Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 5 “A Trout in the Milk”
Director: Stan Brooks
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Jeff Ward, Joel Stoffer
Runtime: 45 minutes
Captain America: The Winter Soldier really is the movie that keeps on giving. The film, which in my and many others’ books is the MCU’s finest, continues to influence the later films in the franchise six years after it came out and it does the same for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It wasn’t until The Winter Soldier was released and Shield finally was allowed to start overtly featuring Hydra that the show came into its own back in Season 1. Season 7 has brought the show full circle, with Hydra infiltrators within Shield once again one of the greatest threats the team faces as it travels through the organizations’ intertwined histories. And the fifth episode draws from The Winter Soldier even more directly, with a plot point lifted from the movie dramatically raising the stakes for the agents, the result of the newly-forged alliance between Hydra and the Chronicoms. As the team arrives in the 70s they are shocked to discover that Project Insight, the Hydra-controlled Shield initiative that would eliminate millions of people perceived to be possible threats to the former group’s plans for world domination through remote airstrikes, has been set in motion 40 years early.
The dire stakes make this the tensest episode of the season so far, which also means it’s the one that takes the least time to gawk at the new time period. Only Sousa, a newbie to time travel, is really shown to revel in (or, more accurately in his case, be made uncomfortable by,) the 70s but even that doesn’t last long. The episode is much more intent on emphasizing the danger posed by the united front of Hydra and Chronicoms. The team stops by the Shield bar but is surprised to find it hosting a party for the early launch of work on Insight, attended by General Rick Stoner (Patrick Warburton, reprising his role from Season 5), Freddy Malick, and his sons Gideon (Cameron Paletas, returning from Season 3) and Nathaniel (Thomas E. Sullivan), even though both Freddy and Nathaniel are supposed to be dead at this point. Now clued-in to the time-hopping shenanigans Freddy bars the agents from leaving with the help of Chronicoms. But when Daisy takes Nathaniel as a hostage, Freddy lets them out, much to Luke’s annoyance, and the group escapes with the help of Enoch, who pulls up just in time with a perfectly on-brand version of a Terminator reference (“Come with me if you wish to continue to exist!”)
Meanwhile, Mack and Yo-Yo infiltrate the Lighthouse to check if it’s still abandoned as it should be in the 70s (which Mack counts as a date night), but discover that their future base’s timeline has also changed and it is back in use by Shield/Hydra (it’s actually the base Insight is being operated out of, fortunately enough). And Jemma, who is having spells of distracted confusion with increasing frequency, tells Deke that she doesn’t know where or when Fitz is but reiterates that even if she did, she couldn’t tell him. After this conversation she itches at her neck, revealing three glowing red lights. This lends considerable support to the fan theory that this Jemma is a Chronicom/LMD duplicate like Coulson, though it should be pointed out that evidence also exists to refute this, notably the fact that she was unaffected by the EMP in episode three.
After the group reassembles on the Zephyr a time jump initiates and they find themselves three years later, in 1976, on the day Insight (which in this timeline consists of a weaponized satellite, rather than Helicarriers) is set to launch. Mack sends Coulson and May to infiltrate and flood the Lighthouse to stop the launch, hopefully without injuring any honest Shield agents or destroying their future base, while Deke and Yo-Yo head out to bring in Freddy Malick to prevent more changes to the timeline. Sousa, angry at the group’s lack of control over the mission, backs up Daisy, who is sent to hack the Lighthouse to get Coulson and May inside. The pairing of the Inhuman heroine and the time-displaced agent is a strong one, with Daisy showing an amazed Sousa a cell phone being a comic highlight of the episode. Chloe Bennet and Enver Gokaj immediately display very fun chemistry and it’ll be interesting to see Daisy and Sousa’s relationship develop further. Not that it needs to be anything romantic (there’s still the whole Daisy and Deke thing to sort out before the show ends) but I also wouldn’t necessarily object if it headed in that direction.
One of the show’s more established partnerships is in less healthy shape. Things between Coulson and May continue to be tense, with the former’s nostalgic musings on their past being coldly dismissed by the latter, who insists that she feels nothing from him, quite literally. I’m still not sure where this “May as an emotional sponge” storyline is going but it gives Ming-Na Wen opportunities to show off her versatility while also circling back around to the more stoic May we were introduced to at the beginning of the show, so it’s fine for now. The conversations between her and Coulson also complicate the themes of artificial intelligence versus genuine human life the show is exploring with him, so that’s another point in their favor.
But interpersonal issues are the least of the team’s concerns. “A Trout in the Milk” does an excellent job of emphasizing how dangerous the alliance between Hydra and the Chronicoms is and this point is proven to the agents as disaster strikes on multiple fronts during their attempt to stop the launch. The team discovers that Mack’s parents are being kept prisoner in the Lighthouse, leading him to call off May and Coulson’s mission. Mack, Jemma, and Enoch manage to shoot the satellite out of the sky after it launches, but doing so reveals the Zephyr’s location to their enemies. Elsewhere, Nathaniel Malick gets the drop on Daisy and Sousa, knocking them unconscious and taking them prisoner, before the chilling stinger finds him calling the currently imprisoned Daniel Whitehall for instructions on how to experiment on Daisy to give himself her powers. The team’s only clear-cut success comes in neutralizing Freddy, but even this is a rather hollow victory as it comes through Deke defying orders and executing the older Malick after he taunted him and Yo-Yo about how the Chronicoms’ ability to look through time makes him unbeatable.
It doesn’t have the same degree of propulsive energy that some of the show’s best, similarly climactic chapters have achieved, but a “A Trout in the Milk” is still very exciting for the ways it increases the narrative tension and promises even more heart-wrenching developments to come.
- Bruce Banner, Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, and more are listed among Insight’s targets.
- Does Thomas E. Sullivan look exactly like Evan Peters to anyone else? When I first saw him I thought the X-Men star’s MCU debut (rumored to occur in Wandavision) had come early on a different show.
- Having a Terminator reference in a 70s episode is definitely a little weird but I guess the creators thought the opportunity for an actual robot to deliver it was too fun to pass up.
- Yes, this episode addresses it briefly but the most important questions remain: where is Fitz and when do we get to see him?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 5
S.H.I.E.L.D. draws from The Winter Soldier to deliver the season's most tense episode so far.