Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 2 “Know Your Onions”
Director: Eric Laneuville
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Jeff Ward, Joel Stoffer
Runtime: 45 minutes
While not devoid of serious moments, the season premiere definitely took a mostly lighthearted approach, allowing the characters to marvel (no pun intended) at the excitement of their new time travel adventure along with the viewer. That leaves it up to this episode to start impressing upon both us and the agents the stakes of their latest mission, which it does well. “Know Your Onions” is a tense episode that has the team question the ethics of what they’re doing and delivers fun MCU connections and time-bending revelations while also propelling the narrative forward.
Picking up right where the premiere left off “Know Your Onions” finds Mack and Deke accompanying Freddy Malick on a bootlegging job, unaware of the exact nature of his historical significance but determined to protect him from the Chronicoms nonetheless. Back at Koenig’s Daisy and Coulson meet up with Yo-Yo and Simmons, who patches up Freddy’s Hydra contact, Viola (Nora Zehetner). Through Viola. they gather that Freddy’s real mission is transporting a vial of the early version of Abraham Erskine’s super-soldier serum that gave Johann Schmidt a.k.a. the Red Skull, his superman abilities and it’s here that the show launches into its study of time travel ethics. Daisy and Yo-Yo both want to stop Freddy from delivering the vial somehow (Daisy by neutralizing him, Yo-Yo by trying to lead him onto a better path) so that Hydra never rises to power, possibly saving millions of lives, but Coulson and Simmons are adamant that they can’t change history in such a manner. It’s a version of the “killing baby Hitler” debate that’s similarly compelling because Hydra is literally a Nazi organization. When Coulson stresses that removing Hydra from history could potentially lead to something worse the viewer can’t help but wonder if anything really could be.
While Daisy and Yo-Yo’s stance comes out of the actual debate portion of the episode looking more pretty persuasive Mack and Deke’s scenes underline why a merciful approach to handling Freddy might be worth exploring as they get to know him more. Darren Barnet’s conflicted performance and efficient writing provide a thorough look at the kind of person who could wind up committing themselves to such an awful cause without excusing Freddy for the choice to do so or the actions the agents know he will go on to commit. But it’s how it all relates to Deke that I found most compelling. Deke continues to empathize with Freddy before he and Mack find out he’s Hydra, noting their similar backgrounds. Both lost their fathers and grew up in desperate times, surviving on their wits and entrepreneurial instincts until offered a place in a powerful, adventurous organization. As much as the other agents (and the show) like to rag on Deke his accomplishments and (mostly) moral character are commendable, especially considering what he’s been through. Freddy serves as a reminder of this, offering a look at what Deke could have become if not for good influences like Shield. Deke was just a goof for too long in Season 6 so I’m happy to see the show giving the character serious material that acknowledges his growth this early.
Back on the Zephyr, Enoch explains the current situation to May. He encourages her to go back to resting but she insists on going out to assist the team with their mission. When Enoch tries to stop her she engages him in a martial arts duel, eventually managing to subdue the Chronicom despite his superior strength, and proceeds to start bashing in his head with a fire extinguisher. This doesn’t kill Enoch, of course, but it is doing some damage (his metal skull is showing in spots where the skin has been broken). Fortunately, Coulson’s group returns to the plane in time to call May off, and at this point, it becomes blatantly clear there’s something very wrong with her (if her decidedly un-May impulsivity wasn’t enough of a clue). Coulson explains what he is but is surprised by his friend and sometime lover’s non-reaction (all May says upon seeing him is “You’re not Sarge?”) When he reminds her that “I was dead,” she simply responds “You still are,” before walking away. I could be wrong but it seems like something about May’s experiences in Izel’s realm has deadened most (but not all) of her emotions. Similar shows have used similar storylines many times before so I hope Shield can deliver something unique with this sub-plot and frankly I hope it doesn’t last too long, if for no other reason than Ming-Na Wen deserves the opportunity to have her performance highlighted as I’m sure everyone else’s will be throughout the final season without having to be extra stoic all the time. That all said, the exchange with Coulson is actually the one moment in the episode that could be the “real” May shining through. She took a chance with making herself vulnerable to Sarge and likely blames herself for not taking him down sooner so to have something new with Coulson’s face popping up again was sure to disgust her, even if the new stand-in is much closer to the genuine article.
