Waves were made on last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the resulting ripples will probably dramatically affect everything that happens during the rest of the seventh and final season of the long-running series. S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA and a host of time-traveling Chronicoms meet and clash in a three-way battle centered around the life of one man – legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), whose mission to deliver dangerous Russian technology to Howard Stark (MCU namedrop!) puts him on a collision course with death.
But while HYDRA – and HYDRA’s leader Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe), the very same one whom the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reluctantly rescued in 1931 – wants Sousa dead because he knows the extent of their infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Chronicoms want Sousa dead because…well, actually it’s still a little unclear why they want anything…the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly make the decision that they want to save Sousa’s life. It’s a bit of a dramatic heel-turn for Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who was fervently against killing Malick in the 30’s, and in the absence of any better explanation I’ll just assume that Mac came to the conclusion that he was outnumbered: Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) both make it very clear in this episode that they support altering the timeline, while Deke (Jeff Ward) goes back-and-forth right up until the moment when he meets Wilfred Malick again for the first time since literally saving his life, only to realize that the man he was so adamant about rescuing then has predictably transformed into a tyrannical killer over the past two decades.
Yes, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still stuck in the 1950’s, and this week’s episode is filmed entirely in black-and-white to reflect that: Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) narrates the episode like a cheerful, quirky private investigator in a classic murder mystery – delivering exposition in a way that feels fresh and fun, while also providing seamless scene-transitions. This is truly a Coulson episode: from his first scene, handcuffed to a desk and musing on his predicament, to the revelation that he swapped places with Daniel Sousa on the night of Sousa’s imminent assassination, letting Sousa live while simultaneously cleverly deceiving HYDRA – the version of Coulson we’re seeing in this season, while still an LMD (Life Model Decoy), is nonetheless abundantly more entertaining than the “evil Coulson” who befriended and later betrayed the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the sixth season. And of course, he’s still alive by the end of this episode because no matter how many bullets HYDRA fires into him or how lifeless he may look while floating face-down in a pool, he’s a robot and thus nearly invincible. We actually haven’t seen anything yet that has posed any physical threat to him – his challenges have been mental and emotional so far.
Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is facing similar issues, and we even get some much-needed answers to why she’s been acting so unusual these past few episodes. Turns out, she may have lost her own ability to feel emotions in the season 6 finale, but she gained the power to feel others’ emotions when they’re near to her. Last week, we saw her abruptly panic during the attack on Area 51, which apparently was caused by everyone around her panicking. This week, while standing next to tech genius Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) onboard the Zephyr One, she suddenly gets uncharacteristically giddy about science – and later, in Sousa’s vicinity, she gets freaked out, mirroring his own reaction to seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ sleek, futuristic aircraft. It’s unclear how large a role her new abilities might play in the rest of the season, but I’m intrigued. Considering how emotionless the villainous Chronicoms have been shown to be, I wonder if May could possibly tap into what little humanity they have. After all, we know some Chronicoms are capable of feeling – just look at Enoch (Joel Stoffer).
In fact, we get a glimpse at Enoch’s new life during this episode, when Coulson enlists him to essentially be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s phone operator. It appears that Enoch hasn’t changed much in the two decades since getting stuck out of time, though the bar he works in has been redecorated. I’ll be interested to see if we follow his subplot through the rest of the 20th Century – the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appear to be headed to the 1970’s after their next time jump, judging by the use of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to close out the episode.
There are several big twists, of course, but the biggest one by far is the fact that Daniel Sousa actually survives and ends up on the Zephyr One by the end of the episode – and even gets an offer from Coulson to essentially join the team on their final mission. Coulson, in fact, has the best line in the episode while inducting Sousa into the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. family: “Welcome to life after death. I’ll tell you all about it.” If Sousa does serve as a team member (and at this point, I don’t know if he has alternatives), we could see him in the final showdown between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, whenever that is. The post-credits stinger shows HYDRA and the Chronicoms teaming up to take out S.H.I.E.L.D., with the Chronicom leader bringing Wilfred Malick up to speed on everything that’s happened.
That can mean only one thing: S.H.I.E.L.D. is in for a lot more trouble in the near future (well, technically the past, I guess). As long as the series continues to serve up this kind of quality content, I’m good with that. It was about time some waves were made.
SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON 7, EPISODE 2
Coming off a solid premiere to the series’ seventh and final season, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finds new ways to tie back into the canon of the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe, subtly hinting that more connections between the two are on the way as the team continues their journey through the Marvel timeline. Much as they might have liked to not interfere with the course of history, the truth is that was never going to work – and episode 2 is where it all starts falling apart.
