SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!
Landing unexpectedly in the 1970’s, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. find themselves confronted with their biggest moral conundrum yet, as they begin to realize just how many alterations they’ve caused to the timeline: HYDRA is rising to power within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks decades earlier than expected; characters who should be dead are still alive, well, and plotting world domination; and worst of all, groovy fashion is in (okay, well, technically that’s not their fault, but I think we can safely assume that 70’s fashion is the unfortunate side-effect of some rift in the timeline).
But this is exactly what I wanted to see! When the season started off, I was very worried that the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. would somehow be able to hop from time period to time period without ever breaking anything along the way – maybe because I was still reeling from how badly-written the majority of season 6 was, and I was worried we were in for a repeat of that disaster. But we’re not: five episodes into this final season, and I can safely say that every member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is feeling heavy consequences for every action they take – and they take a lot of actions, some well-informed, some very impulsive and reckless. Curiously, looking back with the advantage of hindsight, I almost feel like Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) had the right idea when she gave the order to try and kill a young Wilfred Malick. Considering everything Malick has already done to try and take destroy S.H.I.E.L.D., that no longer seems like it was such an impulsive or reckless notion.
On the flip-side, I’m happy she didn’t get to kill him back in 1931, because then he wouldn’t be around to trouble S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1970’s, where he manages to do plenty of damage before meeting a (literally) untimely demise. Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe) is exactly the type of antagonist this season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D should have had from the outset – in fact, he’s the type of antagonist that any show should have: he’s wily and conniving, effortlessly manipulates the happily oblivious idealists running S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 70’s (we’ll get to Rick Stoner in a moment), and doesn’t play nice with his enemies. He also has a massive ego, something that tends to happen when you’re given complete control over a network of Neo-Nazi terrorists living like parasites deep within government organizations all around America. Malick’s reign over HYDRA has been extended, thanks to the timeline meddling, and he’s been able to add an extra six years to his lifespan, allowing him time to complete his master plan: a weapon, known as INSIGHT, capable of targeting and eliminating thousands of U.S. citizens suspected by HYDRA of being potential threats, either currently or in the future – Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, Victoria Hand, and even a very young Bruce Banner all end up on Malick’s list of targets. Filling out HYDRA’s ranks in this episode are Malick’s sons Gideon and Nathaniel: the former of whom hilariously tries to flirt with Daisy, not knowing that she will eventually kill him when he’s much older; and the former of whom was supposed to already be dead, but is still alive somehow. At the very end of the episode there’s also a tantalizing tease that Nazi scientist Daniel Whitehall will make his return to the show, probably while trying once again to murder Daisy Johnson and dissect her body.
Of course, 70’s S.H.I.E.L.D. has no idea that any of this is going on right beneath their noses – the atmosphere of the episode, despite it dealing with some very dark and dramatic topics, is fun and light-hearted, from the ridiculously over-the-top opening credits to the jokes about bell-bottom pants to the party going on at the Swordfish bar (which has been redecorated once again) and the silly INSIGHT birthday cake that someone baked for Wilfred Malick, apparently. And, of course, there’s General Rick Stoner, (Patrick Warburton) who was kind of incompetent but also pleasantly optimistic about everything. I love how he fell hard for Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) while she was disguised as the character of “Chastity McBride” in 1973, and still recognized her immediately when he saw her again three years later.
In fact, let’s start our discussion of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team with May, whose new power upgrade is one of the best (and most) utilized in this season so far – probably both because it’s important and can be used in a lot of clever ways, but also because it’s conveniently cheap. May just has to stand near someone and she instantly feels and imitates their emotions. She knows before anyone else when a situation is about to go downhill, and she also has a bunch of comedic moments: like when she’s in a bar, and starts unintentionally mirroring the drunken giddiness of everyone around her.
Least utilized this week are probably Daisy and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). The former has the advantage of being able to bounce off S.H.I.E.L.D. team newcomer Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and her hacking skills do come in handy once or twice, especially since, as she herself notes, 70’s computers don’t have firewalls; but she only gets to use her Quake powers once. The latter, meanwhile, is still trying and failing to use her own Inhuman abilities, which have been malfunctioning for the past few episodes and don’t show any signs of being reparable: that being said, Yo Yo has had to deal with losing both her arms before, so I’m confident she’ll get through this latest struggle intact. I just want the show to do something big with her character before the end – she’s always been one of the most interesting Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’d hate for her to be sidelined now just because her powers are too expensive for the series’ CGI budget.
Surprisingly compelling this week is Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who I haven’t said much about this season because he’s mostly just been standing around and giving orders: but here, the big twist is that he can’t bring himself to give the order to flood the S.H.I.E.L.D. Lighthouse (and stop INSIGHT in so doing) because his parents are prisoners in the base and will drown if he does. Instead, Mac’s decision is to let INSIGHT launch and then attack it with missiles from the Zephyr One – that bit, to be honest, is a little underwhelming because it only takes one direct hit from them to blow INSIGHT out of the sky, but it does now expose S.H.I.E.L.D.’s position, something Mac ominously forebodes.
Meanwhile, Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) is on his own mission: to do what he couldn’t in 1931, and finally pull the trigger on Wilfred Malick. It’s cool that he’s finally getting personally involved in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission, and I enjoyed seeing him take the leap at the end of the episode, shooting Malick dead mid-monologue.
Unfortunately, with Malick dead, I assume we’ll have to deal with more Chronicoms – who are still, with the exception of Enoch (Joel Stoffer) – mind-numbingly boring, from their monotone outfits to their blank facial expressions. I am, however, at least mildly interested to understand why Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) seems to have some sort of technology implanted in her body, something that Enoch appears to know about and which could suggest that the Simmons we’re seeing in this season is actually some sort of LMD like the version of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) we’re also currently following. If this is a fake Simmons, then where’s the real one? Happily married to Fitz in another timeline, hopefully?
Finally, we need to talk about Daniel Sousa. While the episode ends with both him and Daisy Johnson as prisoners of HYDRA, he has the most time to shine throughout the episode, as we explore his character’s shock at being transported somewhat unwillingly to a new era. The “fish out of water” trope can be tiresome, but there’s something fresh and fun about the way Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is handling it with Sousa’s character – it’s humorous to watch him try and wrap his head around the concept of 70’s fashion norms (trust me, he’s not the only one perplexed by those), but it’s also interesting how he reacts to other, more meaningful things: he’s clearly confused by the team’s lack of a structured hierarchy, and he shows obvious disdain for some of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s more questionable tactics. I think he’ll be a exciting character to follow into the finale, as he could be another who, like LMD Coulson and this new, super-powered May, feels like he wasn’t given the chance to decide his own fate.
I’m beginning to suspect that the conflict between fate and free will is going to be a major element in the upcoming finale, as the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. come to terms with what they’ve done to the timeline and try to work out how to fix it – if they can. I’m just hoping that Daniel Whitehall shows up fairly quickly, because now that I’ve been reminded of just how excellent HYDRA vs S.H.I.E.L.D. fights can be, I don’t want to put up with anymore of that Chronicom nonsense.
Episode Rating: 8.9/10