Agents of SHIELD visits 1950s era Area 51 in episode 3 and this time, they are the alien invaders. In addition to the Chronicoms, the other alien invaders who want to use a failed SHIELD science project to take over the world. Obviously.
To infiltrate the base, Jemma impersonates Peggy Carter while Coulson impersonates a second agent who’s been abducted by
alien invaders the SHIELD agents. It all goes great until Peggy’s old partner, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), shows up to supervise the latest experiment.
It’s time to go back to the future from the past! But we’re not ready to go back to the present yet. First, the Chronicoms make a stop in Groom Lake Nevada, 1955, home of alien conspiracy theory ground zero, Area 51. Zephyr 1 is hot on the Chronicoms trail, so they pop into the Nevada sky soon after, startling a couple of teens who are out stargazing in the desert.
The agents quickly take stock, remembering that Enoch didn’t make it onto the ship and figuring out that they’re still 65 years from home. Coulson reasons that it’s better to be in flight and cloaked when they jump.
In order to achieve that, they’ll need to abort missions when they get the warning alarm that they’re jumping soon.
Chronicoms live for thousands of years, so Enoch should be fine catching up with them in the future.
The Chronicops and another Chronicom, Sibyl (Tamara Taylor), meet in cyberspace (where Fitz and Jemma’s minds met while they were Chronicom hostages last season). Sibyl is a Predictor, the last of her kind, who seems to be the Chronicom version of an oracle. The Chronicoms have figured out that the Zephyr 1 is following them by drafting on their time wake. SHIELD still hasn’t gotten close enough to them to identify their ship, leaving them with a major advantage.
One of the Chronicops complains that when Chronicoms are captured, they automatically self-destruct without harming the surrounding environment. He thinks they should detonate like a bomb, destroying as much as possible. Sibyl explains that this would potentially leave their advanced technology in the past in a viable state, hastening the formation of SHIELD instead of preventing it.
Sibyl: “We must be delicate with time.”
The Chronicops get word that new Chronicoms have been sent in and taken faces in the new location. Their plan involves the SHIELD experiment Helius. Sibyl assures them the plan will be brutal and exacting, if they can pull it off.
Mack confronts Daisy and Deke about her order to kill Freddy Malick. He reminds them that this is still SHIELD and they still need to follow his orders, rather than going rogue to try to change the past to suit their own ideas. He’s firm with them both and impressively even-handed about Daisy’s relentless refusal to understand the mission in favor of her need for revenge (or hope that she can bring Lincoln back). He calls Deke both a CEO and an Agent of SHIELD, two things that validate Deke and earn his loyalty.
Jemma explains that jumping to another point in the past means their mission still isn’t completed. In other words, they haven’t stopped the Chronicoms from destroying SHIELD and taking over Earth.
Jemma: “We’re moving forward in time. To move backward takes a piece of the time monolith and more energy than we’ll ever acquire again. A jump forward takes less. ”
Mack: “What do you mean less?”
Jemma: “We’re kind of drafting through time in the Chronicom’s wake.”
Jemma explains that she doesn’t know how many jumps they have left, but they’ll always jump at the same time and to the same location and time as the Chronicoms. They’ll keep jumping until the war ends, and one side or the other has won.
Mack notes that they’ll always be a step behind, because the Chronicoms are determining their course, so after each jump they have to figure out where they are and why the Chronicoms brought them there. Deke will use the Zephyr’s tech to scan for the Chromicon ship.
Coulson tells them that, like all of the military “Areas”, Area 51 is a SHIELD base. Jemma says that Groom Lake was working on early space projects. Coulson thinks the Chronicoms were after Project Helius. Jemma says Helius was an early, but failed, attempt at an ion fusion reactor. Deke says that by his time, ion fusion had been figured out and was used to power big weapons, like ship killers. They figure out that the Chronicoms want to use Helius as a weapon to destroy Zephyr 1.
