SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!
Ralph Bohner walked, so Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine could…also walk, but in really fancy high-heeled boots that even she admitted were incredibly uncomfortable.
There was a time, at the height of WandaVision‘s popularity, that it didn’t seem so inconceivable that any number of celebrity cameos might populate the series’ later episodes, giving rise to countless theories each more outlandish than the last. First it was Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff, then suddenly the entire X-Men universe was going to spill over into Westview by means of the Multiverse, including Ian McKellen as Magneto, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Then it was Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, for reasons still unbeknownst to me. Somewhere along the line, fans decided a throwaway reference to an “aerospace engineer” was actually a nod to Mr. Fantastic or Blue Marvel. Al Pacino as Mephisto was a topic of serious debate.
And in the end, the big cameos that WandaVision teased turned out to either be misdirects or literal pranks by the cast. Evan Peters wasn’t even playing Peter Maximoff: he was just a random guy named Ralph Bohner, and the fact that he played the X-Men universe’s version of the character whose personality he assumed in Westview was a coincidence. But therein lies the danger of theorizing – it’s incredibly fun, particularly in comic-book franchises where there are no shortage of rabbit holes to dive down, but you shouldn’t let it interfere with your ability to enjoy a story that turns out to be doing something completely different than what you theorized.
At the same time, I do think filmmakers and showrunners could perhaps refrain from overhyping literally every reveal, as seemed to sometimes be the case with WandaVision, if only to protect their own projects from inevitable fan backlash. But caving in to the most absurd fan theories is also a bad idea: how much further afield would The Falcon And The Winter Soldier have drifted in its middle section if it had had to stop and introduce Wolverine in Madripoor?
All of that is to say: Julia Louis-Dreyfus popping up in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier as an iconic character from Marvel Comics was the perfect kind of surprise, because, while it’s quite a brief cameo, and doesn’t distract a bit from the main narrative, it’s also fun, unpredictable (while still making sense in hindsight, like any good twist), and allows us to do some rabbit-hole diving right now, as we discuss the past, present, and future, of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (no, I will not abbreviate it to Val: Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine literally says in the episode never to do that, and my SEO optimization says to pad my posts with at least 600 words).
Formally known as La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, the character first appeared in the Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics in the late 1960’s, with her backstory mostly shrouded in mystery, but generally giving the impression that she was a fabulously wealthy Italian heiress until her parents were killed, at which point her skills as a hand-to-hand fighter and sharpshooter caught the eye of S.H.I.E.L.D., and she was recruited into the organization as Agent 14. Appointed leader of the all-women S.H.I.E.L.D. team “Femme Force”, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine’s working relationship with Nick Fury quickly became a romantic one – so romantic, in fact, the Comics Code Authority intervened.
More recently, La Contessa has played a major role in the Secret Invasion storyline, being the victim of a Skrull impersonator. While laying low in Britain, she worked alongside Lance Hunter, who has already appeared in the MCU-adjacent Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. And then her entire backstory was retconned, and she was revealed to be a Russian sleeper agent working with the organization known as Leviathan to infiltrate HYDRA, leading to her taking over the title of Madame Hydra.
In the MCU, all we know about her comes from her exceedingly brief interaction with John Walker, during which she tells him to keep in touch with her as he might prove “very, very valuable to certain people”. Although she never states her true purpose, her knowledge of classified state secrets suggests a connection to either S.H.I.E.L.D. or HYDRA – and her threatening aura (plus the villainous purple highlights in her hair, an upgrade from her Bride of Frankenstein-esque white streak in the comics) makes the latter more likely. We also know from Vanity Fair that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was originally supposed to debut in Black Widow, most likely in a post-credits scene.
That, coupled with the handful of hints she drops, have led many to believe she’ll be assembling the MCU’s Thunderbolts (a team of reformed villains from the comics) or Dark Avengers (a team of evil doppelgangers of the original Avengers), jumping from films to Disney+ shows and back to recruit all the best baddies onto her team before they can be killed or imprisoned. She just missed her opportunity to accost Baron Zemo (the original founder of the Thunderbolts in the comics), but the fact that he’s currently on his way to The Raft rather than Wakanda makes it easier for La Contessa to potentially break him out. And if she does appear in Black Widow, that’ll probably be where she picks up Natasha Romanoff’s younger sister, Yelena Belova.
