NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are present in this review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped its lead characters into an ambitious new period setting during last week’s season premiere, on top of giving the team the one mission that they never thought they’d have to undertake; Preserving Hydra! “Know Your Onions” continues to build on last week’s earth-shattering revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new charge is one Wilfred “Freddy” Malick, father of future Hydra leader, Gideon Malick, who must be protected from the Chronicoms, in order to preserve Hydra’s existence, and thus, the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well. This episode also fully establishes the series’ new time travel rules, eventually culminating in a race against the clock, as the team find themselves with a quickly diminishing window of time to accomplish their goals in 1931!
So, speaking of, “Knowing your onions”, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. once again contradicts the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s former time travel rules here, as established in last year’s Avengers: Endgame. Avengers: Endgame claimed that the MCU does not possess a singular time stream when traveling through the Quantum Realm, though, in fairness, the end result of that movie also appears to suggest that there is a singular time stream to some extent, as well as the potential to create parallel realities that serve as alternate time streams. Yeah, it’s kind of messy. On that note, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now seems to be firmly asserting that the MCU does have a singular time stream after all, at least, according to these, “Tides” that Fitz has discovered off-screen, allowing the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to leap at random between certain points in history. Oh, and before you pull out the, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer interested in tying into the MCU” argument, you can stow it, because as of this week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now is interested in tying into the MCU again!
This comes by way of an admittedly very cool twist with Freddy, namely when Mack and Deke end up separated with Freddy from the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, instead taking a train to an unknown bootlegging job. After Simmons is then called in to patch up Viola, she finds a mysterious substance on Viola’s shoes, which is soon revealed to be none other than Dr. Abraham Erskine’s super-soldier formula! Yes, the very same prototype super-soldier formula that’s currently incomplete, and eventually leads to the transformation of Nazi/Hydra captain, Johann Schmidt into Red Skull, as established in 2011’s MCU prequel movie, Captain America: The First Avenger! These events are all openly recalled by the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew as well, once again pushing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proudly back into MCU canon, after last season appeared to shrug at it. No, I guess we’re still not going to learn how Thanos’ universe-decimating snap from Avengers: Infinity War ultimately didn’t affect any of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters last season, but I guess if we’re now more firmly establishing a singular timeline rule for the MCU, and Thanos time traveled out of 2014, maybe the snap no longer happened for the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, but also did happen for the MCU’s movie characters? My head hurts.
Regardless, even if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s MCU mythology remains a tangled nightmare of metaphysical questions at this point, the fact remains that it’s great to see the series once again embracing the MCU, and finding a clever way to tie Freddy into key events from the MCU’s movies. That’s why it’s disappointing that the drama over whether or not to kill Freddy, thus killing Hydra practically in the crib, ultimately doesn’t land. Daisy tries to make a unilateral call by ordering Deke to execute Freddy, defying the wishes of Mack, and believing that it’s worth eliminating S.H.I.E.L.D. from history, if it means saving the future from Hydra as well. This entire debate is obviously pointless though, since Freddy being killed in 1931 would mean that the Chronicoms win, dooming the future to a fate far worse than whatever Hydra has exacted upon it over the course of the MCU’s current history. Inevitably, Deke refuses to shoot Freddy as well, and soon afterward, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are besieged by the two surviving Chronicoms from before!
All the while, May also wakes up during this episode, appearing to be visibly affected by her time fighting Izel in the spirit world, during the climax of last season. A less emotion-driven, more fiercely determined May also becomes an obstacle for Enoch, who must struggle to keep May aboard the Zephyr, even after informing May that she can’t go outside, due to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team being in 1931. May nonetheless tries to fight Enoch, and almost succeeds at defeating him, in probably this episode’s coolest action scene. Once the LMD Coulson returns to the Zephyr however, May stands down, despite Mack and Deke still being in danger with Freddy. The May mystery is another element to the story that sometimes feels more contrived than interesting, but it’s nonetheless clear that something is very wrong with May, and her battle against Izel has caused some sort of extensive damage to her psychology. If the show plays its cards right here, it could create an effective irony between Coulson, who is no longer truly Coulson, and May, who is clearly no longer May.
One thing’s for sure though; This episode presents a pretty awesome climax! After learning that they only have seventeen minutes until the Zephyr jumps through time again (which actually plays out in real time, a very nice touch!), the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to try and rescue Mack and Deke from the two attacking Chronicoms before that time is up, while also ensuring that Freddy reaches the hand-off that he’s supposed to get to. In a bit of tragic irony, Ernest Koenig’s efforts to talk Freddy down from joining the Hydra movement also fall on deaf ears, leaving Ernest with a bullet in the shoulder. and a bruised ego. These events end up having big, unexpected consequences for the team as well, when Enoch goes to make sure that Freddy joined Hydra as planned, which results in the Zephyr disappearing before Enoch can board it! This at least has the happy side effect of getting Enoch a job at Ernest’s speakeasy though, not to mention that Enoch being a machine with no set lifespan means that he can probably see his S.H.I.E.L.D. friends at some other point in history anyway. We can only hope.
As for this Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode specifically, some of the conflicts with Freddy really don’t work, especially when it’s entirely probable that Daisy’s massive insubordination could very well go unpunished, due to the heavy time constraint that the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is currently under. Even so, “Know Your Onions” does a great job of bringing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in line with MCU continuity, while further establishing the stakes for the show’s final season, and delivering some pretty solid excitement while it’s at it. The MCU’s time travel rules are still a contradictory mess, but maybe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can eventually serve as the basis through which to smooth them out, at least a little, before Disney+’s upcoming WandaVision and Loki shows likely take another metaphorical sledgehammer to them. Fortunately, the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew don’t ultimately overstay their welcome in 1931 regardless, and that means we can expect another period setting next week. S.H.I.E.L.D. may have eluded the Chronicoms for now, but the battle for Earth’s future is far from over, and I’m very interested to see the show’s reinventions of its premise go into overdrive, as we take the next step on a guided tour through the MCU’s formerly unknown, yet crucially pivotal plot turns.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. steps back in line with MCU canon this week, with exciting results, despite the Freddy Malick ethical debate ultimately fizzling.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Freddy's agenda directly tying in with Red Skull and Captain America
May being visibly affected by her battle against Izel