The team rendezvous in the desert in the classic Flying Rocket Diner. Mack and Elena share a booth for a bit of a date. He admires her new arms. She shares that her speed isn’t working since she was infected by the shrike. He tells her she’s still an excellent agent, even though she’s slow like him. The waitress is rude and the restrooms are segregated.
Coulson and Daisy have a sort of father-daughter date and discuss May’s reaction to him. LMD Coulson is more energetic and enthusiastic than the real Coulson had been in years, between his deteriorating health and
multiple deaths traumatic experiences. Daisy thinks that odd is the new normal, considering their current mission. She agrees that May should have reacted, saying May would normally have been happy to see even an LMD version of Coulson.
May held Coulson while he died, then went through everything with Sarge and Izel, which was like a mindrape, and now there’s a new version of the 2nd man she’s loved and lost. (Remember Andrew?) I think it’s normal for her to either be numb or too depressed to function.
But I also think she might be suffering after effects from the other realm. And she admitted to Fitz 1 that she came out of the Framework barely more sane than him. Fitz 2’s time in prison, in cryo and in space with Enoch was healing for him. May hasn’t had that. Instead, she lost Andrew, then her surrogate daughter, Robin, and then Coulson.
Gerald Sharpe (Michael Gaston), Department of Defense, enters the diner. The team has been waiting for him. Daisy drugs his creamer and they take him back to the Zephyr for questioning.
May appears and asks what year it is. Mack tells her where and when they are. They’re surprised at her lack of surprise.
I don’t understand why. Am I the only one who remembers the last 6 seasons? Going backwards in time to the unaltered 20th century is the least crazy thing that’s happened since Hydra activated the Winter Soldier and the Triskelion fell. Maybe it will turn out that May’s memory is intact and the other’s memories have been altered, so they don’t remember half of what’s happened.
Jemma and Coulson head to the Area 51 super secret underground base. Coulson uses Sharpe’s ID. Jemma takes advantage of her British accent and pretends to be Peggy Carter, who was running SHIELD during this period. They’re taken straight to the lab for a tour given by Dr Vega (Julian Acosta). Jemma’s momentarily starstruck to be in such a legendary science lab, but recovers quickly. They’re shown a primitive watch radio and EMP discharger. Jemma realizes she’s the most accomplished scientist in the lab.
Dr Vega shows them a table top model of the Helius balloon. The real thing is 20 times bigger, and out on the launch pad. He says that if it works, it could power a space station in perpetuity.
Jemma realizes the risks of keeping such a dangerous item out in the open, even on a secure base. She asks questions about the base’s security. Vega says the MP security guards live on the base, but the scientists reenter daily. Vega asks if this is about the test they’re conducting later. Jemma tells him it is. Vega asks if they know something he doesn’t. Coulson says they know infinitely more.
Meanwhile, Elena and Mack attempt to question Sharpe. He’s not just resistant. He’s also loudly racist and misogynist. He boasts that he wrote the manual on resisting interrogation techniques, so there’s nothing they can do to him that will work.
Coulson and Jemma have gotten the (almost all white, male) scientists lined up for questioning to test if they’re Chronicoms. Jemma looks at them and realizes that they are all so emotionally stunted that it will be hard to tell if they’re aliens. Coulson points out that they just need to elicit some small human emotional reaction from them.
Cue the unfair test questions, because there’s nothing a scientist hates more than being told he’s wrong. Or being embarrassed. Or made to think about uncomfortable subjects.
Vega informs them that a busload of new arrivals is at the gate. Coulson heads out to interview them. Peggy Carter’s old partner Daniel Sousa is one of the agents on the bus. He can’t wait to see her.
Daisy and Deke look through the papers in Sharpe’s briefcase and argue over the way she exploited his ignorance to coerce him into following her order to shoot Freddy back in 1931. He wants her to show more respect toward him and to stop attempting to override Mack’s orders. Daisy reiterates that killing Malick would have saved lives.