Since she’s clearly being set up as a puppet-master of sorts, she may also be tied to the Power-Broker of Madripoor – and there’s a possibility they’re one and the same. That honestly makes more sense than Sharon Carter being the Power-Broker herself, since she doesn’t seem to have much motive to design an army of Super-Soldiers. But Carter could be working for La Contessa, something that would parallel the characters’ dynamic in the comics, where Carter was a Femme Force member and the two were rivals for the team’s leadership position.
It’s also important to note that even if Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is affiliated with HYDRA, and even if she does call herself Madame Hydra, that doesn’t somehow retcon Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s version of Madame Hydra out of existence, as some people are claiming. S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Madame Hydra is a character from the HYDRA-operated Framework simulation, not even a real person, and her character design was lifted from Ophelia Sarkissian, another woman who wears the title in the comics. Haters love to claim Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t MCU canon, but it still lives rent-free in their heads.
There also remains the slight chance that La Contessa isn’t a straight-up villain. A lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are just…kind of shady, particularly those in Nick Fury’s inner circle. I think this is least likely out of all the options, but if it means we get to see Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus flirting all the way through the Secret Invasion series, I’d be okay with keeping her on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s side for a little while. Though it would be even more entertaining if they’re bitter exes on opposite sides of a conflict between their teams, whose romantic history allows them to predict their insignificant other’s next moves.
So what do you think Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is plotting? Which team of villains should she be assembling, and why? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
After seven years, the end has finally come for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m pleased to report it’s a glorious one. In so many ways, it’s the end of an era – for us, as the devoted fandom who stuck with the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team even when others claimed it wasn’t worth it because it would never be Marvel canon; for the cast and crew, obviously, since they’ve put so much hard work into making this show everything that it has become; and for an epic chapter of television history; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought us seven seasons worth of brilliant, albeit absolutely bizarre, storylines spanning the entire Marvel Universe (and occasionally breaking out from its confines). And best of all…it’s a happy ending, the kind where all our major characters get to go out on a high note and nobody gets killed off just to make the plot more dramatic: in fact, precisely zero of our protagonists died on last night’s two-hour long finale event. On the flip-side, I think I can safely say that we, the audience, all died just a little as we had to grapple with the realization that this is…really it. It’s over. It’s done.
Though, if anyone is wondering – and be warned, you will be hearing about this a lot from me in the near future – there’s still plenty of ways in which Marvel could continue the story of certain S.H.I.E.L.D. team members, particularly Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), both of whom I still firmly believe can and should join the MCU proper.
The finale, which is actually two back-to-back episodes, gave us a lot to muse on: from Avengers: Endgame tie-ins and references, to cinematic visual effects, to the individual endings for each and every character’s arcs. Because this show has always centered around its amazing characters, we’re going to break down all of those endings one by one: yes, even the villains because villains deserve satisfying endings too.
Well, except for Chronicoms. And speaking of Chronicoms, let’s talk about them first and foremost because these folks (a race of emotionless cyborgs with the ability to steal human faces and wear them as their own) have been a mixed bag since they first showed up in any large capacity. When it was just Enoch (Joel Stoffer) back in season five, they did seem kind of interesting – but ironically, that was because Enoch turned out to be a rogue Chronicom who had actually developed emotions during his long sojourn on Earth. Particularly in this final season, the Chronicoms have felt very one-dimensional, with only their leader Sybil the Predictor (Tamara Taylor) having much personality. And that doesn’t really change much in the finale. The Chronicoms are extremely threatening, which helps, but they still don’t rank high on the list of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains, with their vague motivations and bland character designs. In the opening minutes of the finale’s first half, they capture Daisy, Al “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) as the trio of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tries to launch a daring raid on the Zephyr One, where their friend Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is being held prisoner. But apart from Sybil, the Chronicoms don’t actually come out in full force until the last half of the finale, when their entire army heads to the Lighthouse S.H.I.E.L.D. base in a last-ditch effort to stop their arch-nemesis Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), only to find themselves defeated by a very unlikely threat from above: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who, after incapacitating Sybil with a kick to the face, uses her newfound empathetic powers to give the entire Chronicom army emotions. It’s a good idea in theory and it underscores the point that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been about compassion and unconditional love, but it’s definitely a concept that needed more set-up: and the way the Chronicoms simply drop their weapons, declare themselves to be friends, and then disappear completely from the story afterwards is…well, not exactly underwhelming because I didn’t expect much from the Chronicoms, but just a little anti-climactic.
