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. brought in a hell of an excellent tie-in to another of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best television offerings last week, as Agent Carter’s Daniel Sousa encountered the displaced present-day S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and eventually captured a temporarily disabled Coulson in the process. “Out of the Past” starts establishing a bit of a pattern for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s final season as well, providing a second half to the 1955 Chronicom attack that unfolded during last week’s episode, which in turn resolves the Chronicoms’ invasion of the 1950’s, before the agents once again jump into the future.
This episode proves to be an especially exciting reinvention for ABC’s fan-favourite MCU drama as well, as it cheekily makes use of a temporary glitch in the LMD Coulson’s circuits, thus rendering almost this entire episode in a monochrome, pulp-inspired format, complete with inner monologue. This not only works as a Whedon brothers-approved genre cliche celebration, but also serves as the backbone to another especially thrilling offering for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., specifically because this episode delivers a horrifying revelation right from the jump; The agents are currently living the day when Agent Sousa is killed in action! This is obviously something that the MCU has never addressed before, with Sousa’s post-Agent Carter fate being entirely undetermined before now. In fact, not only does Sousa meet a grim end while delivering a device to Howard Stark, he also happens to be the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to be killed in action during the MCU’s history!
Hayley Atwell’s absence is particularly felt at this point, considering the relationship between Peggy Carter and Daniel Sousa never really saw a real resolution on Agent Carter in the end, something that Sousa himself even alludes to at one point, while Coulson pretends to be Sousa’s contact. Sousa’s business with Howard Stark is set to proceed as planned, and that means that Coulson accompanies Sousa on a train, bluffing his way through the entire encounter. This is great, not only because Coulson is such a fan of Sousa’s tragic legacy, but also because Coulson is himself a man that was faced with death, sacrificing his life during 2012 movie, The Avengers, in order to inspire its titular heroes to ultimately defeat Loki and repel the Chitauri. In fact, the events of this episode may even explain the curious fact that Enver Gjokaj appeared in The Avengers as an NYPD officer during the Battle of New York, years before he was cast to play Daniel Sousa on Agent Carter. Obviously, if Sousa is KIA in 1955, it’s extremely unlikely that he sired a 2012-era descendant.
This in turn opens a very interesting debate, once Deke and Yo-Yo try to look for the mysterious package that Sousa is meant to deliver, only for Deke to get snatched by enemy Russians… Or so it appears. In reality, the men that kidnap Deke, as well as the men working to kill Sousa, are actually Hydra agents! In another fantastic turn for MCU enthusiasts, it’s revealed in this episode that Sousa is the first and potentially only S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to realize that Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., something that isn’t ultimately revealed to the world at large until 2014, during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This, naturally, is why Hydra assassinates Sousa in 1955. Even better is that an older, grizzled and fully ruthless Wilfred Malick has now ascended to being one of the undercover heads of Hydra, and he personally sent the goons that are looking to kill Sousa!
This starts to create a more earnest debate about whether the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew should meddle with history. After all, it wasn’t them that got a lecture from The Ancient One during Avengers: Endgame, about the potential dangers that this could cause. Regardless, the debate is a little hurried, since the team doesn’t have much time left in 1955, but this obvious question taking precedence over the ongoing battle against the Chronicoms this week proved to be something that works very well for the storytelling here. Even Enoch gets amusingly neglected by various S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in a running gag this week, where he continues to run Ernest Koenig’s old bar in 1955, only to be continually told that he can’t re-link with the team just yet. Well, at least Enoch will be waiting for the agents within their next time period again, right?
Even with barely any action on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week, the various payoffs to this episode’s storylines are all pretty superb! Deke is ultimately let go by Wilfred after he reminds Wilfred who he is, on the promise that Wilfred had better not see him again, May is revealed to now have the ability to replicate the emotions of others after her time in Izel’s world, in a very promising new status quo for her character, and yes, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents do eventually decide to save Sousa from his unfortunate end, even if it means changing history. Again, the loophole here is a little hurried, but it is nonetheless executed in a very cool way, with Coulson posing as Sousa in order to be ‘killed’, and fool both Hydra and the authorities, while the real Sousa is safely stowed away on the Zephyr, before jumping further into the future with the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew. This means that Sousa is still ‘dead’, as far as history is concerned, but he nonetheless lives in reality, being removed from established history, just as Deke was taken out of his aborted future reality during Season Five.
This allows Sousa to at least temporarily tag along with the other agents, something that once again sets up a ton of promise, after the team find themselves arriving in the 1970’s with their latest time jump. “Out of the Past” not only delivers some mostly fantastic storytelling relating to the ongoing, history-hopping battle against the Chronicoms, but it also manages to deliver a fun, genre-skewing pulp format that works astonishingly well. Best of all is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s increasing MCU connections throughout this season so far continue to be a lot of fun for both Marvel fans, and those who have stuck by the series since its debut in 2013. The 1970’s backdrop will no doubt promise yet more cool connections to the rest of Marvel’s shared live-action universe as well, particularly with Hydra and the Chronicoms now appearing to form an alliance in order to stop their common enemy. So far, the Chronicoms’ designs on history have been thwarted, but with the preservation of Hydra now creating a more serious obstacle for the heroes, the decision to spare Wilfred Malick in the 1930’s may now threaten to make the opposite waves for the MCU’s increasingly delicate timeline!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivers a surprisingly inspired, pulp-skewing style this week, as a monochromatic mission forces the team to escort Sousa to his historically mandated death.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Clever, effective pulp style
Sousa's death (and its eventual elimination) nicely underscores the storytelling