Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 3 “Alien Commies from the Future!”
Director: Nina Lopez-Corrado
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Jeff Ward, Joel Stoffer
Runtime: 45 minutes
It’s worth noting that Shield‘s seventh season doesn’t just mark the end of the show. It marks the end of an era for Marvel TV. Shield is the last standing of the series created when the company’s television properties were handled by their own separate division (it was also the first to begin airing, ironically enough), which has been shut down. Future MCU television projects, with the possible exception of Hulu’s upcoming Helstrom, are set to be handled more directly by the leading creators of the film franchise and will have more direct connections to and influence on the films. Before the new era begins with Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s debut on Disney+ (or maybe Wandavision‘s, as the coronavirus has cast some doubt on the release schedule of the streaming series) though, Shield will air its final episodes as Marvel Television’s last hurrah. It’s a fitting choice (even if it probably wasn’t really a choice, just convenient timing). Shield both has an underdog appeal due to the combination of the heavy criticism it received early on and its unexpected resilience. In addition, it has worked harder than any of its peer programs to establish connections between them and to the movies and Season 7’s time-traveling premise, therefore, doesn’t just open up the door to appearances from characters and concepts from the show’s history but also that of the rest of the Marvel TV universe. The season’s breezy third episode takes advantage of this by teaming the agents up with a character from the show’s closest sibling Agent Carter, which raises the possibility for other crossover appearances down the line. No one should be expecting Daredevil or the other Defenders to pop up (if I understand the end of the Marvel Netflix agreement correctly they may very well be legally prohibited from doing so) but allusions and or connections to other shows like Runaways or Cloak and Dagger could be possible, which is definitely exciting. As for the episode itself, it’s another infectiously fun installment of the final season that, as its campy title “Alien Commies from the Future!” implies, embraces the humorous potential of time travel.
Coming out of their latest time jump the team arrives in 1950’s Nevada, naturally winding up right around Area 51, which used to be a Shield facility (all the areas are/were, as Coulson explains, to the delight of former conspiracy nut Daisy). The group quickly deduces that the Chronicom’s latest attempt at destroying Shield revolves around getting their hands on Helius, a fusion device that the agency was just beginning to develop in the 50s but in Deke’s time was capable of being used as a devastating weapon on spaceships. After the team kidnaps one of the facility’s commanding officers, DOD official Gerald Sharpe (Michael Gaston) Daisy, Deke, Mack, May, and Yo-Yo remain on the Zephyr to interrogate him while Coulson and Simmons infiltrate Area 51, allowing Simmons the pleasure of disguising herself as one of Shield’s highest-ranking officers of the time, her idol, Peggy Carter. The plan goes sideways, however, when she runs into one of the real Peggy’s longtime colleagues, and one-time boyfriend Daniel Sousa (Enver Gokaj).
Sousa isn’t the most exciting past Marvel TV character to team the agents up with and as fun as Jemma’s Peggy cosplay is it’s a shame the show couldn’t get the real deal, especially given that Hayley Atwell has appeared briefly on the show in the past. But Gokaj settles back into his role effortlessly and gives off a nice stoic authority and the simple fun of seeing the agents cross paths with one of their notable predecessors is characteristic of the episode’s overall vibe. This is a low-key, meat, and potatoes episode of Shield mainly charged with plot mechanics and incrementally progressing some character arcs but the fast-paced and witty, light-hearted script makes it a blast to watch nonetheless. And appearing without Peggy actually winds up being a good thing for Sousa’s character as his own spy skills and personality are able to stand out more than they often did on Agent Carter.
After he locks Coulson and Simmons up, Daisy heads into the facility posing as a CIA operative to negotiate their release. During her conversation with Sousa, it’s revealed that the latter at this point already suspected that an enemy force had infiltrated Shield. This adds another layer of intrigue to Sousa’s appearance, which is set to last longer than just this episode after the team is forced to use an EMP to stop the Chronicoms from launching Helius, shutting Coulson down and leaving him in the hands of Sousa, who had his confusion increased by witnessing the gruesome self-destruction of a Chronicom. Again, the Chronicoms really aren’t interesting villains so its good to see that the story is going to delve more into Hydra’s history as the next episodes will surely follow up on Sousa’s investigation.