But that’s okay, because they were never the real big bad anyway. This whole time, that’s been Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), the son of HYDRA royalty, who was supposed to die young in 1970 but, due to timeline meddling, ended up surviving all the way into the present day, stealing some of Daisy Johnson’s seismic superpowers and becoming the finale’s main antagonist. I didn’t have a problem with this: Malick, despite his questionable fashion statements and anarchistic tendencies, is a lot more compelling than any Chronicom – and the duel between the two Quakes is every bit as epic as was promised. Malick’s goal by this point in the episode is to kill Daisy and use the remaining half of the Chronicom fleet that’s still descending through the earth’s atmosphere to wipe out S.H.I.E.L.D., and he figures that Daisy won’t be able to stop him because the only way she can feasibly kill him is by killing herself in the process. “That’s the idea”, Daisy responds – and she explodes. In the biggest display of her powers ever, she sends shockwaves tearing through space, ripping the entire Chronicom fleet to pieces: taking Sybil and Nathaniel Malick with it. But Daisy, at the eye of the hurricane so to speak, unintentionally survives the blast and her drifting body is picked up by Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the Zephyr One just in time for her sister, Kora (Dianne Doan), to come in and revive her using her own healing powers.
Kora, the final season’s third major villain, has an awkward redemption arc at the last moment. She comes to her senses after a confrontation with Daisy, tries unsuccessfully to convince Malick that Daisy is actually a good person, gets shot for her efforts, and then uses her powers to assist Melinda May in the final battle. Fitz describes Kora as the key to ensuring the survival of the world and that’s great and all, but…what exactly did she do? Her powers get upgraded so quickly it’s hard to tell what her limits are anymore: first it was just glowing punches, then it was somehow related to electricity, then she could heal people, now all of a sudden she can shoot laser beams through space. But while I might have to rewatch the episode to clarify certain details, I’m still a little confused as to why her power was so vital. She saved Daisy, so I’m eternally grateful for that, but Daisy had already defeated the Chronicoms – her survival wasn’t necessary, except to fans. And the laser she shot at the Lighthouse achieved…what, exactly? In hindsight, I wish she had been introduced earlier in the season if only so we could have gotten a better idea of what she wanted and what she could do. But of course, that wouldn’t have worked because of the way the time jumps were going, so…
Speaking of time jumps. The emotional core of the entire finale is the FitzSimmons duo, who, as it turns out, have been orchestrating most of the events of seasons six and seven with masterful intricacy and a lot of help from time travel. As is explained in flashback, they both took off at the end of the season six finale and spent years perfecting a time machine design so they could eventually come back and save their friends. Fitz, whom we’ve been waiting for ages to show up again, finally reappears at the crucial midpoint of the finale and confirms that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually utilizing the same time travel logic from Avengers: Endgame – which states that going into the past creates divergent timelines, rather than changing the future. Amazingly, the Endgame tie-ins don’t end there. Not only does Fitz reference how time travel makes use of the subatomic Quantum Realm and explain that he’s been traveling the Realm all the time he’s been gone, examining different timelines to see which ones work in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s favor, but he actually takes the S.H.I.E.L.D. team through the Quantum Realm, along with the entire Chronicom fleet. This is all to make sure that the Agents get back to their original timeline and leave the other timelines mostly unscathed, but it has the added benefit of bringing the show closer to the MCU than it’s been in years.