We pick up right where we left off last week, with the Agents coming to the realization that, to save S.H.I.E.L.D. from an invasion of Chronicom aliens, they must save Wilfred Malick (Darren Barnet), the man behind the creation of the shadowy organization known as HYDRA, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s arch-enemy in later years. While Director Mack (Henry Simmons) and Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) unknowingly escort Malick on one of his missions, the rest of the team works against the clock to try and figure out what he’s planning, why the Chronicoms want him dead, and whether his life is really worth saving.
The answer to the first question is revealed fairly early in the episode, and is what brings this episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D into conjunction with the events of the MCU – Wilfred Malick’s secret mission, disguised as a job bootlegging illegal alcohol, is to deliver vials containing the ingredients which will later make their way into the Super Soldier Serum: the very same which will one day course through the veins of both Johann Schmidt (HYDRA’s Red Skull) and Steve Rogers (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Captain America). Through this chance encounter, yet another link is forged between the two enemies.
But as for that last question – is Wilfred Malick worth saving? – well, that’s a question that haunts everyone on the team, but especially Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet). Not only does she argue bitterly with her teammates about how they can feel comfortable allowing the future head of HYDRA to survive, but she even takes the initiative in one critical moment and tries to have him killed. Her assassination attempt fails – mostly because Deke isn’t really the best person to carry out any sort of plan, much less one that involves killing someone. But in the long run, that’s probably fortunate: since without HYDRA, S.H.I.E.L.D. would never be formed and Captain America would never be created.
Not everyone, however, makes it out of this timeline unscathed – or even makes it out of this timeline, period. The quiet, contemplative Chronicom Enoch (Joel Stoffer) accidentally gets left behind in 1931 at the end of the episode while the rest of the team escapes through an unexpected time window. Thankfully, he uses his wits to get a job at the speakeasy owned by Ernest Koenig (Patton Oswalt), who forged a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Agents during their stay in his timeline, and even gets to take a ride on the Zephyr One during this episode, marveling at modern technology behind his wildest imagination and demanding to know whether S.H.I.E.L.D. is really a group of Martian space invaders. The stinger at the end of the episode sees Koenig probing Enoch for information about how to make robots – seemingly hinting at an explanation for why he has so many descendants in the future, and all of them are identical.
Agents “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) come out of their escapade in 1931 having sustained several more traumas. Though it was teased in the premiere that Yo-Yo hadn’t completely recovered from the incident in season 6 when she swallowed an alien bat and was almost killed by the resulting parasite, it is made explicit here when she fails to use her powers during a tense moment, prompting interrogation from Daisy. May, on the other hand, is still suffering from gaps in her memory and terrifying hallucinations sustained during the season 6 finale when she battled the death goddess Izel: she doesn’t know where or when she is, and she’s angry when she sees the LMD version of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), knowing full well that the Coulson she knew and loved is dead, and unwilling to let herself be tricked into trusting another duplicate of him.
Overall, I feel this episode is actually stronger than the premiere for a number of reasons. Yo-Yo, May and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) each get to play a part in the action, whereas the premiere left them waiting on the ship, essentially just twiddling their thumbs. The character work is a little bit stronger, as is the dialogue. And while I appreciated last week’s storyline focused on saving Franklin D. Roosevelt, this week’s episode benefited from being able to plunge us into the action and the drama without needing any red herring diversions to deliver exposition.
Speaking of action, there’s one standout fight scene when May and Enoch clash in the hangar of the Zephyr One: Enoch, re-outfitted with upgraded Chronicom tech, is almost winning until May (who, I might add, is still just recently awake from a coma) traps him and goes to town on his synthetic skull with a fire-extinguisher. I’m very excited to see where May goes in this season – it’s not at all unusual for her to use brute force, but her behavior in this episode is sending up red flags all over the place: she’s responding to her near-death encounter in season 6 much like how Coulson reacted when he found out he had been resurrected early in the series. If that’s a parallel that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is interested in exploring, I’m here for it.
Once again, the Chronicoms are the weakest part of the story, and their villainy is tame and uninteresting. I was more intrigued by the possibility of HYDRA agents showing up to try and protect the Super Soldier Serum, but only one – a woman named Viola (Nora Zehetner) – actually appeared in person, and even she was either unconscious or unwillingly spitting out information in a German accent most of the time.
Now, all we can do is wait and see in which era of Marvel history the Agents will be dropped next – and whether or not they’ll get involved in any more MCU events on the long, uncertain road to the finale.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.
Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.
10: Thor & Jane Foster.
These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.
9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.
I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.
8: Peter Quill & Gamora.
I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.
7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.
I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.
6: T’Challa & Nakia.
While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.
5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.
Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?
4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.
Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.
3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.
Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.
2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.
They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.
1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.
Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.
So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!