This review contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 1
It’s strange to say, but even though Agents of SHIELD season 7 begins in the completely foreign setting of 1931 New York, the show already feels more comfortable in its skin than it did during the shrike crisis of season six. This is in no small part due to Clark Gregg returning to his more familiar personality in the character of LMD Coulson, who is immediately an acceptable replacement for the dead director simply because he cleanses our palate of the acrid memory of Sarge. And although the Chronicom menace is still a vaguely defined collective antagonist, their knowledge of Earth and SHIELD history provides a nicely mysterious motivation rife with possibilities for twists and misdirects.
Just as Fitz 2.0 had to catch up on the missed season he spent in cryosleep (including his own wedding!), this version of Coulson is based on the Framework brain scan is season four, but the memory dump he experiences not only allows him to be brought up to speed through technological means. It also illustrates the difficulties he will have adjusting to his new existence, given that his Chronicom upgrades likely make him exponentially more sophisticated than Aida ever was, and it creates a nice moral dilemma for Daisy and Mack to struggle with as they weigh their needs, both practical and emotional, against Coulson’s wishes.
Thankfully, Agents of SHIELD does not dwell on these misgivings and instead chooses to focus on what a super-powerful robot body would inspire in Coulson, including his identifying as a superhero and his realization that he has already died and can now take greater risks than he otherwise would. His daring actions against the armed bootleggers in Ernest Koenig’s speakeasy may have put Mack in danger, but the greater takeaway is that, although this Coulson may have the familiar wit and mannerisms and knowledge of personal relationships, we will be seeing a very different Phil Coulson in this final season of the series.
Agents of SHIELD should also be admired for putting its time travel rules on the table right away. Deke’s analogy of sticks in the stream lets us know that small changes to history are fine: everything will self-correct. But just as they have to make “ripples not waves,” they also have to prevent the Chronicoms from making the biggest wave of them all by erasing SHIELD from existence. No wonder the team mistakenly associated such a significant change with the larger-than-life figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt! The audience could also be forgiven for buying into the idea that the cops providing protection, whose identities were stolen by the Chronicoms, were there to assassinate the governor before the founding of SSR in his presidency.
Bringing in Freddy Malick, the father of Hydra head Gideon Malick, was a great way to pivot to the Chronicom’s true mission of abolishing Hydra as a means of preventing the need for an SSR or SHIELD. The tie-in to an earlier season provides a sense that Agents of SHIELD will come full circle in its final run, and the twist that the team must save Hydra to save themselves lends the whole story that much more irony. How Freddy connects to this precursor of Agent Koenig (another great nod and a welcome return for Patton Oswalt), whose criminal enterprise must somehow, someday transform his bar into a safehouse, remains to be seen, but it all serves to excite speculation and ensure audience investment in the premise of season 7.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the subtle shifts that other characters must make in this new environment. Yoyo’s adjustment to her new arms is perhaps the most peripheral change, but the way in which Mack and Daisy react to the 1930s view of women and minorities is also treated with a wonderfully understated strength, acknowledging the difficulties and confronting them head on without dismissing the need for discretion in a less enlightened time. It reminds us that, among other things, Quake powers are going to have to be kept under wraps, and satellite communications are not going to be a service that Zephyr One can provide.
Too bad the revamped command center can’t be more useful! There’s so much left to be revealed about the months or years Fitz and Simmons spent creating this time machine, and the fancier digs are only part of it. The fact that Simmons’ entire demeanor seems to be permeated with sadness, for example, is something that may take the entire season to explain, but fans can hope that the separation of the couple, which has been an annoying constant throughout Agents of SHIELD, will end sooner rather than later. In the meantime, her pent up feelings are useful in justifying the extreme measures she takes in getting information out of the captured Chronicom.
Always great with its epilogues, Agents of SHIELD leaves us with Melinda May poised for battle even as she recovers from the death — yes, death — that she suffered last season. Although we’re still sore over being manipulated by her demise, she and Coulson now have that one more thing in common, which may help with her accepting the LMD as a version of her dear departed. As for us, we’re fully on board and excited to see where this final adventure takes us. The swan song season is off to a great start, and hopefully the momentum will stay strong all the way to the bittersweet end.