Unfortunately, escaping the alternate timeline to return to the original one comes with consequences: one member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to stay behind in the past to work the time machine apparatus, and that member is the rascally Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward), who offers himself up voluntarily. Deke has spent his entire time on the show trying to fit in, and he’s never truly belonged anywhere but the 1980’s. And, as he explains to the team, he’s kind of a rock and roll superstar in this alternate timeline. But that’s not his only task: with all of 80’s S.H.I.E.L.D. in chaos, Deke promises to step up to the challenge of becoming the organization’s new director, a title that definitely should not suit him as well as it does. Thankfully for him, he’ll get to work with a couple of agents who escaped the Chronicom attack on last week’s episode – including a younger but still instantly recognizable Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), who gets her long-overdue justice on her killer John Garrett (James Paxton) by shooting his younger version in the forehead.
Returning to the day of the season six finale and what should be the proper timeline, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to overcome both Chronicoms and Malick. This requires a slight detour to the ancient Mesoamerican temple where the season six finale took place, where we reunite with Piper (Brianna Venskus) and the Inhuman Flint (Coy Stewart), both of whom have hilarious interactions with the time-traveling FitzSimmons as they try to make sense of what’s going on – one of the funniest moments is when Piper, for whom only a few minutes have passed, asks whether or not all the commotion is being caused by the death goddess Izel (the season six big bad), and Simmons has to wrack her brain just to try and remember who that is. But Piper and Flint aren’t just there for laughs, being asked by Simmons to stand guard over a mysterious chamber while she and Fitz manage the whole time travel business. As we discover near the end of the episode, that chamber contains something incredibly precious to FitzSimmons: their daughter, Alya, named after the star system in which they hid for years, lived their lives and designed their time machine. Alya, who speaks with a Scottish accent clearly inherited from her father, is the reason why the fight is so personal for FitzSimmons, and she’s the perfect culmination of their incredible love story.
And on that point…culminations. The end for so many characters we’ve grown to love over the past several years. FitzSimmons, luckily, are the first ones to get their happy ending, and they even get to enjoy it twice – since by finale’s end, they’ve settled down in the current timeline, on Earth. The last scene of the finale follows the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team reuniting via hologram message at Enoch’s old hideout, the Swordfish bar, discussing old times, playfully teasing each other, and promising to stay in touch, with each eventually disconnecting and giving us a little glimpse into their new lives. FitzSimmons and little Alya are enjoying a picnic when we last see them, and they’ve never looked so happy. Their romance, which one seemed like a curse, has blossomed into something beautiful.
Mack and Yo Yo had the least to do in the finale overall, with Yo Yo only getting a couple of action scenes (standouts, nonetheless: that’s just how awesome she is), but their lives in the present day look fascinating. Mack is still director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he’s sporting a very Nick Fury-like coat as he strides about the deck of his helicarrier. Yo Yo, meanwhile, is on assignment with her own team, which includes Piper and Davis (Maximilian Osinski), who has been resurrected as an LMD. Yo Yo has one last incredible moment as she jumps out of the team’s car and speeds off down the road, her upgraded Inhuman powers giving her the ability to go wherever she wants and never have to “bounce back” any longer.
For Melinda May, her future involves a lot of hard work – but no longer as “The Cavalry” (a nickname she finally embraces near the end, putting aside the trauma she had formally attached to it). Instead, she now works as a teacher at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, which has been renamed the Coulson Academy and also seems to sport a daisy in its new logo. Flint is amongst her students, and May seems genuinely happy helping the next generation begin their training as agents. Some fans of the Philinda romantic coupling are upset that she and Coulson didn’t head off into the sunset together, and I get that, but I also feel like May’s new empathetic powers lend themselves well to the role of a teacher (besides which, her and Coulson are still giving each other meaningful looks in the closing minutes so maybe there’s still a spark between them?)
