The final season of Agents of Shield appears to be shaping up as one of the more reflective TV seasons I’ve seen. The characters are literally going back to the beginning, and even before, and reflecting on their entire history as they endeavor to preserve it from the hands of those who would rewrite it. It’s not so much on the fireworks, per se, as of yet, but it’s absolutely fascinating me.
So, let’s jump in! 🙂
Season 7, Episode 2, “Know Your Onions”
This week’s episode delved deep into the moral complexities which arise from the power of time travel.
I’m reminded of a moment from the old, classic Doctor Who, wherein the time traveling Doctor has the power to end the menace of his worst and most devastating enemies, the Daleks, before they ever begin their cosmos-spanning butchery. It is compared to if one could go back in time and, say, kill a child before they became like Hitler, that sort of thing. Naturally, that was the thrust of the conversation here, and it was a riddle that was both very simple and very complicated.
Putting a momentary pin in that, however, for after the synopsis…
May is up and about, and clearly doing quite well from a physical standpoint. But psychologically, something seems to have broken, somewhere in the horror of her most recent experiences. She was, after all, stabbed by a creature wearing the face of the man she loves and cast into the “spirit world,” where she fought a horde of reaching, clutching shadows before emerging back on the physical plane to strike down her enemies before collapsing, and dying, and barely being brought back from the brink in peak physical condition. All of that, put together, is bound to do some sort of emotional damage, and May, I note, has always dealt with that more or less by soldiering on. But this is a bit different, it’s more… desolate, I think.
She feels nothing. If what we see is what we get, then her emotions themselves seem to be absent from her now, leaving something empty, cold, and brutal in their place.
Enoch did very well to not try to sedate May (at Simmons’ instruction) by surprise. That would not have gone well for either of them, I am certain. She might have had that needle accidentally jabbed in the wrong spot of her flesh, but even if not, it would have been a hostile act, and they both would have gotten hurt. As evidenced by how they did both get hurt when they did eventually collide without the needle in play.
May, proactive as she is, wanted to leave the Zephyr (before full recovery and in her 21st century garb) to get on the mission, solve the problem, that sort of thing. Enoch wisely refused her, and stopped her by force, as was necessary. That was an interesting fight to watch, if only for the collision of two brutally precise combatants. It wasn’t nearly as flashy as most other fights have been, but it was so straightforward that it had a unique sort of weight to it. These are two who, when they fight, they just don’t give a crap about “style.” They get the job done with bloody efficiency, without the complications of rage.
It was only Enoch’s control which kept him from killing May, and only his durability which kept her from killing him. …well, that and the timely arrival of most of the other agents, including LMD Coulson. That had to be the definition of cold shoulders she gave him as she submitted, without further resistance, to finally being sedated.
Speaking of said agents, Simmons and Yo-Yo join Daisy and Coulson at Koenig’s place, saving the life of that woman who got shot, whatever her name is, and hiding from the cop-impersonating Chronicoms. Koenig proved invaluable on that score as, despite his protests and his attempts to avoid trouble, he still put his neck out for them. He hid them in a secret room, distracted the Chroni-cops, and, when he noticed the shot glass with the bullet that Simmons pulled out of the woman on the counter, he went and drank the shot, including the bullet, before the enemy noticed it. That’s one of those moments that makes you squirm to see, but Koenig is absolutely awesome for doing it. And he gets to say that took a bullet for the agents!
A little disconcerting, though: Yo-Yo doesn’t seem to have her speed anymore. It might be something about the shrike material within her, or maybe something psychological, but, either way… she’s at a serious disadvantage going forward without a strength that she’s relied on so heavily.
Then, in trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s really at stake, Simmons realizes what the green liquid in those vials is. She runs a quick(ish) test with the materials she has at hand, and confirms it. That little green liquid is a key ingredient in the serum which made the Red Skull, and enhanced the rise of Hydra, thus inspiring the creation of the SSR, which is the foundation for Shield. That is what’s being delivered, and small wonder this is the thread the Chronicoms have decided to pull. It connects so directly to everything that comes after. Small wonder they ignored a future president when their target is the whole of Shield itself.
