This review contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 5
The sheer depth of the Marvel references in this week’s Agents of SHIELD episode, “A Trout in the Milk,” distinguishes it from all others before it, and MCU and comic fans are likely ecstatic about everything from the retro blue jumpsuits to the mention of Daniel Whitehall in the epilogue. The Chronicom plot this week increased the stakes considerably and the consequences for the decisions made in the episode had significant impact. Adding to that yet another mysterious malady for a third member of the team has us worrying for Simmons and being grateful for the return of Enoch on several levels. Long live the seventies!
The simpler decade could perhaps explain why the secure safehouse saloon still has the same password after 40 years, but allowances must be made for the fact that it was a celebration with a more relaxed mood. The bar setting also brought us our first two deep cut references, letting us know we were in for an episode filled with Marvel Easter eggs. The first was Coulson wondering whether Dooley had a reserved booth, giving a nod to the SSR New York Chief from Agent Carter, and the next was a clear closeup on the Bendeery English Ale can which has become the fictional beer of choice in Agents of SHIELD ever since Lance Hunter imbibed it back in season two.
The more obvious callback came in the form of Patrick Warburton’s return to the role of General Rick Stoner, who we last saw as the voice of the decommissioned Lighthouse in season five. Agents of SHIELD used masterfully subtle hints from Stoner’s dialogue with “Chastity McBryde” (another comics tribute) as well as that of young Nathaniel and Gideon Malick with Coulson and Daisy to logically show what our heroes were dealing with. On the surface, the mention of 1976 as the launch date of Project Insight, the offhanded comment about Wilfred Malick’s estate in River’s End, and the detail about the windowless office in the bar allowed for the investigation to proceed in close quarters without feeling expository or claustrophobic.
The Chronicoms deserve a lot of credit for choosing to tweak the timeline both by saving Wilfred and his son Nathaniel, who should have died in 1970 as mentioned back in Agents of SHIELD season three, and by moving up the schedule of the completely invasive Project Insight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. When Daisy hacked the computer and saw the threat list on the screen with names like Bruce Banner, Victoria Hand, and Robert Gonzales, the allusion quotient went through the roof, especially considering the quirky detail that the future Hulk was just a kid in 1973. Although such references shouldn’t be the total measure of an episode’s success, they definitely created a sense of historical depth that other installments have lacked.
The only plot contrivance was Mack taking Yoyo to the Lighthouse, supposedly abandoned the year before in the original timeline, as a kind of “date night,” but it actually came across as quite sweet even though it was designed to place them in a convenient position to start noticing the changes the Chronicoms had made to the history they remember. The blue jumpsuits of the agents on site may not have been exactly like the ones seen in early Agents of SHIELD comics, but they were likely close enough to elicit an appreciative response from fans of the print series.
Deke also had some powerful emotional moments, especially in the scenes where he reminds viewers and Daniel Sousa alike that they all gave up previous lives; the only difference between Deke’s departure from the future and Sousa’s from the past is that Deke has had more time to adjust. But Deke’s worries about his grandparents’ reunion so that they can conceive his mother are also a great lead-in to the strange neck pains Simmons is experiencing, placing her alongside Yoyo and May with her own mysterious ailment. The specifics of Enoch’s understanding of her problem, her missing time during the Zephyr’s upgrade, and her separation from Fitz remain to be seen, but we can’t help but be intrigued.
But of course the most tragic and heartfelt moment came when Mack had to abort the mission to flood the Lighthouse once he saw his parents on the security monitors. The manner in which Agents of SHIELD led the Chronicoms to this cruel strategy by showing Wilfred Malick making a similar tactical error to save his son was magnificent, and the climactic scene brought both irony and pathos to the drama at hand. Although the Project Insight launch was still prevented, the consequences of having given away the Zephyr’s location will certainly be felt in the episodes to come.
In the meantime, we have the fallout of Nathaniel Malick witnessing Quake’s power, an event which almost certainly led to his interest in Daniel Whitehall’s research into Inhumans that Agents of SHIELD fans will remember from season two of the series when Jiaying was experimented on by the German Hydra contingent. While it’s unclear how his inquiries might lead to danger for Inhumans like Yoyo and Daisy or for the team at large, it certainly can’t result in anything good, and the possibilities for where the story might head from here are just as enticing as the multitude of Marvel tie-ins present in this week’s excellent episode.