Agents of SHIELD goes full film noir in “Out of the Past,” as the team struggle to juggle the needs of history with desires close to their hearts.
In this case, the desire is to prevent July 22nd, 1955 from being Agent Sousa’s (special guest star Enver Gjokaj) last day on Earth. The mission, unfortunately, is to ensure that he completes a deliver of the Rosetta Stone of SHIELD tech which then leads to said demise. Whatever will the crew do?
The Agents of Status Quo
The episode begins in media res, creating an expectation that “the hero must die” and Sousa will inevitably fall prey to Hydra in the line of duty. It is a requirement for SHIELD to grow as its meant to, and Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) continuously confirms he will maintain the necessary trajectory. Of course, the agents are none too happy about the idea – and as an audience member who just had to witness shoddy time travel erase Sousa’s love story, neither am I.
But Agents of SHIELD always has a twist in store, and for “Out of the Past” it conveniently starts as a snafu in the status quo. Coulson buys some time for his team members to help set the stage, but as Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova) and Deke (Jeff Ward) are headed to pick up the mysterious package meant for Howard Stark from the now-dead SHIELD scientist’s home, they are intercepted by none other than HYDRA themselves.
The most fascinating part of the episode, aside from continuing to see a legend like Sousa interact with our favorite agents, is seeing how various characters react to the circumstances they are afraid they cannot change. Yo-Yo is angry at the status quo while Deke is reluctant to step outside it, which makes sense given their respect positions in life. He recognizes the sexism and racism they’ve encountered in past decades, but she’s lived it.
It’s not until Deke comes face to face with the history he helped make – in the form of a much older Wilfred Malick, who is now plotting Sousa’s death on behalf of HYDRA – that he understands just how damaging standing aside can be. And thankfully, his kidnapping sidetracks the delivery enough to allow for a Plan B to emerge.
On the other hand, Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are ready to rewrite history from the get-go – and it’s hard not to root for them to save the day. A world without Sousa is clearly much worse off, especially when it’s clear he died precisely because he learned of HYDRA’s infiltration before anyone else. After they rescue him from an even more untimely demise – in an excellently choreographed train fight sequence – it’s time for Mack to put his Director hat on and dictate the survival of Sousa.
Welcome To Life After Death
This season of Agents of SHIELD has subtly been exploring what it means to live without really being alive, either because you’re an LMD, a displaced Chronicom, recently resurrected… or technically dead according to the history books. “Out of the Past,” though, may be the first episode where we see all these forms of alternative life collide in one way or another.
First, I would be remiss not to point out the running joke – which is actually more of a tragic tale – that is Enoch (Joel Stoffer) bartending. He listens to a disgruntled client drone on about his workday only to be interrupted by calls from Agents desperate to be connected to the Zephyr. Each time he hopes they will consider rescuing him from this monotony and bringing him with them, and each time they dismiss them and go back to the task at hand. While they may think that as a Chronicom, time is of no importance to him, the audience can see that it very much is and that he can’t help but feel abandoned by his friends.
Then there is May (Ming-Na Wen), who has been experiencing what she describes as out of control emotions ever since she was resurrected post-Temple encounter. Her moments of disorientation are revealed by Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) to be connected to other people’s emotions other than her own. This means that right now, May is a blank slate except for when she’s channeling the feelings of others. It’s a lonely situation, and a confusing one. After all, LMD Coulson very clearly has feelings for her, and yet she reads nothing off him.
Coulson being an LMD does have its perks, though. For one, he is able to take two bullets in the back and lie motionless in a pool until he’s convinced both HYDRA and the local police force that Sousa is dead. From there, the Agents are able to safely abscond Sousa to the Zephyr and travel to their next destination. The baring of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” suggest that destination is 1973, which promises a good deal of fun. And plenty of chaos, since now we know the evil Chronicoms have teamed up with Malick himself.
However one might feel about Marvel’s treatment of Sousa up to now, “Out of the Past” is a good send-off for the legacy he left behind on SHIELD, and a promise that we might actually spend more quality time with him before the show signs off for good.