As she and the rest of the team get closer to them Daisy manages to reestablish contact with Deke and Mack and tells the former who Freddy really is and orders him to kill him, which Deke does strongly consider, even pulling a gun on Freddy before Mack manages to talk him down. There’s a lot of character-rich subtext to why Daisy and Deke are good choices to consider making this drastic choice. Daisy has suffered more at the hands of Hydra than anyone else on the team. Whitehall’s abduction and brutal dismemberment of her mother is what led to her living the lonely orphan life she had before encountering Shield and the evil syndicate was also responsible for bringing Hive back to earth which resulted in him brainwashing Daisy into being his soldier, the guilt over which she struggled with for years. That’s not even getting into what remnants of Hydra like Aida’s Framework version or Fitz’s Doctor side have put her through more recently. So it’s easy to see why Daisy more than anyone else would be tempted to erase the group from existence, consequences to the timeline be damned. As for Deke, the lengths to which he’ll go to please Daisy have been frequently noted but there might even be something deeper than that going on. It’s possible that upon hearing who he really is and will become Deke is disturbed by the aforementioned similarities between him and Freddy. Taking him out could seem to Deke like a way to differentiate himself from the other young man and gain what he’s always wanted: greater acceptance and validation from his Shield family. I’m using words like “possible” and “could” because unfortunately the episode doesn’t give any indication whether these things really are factoring into Daisy or Deke’s decisions or not. Shows shouldn’t have to point out every little nuance but they also can’t expect viewers to do all their work for them. Had the episode included a few more overt indications of the characters’ thought processes this already strong sequence could have been downright riveting. Instead, Deke and Daisy’s actions come across more irresponsible than justified, all for the sake of a brief scene of tension.
Things get tenser when Jemma is alerted that a new window into the time stream will soon be opening, upon which the Zephyr will automatically jump to another time period, regardless of who is or isn’t on the ship. After a gunfight with the Chronicoms at the docks where Freddy is set to make his delivery the group manages to secure him and extract Deke and Mack, with minutes to spare. However, after getting separated from his friends Enoch gets left behind, failing to sprint into the ship before it vanishes.
Things aren’t too bleak for our favorite Chronicom, though, as the stinger finds Koenig giving him a job as a bartender. The two are set to play a role in the early development of Shield with Enoch also agreeing to teach Ernest more about robots (despite his distaste for that term), giving backstory to the Koenig family’s history as Shield LMD engineers. At this point, it’s worth remarking on how nice it is that Patton Oswalt’s appearance wasn’t a one-off, especially as he’s given more room to shine in this episode than the season premiere. He delivers a lot of great physical and expression-based comedy through Ernest’s reactions to the hints working with Shield gives him of the future, awed as he is by both things as mundane as walkie talkies and Shield’s genuinely futuristic tech like the Zephyr. The episode closes with Ernest telling Enoch that he thinks “this is the beginning of a marvelous friendship,” a cheesy but cute branded appropriation of the frequently used Casablanca reference.
- The show continues to tease the length and true nature of Fitzsimmons’ time away from the team, resulting in a plethora of fan theories, with some predicting that the Simmons we see now and the currently active Fitz are Chronicom duplicates and that the real couple has either aged significantly or died while others think there may now be a child in the mix. I don’t favor any idea over the others but I’m very intrigued to find out what the real story is.
- After freezing and failing to catch a falling bottle Yo-Yo begins to wonder if her near-Shrike infection is having more lingering effects than predicted but it seems more likely that she’s being eased into a PTSD storyline.
- The show’s depiction of the prejudices that ran rampant in the 30s is still brief and not particularly compelling, with Jemma’s corrections to Ernest that she’s “a doctor not a dame” and “a biochemist, not a broad,” being especially clunky.
- I neglected to mention this in my last review but the era-appropriate, black and white logo is a nice touch that adds to the time-hopping fun.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 2
S.H.I.E.L.D. questions the morality of its mission in the final season's solid second episode.