Eventually the series brings us back down to where it all began, with Coulson and Daisy. Their relationship is the real core of the whole story: it’s fitting that they get the last word. For Daisy, her future includes a journey into the depths of space alongside Daniel Sousa (they end up together, which is…fine, I guess), and Kora, with the intention of reaching out to alien races across the galaxy – almost like they’re Agents of S.W.O.R.D. or something. Those of us who still want Daisy Johnson in the MCU will continue to push for an Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series that includes her in some capacity, and the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale has given us a tantalizing hint of how awesome it could be.
And as for LMD Coulson…who did NOT decide to power down or turn off completely, the future is looking bright. He’s taking some time to himself, traveling the world without any urgent plans, and he’s got a “cool” (the very last word spoken in the entire series) new flying Corvette modeled after his original car, Lola. A gift of Mack’s, the sci-fi vehicle allows Coulson to go out in an appropriately epic style, soaring over the streets of Washington D.C. and zipping away to destinations unknown. I was certain that Coulson would die this season, completing his cycle of death and rebirth, but this is a much more fitting end: after all, this whole series was started partly because of how much fans rallied behind the hashtag #CoulsonLives, after it seemed we had lost him forever in The Avengers. Coulson is, indeed, living his best life now.
And that’s the true beauty of this show. It’s always been about the fans. We’re not the biggest subsection of the Marvel fandom, but we’re passionate, we’re persistent, and we made it so much farther than anyone could have ever guessed. And in the end, I hope we’ll all keep in touch, just like the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – raise a toast to a spy’s goodbye for now, but somewhere down the line we might cross paths again. Maybe in the MCU, even, if we pressure Kevin Feige enough…
Thanks to Hurricane Isaias and a poorly-timed power outage, this review is several days late – but still just in time to get out before the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale this Wednesday: a hotly-anticipated two-hour long farewell event that will bring seven seasons worth of intricate storytelling to a close…and hopefully tease further adventures with certain characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe down the line. Fingers crossed.
But before we start looking ahead, let’s break down everything that went on last Wednesday, in the penultimate episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the episode serves mostly as finale set-up, moving characters into place like chess-pieces ready for battle, but it still manages to get a lot done: particularly when it comes to strengthening the relationship dynamics between our main cast. Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) have a chance to clumsily – but adorably – rekindle the romance they started during the turbulent time-loops a week or two ago, while Daisy’s long-lost evil sister Kora (Dianne Loan) establishes a fragile bond with both Daisy and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), which quickly breaks down after she learns of the death of her mother, Jiaying – an atrocious act committed by Kora’s partner-in-crime, Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), which she nonetheless blames on S.H.I.E.L.D. because Malick is apparently so precious to her that by the end of the episode they’re locked in a passionate embrace, kissing while Chronicom warships blow S.H.I.E.L.D. bases to smithereens from space. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Obviously the most urgent issue at hand is the captive state of Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), whom Nathaniel Malick and his crew of mercenaries snatched away from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters week before last, with the intention of probing her memories and discovering the location of Malick and the Chronicoms’ arch-nemesis, Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker, appearing only in flashback sequences). By the end of the episode, despite Malick doing everything in his power to ransack Simmons’ mind and emotionally torture her, Fitz’s locations remains a mystery. Add onto that the fact that Simmons apparently doesn’t even remember who Fitz is anymore, and we have ourselves a big problem: the Fitzsimmons ship, which I listed as the most romantic coupling in the Marvel universe, is in real danger of not becoming endgame. Fitzsimmons is known for the emotional trauma it inflicts on all of us, but this episode really outdid itself – through flashbacks, we bore witness to the moment Simmons had to say goodbye to Fitz, screaming through her tears that she didn’t want to forget him or the life they had together. Would it be possible for her to share her memory-suppression technology with the rest of us, so we too can forget that painful scene ever happened?
