Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 Episode 10
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to the 1980s and showcases Nathaniel Malick’s plan to build an army of Inhumans for anarchic purposes.
An otherwise stellar final season of this show has been marred by underwhelming antagonists. The Chronicoms have consistently failed to feel like a credible threat despite their plan to irreparably alter history and Nathaniel Malick is too unfocussed to really earn the resources he has. Thomas E. Sullivan is engaging and charismatic in the role but having access to the Time Stream and the knowledge that comes with it doesn’t mesh with his anarchy objective. His rejection of his father and brother’s devotion to HYDRA along with Hive could be an interesting aspect to his character if time was taken to explore it but it appears the writers are more interested in having him be an obstacle for the team to deal with than a fully developed antagonist in his own right. Maybe the point is to have era specific threats that are dealt with before things move on which is fine to a point but the villains could be more memorable while doing that.
Malick’s plan is to recruit people who came to a bad end in the previous timeline and give them a second chance by bestowing stolen Inhuman powers on them and having them work with them. It brings a different meaning to Afterlife as a location as it becomes a semi-literal “afterlife” for those people that would otherwise suffer if events were to play out as they did before. The case study example in this episode is John Garrett (James Paxton, son of Bill Paxton) who is recruited by Malick after being told how he ends up. His acceptance of time travel and super powers feels a bit abrupt but it works in context and James Paxton does a really good homage to his father’s performance as the same character while imbuing him with youthful energy. He’s a lot of fun to have around and is used well at key points in the episode. He’s the character that lets the viewer see how Malick’s operation has grown and what he’s doing with the knowledge that he has. If the scope was expanded then it could be a great way to repurpose various characters this show has introduced to be a threat to the team in different ways.
Garrett is very much a henchman in this episode albeit an at times unwilling one which is limiting as he is only deployed periodically. There is potential to develop this further as he remains on the board as of the end of the episode which provides an opportunity to get deeper insight into his character at that age and what motivates him beyond seeing that his future is less than idea. Maybe that’s all it will ever be which would be unfortunate as Garrett was one of the more interesting antagonists. His underlying motivation was that he felt abandoned by S.H.I.E.L.D. who left him to die which led to him to embrace HYDRA as a way to get revenge. This version of Garrett is motivated by avoiding that future though seems to enjoy being part of Garrett’s anarchic focus which does conflict with the impression I had of the character as I always thought he was loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. before he felt that they betrayed him. Portraying him as being always on that knife edge is an overly simplistic reading of the character and feels contrived as a way to have him return as an antagonist without doing much work to set that up.
He’s important to the mythology of the show in other ways. It was established that he was the one who raised Ward to be brutal, uncompromising and loyal to HYDRA. It’s inevitable that the show will eventually return the team to the present day which might involve making a pit stop to the first season to showcase the altered timeline’s version of some of those events. What does this change in Garrett’s fate mean for Ward? Is he never recruited into HYDRA meaning he’s a loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent or does he become something else entirely? I’d be surprised if Ward doesn’t appear in some way before the end so it’ll be interesting to see how the changes in the timeline have altered him. On a personal note, an appearance by Brett Dalton would be welcomed.
There’s not a lot to say about Malick in this episode. His main plan is to create anarchy and make a mess of the timeline for little more than his own amusement. As I mentioned above this makes him somewhat forgettable as an antagonist. The biggest threat comes from the fact that his behaviour is unpredictable and there seems to be no line he won’t cross but there’s no real depth to him which lets the episode down significantly. Any conversation a character has with him plays out largely the same way. He also comes across as being painfully naive when he dismisses Coulson’s warning that the Chronicoms are using him to attain their goal of turning Earth into a home world for their people. It’s something a smarter villain would at least be willing to consider as all of this future knowledge will obviously not be for his benefit alone.
Malick works best as a catalyst for other developments such as Jiaying learning that she is Daisy’s mother. It follows on from an earlier conversation where Daisy talks about meeting her mother and it ending badly. Jiaying at this point in her life is unflinchingly kind, compassionate and wholly devoted to helping her people. This comes before her brutal treatment at the hands of Dr. Whitehall that prompted her hatred of Humanity so it’s unthinkable to her that a mother would hurt their child in the way that Daisy implies. The tipping point for Jiaying is related to Kora; whatever happened in the previous timeline was what led to her leaving Afterlife, meeting Calvin Zabo and eventually being captured by HYDRA. Kora represents what she considers to be a failure on her part as Terrigenesis left her broken to a point of no return. There is a strong implication that Kora takes her own life which offers a reasonable explanation for Jiaying leaving Afterlife to do charity work. The trauma of losing her daughter and feeling like a failure works as a motivation to leave and try to do some good in the world.
This conversation offers Daisy the perspective on her mother that she didn’t quite get before. Jiaying assures Daisy that any parental failures are out of misdirected love rather than anger or hatred. Her statement “Sometimes trying to do the right thing comes out all wrong” is really poignant and highlights the idea that the best of intentions aren’t always enough to produce the best result. Jiaying’s world view does become corrupted to the point where she becomes comfortable with doing unspeakable things and that put her in opposition to Daisy who chose to side with her found family who were far less genocidal which ended up being a formative decision for her. Talking to Jiaying before the point where her world view becomes corrupted lets her see the person that Jiaying was and helps her contextualise her own feelings. When Malick reveals the truth and gives a brief summary of what happened between them Jiaying can’t believe that she would be capable of hurting Daisy in such a way and is instantly apologetic which gives Daisy that maternal support she had been craving without knowing it. This is a relationship she never got proper closure on and it seems that achieving it is a real possibility before Malick brutally murders Jiaying right in front of her. It’s a shocking moment and Daisy’s reaction where she begins to unleash the full extent of her powers out of grief and anger is excellently done. It’s bizarre that May interrupts this as it ruins what could have been a really satisfying moment.