With intel like that, and a little slip-up on the part of the woman, which Koenig aptly understands, the agents can now tell what’s happening, and where. But, for the “where” part of that equation, Koenig demands that he be brought fully onboard. His goal is to save Freddie, and he recognizes that he needs to know more than he does in order to make sense of what’s going on from his perspective. Time being an issue, Coulson relents and brings him aboard. And what a cascade of wonders he beholds! Things he doesn’t have words for are all around him, and he is amazed. He keeps his head, but displays that excited appreciation which his descendants are well-known for. Now we know where they got that from!
Elsewhere, Mack and Deke are helping (a bit forcefully) one Freddie with a bit of boot-legging and smuggling. They can’t conceal everything from him, like when they use a walkie-talkie in front of him, but pass it off as something Deke invented. Heh, it’s kind of strange to see technology that most of us today would regard as mostly outdated being seen as something fantastic and futuristic. All the advances we’ve made, and can conceive of making in the near future, really are remarkable, aren’t they?
Anyway, they spend their night hitching a ride on a train, in a boxcar. And what an interesting night that is, in regards to the discussion I mentioned earlier. I mean, we tend to think of the monsters of humanity, particularly those who are so removed from their humanity as Hydra, as having always been those monsters. But the ugliest truth about Hydra is that they are human, just like our heroes, and just like us.
So, Freddie Malick is on his way to make a Hydra delivery to the Red Skull, and he will become a man responsible for much bloodshed and suffering, as will his son and granddaughter, though the family line eventually ends when Hydra’s original master, Hive, encounters them (after one of his sons betrays the other). But right now, at this moment in the past? Freddie is just a young man, fallen from the stars and hungering to rise back up to them. His father lost everything in the crash of ’29, which brought on the Great Depression. His mother lost her mind and hasn’t said a word for two years, so she’s being taken care of (translation: she’s in an asylum). And he, Freddie, was on the streets, and, right now, he’s sitting in a boxcar with a couple of strangers, transporting mostly bootlegged liquor.
He’s just a guy, and not yet guilty of anything that he will be guilty of, and he has known pain, and loss, and despair. He’s just… human.
Any human can go either way. Case in point: Grant Ward, also of Hydra. We saw in the Framework that the insane, murderous villain he became didn’t have to be who he was. And even when he threw Fitz-Simmons into the sea, he was telling himself that it was their best shot. And we saw his past, where he was abused and forced to abuse his brother. And yet, for all that, he was human, and there came a point when he took his destiny into his own hands.
Same thing with Freddie, which we saw when he had a chance to choose either Hydra, or the path which Koenig offered him. Koenig put up with a lot, did a lot, and risked a lot just to help Freddie. But when it came time, when the Chronicoms and the agents were fighting and it was just the two of them, Freddie shot the man (non-fatally, thankfully) who came to help him, and joined the people who care nothing for their fellow humans. That is Hydra, in a nutshell.
As things were coming to a head with Freddie, the window of time travel, the “tide” or whatever it is, began to close. The agents raced out, got Mack and Deke back, kept Freddie alive (with much disagreement), kept history on its previous course, and barely got back to the Zephyr before they were carried away on the tides of time and space. In fact, they cut it so close that Enoch got left behind, by a margin of just a few seconds. He’s probably the best one for it, being a robot who does not need to age, and capable of blending into the background as he has before, but that still leaves the agents on the plane one man down, and this was the man most capable of handling May in a physical fight, which could come into play very shortly. So, not an entirely good thing. But some good may yet come of it, as he hooks up with Koenig, becoming the bartender at Koenig’s place.
