12:42 am EDT, May 28, 2020

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 7 premiere review: Ripples, not waves

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7 premiere was all about time — and what happens when you’re out of time. Here’s our review!

After a year off the air, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7 premiere delivered exactly what fans needed. “The New Deal” delivered a bright and impactful episode that asked tough questions without losing its sense of humor. Plus, we got Coulson back! (We think!)

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 7 premiere review

It’s always hard being different. For our agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s never been harder than the present… which is, you know, the past.

Right from the opening moments of the episode, our agents struggle to fit in, to go with the flow. Watching LMD/Chronicom Coulson absorb the deluge of information and experience that — having himself been disembodied from the story — provides both an emotional punch to the gut and a powerful thematic initiation to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7 premiere.

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s final mission begins, Coulson (and I’ll call him that, even if the synthetic being himself isn’t sure he owns that name) is the ultimate fish out of water. His distress is existential. Down to his most basic functions (“Do I breathe?” he asks, helplessly) he questions the rightness of his very being. The return from non-existence to existence would be a challenging leap for anyone to make, but for someone (something?) with Coulson’s principles and compassion, the gap is terrifyingly wide.

agents of shield season 7 premiere

It’s appropriate then, that “The New Deal” doesn’t attempt in any way to resolve this crisis. Like the rest of the team, spat out of their (already pretty wild) reality into time travel and a secret war, Coulson choses to roll up his sleeves and get down to work. As always with S.H.I.E.L.D., the mission comes worse — we’ll
“reevaluate” and work out how we feel at an undisclosed later date.

Ironically, even as an LMD, Coulson has an easier time fitting into the mission than most of the team. He was, after all, literally built for this. Between Coulson’s encyclopedic knowledge of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s origins, a history fanboyism that carries him through an awestruck meeting with Franklin Roosevelt, and an impressively capable robotic body, this might, at least superficially, be the most fun Coulson’s ever had.

And it is intensely delightful to see a more lighthearted version of Coulson, himself a throwback to a brighter period of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Not that the trauma isn’t important, but it’s nice to see our guy compartmentalize for a bit.

agents of shield season 7 premiere

Meanwhile, though Daisy, Mack, and Deke all look distractingly spectacular in their ’30s threads, it’s a bit more challenging for them to find their place in this new-old world.

Daisy confronts explicit (and, okay, somewhat stereotypical) sexism from a policeman while attempting to investigate the Chronicoms’ initial, face-stealing crime, as well as from a Keonig progenitor who is considerably more old-fashioned than his descendants. Mack faces a chilly, pervasive racism from multiple corners, fending off insults and insinuations even as he attempts to pursue the salvation of Earth. Hopefully Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will probe this further, as both Daisy and Mack already seem to be feeling the strain of enduring prejudice amidst the mission.

As for Deke, his main issue is that he’s… well, Deke. (But hey, he’s trying?) What he does successfully though, is establish Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s new concept of time. Fittingly, Deke aligns with the “Time as a river” multiverse theory, meaning that as long as the agents go more-or-less with the flow, their efforts to save the world shouldn’t wildly disrupt the course of time.

Theoretically.

agents of shield season 7 premiere

The problem with that theory becomes clear at the end of the episode, as the Chronicom’s target turns out not to be the obviously prominent FDR, but Koenig’s seemingly-unassuming lackey Freddie. Freddie is Wilfred Malick, predecessor of Hydra leader Gideon Malick.

Take him out of the tapestry, “pull the thread” as the Chronicoms so artistically put it, and Hydra won’t exist — but neither will S.H.I.E.L.D.

Freddie himself is somewhat out of sync with his own life, apparently having lost considerable status after a mysterious incident when his father took his own life. In an attempt to correct his course, Freddie has begun down the path that will lead him to anchor Hydra in the United States. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s continued existences, perversely, depends on him.

The moral knottiness of this question — is it worth trading off S.H.I.E.L.D. for Hydra? Is Freddie’s life worth the lives of all of those destroyed by Hydra? — isn’t much broached in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7 premiere. But hopefully there will be room for that next week.

Until then, the team and the audience are left to contemplate the cost of not fitting in. From the deeply personal to the literally apocalyptic, “The New Deal” makes it clear that there are consequences to falling outside the ordinary framework, whether that’s one’s own life or time itself.

Elena and May represent this too. Quarantined (same girl) until her Shrike infection fades, Elena struggles with the decision to adopt a new, more realistic pair of robot hands. They’ll allow her to fit in, and to feel; but Elena attempts to own her difference, a difficulty in a world that is far from accepting.

And May? Well, May is the mystery of the moment. With her body painstakingly restored by Enoch and Simmons, it is — like Coulson — her mind that remains the mystery. Will May find herself again, after returning unexpectedly to the mortal coil? Or will she remain… well, unsynthesized, her mind and her body at war over her fate?

We can’t say yet; but it’s clear that the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7 premiere sets the stage for a deep investigation of these questions as the final mission unfolds.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, episode 2, “Know Your Onions,” airs Wednesday, June 3rd at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

What did you think of the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 7 premiere?

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