In general this was a great episode for Daisy and Chloe Bennet expertly accomplishes some really engaging emotional heavy lifting. Her scenes with Jiaying I’ve already talked about but her interactions with Sousa are also excellent. Their connection moved on from Daisy’s understanding of him was greatly enhanced in the previous episode when she learned -in a now deleted sequence of events- why he’s always so willing to help her and carries into this one. There is a casual romantic tension between them that doesn’t receive too much attention but is simply there whenever they share screen time. Simmons picks up on it and Sousa has become someone Daisy feels comfortable confiding in. She talks to him about her conflicted feelings regarding Jiaying and receives the advice she needs to hear about how to handle the situation. She’s worried about the timeline and what interacting with her mother before she was born might mean for her own existence but Sousa lays it out in simple terms by bringing in his own feelings about those he has left behind in travelling through time with the team. He tells her that he would absolutely take any opportunity to have a stolen moment with those he cares about whether it risks the timeline or not. Sousa’s right when he says that the timeline is “screwed” and it’s even more true after this episode with this new timeline being bereft of Daisy following Jiaying’s death so it’s a valid point that they should try to make the most of the situation they’re in. As always Sousa is used really well particularly in the scene with Jiaying; he initiates the interaction and once he feels that they’ll be ok he quietly leaves. It’s beautifully subtle in the way it’s portrayed.
Simmons may not remember removing the implant in the previous episode but Daisy does and it’s enough for Simmons to be concerned even though Daisy doesn’t really know anything. She theorises that Fitz might not be behind their time jumps and all they’ve been doing is following the Chronicoms on some sort of automated trajectory. It’s a different emotional baseline for Simmons and it’s played well but it doesn’t change how tedious this mystery has been. The end of the episode suggests that Fitz may appear soon and he’ll have to with so few episodes left but signs are still point towards him being dead though maybe there will be a compromise with a Chronicom based LMD version of him. If he is dead and it has happened off screen then that will be massively disappointing but there just isn’t enough to go on here. This mystery has certainly dragged on long enough and remains unengaging.
The episode ending with hostages on both sides, The Zephyr commandeered and Deke being the only hope is in theory a good cliffhanger but it doesn’t quite muster the urgency that it needs to. Kora is in theory a good catch for the team as she’s Daisy’s sister, is conflicted and will be in a position to learn about Jiaying’s death. The reality is that Kora still isn’t really a character. She’s a part of Malick’s plan and someone that Jiaying deeply cares for but the evidence of that emotional connection doesn’t exist on screen so in this appearance and her previous appearance she exists to do little more than move aspects of the plot forward. There’s a real opportunity to flesh her out in the next episode but it could also be too late to do this properly since little effort has been made so far.
A good episode that is an excellent showcase for Chloe Bennet who shoulders the emotional heavy lifting through Daisy’s various interactions. Daisy approaching Jiaying before the point where she was born allows her to contextualise her feelings by seeing a different side of her mother. Jiaying talks about parents making mistakes out of love and the best of intentions not always leading things down the right path. The payoff to this when Jiaying learns the truth and can’t imagine hurting her own daughter is brilliantly done as well. Daisy’s interactions with Sousa are also great and develop the romantic tension between them. It is merely present in their scenes together rather than being overblown and Sousa’s advice about making the best of their current situation is pitch perfect as is the handling of his character in the way he supports Daisy. Simmons starting to consider the possibility that Fitz isn’t out there opens up another emotional dimension for Simmons that fits well though it still doesn’t alter the fact that this ongoing mystery remains tedious.
The episode really falters in the villains. Malick is an engaging presence thanks to a strong performance but his anarchy focused plan doesn’t match up with the resources he has and his shallowness is further exemplified by his failure to even consider Coulson’s words about what the Chronicoms have planned. He’s very much a catalyst to make certain things happen and is effective in that space but more could have been done to establish him as a significant threat. The young John Garrett is used really well and James Paxton does a great job playing him but using him as an at times unwilling henchman is limiting considering his importance to the mythology of the show. There’s still an opportunity to develop him further so he might be used better in the coming episodes. Kora is similarly problematic as she isn’t really a character which makes her capture by the team feel somewhat empty. Her connection to Daisy and Jiaying means that she should have a great deal of potential but no groundwork has been done so far meaning that there’s an uphill climb to be done with her character in a very short time. The ending of the episode suggests a greater sense of urgency than there is in reality because of this and a few other factors.
- Chloe Bennet shouldering some excellent emotional heavy lifting
- Jiaying’s wise words giving Daisy much needed perspective on her own past
- paying that off when Jiaying learns the truth
- Sousa and Daisy’s growing connection and his advice about making the best of their situation
- Sousa continuing to be routinely excellent
- Malick’s plan failing to put him across as a credible threat despite his resources
- Kora being more of a plot device than a character
- a lack of urgency in what should have been an engaging cliffhanger ending
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