Agents of SHIELD delivers some high stakes in its second episode, as “Know Your Onions” puts a very clear deadline on saving the future or being stuck forever in the past. Along the way, they also debate time-travel morality and throw in an epic MCU tie-in.
“Know Your Onions” makes excellent use of guest stars like Patton Oswalt, Darren Barnet, and Nora Zehetner. All three help flesh out life before HYDRA and SHIELD, even if the gaps aren’t perfectly filled in yet. Who knows? Maybe a spin-off series on Disney+ could take care of that.
Ballad of The Super Soldier Serum
Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) get the chance to suit up in their 1930s dresses and officially join the mission. While Simmons works to get the bullet out of Freddie’s contact (Zehetner), the team starts putting the pieces together of how the timeline gets from Freddie (Barnet) to Wilfred Malick.
The vial of green liquid he stored in a bootlegged bottle is in fact the key ingredient to the super soldier serum that first appeared in World War II, thanks to Johann Schmidt. That’s right, the show went full MCU and put the agents on the path to potentially stopping Red Skull of all people. Going out in style, for sure.
Freddie’s close connection to that crowd can only mean he’s deeper in the HYDRA swamp than previously imagined. And thus ensues a moral dilemma with Daisy (Chloe Bennet) advocating his premature death, LMD Coulson (Clark Gregg) adamantly opposed, and Yo-Yo suggesting he be healed with love.
As one half of the squad works through that difficult decision, Agents of SHIELD cleverly juxtaposes the other half actively trying to save his life. Deke (Jeff Ward) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are pretty wrapped up in his dead dad, tortured mom sob story… Until Mack tries to check the contents of Freddie’s secret shipment, that is.
That’s when the gun comes out, and things start to get complicated. In fact, once the walkie talkie – a technology that hilariously fascinates everyone throughout the episode – starts working again, Daisy gives Deke a terrifying order. Take Freddie out before he can be the vehicle to take out thousands.
It’s a classic time travel scenario. But in this case SHIELD only has 17 minutes to resolve it, so it doesn’t quite get the justice it deserves. A few calming words from Mack, even as he realizes who he’s dealing with, make Deke lower his weapon until the villains of the current day show up: the cops. Timely, no?
Mack ably defends his group from the Chronicom-led robocops as they wait for the rest of the team, but Deke loses Freddie in the chaos. With the Zephyr about to teleport out of this time in just a few minutes, they’re at a loss for how to ensure history is preserved.
The Start of a Marvelous Friendship
Ernest Koenig (Oswalt) is actually much more of a softie than expected, which winds up being a major turning point in not only the episode but all of SHIELD history. For one, he’s one of the first characters to point out simply and clearly that you can’t punish someone for crimes they haven’t committed yet, no matter how much of the future you know.
I’ll take this moment to briefly point out his character flaw, which is time-specific sexism. He and Simmons engage in a few moments of so-called banter throughout the episode, with him calling her some term for women and her responding things like, “I’m a biochemist, not a bird.” I have almost loved how Agents puts strong and complicated women at the forefront, but dragging out lines like these just to remind the audience that sexism was more obvious in the past felt out of place in the moment.
That being said, hopefully her words got through to Koenig and helped shape SHIELD into the powerful force – full of powerful women – that it is today. One of those women, of course, being Melinda May (Ming Na Wen) who awoke rather changed after dying and being saved by Simmons. Enoch (Joel Stoffer) is tasked with keeping her on the ship when all she wants to do is help the team, which leaves him with a lot of synthetic skin to repair when all is said and done.
Thankfully, Coulson arrives in time to talk her down – although her apathetic response to his resurgence leaves everyone wondering what’s wrong with her. Not to mention that her “You still are [dead]” broke my Philinda heart into a million pieces. Coulson isn’t really himself anymore, is the same true for May? This is actually a recurring theme, because Yo-Yo at one point freezes instead of using her speed – making her wonder if the shrike affected her powers.
But all of that heaviness is considerably lightened by Koenig’s presence on the Zephyr, as he marvels over the apparently alien technology and directs them to the Hell’s Harbor where Freddie is meant to take his secret stash. He is even the one who tries to stop Freddie himself, preaching peace and love instead of violence. Who knew he actually thought his charge was a good kid all along?
Of course, he gets shot for his effort, but Freddie makes a clean escape and keeps the timeline intact. So intact that Enoch misses the Zephyr by mere seconds because he stopped to try to help Koenig. Which means that he’s able to stay behind and work for him, providing him with both SHIELD history and Chronicom technology that Koenigs will use for decades to come. It’s a bittersweet way to say farewell to Fitz’s best friend – if indeed this is farewell – but it’s a full circle journey that only a show as brilliant as Agents of SHIELD can pull of.
With all that being said, grab yourself a barracoolada and wait for Sousa to grace our screens next week!