Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 Episode 2
“Know Your Onions”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its prohibition era adventure with a race against time to make sure that Freddie Malick survives being hunted by the Chronicoms.
Time travel usually brings in the moral dilemma associated with changing the past in some form. It’s a common story element because it fascinates so many people to wonder how the world would be altered by changing a particular event or saving/killing a significant historical figure. In this case the dilemma exists around Freddie Malick who will go on to be the father of HYDRA bigwig Gideon Malick. Letting him survive means that HYDRA rises to prominence in the United States but it also means that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be formed to both combat it and be infected by it. The two schools of thought are neatly represented by half of the active team each. Mack, Coulson and Simmons are in the “Save Freddy” camp with Daisy, Elena and Deke in the “Kill Freddy” camp. Drawing such a neat line has its advantages such as making it clear what the core question is that is being explored but it also has its disadvantages in that it doesn’t always make sense for characters to champion such a position and there isn’t really time for the episode to detail what motivates every single team member. There’s also a lack of real focus on who the figureheads are in this debate which means that the coverage is a little muddled.
The strongest voice in opposition to saving Freddy is Daisy who holds the view that HYDRA not rising to prominence means that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t even needed which would ultimately be a good thing as it may result in a safer world for all concerned. There’s no denying that HYDRA are responsible for many atrocities that resulted in the deaths of countless people and that includes what S.H.I.E.L.D. were tasked with doing while being unknowingly controlled from within. The obvious counter to that is that S.H.I.E.L.D. have done a lot of good and saved the world on more than one occasion so arguably accepting the rise of HYDRA is a necessary evil in order to ensure a positive outcome in the long run. None of this even considers that HYDRA are a much larger organisation than Gideon Malick that existed long before he did so it’s very possible that preventing his birth wouldn’t stop them at all since there are so many key figures in the organisation that the loss of one from history wouldn’t have a significant impact. In this case the future could turns out to be far worse if there isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. to protect it.
In short, it’s a massive debate that the episode doesn’t have time to have in its entirety. Daisy’s thinking is very small scale because she believes that allowing one person to die will fix everything and she isn’t prepared to consider the possibility that she’s wrong. Coulson points out that they have no way of knowing how the timeline will be altered if Freddy doesn’t survive and Daisy’s attitude is that they’ll just deal with whatever has changed when they return to their own time. It’s a concerningly limited view and she isn’t challenged on it to the extent that she should. Part of that may have to do with the urgency of the situation at hand but her recklessness does almost end up costing them the mission.
Ordering Deke to execute Freddy was a bit out there in terms of moments of tension. This is largely because Deke moving from a position of backing Mack up in trying to ensure he survives to wanting him dead was so unbelievably abrupt that it made the moment hard to invest in. It’s particularly jarring after steps were taken to draw a connection between the two of them when Deke identifies that they’re similar in that they’re just doing what they can to survive in a less than ideal situation. Deke knows what that’s like so can understand where Freddy’s coming from at least to some extent. This comes before he learns about Freddy’s future but it’s still a significant leap for him to go from relating to him to accepting Daisy’s order to end his life.
Mack’s reaction to learning the truth is what would be expected from him. It’s not an ideal choice to have to make but he recognises that he has to make it in order to preserve the timeline so does so without hesitation. There has to be a follow-up on Daisy’s dangerous and insubordinate behaviour because otherwise she could end up being a dangerous liability on a future mission. I’m fairly confident Mack will address this because he’s not the sort of leader to let things like that slide particularly when they can snowball into compromising a later mission.
The episode does a reasonable job characterising Freddy though it’s the usual beats like a troubled upbringing that factor into what he eventually becomes. He is a well rounded person that isn’t fully on the path that the timeline would seem to have mapped out for him so arguably at this point he could have been redeemed which is suggested. The problem is that if he’s redeemed it’s the same as killing him as Gideon Malick may be raised differently if he’s even born at all. At this point Freddy is more opportunisitic than anything else which ends up leading to the birth of the Red Skull. The good thing about that is the birth of the Red Skull eventually leads to the creation of Captain America. Once again, there are many consequences both good and bad.
Simmons has a lot more to do in this episode in that she gets off the ship and gets to use her medical expertise while constantly calling Koenig out on his casual sexism. The ongoing mystery around how long Fitz, Simmons and Enoch spent modifying the Zephyr into a time machine and coming up with the plan they’re currently working through isn’t all that interesting but it’s good to see Simmons interacting with the other members of the cast more traditionally.
I didn’t talk about Koenig when reviewing the previous episode because I didn’t feel that his contribution was overly significant beyond a couple of details. He has much greater prominence in this episode and is used really well. His sexist attitude will be off putting to many people but it’s supposed to be and the fact that he is of his time isn’t accepted as an excuse for him only seeing Simmons for her gender. He’s impressed that a woman would be capable of such things and Simmons constantly points out the expertise that she has while sounding frustrated. The characterisation of this Koenig as being far less honourable than the various Koenigs we’ve seen before allows him to stand out and it’s clearly something Patton Oswalt is having a lot of fun with. He definitely isn’t a bad person and is even inspired by the team to work towards a more positive future after seeing what they’re capable of.
