Fitz and Radcliffe try to protest, noting her decision saved lives, but Mack shoots them down: “Have either of you chuckleheads seen a movie in the last 30 years?” (Like, say, Avengers: Age of Ultron, perhaps?) Mack turns out to be an expert in robot movies, which always end with the robots turning on humanity.

Robots aren’t the only things capable of betraying humans, of course. We are reintroduced to Senator Ellen Nadeer’s brother, who thanks to Simmons’ efforts has emerged from the Terrigenesis cocoon he was trapped in for seven months (longer than any other known Inhuman). Luckily for him, Vijay Nadeer finds himself on a comfortable bed in a fancy house. When he goes outside, he finds his sister waiting for him on the lawn with breakfast.

Simmons isn’t done with him yet. Intensely curious about the job she was forced to perform, Simmons has looked him up and identified him as Nadeer’s brother. Simmons is certainly happy to have Daisy around again, especially since Fitz is so distracted these days — “you know how boys can be with their robots.” When Mace’s PR lackey Burroughs (or as Simmons dings him, “Smithers”) summons Daisy to come meet with, she finds someone less happy to see her.

Well, actually, Mace seems content with the good PR from Daisy’s public addition to the team. The two of them just seem to have different priorities. Daisy wants to focus on the Watchdogs and their possible connection to powerful backers, but Mace still sees all that as a conspiracy theory. He’s much more interested in the Nadeers, and when he brings up that the senator was keeping an Inhuman captive, Daisy’s on board. They set off with Simmons to rescue him.

Coulson, Fitz, and Radcliffe are otherwise occupied. They find AIDA and try to reprogram her for safety given her contact with the Darkhold, but she’s not having it. In fact, she’s already made upgrades of her own – mostly to take away her pain sensors, so a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent shooting her has no effect at all. She throws Fitz through a glass door, where he finds Nathanson’s body and realizes AIDA’s betrayal. AIDA gets away for now, though without the Darkhold in tow.

NEXT: Brother and sister

Back at the Nadeer house, Vijay notes that this was one of the last buildings their dad designed before his death. There are also references to the fact that their mom’s birthday took place on the day of the Chitauri attack, “the worst day” of Ellen’s life, as bad as the day she first found Vijay in his cocoon. She asks him what it was like in there; he responds that it was mostly dark and cold and lonely. She asks him to go for a walk, which seems harmless enough, but it is actually a coded signal to her Watchdog-looking goons stationed on the property, who get ready to assassinate Vijay on cue.

Luckily, the SHIELD agents are kicking their rescue plan into overdrive. Simmons disguises herself as a consultant seeking a meeting with the senator. Unfortunately, Nadeer’s aide sees right through her and calls the armed henchmen to ask what they do. They order him to “take care of it,” so he physically attacks her, but as Mace noted while observing, “Jemma’s tougher than I had originally given her credit for.” Simmons subdues the guy and takes his phone to trace the call to Vijay’s location.

The fateful moment has come for Vijay. The gunmen emerge from the trees to kill him. Ellen reiterates the promise they made to each other, after the Chitauri killed their mother, to kill each other if they ever became infected by “the alien plague.” In Ellen’s mind, Terrigenesis is merely the next phase in the alien plan to contaminate humanity. Vijay is able to talk her down, however, by arguing that he’s not an Inhuman. He was in the cocoon far longer than anyone else, and so far has no signs of superpowers or physical transformation. Ellen has her goons stand down, for now.

Meanwhile, AIDA has come back to find the Darkhold and is soon confronted by Coulson and May. She knocks Coulson out but doesn’t even have to resort to that for May — she just uses Radcliffe’s tablet to shut down the May LMD. Her plan is revealed in the next scene, when Coulson and the May LMD are imprisoned together. After some flirting, Coulson reveals that they hid the Darkhold in Mace’s office with a cloaking device — which AIDA immediately sees thanks to the cameras in May LMD’s eyes. She then successfully retrieves the book.

Mack and Yo-Yo assemble a team of agents to stop her, but AIDA is able to hold them off with a remote-controlled gunship. Mack once again reiterates his knowledge of robot movies in which the robots always turn on humans. His paranoia isn’t skin deep. He’s even got life insurance for being killed by robots, which means AIDA could make his brother very rich.

AIDA is unable to escape before Fitz takes back command of the base. He locks her out of the system, which stops her from being able to leave. AIDA admits she feels “regret” about killing Nathanson, even though Radcliffe notes she wasn’t programmed to feel regret. She responds that the Darkhold has changed her, shown her regret and desire. Before AIDA can elaborate any more, Mack sneaks up from behind and decapitates her. “Roll credits,” he adds, fist-bumping Yo-Yo.

NEXT: The true enemy revealed

Mace and company have landed at the Nadeer house, but the senator keeps them separate from Vijay. That leaves Vijay in the company of the armed gunmen. This, naturally, does not end well. One of them moves to attack him, at which point Vijay reveals his Inhuman power of super-speed. He disarms and takes down the goons, but some shots are fired and that draws Mace’s attention. The three of them arrive with Senator Nadeer just as Vijay finishes off the goons. Simmons and Ellen then try to convince him to go with each of them. Poisoned by his sister’s paranoia, however, Vijay still seems convinced that S.H.I.E.L.D. just wants to use him as a weapon. He ultimately decides to go with his sister. Simmons wants to go after him, but Mace tells her that Vijay made his choice.

It was, of course, the wrong choice. While they’re on a getaway helicopter, Ellen kills Vijay herself with a shot to the chest. The look in his eyes is devastating, right before he collapses in her arms. Make no mistake, Ellen Nadeer is a fanatic, willing to murder her brother rather than countenance alien influence. Apparently, she’s not quite the head of the Watchdog power structure, as she mentions asking an unnamed superior for reinforcements. She does seem to have regained absolute control over her little gangster squad here, though. “Never question me again,” she tells them, covered in her brother’s blood.

So it’s been quite a violent, game-changing episode, but some sort of peace seems to have settled over S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Mack demonstrates his extensive knowledge of robot movies to Yo-Yo, while Fitz quietly mourns AIDA. As LMD May tells Coulson, at least now they know who the real enemy is. This statement would be ironic enough, given that May is still a secret robot replacement, but even more so considering the immediate next scene, which features Radcliffe talking to his secret new AIDA model (though apparently with a different name, as Radcliffe keeps using “AIDA” to refer to the decapitated one). Apparently everything the old AIDA did was by Radcliffe’s order. When we first met Radcliffe last season, it was at a transhuman conference, and apparently he still holds on to some of those beliefs. He very much wants to live forever, and thinks the Darkhold can help him do it (though it’s “complicated”). He got one little taste of the book, and he’s salivating for more. He’s even behind the May replacement, and according to their video feed of a happy Coulson talking to the fake May, that plan seems to be going well.

The final bookmark scene, by the way, shows that things may not exactly be over for Vijay Nadeer. After his sister’s goon dump his body in a river, he slowly sinks to the bottom … until his cocoon reemerges to cover him. Could he have a power like the minor X-Men character Darwin, whose superpowers change constantly to help him survive new situations? Or maybe something like Resurrection Man, where he always comes back with a new power? That would be nice, considering this show already has one speedster.

This was a thrilling, game-changing episode, but it seems like it may be burning its fuel too quickly. One episode into this ‘LMD’ arc, and the main AIDA is already dead. We’ve still got lots to dive in to with the Watchdogs’ secrets and Radcliffe’s plan for the Darkhold, but let’s hope the show’s able to keep a good pace going forward.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.
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