She’s lying or deluded. The whole point of Hydra is that when you cut off one head, 2 or 3 more spring up to take its place. Never once have we seen the organization shrink because just one leader went missing. If one of the Malicks went missing from history, someone else would step in and commit equally evil crimes, maybe even worse, since they’d have to prove their power in an unstable situation.
Daisy goes for more manipulation, insisting thst he should want to kill the Malicks because he’s that type of immoral person. Deke tells her that he’s not the unscrupulous guy she met in the Lighthouse anymore. And he doesn’t want to be that person anymore. She says she knows. Then she notices one of the dossiers from Sharpe’s briefcase is for Daniel Sousa.
Sousa finds Jemma/”Peggy” still in the lab, conducting tests on the scientists. When he realizes she’s an imposter, he doesn’t give his last name and pretends that Peggy is a stranger to him. As they speak, each trying to figure out what the other’s angle is, she quickly realizes who he is. She doesn’t resist when he arrests her.
Coulson makes his way through the busload of VIPs, asking them random questions to elicit an emotional response: “Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper?” “Van Johnson.”
Van Johnson really is a lame response. Jimmy Stewart is the correct answer, but I’ll accept Gary Cooper.
He tries out a sad story from the film Blade Runner (more in the commentary) on an elderly woman, leaving her in tears. By that time, Sousa’s caught up with him. Coulson only has a moment to fanboy before Sousa has him arrested.
That old lady is definitely either a Commie or a robot though.
Mack and Deke do their best to vet the rest of the VIPs using SHIELD archives. They’re developing a nice rapport over the course of this episode.
May and Elena come out of the tent they’re keeping Sharpe in. May is angry. Elena says that Sharpe used more racist language. May thinks it’s time to use enhanced interrogation techniques, but Mack says that violence is not an option. They all look at the lone white guy in the room, Deke, and figure it’s time to send him in.
He’s not from the 20th century and doesn’t totally get the prejudices. He’s also enjoying not living under a fascist regime lead by blue people and doesn’t want to act like one of them. But he reluctantly goes in, for the greater good. He grumbles, “Stupid white privilege,” on the way in. Lol. It is a burden to be FitzSimmons’ grandson.
Meanwhile again, the white guys in the facility are having no issues whatsoever with exercising their privilege for all it’s worth. Sousa wants every record ever created in Area 51 brought to him and he’s going to hold Coulson and Jemma FOREVER, or something to that effect. Their very presence on a base he hardly ever visits is an affront to everything he holds dear.
He storms into someone else’s office and finds Daisy dressed as a CIA femme fatale, playing up the spy role. She’s using SHIELD spy glasses to photograph documents on the desk. He threatens to arrest her, but she dazzles him with her Future Knowledge of his past, proving that she’s a superspy with clearance far above his pay grade.
He asks if she’s there about the report he sent telling them that SHIELD was infiltrated by sleeper agents post WW2. He thinks they need to root the double agents out of SHIELD immediately. She tells him he’s not crazy and the people he has locked up are necessary to proving it.
Deke pretends that he’s on Sharpe’s side and the entire kidnapping has been a test. Sharpe buys that Deke is in charge, but he still thinks SHIELD is a group of Commie spies. He’s so sick of the whole thing that he yells at Deke that Helius is a failure and “nothing on Earth is powerful enough to get it up to velocity.”
Deke realizes that a Chronicom who’s willing to sacrifice itself would provide enough power to turn Helius into a bomb. The test site is close enough to the lab to kill all of the most important SHIELD scientists, setting the agency back decades.
Mack decides it’s time to call in the Cavalry, using the old nickname for May. They worry about May’s mental state, but right now she’ll be an unfeeling killbot going up against an unfeeling killbot.
While the scientists in the lab prepare for the test, a female-presenting Chronicom works quietly off to the side to sabotage it.