May’s resurrection isn’t without merit but there’s also nothing really surprising going on here. Characters coming back from the dead and feeling disconnected from their lives is a fairly common story choice. Of course this doesn’t mean that this show should avoid that but it’s not playing out in a way that is all that interesting. I do like that her only desire is to be out on the mission and she will stop at nothing to achieve that. Her back and forth with Enoch in this episode is brilliantly done and the fight sequence was really impressive. May’s lack of strong reaction to the Coulson L.M.D. and her acceptance of his instruction to get back into the healing pod suggests that there’s more to her resurrection to be covered but there isn’t a lot here to maintain much intrigue.
The Chronicons so far don’t qualify as a significant threat. Their robotic nature means that they have very little in the way of personality and at no point does it feel like they are an urgent problem. The fact that there is only a finite amount of time in which to achieve the objective is a bigger threat with the Chronicons coming across as more of an incidental nuisance that have to be dealt with periodically. There is some impressive tension when they are searching Koenig’s speakeasy as the team hide nearby trying not to make any noise. This also helps to set up that Elena might be more impacted by her encounter with the Shrike than anticipated. Perhaps as the season progresses the Chronicoms will be fleshed out more but based on these two episodes there isn’t a lot to really develop.
The ending of the episode with the team being sent to another time period and Enoch being left behind because he wasn’t quick enough to return to the Zephyr made for a compelling ending. If one character needs to be left behind then Enoch is the natural candidate since he doesn’t age. It’s highly likely that he’ll be waiting for them whenever they reemerge and will have found some way to blend into the world. Staying close to Koenig makes a lot of sense and strongly suggests that the team are in part responsible for the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Koenigs they know being as honourable as they are. Once again this show flirts with the debate over being stuck in a time loop or being able to effect actual change.
A somewhat muddled episode that does some things really well but struggles with the enormity of the time travel the debate. Splitting the team into two distinct camps when it comes to saving Freddy is a good idea in that it simplifies the issue enough for it to be covered in more detail but the drawback is that there isn’t time to go into the particulars of what motivates most of the characters to think along those lines. The most vocal supporter of killing Freddy is Daisy who thinks along very limited lines as to what his death will mean. She’s happy to stop the rise of HYDRA because she thinks that S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t even be needed if they do and is prepared to just accept the future as they find it once they find it after ending Freddy’s life. There isn’t time to let the debate play out in its entirety so important and obvious points aren’t even considered such as the fact that HYDRA is far bigger than Gideon Malick which means that killing Freddy might have a sweepingly negative impact on the timeline as S.H.I.E.L.D. could possibly never exist to combat the other branches of the organisation. Her reckless and dangerous behaviour isn’t punished enough either though that will possibly come in subsequent episodes. Deke moving from relating to Freddy to wanting him dead doesn’t really work because it happens so abruptly makes very little sense in context which means that the moment is robbed of tension. Freddy is characterised in a reasonably complex way. He isn’t fully on the path that the timeline would map out for him and could possibly be redeemed at this point but doing so would be just the same as killing him in terms of producing the future as they know it.
Simmons gets more to do in this episode in terms of interacting with the team and using her expertise. Having her constantly call out Koenig on his sexist remarks is a lot of fun and it’s generally good to see her in a more familiar position despite how tedious the mystery surrounding her, Fitz and Enoch already is. Koenig works well in this episode and Patton Oswalt is clearly having a lot of fun playing the less honourable ancestor. It’s good that his “of the time” behaviour is constantly challenged rather than being excused and that enough time is taken to show that he is complex with the capacity for self improvement as evidenced by him being inspired to help create a better future at the end of the episode. The Chronicoms fail to be a significant threat because there is a lack of personality to them due to their robotic nature. The real threat is the ticking clock with them coming across as a periodic nuisance. There is one scene with impressive tension that is more down to the circumstances but beyond that they largely fail as villains. May’s resurrection is also problematic as there’s not a lot going on here that feels new, different or interesting. Her lack of reaction to the Coulson L.M.D. and acceptance of his instructions to go back in the healing pod after trying to fight her way off the Zephyr is intriguing enough but on the whole May doesn’t contribute a lot beyond this and and excellent fight sequence.
- splitting the debate over changing the timeline evenly among the available characters
- approaching the timeline changing debate from a few different perspectives
- Simmons constantly calling Koenig out on his sexist assumptions
- Koenig being less honourable than his descendants while having the capacity for growth
- Freddy Malick’s reasonably complex characterisation
- the excellent May/Enoch fight
- Deke’s shift from relating to Freddy to wanting him dead
- Daisy’s dangerous behaviour not being punished
- the May resurrection plot failing to be interesting
- the tedious mystery surrounding Simmons, Fitz and Enoch
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