Then there’s the question of how to rescue Simmons from the Zephyr One, which Malick hijacked and flew straight into the cold void of outer space. Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) makes a half-hearted attempt that goes wrong very quickly, and gets tortured by Malick alongside Simmons. The last we saw of him, he was alive, but bruised, bloodied, and very confused. Thankfully, Daisy, Daniel Sousa and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Al “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) are on their way to the Zephyr One‘s coordinates in their own spacecraft, and they share the most memorable scenes in the episode: Mack tries to play matchmaker for the awkward couple (I wasn’t too fond of them before, but Mack’s teasing – paired with his very serious warning that if Sousa does anything to hurt Daisy, he will face the wrath of the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team – did a lot to warm me up to the unconventional pairing), and Daniel just can’t get over the fact that Daisy’s superhero nickname is “Quake”, a moniker he finds laughably ridiculous. Personally, I’ve always found “Quake” to be a very cool and fitting name, and I wish Daisy used it more often, but I will admit that Daniel’s suggestion to Daisy that she get a giant “Q” stamped on her utility belt (poor Daniel, with his outdated notions of superhero costuming!) was extremely funny.
On the ground, Kora spends most of the time locked away in a S.H.I.E.L.D. holding cell at the Lighthouse, until a confrontation with Melinda May leads to her unleashing her…weird golden glowing fist-punch thing…instantly knocking out all the electricity at the base (too soon, Marvel, too soon), including the computer system’s firewalls – in turn allowing the disembodied Chronicom Sibyl to creep into the Lighthouse’s computer systems, where she starts wreaking havoc immediately. Luckily, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is himself mostly robotic at this point, and spent a good deal of time trapped inside a computer in the 1980’s, giving him an acute knowledge of coding that keeps him…well, not exactly one step ahead of Sibyl, but maybe, like, just one or two steps behind her? He doesn’t manage to stop her from turning every other S.H.I.E.L.D. base around the globe into a heap of burning rubble, but at least he was able to figure out her evil plan a few seconds before she actually went through with it. That’s got to count for something…right?
With the power out, Kora also obtains her freedom. Despite Melinda May’s best efforts to turn the homicidal Inhuman into a force for good, Kora simply doesn’t want to change. She does genuinely offer her services to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, but her offer involves murdering a baby (though, that baby is the future Grant Ward, which doesn’t make it right but also doesn’t make it entirely bad), so Coulson turns it down. Enraged, Kora escapes back to Malick, and that’s where we get the whole kissing-while-the-world-burns nonsense. Honestly, it’s hard to visualize an outcome where Kora is redeemed by the end of this: her treachery hasn’t earned her any love from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Daisy is already hell-bent on erasing her from history. But, according to Kora, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are already living in an alternate timeline and the only way to make things right is to start killing off the people who shouldn’t be alive in the present day – cut to the time-displaced Daniel Sousa, who is definitely treading on very thin ice heading into the finale. Will he, like most of Daisy’s previous love interests, meet a horrible fate, or could he be the lucky one that gets away?
Heading into the finale, the world is currently under attack from the Chronicoms, who have an entire fleet of warships that are just occupying the earth’s atmosphere; Daisy, Mack and Daniel are about to collide violently with said fleet; Nathaniel Malick is no longer interested in finding Fitz, and has instead generously offered Simmons and Deke first-row seats to the end of the world; Kora is on her own, having alienated everyone who tried to care about her; Coulson, May and “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) are stuck at the Lighthouse, which is probably going to be the Chronicoms’ next target; and Jiaying is still dead, which is a disappointment.
I have no idea what’s coming next. There are hints and rumors going around that some kind of MCU crossover will happen in the finale, with the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly setting the timeline right only to get snapped out of existence by Thanos, and it’s entirely possible there are still some major cameos planned for this last episode. Fitz is going to turn up somewhere, somehow – I’m hoping and praying he’s actually on Nick Fury’s secret S.W.O.R.D. base from the Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits scene, but I’m not betting on it.
It’s been a wild ride, and I can’t wait to reach the end of the road. I’m also extremely grateful that my power was restored so I’ll be able to watch the finale and not wait almost a week to review it. Sorry about the delay, dear readers.
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.