Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 6 “Adapt or Die”
Director: Aprill Winney
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Jeff Ward, Joel Stoffer
Runtime: 45 minutes
After four pretty zany hours, S.H.I.E.L.D. got serious last episode and becomes even more so in this one. “A Trout in the Milk” put the agents in dire straights and while they managed to stop Insight here they all go through some pretty brutal experiences and suffer a few crushing defeats, even including a death in the team (sort of). “Adapt or Die” is by far the darkest episode of the season that serves an important function in highlighting the danger of the group’s current mission but while the actors predictably sell the characters’ reactions to all the drastic plot twists it’s maybe more heavy than necessary at points.
After Chronicom Predictor Sybil (Tamara Taylor) assures Luke that their battle with Shield is proceeding smoothly we pick back up with the disastrous mission against Insight. General Stoner has May and Coulson in custody, but despite his obvious anger at their sabotage of Insight, he’s unnerved by the launching of missiles against the Zephyr, which happens without his authorization. Coulson and May warn him of the Chronicom threat despite knowing how it sounds but it takes Stoner being attacked and nearly replaced himself for him to believe them. It’s nice to see Warburton back on the show but because of the way Stoner’s positioned in the story, he doesn’t get to be a particularly dynamic character. But his chemistry with May is amusing. After surviving the missile strikes the crew back on the Zephyr launches a rescue mission for Coulson, May, and Mack’s parents, although Mack is so angered by Deke’s execution of Malick that he forbids him from coming despite his familiarity with the Lighthouse. Henry Simmons does a good job of delivering on both the comedic and emotional beats that come from Mack meeting his parents and Yo-Yo’s help moving things along when he gets tripped up by the time-traveling weirdness of it all is also fun.
Back in the Lighthouse, May and Coulson’s partnership continues to be strained by their bizarre new realities. Coulson is shaken by the discovery that some of the Chronicoms can be programmed with the emotions of the people they’re duplicating, or at least mimic them, and is offended when May states that he’s doing the same thing with the human Coulson. While it’s outside her control, Coulson is frustrated by May’s non-reaction to his latest resurrection but she reveals that it’s not a result of her new state of being but rather her exhaustion with constantly having to mourn him only for him to come back again somehow. This inspires Coulson to employ a drastic but helpful strategy when he later winds up confronting Sybill. After the two of them wax poetic a little about their respective goals and ideologies Coulson manages to blow up the Chronicoms’ ship and the device that allows Sybill to view the time stream. He’s nonchalant about the fact that he’s blowing himself up too because “dying is kind of my superpower” and upon returning to the Quinjet May is similarly confident that he’ll be back.
Unfortunately, the group also experiences some more permanent deaths. Before docking with the Zephyr May warns Mack that she’s not sensing any emotion from his parents. After discovering that they are in fact Chronicoms the team gets into an intense fight with the duplicates, during which they cruelly tell Mack that they killed his real parents a while ago. Henry Simmons does some truly haunting work here, especially when he throws the Chronicom of his mother out of the Quinjet after she attempts to appeal to his irrational emotional side by going back to imitation. As gut-wrenching as this all is, though, I’m not exactly sure what the point of it is just yet. It already felt sort of weird that Mack’s parents were the only ones the Chronicoms/Hydra bothered to take and it feels even more arbitrary for the character to be put through such a devastating loss when the possibility of it was only introduced one episode prior. I suppose it could lead to Mack considering or even truly committing to leaving Shield at the end of the show but otherwise, I don’t see the relevance to the season or series’ larger stories. Sure, it highlights the dangers of time travel, but there’s plenty of other stuff in the episode and season that’s already doing that.
Speaking of which, Daisy and Sousa star in the episode’s most disturbing storyline. With offscreen instruction from Whitehall, Nathaniel Malick performs the same kind of twisted experimentation on Daisy that Whitehall did to her mother in the original timeline, and succeeds in duplicating her abilities for himself. The show is classy enough to have the brutality take place offscreen this time but it’s still an extremely dark development that pushes the limits of good taste. Yes, having Daisy go through what Jiaying did is a potentially interesting way of bringing her story full circle as the show gets closer to the end but this is also the latest example of the show’s habit of routinely putting the character through severe physical and emotional trauma, and it feels like an especially questionable choice in this instance given how minimal Daisy’s role this season and last has been. That said, it does lead to a good scene for Sousa where he talks about the fellow soldier who saved his life in an attempt to keep Daisy conscious. Enver Gjokaj has really proved to be a great addition to Shield and while I think the budding romance the show seems to be setting up between Daisy and Sousa (the imagery of him cradling her body against his and carrying her away when they escape pretty much confirm this is the direction they’re headed) definitely sprung up a little fast it’s also pretty compelling so far. They manage to escape thanks to Daisy smuggling a razor blade in her wrist and Malick’s inability to control his newfound powers, which collapse the building and walls.
It’s by no means lighthearted but Deke and Simmons’ brief storyline is the least emotionally draining of the hour. When Deke sees Enoch performing an unknown procedure on his grandmother’s neck he understandably freaks out, knocking out Enoch and demanding answers and fans will be happy to know that Simmons’ explanation finally provides at least some answers about the Fitz situation, even if there are still plenty of questions left. Fitz is apparently at a location where he can monitor the Chronicoms’ activities and guide the team but Simmons agreed to have her memory of the actual location wiped so that the Chronicoms don’t find him. The tech in her neck is an implant designed to block those memories but it’s been malfunctioning, causing her to forget how to carry out her other duties. It’s nice to finally have some concrete answers about the Fitz situation (assuming, of course, that Jemma is telling the truth, which might not be the case) but it’s still frustrating to have Iain De Caestecker absent from so much of the season, especially given that because of the way they reveal is delivered, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be showing up especially soon.
The episode keeps delivering more surprises right up until the end when a distraught Mack rides his motorcycle out of the Zephyr for some air. Deke leaves to comfort him but soon after Jemma radios him that a malfunction is causing the ship to make an unexpected jump. Mack is in no state to listen to Deke’s calls for him to return and they’re quickly stranded in whatever time period the ship had already jumped to.
Coulson’s sacrifice might have struck a crippling blow against the Chronicoms but the most notable thing about “Adapt or Die” is how it raises the stakes and delivers more grave developments for the characters to reckon with but it’s such a sudden, concentrated dose of darkness that it winds up feeling a little oppressive.
- The blue and white 70s Shield uniforms are a great Easter Egg referencing how the agents typically look in the comics.
- The return to the Lighthouse also sadly results in the show’s usual setting of non-descript hallways which, in turn, brings back the usual, more bland color palette and lighting style.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Episode 6
The Shield team is pushed to it's emotional limits in a tense episode that's ultimately a little too bleak.