Some of our agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are acting a little strange. Look, it’s possible the mind reacts oddly to being thrown back in time almost 90 years, who can say. But there’s definitely a few things off with various members of the team, and the others are starting to notice it. This week, they saved the day—if by “saving the day” you mean “ensuring the future doesn’t change, and Red Skull gets his super-soldier serum, thereby killing untold numbers of people, but S.H.I.E.L.D. will exist, too.” It’s a win, but there’s a pretty clear reason why no one exactly feels like popping the champagne. Maybe acting strangely is understandable, after all.
Or maybe not. While the plot of “Know Your Onions” is straightforward enough—Mack and Deke protect Malick so he can make his delivery, while the rest of the team tries to figure out how to find their teammates before the Zephyr makes its next time leap—there’s a lot of odd little elements in the margins of this story. Some of these are character arcs being set up, in particular the scenes about Yo-Yo and May. When the team is hiding in Koenig’s place as the Chronicoms search it (a tense and well-structured sequence we featured earlier this week), I made a note of Yo-Yo seeing the bottle fall and not doing anything about it. “What’s Yo-Yo’s problem?” I wondered, and it was nice to see I wasn’t alone: When Daisy asks her fellow Inhuman why she didn’t use her power to stop it, Yo-Yo limply says she froze, that she’s worried maybe the Shrike infection left some lasting damage after all. It’s a weird little concern that feels more like a dodge than an honest answer, so I’m curious to see where they’re planning to take this little storyline, other than to the “saving-money-on-Yo-Yo’s-CGI-budget” bank.
May’s behavior, on the other hand, is weird for a very obvious reason: She died, and Enoch brought her back—though not after a lot of time and research. (Enoch and Jemma are still being super-cagey about just how long they were away.) While it was fun watching her and Enoch square off when she attempted to leave the ship, the episode was just setting the table for a larger tale about the change in her character. “I’m not feeling anything,” she tells Enoch when he asks how she’s feeling, and the implication is that this version of May is going to be a problem soon enough. It’s not terribly promising—“person who comes back from the dead feels emotionless and empty inside” is pretty boilerplate genre storytelling, reminiscent of season six of Buffy (it also feels a bit like a rehashed version of what we went through with Coulson last year, even though Sarge’s arc was obviously quite different)—so I’m hoping this isn’t something they plan to drag out.
Outside of those moments, however, the show is keeping up with the glossy mix of action and humor that served it so well in the season opener, though it’s more uneven here as the characters hem and haw over their predicament to greater and lesser success. Daisy going against the chain of command—not to mention the rest of her team—to order Deke to assassinate Malick was perhaps the most jarring. Sure, she thought she had a real opportunity to change the future in a positive way, but also: Come on, now. It felt out of character (even though it was a good “wait, what?!” moment for the final act break), and the more I think about it, the more it just doesn’t seem like something she would do. After the events of the past two seasons, gambling with the entire planet’s history with no idea of the consequences is just too absurd a notion to think she would take seriously, even with the temptation to prevent Red Skull from ever getting his super-soldier serum. Really, the whole moral dilemma of whether to protect Malick or take him down felt forced and clunky, with one side—let the future play out as it already has, because God only knows the disastrous consequences otherwise—the obvious right choice.
Slightly more effective were the conversations Mack and Deke shared with Malick, which gave a simple human face to the guy whose offspring will lead the American wing of Hydra. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents already know the ethics of the situation (you don’t visit the sins of the child on the father, a nice inversion of the usual rule), and Deke and Mack have potential as a comic pairing, though this episode didn’t do much with that element. Honestly, Koenig and Enoch got most of the good dialogue tonight, the former’s bewilderment at the advanced technology of the Zephyr making for some fun interactions. It was a nice post-credits beat to have the speakeasy owner bring on the Chronicom as his new bartender, and while Koenig’s demeanor is awfully genial for being the tough guy he was first introduced as, I’ll take some waffling on personality for a guest character when it leads to lines like, “I gotta admit, I underestimated you Canadians.”
All in all, this was an entertaining but somewhat messy installment, with large elements falling apart the more you think about them. (Jemma is able to determine Malick is delivering the super-soldier serum because the woman had…a drop of it caught on her dress shoe? Whatever.) It was a quick wrap-up to this 1931 adventure, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of it, but it teases the exciting possibilities of the season, with further journeys through time comprising the final arc of the series. After the downturn of last season, this should give our heroes much more of a chance to shine. God bless these Canadians.
- Malick to Deke: “You must be real smart.” “I don’t know if I’d say ‘smart,’ but…I guess there’s not really another word for it, so yeah, I guess I am.”
- May can still kick Chronicom ass, even when he’s on their side.
- Gangster Koenig was a nice way to bring back Patton Oswalt, and this episode really let him shine. “I run a very legitimate illegitimate business.”
- One subtle bit I appreciated: Malick reacting to being told his son will become the head of Hydra with a suspicious, “Where did you hear that word?” Good to have him be far more implicated in the sinister organization without making a big deal out of it.
- Coulson: “I was dead.” May: “You still are.”
- The Chronicoms are on the same timetable as our heroes when it comes to the time leaps, which is useful information to have.
- They’re gonna find Enoch, right?
- You can add this installment to the small list of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes that don’t feature a single use of powers.