So, Agents of Shield is trucking its way through the final season, and they managed to both do and not do precisely what I thought they would, while also doing something else entirely… so it is and isn’t what I expected, but might have expected, but couldn’t expect… you know, I think I’ll just dive into it, now.
7.04, “Out of the Past”
When LMD Coulson got knocked out by the EMP at the end of last episode, his system got a little fried. He became colorblind, and he started thinking in an internal monologue. It makes for a neat little homage to the classic noir style of the time, and it fits pretty well, too, with the tragedy of an unavoidable, unstoppable fate: the death of a hero.
I remember back in the first season, when Daisy (then known as Sky) first visited Shield’s academy for a case. The agents were familiar with it, of course, but there was a moment when they stood before a wall, a memorial to all the fallen agents of decades past. It was Simmons, I recall, who said something about how they could trace Shield’s history through those names. There were several such names included from the days of the SSR, but after SHIELD was formed, the first name, the very first agent of Shield who fell in the line of duty, was Daniel Sousa.
The story goes that Daniel Sousa, a living legend who was the friend of living legends, a capable, upstanding man who saw wonders and horrors, who lost friends in the never-ending fight to save the world, was murdered by Russian agents mere moments after successfully handing off a piece of crucial Shield tech to be delivered to Howard Stark. A nice story, and one which would inspire generations of agents for decades to come, especially since he was such an upright man, who set an example worth following every day of his life, an example which was only highlighted, not created, with his death. But that’s just it: it’s a story. Stories may usually have elements of truth within them, but that does not make them true.
We figured out right quick, and it hit LMD Coulson soon enough, that Sousa wasn’t killed by Russians. He was killed by Hydra. The very first agent of Shield to die in the line of duty was killed by Hydra, just like so many other agents in the decades to follow. They have literally been killing Shield agents from the very beginning, and even before then, when the SSR fought them.
How much of history was made, and therefore must be preserved, through those murders, each and every one? How much of history depends on the death of Daniel Sousa?
Enough that LMD Coulson, upon waking up to find himself cuffed and alone in a room with Sousa, knows that history is already going off course, because today is the day he dies… and he’s not on his way there yet. So, Coulson finds himself having to get history back on track, by taking Sousa towards his death.
He comes up with a story quick, to the effect of himself being Sousa’s “contact,” trying to get the device in question to him, so they can both get it to Howard Stark together. He was investigating a leak which turned out to be the scientist (the one the Chronicom was impersonating) at whose house the device in question remains, alongside a now-faceless corpse. Coulson manages to get a call through to the Zephyr by way of Enoch, and get them on the train while his team goes to retrieve the device.
Pause a moment for Enoch. He has been a bartender for twenty-four years, just waiting to rejoin the team. He has been doing that job for a couple decades, and he is now, at this moment, enduring the self-pitying tale of the guy at his bar. For most of the day. All he’s able to do is keep the line of communications intact, which, it’s a vital job, yes, but he’s waited for so long to reunite with his only remaining friends, who are engaged in a time-traveling war with his own people, to whom he is a pariah. The day brings home to him that he has no one. He is alone. And he has been alone for a very long time.
That is a crushing blow for anyone, and I do not much like where that may soon lead him.
With Enoch serving faithfully and without complaint, the team is able to communicate somewhat. Coulson takes Sousa to the train and, as things go awry, manages to improvise his way towards LA, and the fateful moment of Sousa’s death. As for how things go awry, that would be when Yo-Yo and Deke went to get the device from the dead scientist’s house. Yo-Yo succeeds without incident, but Deke is ambushed by a pair of intruding thugs who think he’s the scientist, and they take him to their boss: Wilfred Malick.
That down-on-his-luck boy in a freight car has become a stone cold killer – as evidenced when he kills his incompetent underling without batting an eye – and a leader of Hydra. Oh, and he’s Sousa’s superior officer in Shield. Sousa shared his suspicions with him, and that, as expected, is the real reason Sousa is about to be killed. But apparently he believes in repaying debts to people who save his life, as Deke did, so, once Deke makes his identity known, he lets him go instead of killing him.
On the train, Coulson is approached by the lead Chronicom, and they make an offer. In exchange for letting them have this world, the Chronicom promises that the humans the LMD cares about will be protected. Coulson refuses, even under threat of an escalation that takes the conflict from being “neat” to being “messy,” much as the real Coulson would, but the Chronicom believes that his perspective will change as he watches all of the humans dear to him grow old and die as the centuries wear on and on and on.
For the moment, though, the Chronicom has called Malick and brought Hydra onto the train to kill Sousa then and there. He’s clever and a capable fighter, though, and didn’t even actually fall for the pretty face they sent in as a distraction. But he’s outnumbered and surrounded, and saved only by the arrival of Daisy, Mack, and Coulson. They get him off the train and to the Zephyr, as everyone reunites… except, of course, Enoch.
As everyone manages to get back together again, there is a moment of decision. The agents have just seen what happens when they let a bad man go, in the form of Freddie Malick, but is it in them to let a good mad die?
Yo-Yo doesn’t much like leaving the unpleasant parts of history be, and now that Deke has had an instant lesson in such himself, he doesn’t like it either. We already know Daisy would change things in an instant, and LMD Coulson simply follows the decision made by the Director, Mack. And Mack decides that they’re going to save Sousa.
Unfortunately, while Daisy, Coulson, and Mack are deciding that, and Simmons, Yo-Yo, and May are discovering that May has lost all ability to feel emotion, but gained the ability to feel what others feel when through her sense of touch, Sousa is left alone, in LA, with the device he needs to deliver, and he makes tracks.
Sousa makes it to the hotel, and history is on course. He loses the Hydra agent tailing him, makes the hand-off to the concierge, and meets his fate… except that the agents of Shield are there, swooping in to whisk him out of history, using Coulson as a body double. In the eyes of history, he dies that night, and he has lost his entire life, but he’s still alive, and able to fight the good fight.
The next thing they all know, they’re transported through time again, all except Enoch, to… the 1970’s, I believe, based on the music.
Well, actually, there is one other Chronicom left behind, besides Enoch. This one, the leader thus far, has been left behind to assist Malick and Hydra. So, it would seem that, true to their promise, the Chronicoms are going to make this fight messy now, by joining with Hydra.
So, the agents have meddled with history, albeit in a creative manner, after seeing firsthand what happens when they refuse to meddle. That opens the door to doing so again, and less carefully. Which is what the Chronicoms have been trying to do, and what they’re doing now by joining forces with Shield’s single worst, deadliest, and most enduring enemy. Something tells me things are, indeed, about to get a whole lot messier.