Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 Episode 6
“Adapt or Die”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. evolves the threat of the Chronicoms as some lingering questions find answers.
If anyone’s following these reviews to read my thoughts on how this show handles time travel then you’ll get your fix early. Any questions over whether this show was allowing the characters to play their part in an endless time loop are now resolved as they most definitely aren’t. This episode has Mack loses his parents when he was very young which marks a significant change in his personal history. The previous episode combined with this one confirms that the characters are moving through a timeline that can and will be changed by their actions. The loss of Mack’s parents is a very definitive statement on how far reaching those changes can be and what the consequences of failure are.
Mack losing his parents and having to grow up without them probably has limited impact on the way history plays out in a broad sense but the significance of such a loss for Mack and his brother is immeasurable. It’s not something that’s easy for him to process and this episode succeeds in putting him through the emotional ringer. The build-up to the reveal that his parents have been replaced by Chronicoms is excellent. It starts off as a fairly standard amusingly awkward encounter where Mack recognises the younger couple as his parents and introduces them to his girlfriend. The way he becomes distracted by their very presence is really endearing and always succeeds in being amusing. Little touches such as Mack finding a way to bond with his father by comparing the door mechanism to a brake caliper were great as they delivered insight into Mack’s history by suggesting that his father was where his mechanical skills came from. Often character development doesn’t have to be overt; the little details are all that’s required to say a lot about a character.
The scenes on the Quinjet towards the end of the episode successfully lull the audience into a false sense of security by framing them as if it was the time to relax as the danger has passed. It seemed to be all about celebrating the fact that Mack’s parents were now safe and taking the time to indulge in anecdotes about young Mack. Elena especially takes great delight in learning more about their serious elder son but the mood quickly sours when John (Sedale Threatt Jr.) touches May which reveals that he has no emotion and Mack is forced to confront him. The fight sequence is fairly basic but the real impact is in what the fight represents. On a rational level Mack knows that he’s not fighting his parents but it doesn’t make the fact that he has to do it any easier. Elena breaks the neck of the John Chronicom -Johnicom?- and that’s clearly not easy for him to witness. Johnicom makes sure he tells Mack that his parents were replaced a while ago which means that there was nothing he could have done to save them as they were likely replaced before the team even arrived in this time period. The Chronicoms do have the advantage of being able to take the slower path through time where the team have to constantly wing it. This means they can do things like kill parents without the team even knowing about it. Henry Simmons plays all this brilliantly and does most of it without any dialogue as words are unable to articulate the enormity of what he’s going through. The defeated look on his face as he watches the duplicate of his mother be thrown out the back of the Quinjet says it all.
Mack ends the episode in a really dark place and removes himself from the team which also leads to him being stuck in an unknown time period with Deke after the Zephyr unexpectedly jumps away. This is unquestionably a problem that comes at a particularly vulnerable time for Mack who is still reeling from the knowledge that an alternate version of him has to grow up without parents. The situation does come with the important confirmation that changes to the timeline don’t impact the time traveller so the team can effectively do anything without fear of their own existence being prevented. It’s reassuring to an extent but doesn’t make things any easier for Mack and the episode articulates this pretty much perfectly.
Speaking of Deke, his decision to kill Freddie Malick in the previous episode is addressed here but not really covered in any detail. Mack is furious with him for taking it upon himself to do that despite not being ordered to which makes sense as a reaction but no time is spent exploring the ramifications of it both in a large sense and a personal sense. The fact that Deke seems to feel no remorse for his actions is deeply concerning and the lack of interest the writers seem to have in exploring that is equally problematic as it’s a significant action that is being largely ignored.
Another question that gets an answer is what the mystery surrounding Simmons is. It’s as underwhelming as the mystery itself with a basic answer not justifying the time it has taken to learn this information. We now know that Fitz is in a location that allows him to monitor the Chronicoms and the implant inside Simmons is to make sure she knows everything she needs in order to succeed at the mission but doesn’t know where Fitz is. That knowledge could result in him being exposed and killed which would obviously be bad. I’m sure there’s a flashback episode coming up that details the steps taken to get them to this point but for now the details are vague and we as viewers are expected to take it at face value. For now it’s unknown why Simmons can’t be aware of Fitz’ location as it doesn’t seem as if her memories are being actively monitored. Hopefully further answers will clear all this up otherwise it just seems like an excuse for the sake of manufacturing drama which is never a good starting point.
Daisy being brutally tortured at the hands of Nathaniel Malick in order to replicate her powers in him is really tough to watch. Thankfully the torture isn’t shown but the aftermath of it is visceral enough to get the point across. Showing her covered in blood and barely conscious as Nathaniel lists what he took from her gives us a palpable sense of what she went through and leaves it to the viewer to fill in the blanks. It’s also a deliberate reference to what her mother endured from Daniel Whitehall so the whole situation is deeply unpleasant. Not seeing the torture also allows Sousa to be the audience perspective. He witnesses the state Daisy returns in and reacts in the expected way. In order to keep her conscious, focused and talking he opens up to her about the circumstances surrounding his injury. It’s a great scene brilliantly performed by Enver Gjokaj who plays Sousa as compassionate and experienced. The tale of his injury and the loss of the soldier who helped him was well told; it underscored the horrors Sousa has witnessed in his life and sets up a potential deeper dynamic between him and Daisy. It definitely solidifies his commitment to the current mission as it leads him to decide that he’s where he needs to be. Helping Daisy showed him that there’s a lot of good he can do with this team so now he feels that he has a purpose.
