Things actually manage to take a turn for the even-worse on Agents of Shield, building us up towards the halfway point of the season and the series grand finale beyond that.
Season 7, Episode 5, “A Trout in the Milk”
The agents find themselves in 1973 – props for the intro homage, by the way – and, lacking any current intel, their first objective is to get their feet back under them. Deke and Simmons stay on the Zephyr, while Mack and Yo-Yo go check out the Lighthouse, and the rest, Coulson, May, Daisy, and Sousa, go to retrieve Enoch, who has waited so patiently for forty-plus years. But even these simple tasks do not go so well.
Sousa, it must be said, is doing as well as anyone might hope, for having been taken from his life, and his time, and whisked away on a time-jumping mission with the entire world at stake. His is the freshest perspective, though also the most raw, for what he has lost, and he is deeply principled. So, he is the one questioning everything around him, from the advances in technology, to the changes in clothing styles, to the underhanded methods the agents sometimes use, to ethics and reliability of this time-hopping approach, with consequences that seem to become more and more devastating as things go on.
That last is courtesy of the Chronicoms’ interference. There are just a few hints of it, at first: Enoch isn’t at the bar, and no one has seen him in over a year; the Lighthouse isn’t abandoned after all; the Director of Shield at the time, who we recognize from the agents’ Lighthouse tour in the fifth season, isn’t the Director yet. No, things go from bad to worse and worse and worse when it turns out that Wilfred Malick didn’t die three years ago, as he originally did, with both of his sons still alive as well, and he’s the Director, now. Even worse, the infamous Project Insight is underway four decades early. Oh, and Daisy and Sousa manage to find a list of Insight’s targets, including all of Hydra’s (and the Chronicoms’) enemies, including the future Avengers.
About the only mercy there, as May finds out through conversation and her emotion-imitating touch with the should-have-been director, is that he is still a good man, and Insight needs another three years to launch.
Such mercy tends to be short-lived, however, when dealing with time travel.
And if the ability to change the future isn’t enough, Freddie Malick has a keen memory of the past. Knowing that familiar faces from his past were coming back to his future, that is particularly smart. He recognizes Coulson, and the Chronicoms have him and May dead in their sights, until Daisy holds a gun on Malick’s ought-to-already-be-dead son, Nathaniel. Sousa doesn’t like the hostage-taking, and he’s thrown for another loop when he sees Daisy’s quaking power, but it gets them out of a hairy situation just in time for Enoch to arrive back on the scene and whisk them all back to the Zephyr.
Unfortunately, the Chronicoms’ understanding of humanity is increasing more and more, and the incident with Malick putting his son’s life before everything else teaches them a lesson. They apparently have more control over the time-hopping than the agents do, and they use it effectively, shuffling the agents forward another three years, to the day Insight launches, allowing them an obscene amount of time to prepare.
I’m reminded of a game of chess. The side that can predict what the other side will do has a tremendous advantage. Even more, if one can base those predictions on one’s own moves, moves which corner the opponent and force their hand to move in the way one wants, so much the better. That is what the Chronicoms did. They made one move, and forced the agents’ hand. They have to stop Insight, so they will. And when they do, the Chronicoms are ready.
That is something that Chronicoms are better equipped for: taking the long way around and preparing for their enemy. It’s a huge advantage, which they are using quite well. Sousa has the right idea, I think, in leaving him behind the next time they jump, so he can fight Hydra and the Chronicoms as the years pass, instead of leaving them all at their enemy’s mercy.
The Lighthouse is now home to Insight’s launching pad, and they need it to be abandoned, so they plan to flood it. Daisy hacks the security cameras and the various doors, going back to her roots, with Sousa watching her back, as Simmons guides May and Coulson through the Lighthouse to their target location.
Unfortunately, Nathaniel Malick gets the drop on Daisy and Sousa, stunning them both with a Chronicom gun. He takes them, and, according the post-credit scene, intends to do with Daisy as Whitehall did/will do with her mother. He wants her power, which he caught a glimpse of, and intends to take it by using Whitehall’s approach of butchering her and transplanting her organs into himself. All things considered, I don’t really fancy his odds of surviving the procedure anyway, but I think we can all agree that it would better to avoid the attempt.
With Daisy out of play, May and Coulson have to improvise. They run into the would-be director again (I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name), and try to convince him to help. But he seems far too quick on the uptake, and May can tell he’s not really coming around to their way of thinking. I have to wonder if Hydra managed to corrupt him, as they have so many others, or if there’s some other explanation for it. Either way, they knock him out and take his access badge. They reach their target and set the explosives, but before they get the job done and get out, the agents find out the Chronicoms’ next move.
They learned from when Malick, one of the worst examples of humanity, risked everything in order to save his son. This is something which the Chronicoms do not comprehend, but they use it. Knowing that the agents will want to destroy Insight, they have two prisoners locked away where they will drown if the agents flood it: Mack’s parents.
Mack makes the only choice he can, at the moment. He aborts the operation, letting the Insight rocket take off. Still needing to stop that rocket, they take the Zephyr and pursue, firing a missile, destroying it. They stop Insight, at least for the moment, but, and this was what the Chronicoms wanted all along… launching that missile reveals the Zephyr‘s location. It’s still cloaked, but they know exactly where it had to be, and that it’s still very close. That is what the Chronicoms wanted: a chance to take out all of the agents pursuing them in one shot. Nathaniel took Daisy and Sousa, May and Coulson are captured, and now the Zephyr is revealed.
All of this while Deke and Yo-Yo go to apprehend Malick, who refuses to cooperate but is just a little too slow to reveal his leverage. Deke shoots him, killing him in cold blood. That’s one thing made somewhat right, one choice… not undone, but perhaps slightly rectified. But it was brutal and cold, which speaks to how far the agents are being pushed by this time-hopping madness.
Everyone’s dealing with their issues while trying to save the timeline, and the world. Sousa was just taken from his life, and he’s angry about it, and all the answers he wanted are very long and complicated; Deke was angry about everything Malick did, which he might have stopped back in 1931; Yo-Yo has lost her speed, though Mack tells her that he abilities have never been what defines her; Mack had to weigh the world against his parents at a crucial moment; May has to deal with how she may never feel anything of her own again.
Oh, and Enoch is keeping a secret. A secret that involves Simmons, whose neck is hurting and who is slipping in some way, like forgetting things without him… and whose neck has a tiny, glowing symbol underneath the skin.
She’s a machine, I think.
I remember how she said that they have to be careful with who knows what, in case the Chronicoms capture any of them. Perhaps Enoch and Fitz-Simmons took that to the extent that they have a fake Simmons, an LMD or some such, instead of the real one, in order to add one final barrier of security if things go wrong. Or maybe it’s something else. Either way, though, the secrecy of it does not sit well with me. The agents are in the fight of their lives, and they need to be able to trust one another absolutely. Secrets are not conducive to that, especially not at this juncture.
And I can’t help but wonder if it’s connected to how it was Simmons all but whispering in Mack’s ear that they needed to stop Insight, when his parents were being held as leverage. Something is very unsettling about that. Has Simmons been pushed by this ordeal, the way Deke is being pushed, or is it something else?
So, the agents are very much out of their depth, severely disadvantaged, being pushed hard in the ultimate high stakes mission. They are scattered, divided, captured, targeted, and their own people are keeping secrets from them. The enemy is winning, by a wider and wider margin.