Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season4, episode 11: Wake Up
Directed by: Jesse Bochco
Written by: Drew Z. Greenberg
Starring: Clark Gregg, Jason O’Mara, Mallory Jansen, Henry Simmons, Elizabeth Henstridge, Adrian Pasdar

If you paid attention to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you’ll know that, in a dream, you don’t always remember how you got somewhere, merely that you are there. This episode of Agents of SHIELD, the aptly titled “Wake Up” plays on this, flashing us back to the events leading up to the May LMD being put into place. It’s a filling-in of the viewer’s own sudden dream-placement, but also an awakening for the May LMD, as she wakes up to find herself living the life of Agent May, with no idea how she got there.

Double down on that metaphor for a second, as the entire episode cycles around this dream-like notion. It’s one of the cleverest bits of screenwriting that AoS has achieved yet, as all the themes and ideas of the episode are replayed and tied-in throughout, with different characters experiencing their own dream-like states. Apt enough for a season half based on robots, since the notion of the dream and robotics has been a sci-fi staple since the dawn of robotics thought, still recurring in modern day retellings like I, Robot and Westworld. After all, do androids really dream of electric sheep?

The real agent May is shown to be in her own dreamlike state early in this episode, locked in a simulator where, no matter how many times she tries, she keeps “waking up” back at the start. As mentioned earlier, there is an Inception-esque feel to the episode, particularly as May’s dreams within dreams ultimately arrive back in one of her defining memories: saving the girl in Bahrain. In this dream, however, there is a happy ending and one gets the feeling that the allure of this memory re-write might be enough to keep May from waking up any time soon. Even when May does finally manage to really wake up into reality, AIDA and Radcliffe push her back into the dream world again.


May ends up trapped saving the same little girl from Bahrain that she couldn’t save in her past

Radcliffe has always been something of a loose villain, trailing the line of a villainous need to be all-controlling and genuinely misguided curiosity, but this episode really places Radcliffe in the role of the mad scientist, a muppet master of both May and AIDA, while also pairing him in a Machiavellian scheme with Nadeer. Yet, for many viewers, he still toes that line of likeability (for example, when he explains to AIDA that he doesn’t want to be a killer, one truly believes him). Radcliffe is genuinely one of the most interesting characters in the show and his three dimensionality really shows this episode.

The LMD May too gets an awakening this episode as she confronts Radcliffe about her real nature. It’s a sad moment really, as while so much of the LMD reminds us of the May we know and love (and thus don’t want to see in such distress), we are also faced with the fact that she is not the *real* May. Her confrontation with Radcliffe is particularly sad as Radcliffe twists her own nature against him, effectively trapping her in an inability to reveal her true self to anyone, yet giving her no real answer as to what her actual free will should, or can, be. There seems to be the elements of May’s own personality in the LMD, which may perhaps lead to a frankly awesome team-up in the future but so far, LMD-May is a Schrodinger’s cat of possibility.


Away from the May storyline, this episode centred largely around SHIELD politics, as Senator Nadeer (who is shaping up to be a disappointingly standard villain that is being vastly overshadowed by the far more complex Radcliffe), is revealed as having access to SHIELD information. In an unusually aggressive stance against Fitz, Simmons points the finger at him for activating AIDA. However, Fitz is actually surprisingly clear-headed this episode, unlike some of the choices he’s made in the rest of this season.

It’s Fitz that discovers the real kicker of this episode: That Radcliffe is an LMD. The real Radcliffe is with Nadeer (being villains and doing villainy, one might imagine). It’s a nice little twist, and with a well devised revelation too as Fitz’s impulsive move to shoot the Radcliffe LMD will have drawn a couple of gasps from viewers.

Another moment of genius this episode actually came in the form of Elena, who has been woefully underused as a character in this season, which is a shame considering that when she is a bigger part of the show, she really shows. Mack’s problem this episode seems a little like a narrative side-step that the episode could easily have survived without, but Elena’s role in it really spoke volumes about her character and her relationship with Mack. She’s always fun to watch and gave some relief to the locked-in feeling of the episode.


The political espionage of the episode seems to reflect the undercover nature and secrecy of the active LMDs in the show, promising a much more thoughtful second half to the show in comparison to the Ghost Rider segment. It’s a refreshing change but AoS sometimes struggles with “thoughtful” scripting and sometimes characters like Coulson, particularly in episodes like this, suffer as the writers necessitate for events to get out of their control, often leaving characters feeling a little out of character. Interestingly enough, Fitz comments upon the out-of-character nature of some of his co-workers this episode and, considering the ticking time bombs of the LMDs around them, it’s an ironic statement. One can only hope that AoS continues to manage these moments of irony and cleverness with their usual brand of action and fun.

I give “Wake Up” 3 trips in the Dream Simulator.

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