May and Elena dress as pilots and infiltrate the base. They put on their Covid-19 and protest approved masks, then set off some tear gas in the lab. At the same time, Sousa and Daisy release Jemma and Coulson from their cell. Sousa goes on about making Daisy include him in the investigation. Instead, they lock him in the cell just as the gas is released, which has the side effect of protecting him from being gassed. Coulson yells again that he’s a fan. Jemma confirms it. Daisy yells that they’re the good guys.
Elena and May evacuate the lab while searching for the Chronicom. They find her, but May has a panic attack and Elena finds that she still can’t use her speed. Elena gets May out into the hall. May says she’s never felt that way before. Neither of them wants to talk about it, though.
They can join the Steve Rogers-Clint Barton Support Group for Superheroes Who Don’t Want to Talk About It.
Deke and Mack search for ways to stop the Helius explosion remotely. Sharpe gets loose and comes out into the command center, appalled by the superior technology these Commies have developed. Mack considers coming up with a creative solution, but doesn’t have time. And that guy doesn’t deserve it. Mack knocks him out with a punch.
It’s very satisfying for everyone.
The SHIELD team finds Dr Vega outside, confused as to why Helius has started up on its own. Coulson convinces him to evacuate the base. The staff won’t get far enough away to matter, but it will keep them busy so the SHIELD team can work.
May and Elena spot the Chronicom driving toward Helius in a jeep, so they take off after her. The Chronicom kills the guards at the base of the project, then plugs the experiment into her chest to activate it. May and Elena attempt to unplug the Chronicom.
Jemma, Daisy and Coulson rush back to the lab to get the faulty EMP discharger working, since it’s their best chance to deactivate Helius. Another Chronicom is there, disguised as a male scientist. Coulson takes him on, since they have equal strength. Daisy and Jemma are both momentarily surprised that he can keep up with the Chronicom, because he’s such a convincing replica of the original Phil.
May and Elena unplug the other end of the Chronicom’s cord. She raps the cord around Elena’s neck, then multitasks by tightening the cord as she climbs up to plug it back in. May tries to remove the cord from around Elena’s neck, but the Chronicom is too strong. Yikes, it really looks like Elena is being slowly hung.
Coulson’s making progress in his fight when Sousa the genius comes around the corner and points a gun at the robots, yelling at Coulson like he’s the bad guy. It distracts Coulson long enough for the Chronicom to get the upper hand again. Sousa hits the Chronicom in the back with his cane to make him stop, which doesn’t hurt the robot at all.
The Chronicom decides Sousa is an annoyance he needs to swat like a fly. He’s in the process of killing Sousa, and Elena isn’t doing too well either, when Daisy and Jemma activate the EMP. Both Chronicoms and Coulson, who had just stood up to help Sousa, collapse, unconscious.
The Chronicoms overheat and burn, self-destructing as predicted in the opening. In moments, all that’s left is ashes. Sousa doesn’t know what to make of it. After he walks away, sparks flash in Coulson’s open eyes.
He’d better be rebooting.
Mack and Deke, who are the new Mack and Fitz, take care of their lingering Sharpe problem by dumping him in the desert. When he wakes up, they point the Zephyr at him at close range and threaten to probe him if he reveals their alien secrets. He doesn’t take it well.
Sharpe shows up at the diner and dramatically shares his alien abduction story. They’ve heard it all before and aren’t impressed.
I’m so glad this final season gave us an episode with Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge as the main scene partners. Both are such great comedians, but at first both seem like they should be the straight man. It’s always hilarious when they get to vamp and be silly together.
Speaking of which, what a relief to have Gregg back as Coulson! Other than May, the team is treating the LMD/Chronicom hybrid as if he’s the real deal, rather than wondering if he’s affected by the Darkhold or some other form of evil. It’s so refreshing.
Clearly Coulson’s robot status will come up again in episode 4, since he needs repairs or a reboot and neither Enoch nor Fitz are around to help. Mack is still a super mechanic, though, so he and Jemma ought to be able to figure something out between them. Hopefully Coulson’s memory wasn’t wiped by the EMP.
