3:35 pm EDT, June 4, 2020

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 7, episode 2 review: The uncertainty principle

The fate of history hung on the fate of Freddie Malick, while May experienced a rude awakening on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2.

On last week’s premiere, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. struggled to find their bearings in their strange new world of time travel. In this week’s episode, “Know Your Onions,” the team reckoned with the boundaries of their understanding in the face of a moral dilemma for the ages.

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 7, episode 2 review

Maybe it’s because we live in a time at which the stock in truth has plummeted, but I think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2 had a lot to say about uncertainty.

The journey to this idea was pretty rough around the edges, to be honest. “Know Your Onions” relies on a couple of contrivances (tell the team about the time-windows, Simmons!) and easy-outs (a point-blank bullet wound to the gut is actually kind of a big deal!) and if we’re looking closely, not very much was actually or morally accomplished. Still, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2 has enough going for it to be fun, and occasionally quite considerate of the themes emerging in this final season.

And, as always, the costumes are fabulous.

agents of s.h.i.e.l.d. season 7, episode 2

While Mack and Deke find themselves chauffeuring Freddie Malick to his destination, the rest of the team cracks open a few mystery nuts. Simmons (rather ridiculously) saves Viola with an impromptu surgery, and discover that she is giving Freddie a leg up in Hydra. Freddie himself is transporting the supersoldier serum around which so much of the MCU revolves, the successful delivery of which will kick off Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s twin origin stories.

The central moral question of “Know Your Onions,” then, is one of the conflict between certainty and uncertainty. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team is stuck between the knowledge of the conflict and travesty a future with Hydra holds, and the uncertainty of deeming young Freddie preemptively culpable for his and his family’s future crimes.

Can someone be accountable for something they haven’t yet done? Should they die to save untold others? Daisy certainly thinks so (and, after all, she has the scars from Hydra to prove it.) Mack disagrees, refusing to eliminate a target who has not yet committed his sins. And Deke is pinned somewhere in the middle, identifying with Malick’s hard-knock life, but also thoroughly tempted by the idea of changing a damaged future.

Of course, as Simmons points out, the future without Malick is not exactly certain either — the agents might return to an utterly transformed present rife with its own myriad of unfamiliar problems.

But that argument turns out (somewhat disappointing) to be moot. Deke chooses to follow Mack’s order and does not kill Freddie. A shootout that saves him from the chronicoms then offers Freddie the opportunity to reject the offer of a somewhat-more-upstanding-than-previously-thought Koenig, and join his unseen contact. The seeds of Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. are planted, and time, for now, proceeds as grimly as usual.

Which cues another element of uncertainty in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2 (and, possibly, the plot device that this episode was structured to introduce): The utterly random time-shifts that arrive unannounced and leave the team with mere moments to return to the Zephyr or be stuck the past.

agents of s.h.i.e.l.d. season 7, episode 2<

Why does this happen? Simmons doesn’t know. Where they’re going? She doesn’t know that either!
Her uncertainty in this regard is understandable for all that it is inconvenient to the characters and convenient to the plot, but it stands out lividly against the composure and confidence she displays for most of the the episode. Exactly what Simmons knows and doesn’t know — how long she has been alone with Enoch, where Fitz is, why Elena’s new arms clearly stopped her from using her powers — is already clearly critical to the entire structure of the mystery, and opens some ominous possibilities.

(I’m not saying Simmons is an LMD/Chronicom, I’m just saying, she might be an LMD/Chronicom.)

Meanwhile, there is at least one person in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2 who has absolutely no issues with uncertainty — Agent May, prematurely awoken from her healing slumber with a startling lack of emotion and unyielding clarity of purpose. In a painful but delightful series of interactions with Enoch, May establishes that she doesn’t care where the team is, or why, or what they’re doing.

She has reverted instead to her central certainty. “I’m the one who protects them,” she tells Enoch (as my heart shatters into pieces.) Certain as she is that Coulson, even in his new form, remains lost to her, she doesn’t seem to have any other motivation at all.

This is about as broken as we’ve seen May since the early days after Bahrain, and it’s painful to watch. Even so, time is the ultimate resource, and I doubt May will be able to avoid confronting Coulson and her own trauma for very long; perhaps a breakthrough in clarity is on the horizon.

A breakthrough is certainly imminent for Enoch and Ernest Koenig, the collaboration between the two acting as something between a ripple and a wave as the eerily replicable Koenig family coalesces into possibility. Even without that development though, it’s nice to know that two friends of S.H.I.E.L.D. at least, can stop running and enjoy their partnership over a cocktail.

Just as long as Enoch finds the team again in the future. I will not brook the permanent loss of Clueless Robot Puppy.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 3, “Alien Commies from the Future,” airs on Wednesday, June 10 at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

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