And Koenig, as it happens, makes a choice as well. He’s good people, all things considered, as evidenced by how he caught a glimpse of things to come, and he’s willing to sign on with Shield even before Shield exists. It would seem that his bar’s historical contributions to the SSR and Shield are already in motion precisely because of all this time traveling.
Heh, and you gotta love how they paraphrased the famous Casablanca line about the beginning of beautiful/amazing friendships. 🙂
So, as the agents are whisked away to their next adventure, we, the audience, are left to digest everything. And I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing we mortals are so limited and unable to do godlike things like, say, meddle with time.
I mean, every one of us has a subjective perspective, which defines a great deal of our view of good and evil. Even more, we naturally want to have what we consider “good” without having to deal with what we call “bad” or “evil.” I think there was a verse somewhere in the Bible about how the ox is worth keeping for its labor, but maketh much poop, so, if we want the one, we just have to accept that we have to deal with the other.
Koenig is right about how you can’t hold what someone hasn’t done yet against them. And Mack is right in how the history they know needs to be preserved. Yet it’s difficult… indeed, it’s very difficult for people whose first impulse is to save lives, to protect the innocent, to sign off on everything that’s going to happen, to allow all the evil that Hydra will do, and, from their perspective, already has done. Daisy and Deke find that harder than most, with Daisy outright ordering Deke to kill Freddie while they have the chance.
They have good motives, but, ultimately, their pain is making them painfully shortsighted.
First, the Chronicoms want Freddie dead and his delivery stopped. If Deke had followed Daisy’s order, instead of letting Mack and Freddie talk him out of it, then they would have done the Chronicoms’ job for them. They, themselves, would have undone Shield before it ever existed. That could only have ended in disaster, for even if the world (and the universe) had overcome everything that Shield faced (which, I doubt), that still would have left the gate open for the Chronicoms to finish the job. Not to mention how it would rewrite the histories of the agents themselves! Some of them may well never have been born, let alone flourished as they have.
Call me crazy, but doing the enemy’s job for them is not what I consider a good idea.
Second, for all the Shield would never have come into being, Hydra would still remain. They’re far older than Shield, after all. So, even if this set them back, they would still be around, murdering people and ruling from the shadows. Indeed, they were only truly, finally, and permanently defeated quite recently, because of Shield. Which, brings me to the next point.
Third, to undo this moment would undo all the good Shield ever did, including Hydra’s end. No Red Skull means no Captain America. No SSR, no Shield, no Avengers.
It’s probably the most epic and complicated version Scylla and Charybdis I have ever seen.
The conflict between Shield and Hydra (among others) spans decades, and there have been many, many innocent lives lost. But that number is fixed, now, and won’t increase again. The war between Hydra and Shield is over. The body count is done, and billions of people are still alive and free. But the agents, especially the ever-impulsive Daisy, the one who tries to save everyone and loses her head over it, have to come to accept that body count. They have to accept the loss and pain now, like they never had to before.
That is what is means to choose Scylla, in this instance, where they know some die, and they know how many die, but not everyone dies. To try and reject that runs the very real risk that more people die, up to and quite possibly including everyone. That’s a Charybdis route if ever I saw one.
Like Odysseus, Mack accepts what has been, and what is, and the dead that come with it. Daisy chose well when she nominated him as their new Director. He is dedicated to saving lives, but also knows what it means to accept the reality of death. What is that old prayer, about having wisdom to tell the difference between what one can and can’t change? Mack is wise enough to not try to change what he can’t, even if some bizarre freak instance gives him a moment where he can, because then, if things get worse instead of better because of it, he’d be completely unable to change things back to how they were in the first instance.
Better not to meddle with the past at all, if you want to get where you are in the future.
And yet, I can’t really say I blame Daisy and Deke for wanting to make things better. I can’t say I would have done differently, and made the hard call that Mack did. Maybe I would have. But maybe not. I just know that Daisy made the easy choice, and that worries me.