Agents of SHIELD ends at the beginning, returning to 1931 for its final season in order to ensure that Earth will have a SHIELD protecting it at all. It’s a clever concept for the longest-lasting Marvel series to tackle, as it both pays homage to its MCU roots and calls attention to the show’s own importance in the Marvel landscape.
“The New Deal” opens with the Agents simultaneously planning to stop the Chronicoms from eliminating their agency before its very foundation while also dealing with the LMD version of Coulson (Clark Gregg) that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) brought to so-called life. Both threads intertwine seamlessly in an episode as slickly crafted as the wet New York City streets that appear so prominently in it.
LMDs, Chronicoms, and Everything
The line between life and life-models is a thin one, and it seems like Agents of SHIELD will be exploring it this year. Not only is LMD Coulson around to provide the uncanny valley, but Enoch (Joel Stoffer) is back to help the team in the fight against… other members of his kind. Members he taunts for lacking free will, but what separates him from them? And what separates Coulson’s life from that of his life-model?
I’ve lost track of what version of Coulson we’re now on, but this one is closest to the original thanks to Simmons basing him on the real thing post-Framework. The first issue is that his memories must be updated from that point forward, resulting in 2 years worth of life being uploaded in 10 seconds. The second is that, while Daisy (Chloe Bennet) missed her father figure too much to think twice about pressing the button, SHIELD Director Mack (Henry Simmons) is none too pleased with this development.
He relents because they need Coulson’s experience to help track down the Chronicoms and trace SHIELD’s history, not to mention that Coulson himself would rather violate his own wishes than to leave his team to their own devices. Having this echo of our beloved ex-director is as comforting as it is painful, and Daisy’s cautious interactions with him touch on that perfectly.
Similarly, there is an eerie and nearly boundary-crossing moment in “The New Deal” where Jemma is torturing a Chronicom cop to get information on their plan to stop SHIELD. (Hint: it involves FDR, but not in the way you think.) On the one hand, the Hunter whose system she is overloading is a machine. But on the other, we would be horrified if it happened to Enoch. Who decides what life is and how?
The question of natural versus artificial repeats in Yo-Yo’s (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) storyline, albeit in a very different way. While she’s quarantined on the ship to wait for the Shrike to exit her system, Jemma builds her a pair of arms. Elena doesn’t want to wear them because she’s not ashamed of her situation – even if her metal arms are as artificial as the new ones, they feel more like hers. In the end, she must make the exchange so that she can blend in, but it still brings up the idea that sometimes more natural just means more familiar.
The Speakeasy at the Start of the Universe
SHIELD’s pursuit of the Chronicoms – who are in pursuit of them, because this show is nothing is not full circle – leads them to a speakeasy with a swordfish as its logo and password. But before we get there, shoutout to Deke (Jeff Ward) and Daisy for holding their own against Chronicom cops who tried to get the jump on them. And a special shoutout to Deke for getting discount Great Depression duds for everyone to go out in.
Now, back to the speakeasy, which is run by Ernest Koenig (Patton Oswalt). This Koenig is different from his ancestors in that he’s shady and crooked, exploiting the Prohibition for his alcohol smuggling and taking advantage of even his own employees. But he’s not above making a deal with Mack and Coulson, letting them know about the upcoming dinner in honor of Governor Roosevelt.
That’s right, eventual President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The man founded the SSR and thus SHIELD is in a perfect position to be assassinated before that happens, and it’s up to our favorite agents to stop it. While this series of scenes plays out, “The New Deal” cleverly sets up a reversal by having Deke bond with bartender Freddy (guest star Darren Barnet) over dead dads.
Freddy turns up at the party for FDR too, and soon enough it becomes clear he is the true target of the night. The time cops want to take him out before he can sell a mysterious green substance, so it’s up to the team to save him and the day. At this point, the audience expects him to be a major player in the creation of SHIELD… And he is, in a way.
Except “The New Deal” isn’t done with reveals yet, because Koening lets slip his last name. Freddy Malick, clearly meant to connect to Gideon Malick who helped build HYDRA into the SHIELD-level threat that it was with his brother Nathaniel. And so, Agents of SHIELD‘s premiere ends with Mack and Coulson realizing that to save their skins, they have to save HYDRA’s too.
“The New Deal” felt particularly somber, perhaps because both the audience and characters know it’s a farewell of sorts. The atmosphere and coloring of New York City in the Great Depression certainly adds to the heaviness of the proceedings, but thankfully there are enough humorous moments to break the tension. And of course, Agents never fails to take the necessary beats for character development – which may be the reason it’s outlasted every other Marvel show.
We’re sorry to see the show go, but glad it’s going out in style. Here’s looking at you, SHIELD.