WHERE IS MY FITZ???
This is one of Mack’s better episodes as director of SHIELD. I realized today that they put him in charge, then made the show about everything the character hates to deal with, aliens and robots. They haven’t even let him have his shotgun-ax back yet. It’s his worst horror movie nightmares come true.
Mack, the most practical SHIELD agent besides May, is probably thrilled to be in the past, dealing with bootleggers, spies and guns that fire regular bullets. And it’s been ages since he’s even had his buddy Fitz with him to help him make sense of the robots and aliens.
Speaking of Mack’s dreams, shouldn’t Lola, Coulson’s flying car, be showing up in one of these stops in the past? We haven’t seen her since season 3, maybe 4, and she should get a farewell appearance that includes Mack finally giving her a tune up. Or maybe Sousa currently has custody of the flying car used in Agent Carter season 2, and he’ll give Mack a look under the hood.
Jemma: “To move backward takes a piece of the time monolith and more energy than we’ll ever acquire again.”
Where did the energy for the backwards jump to follow the Chronicoms to 1931 come from? Or can they draft backwards? Would sacrificing a Chronicom provide enough energy? Why do I get the feeling that there was a lot of tragedy during the “considerable amount of time” between seasons?
In season 5 the team returned to the present day from the cracked Earth future by way of a piece of the monolith assembled by Flint and power supplied by Enoch 1’s sacrifice. Could they capture a Chronicom, stop him from self-destructing until they’re ready, and have Izel’s Flint create another piece of the monolith? Or did Flint disappear when Izel died, like the shrikes? That would be a terrible waste of a character and a disappointing tease for the audience. How many times do Mack and Elena have to lose their surrogate son?
I just had another terrible thought. This sets up the possibility of Coulson being the Chronicom who sacrifices himself to get the team back to their own time. Because, of course he has to die AGAIN at the end of the season.
The diner scene is great. We get the political commentary on segregated restrooms and the waitress being huffy about serving Mack and Elena, while Daisy passes. (Coulson technically does as well.) Meanwhile, it’s Area 51, so no one blinks an eye when Mack mentions that his girlfriend is recovering from an alien infection. Daisy and Coulson discuss humanoid robot body snatchers and the reaction of his significant other. No one in the Flying Rocket Diner cares, which, along with the teenagers in the cold open, is the set up for Gerald Sharpe crawling in later, claiming he was abducted by aliens, and receiving nothing but blank stares and skepticism.
The racist interrogation scene was hard to hear. I feel terrible that the actors had to go through filming it. I thought sure Sharpe was going to proudly add his KKK rank to his identification spiel.
Agent Coulson gives the elderly woman on the bus the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner when he describes the turtle in the desert who needs help. The test is meant to screen out replicants, the LMDs of the Blade Runner world, who have compromised emotional responses.
The joke is that the old Lady passes, but we’ve also been watching Coulson, the replicant, pass for the entire episode. No one has more empathy, compassion and desire to jump in and help than any version of Coulson, except for Sarge.
Humans, on the other hand, fail constantly, as Jemma and Coulson pointed out with the scientists. I’ve never liked Sousa, for exactly the reasons we see in parts of this episode- his compassion and respect are often performative and disappear quickly in a crisis.
Bit of a timely message there.
Promo for episode 4: “Every recruit learned about it. This was the day Daniel Sousa became the first fallen Agent of SHIELD.”
EXCUSE ME, I DON’T THINK SO. BUCKY BARNES IS THE FIRST FALLEN AGENT OF SHIELD. IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE WALL OF VALOR IN SEASON 1. YOU DECLARED THE MAN DEAD AND DIDN’T SEARCH FOR HIS BODY. NO BACKSIES AFTER 70 YEARS OF CRYO, BRAINWASHING AND TORTURE.
Don’t tell me he was SSR. They were grandfathered in.
Images courtesy of ABC.