Nathaniel Malick was a really engaging presence. I liked that the time was taken to clarify that he’s evil in the capitalist sense rather than the H.Y.D.R.A. sense. There’s no real difference in terms of what purpose he serves in the story but knowing there are lines he won’t cross adds some depth to his character. Hopefully his difficulties controlling his new powers hasn’t led to his death and he will appear in later episodes as a more formidable adversary. His inability to control his abilities did lead to a roof collapsing on him but that doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. I’m not sure he has a lot of potential to be an especially deep antagonist but as a recurring menace he could work really well.
The Chronicoms have been consistently underwhelming this season and that hasn’t really changed with this episode but they are ramping up as a threat in terms of what they’re capable of. Now that they are learning how to mimic emotion they will do a far better job of blending in as long as May isn’t within touching distance. It’s used to great effect as mentioned in my analysis of Mack’s contribution to the episode but the overall reveal of that capability is handled well. The bickering between Coulson and May as Coulson tries to wind May up in order to force her emotions to the surface. Lines around her lack of attitude is Coulson’s problem with her attitude are amusing and May’s constantly dispassionate reaction to everything Coulson says until she begins to exhibit emotion of her own is really well done. Their bickering gives way to the fact that what seems like emotion from Coulson is simply an advanced simulation. He is programmed to act exactly as the original Coulson would which means that he will be a defender of Humanity. They both conclude that the Chronicoms must have learned how to do the same thing as evidenced by the one impersonating the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent that appears to display emotion. It’s the next logical evolution for this adversary and plays into this particular episode really well as it immediately heightens the stakes by casually concluding that Stoner is the next to be replaced.
Stoner is really well used in this episode. His presence feels necessary and they capitalise on the comedy dynamic he had with May in the previous episode really well. It was a really nice touch to have her overcome with his attraction for her and flirt back in the HR approved way that he did. It was unique and off the wall in a way that this show is very good at. He also proved to be a useful ally when he was fully on board with Coulson and May as a helpful asset. His suspicion of them was a believable obstacle as well so this was a great example of a character used really well.
Coulson’s conversation with Sibyl is a highlight. She’s nowhere near rising to the upper echelons of antagonists this show has had but her eerie calm as she answers his every question because she sees no reason not to is appropriately unsettling. It also provides the perfect opportunity for Coulson to deliver a speech championing Humanity that highlights the significance of sacrifice when life is finite. Without the conversation with Sibyl it might have seemed overly cheesy but as it sits it’s just the right amount of cheesy. Coulson’s personal realisation that he doesn’t fear death because he always comes back from it in some form is a great knowing wink to the audience in regards to this character and ties in nicely to his sacrifice speech when he blows himself up without hesitation. It isn’t framed as a tragedy as the episode essentially tells us that he’ll return in some form.
A strong episode that raises the overall stakes nicely, connects those stakes to the relevant characters and answers some lingering questions. The reveal that Mack’s parents were killed and replaced before he would have had the opportunity to prevent it hits hard and is brilliantly played by Henry Simmons who conveys the necessary emotion with very little dialogue. This confirms absolutely that the timeline can be changed and that the changes don’t impact the team meaning they can act without fear of preventing their own existence which makes for small comfort under the circumstances. Mack being stuck in an unknown time with Deke after the Zephyr unexpectedly jumps is exactly the sort of problem Mack doesn’t need right now. Deke’s decision to kill Freddie Malick is addressed but it’s concerning that no attempt is made to explore the implications of it and that Deke appears to have no remorse for his actions. The reveal of the Simmons mystery is as underwhelming as the mystery itself and doesn’t fully justify the reasons for Simmons being kept apart from Fitz. There is more to come but for now it’s less than interesting.
Daisy being tortured at the hands of Nathaniel Malick is really effective exactly because of what isn’t seen. Sousa is the audience perspective in this case and seeing the aftermath allows the viewer to fill in the blanks. It’s a deliberate callback to the similar treatment her mother received from Daniel Whitehall so it all comes together to be appropriately unsettling. Sousa using his experience and compassion to keep her awake by opening up to her about his injury and the soldier that was lost helping him when he sustained it is well told and sets up a strong dynamic between Daisy and Sousa. It also helps Sousa finds the motivation to stay with the team that he was looking for upon realising that there’s plenty of good he can continue to do. Nathaniel Malick made for an engaging presence that could be deployed as a decent enough recurring antagonist assuming he survived. The Chronicoms remain underwhelming but their evolution to the point of mimicking emotion is a natural step forward that makes them more of a general threat. Coulson and May figuring out that they had that ability was done really well and the instant raising of the stakes with Stoner being in danger worked. Stoner was used well in the episode especially his dynamic with May as well as his role as both an ally and obstacle. Coulson’s conversation with Sibyl was a highlight. Her eerie calm as she answers his every question because there’s no reason not to is appropriately unsettling and the opportunity their conversation provides for Coulson to deliver a speech about the significance of sacrifice in a life that’s finite was well constructed. It was the right amount of cheesy and frames his decision to blow himself up as not being a tragedy since it had been made abundantly clear that he always comes back in some way.
- the handling of the realisation that Mack’s parents couldn’t be saved
- Henry Simmons’ excellent non vocal performance
- Sousa’s compassion and experience when helping Daisy
- leaving it to the viewer to fill in the blanks as to what Daisy went through
- Coulson’s speech being the right amount of cheesy and perfectly justified
- Stoner’s role in the episode and his dynamic with May
- failing to properly address Deke’s decision to kill Freddy Malick
- the Chronicoms still failing to be threatening as antagonists
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