As if dealing with Chronicoms and Hydra while trying to keep Shield history intact isn’t enough the agents also have plenty of internal issues to deal with, which the episode highlights by expanding on the character beats from the last one. Deke chastises Daisy for ordering him to kill Freddy, continuing the strong work the season’s been doing with Deke so far. The show has still yet to directly bring up why Daisy feels such a strong need to change the past which is a little frustrating and her attempt to pull rank on Deke to defend herself is pretty weak given how loose Shield’s organizational structure is at this point (the group’s chain of command is pretty much just “listen to Mack” unless dealing with crazy scientific phenomena, in which case they turn to Simmons) but Daisy’s acknowledgment that Deke has grown a lot since she met him at the Lighthouse was a nice moment for the duo. Meanwhile, Yo-Yo and May struggle with their respective traumas. Yo-Yo believes her powers may be gone for good due to the Shrike attack but takes some comfort in Mack’s confidence in her skills as an agent. May continues to be an unfeeling “killbot” as Deke delicately puts it but eventually the façade breaks when she has a panic attack while on-mission. Both storylines are decently compelling but having them both going on at the same time and pairing Yo-Yo and May together as the show has taken to doing rather often makes them feel somewhat repetitive. I also hope once her storyline progresses more that Yo-Yo will still have ample time to show off her powers when they inevitably return before the show ends. But that probably isn’t going to happen too soon as the two women get into a brutal fight with a female Chronicom (played by American Ninja Warrior‘s Jessie Graff) which could very well traumatize them both again.
But the episode’s focus, first and foremost, is on humor. The infiltration mission is a riot from the start, with Clark Gregg in particular getting to stretch his comedy muscles a lot. Jemma’s Peggy cosplay is amusing enough but Coulson’s improvised tests to see if any Shield personnel are Chronicom impostors, which include him repeatedly saying the word “moist” until a given suspect becomes uncomfortable or using the Voight-Kampf test on a sensitive old lady, among other hijinks, are downright hilarious. The Zephyr sequences also have plenty of humorous aspects, although they’re not all as successful and may indeed cause the show to take some flak. The season has only dipped its toes into the sea of racism, sexism and other prejudice that fills American history so far but “Alien Commies From the Future!” engages with it more directly through the group’s interrogation of Sharpe. More than just “a product of his time” Sharpe is a full-blown, highly jingoistic, bigot who spews racist venom rather than answer questions from Mack, May, or Yo-Yo, even as he whimpers under the relatively minor pain caused by his restraints in private. Eventually, Mack turns interrogation duty over to Deke, who is at first oblivious as to why he would be a good choice for the job before putting two and two together from the annoyed looks on Mack, Yo-Yo, and May’s faces, after which he mumbles “stupid white privilege”. Despite its success with allegorical storylines about prejudice through the Inhuman plot Shield isn’t really a show that one would expect to deliver complex meditations on race or gender relations. Still, the time travel plot has made the topic unavoidable and the show’s humorous approach to handling it hasn’t totally worked so far and shining such a spotlight on the issue as the episode does have mixed results. Reliable character actor Michael Gaston has often wound up playing toxic men in shows as disparate as Blindspot and The Leftovers and with Sharpe he finds something of a comic encapsulation of these past roles. He hams it up with a performance that nears the level of absurd, cartoonish evil one might find in a Tarantino Nazi. But the rest of the material doesn’t land quite as humorously as the show seems to want it to, even if Deke’s wholesome, genuine confusion at how someone could have so much hate for no logical reason also results in an amusing line or two (when Sharpe refers to Deke as the group’s obvious leader he responds with “Wow you really just jump right to that, don’t you?”). But scenes like the aforementioned passing of interrogation duty go on a little long and don’t embrace the satiric spirit enough, making them feel awkward. On the other hand, this is the first episode to deliver some decent, serious moments regarding the issue of prejudice which somewhat redeems the unsuccessful attempts to mock it. Coulson continues to be in awe of his trip through history but Daisy puts an end to his enthusiastic response to being in a 50s diner by pointing out the sign for the place’s segregated bathrooms. This and Deke’s aforementioned obliviousness to why he would have an easier time with Sharpe are both good depictions of how people in privileged positions, even the most moral of them, can be blinded to social injustice by nostalgic ideas about the past.
Three episodes in and Season 7 has established a very consistent level of quality. The character moments overall, although well-acted and frequent could be a little deeper and each episode has also had some other unique flaws of its own. But the show’s embrace of the stylistic and comedic potential of the time travel storyline and the show’s ever-reliable action and quick wit, as well as increased connectivity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made it a light-hearted, highly entertaining delight.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 3
S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives in the 50s and crosses paths with a Marvel TV alum in another efficient installment in the final season.