Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 7 Premiere “The New Deal”

Let’s get it out there, right in front. No Fitz. Almost no May. That’s nearly a “New Deal” breaker.

See what I did there? Dad jokes. I got ’em.

I also have a love-hate relationship with time travel stories that I’ve documented somewhere before, in what I choose to call the past (you see, time travel even mucks up the language you use to talk about it). At some point, it was deemed necessary to get our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agents out of what I loosely term the “real” MCU timeline.

For several seasons, the series writers were contorting themselves beyond the point of pain to make this television series seem like a part of the MCU movie continuity. Things that happened in the movies were referenced on the television show. We got cameos by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and a few other lesser-known characters. Not to mention Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) himself, who has been in several of the movies. This unbroken continuity, in fact, was touted as one of the series’s major selling points. “Hey, guys, you love the MCU movies. This is the same thing, only on your television!”

At some point, the series became hamstrung by what was going on at the movie theaters. Sure, we could work in a few Asgardian references. Oh, the Kree are now a thing? Okay, we can do something with that. Hydra has taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Captain America movies? That’s major, but we can accommodate that. It became nearly impossible for the television series to maintain its own continuity and serve its own character and story arcs because it was always subordinate to the broader MCU.

For those of us who grew to like the team on the television show, this was unfortunate. The Marvel shows that existed on Netflix for too brief a time managed to thrive without existing on the larger canvas that is the MCU. Characters never mention the X-Men or the Fantastic Four—or, for that matter, Spider-Man for many years—without it making a difference, even though we lifelong Marvel fans knew they existed. The show writers decided that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed its own pocket universe to break the shackles binding it to the myriad storylines that have spun off from Iron Man and The Avengers (and the rest, as they used to sing on Gilligan’s Island).

The answer to this conundrum? First, placing the team in a virtual reality known as The Framework (which is The Matrix: we can admit that, can’t we, you and I?). This plot contrivance is right up there with the “It was all just a dream” storyline. In for a penny, in for a pound, we went from there to a dystopian future where the Earth had been cracked like an egg, perhaps by Quake/Daisy/Skye (whatever name she’s going by these days—maybe P. Diddy). Since the Chronicoms and time travel were added to the recipe, and the Zephyr was refitted for deep space science-fiction adventures, we’ve had to deal with all of that. We returned to Earth and “our” time, but managed to avoid mention of Thanos and half the people turned to dust because we were dealing with another alien invasion and a Phil Coulson lookalike who wasn’t quite Cable but acted a little like him and called himself Sarge.

We are all a little burdened by our pasts. That’s why it’s called “baggage.” This series has generated a huge amount of baggage. Future, outer space, alternate realities, magic (in the form of Ghost Rider and that evil book). There was only one real answer to all of this. The story had to end. The series has become a Jenga tower with too many pieces carefully removed from the base.

Maybe that sounds like a callous statement, but I stand by it. I nearly gave up on the show during the cracked-Earth arc, and didn’t watch Season 6 until 7 had already been announced as the last. While Season 6 had some entertaining moments, it earned only a B letter-grade from me when I reviewed it. That surprised me when I went back and read my review again, because my opinion of the season seems to have improved since then. That happens sometimes. Sometimes my opinion changes in the other direction as well. The memory is a fickle thing.

Our agents needed another pocket universe to kick off the final season. So, this time—since time travel is now on the table—we chose to go to the past. 1931, to be exact. And since there is no show without Coulson, he was recreated as an LMD. Contrived, maybe, but I applaud anything that keeps Clark Gregg on the show.

I don’t know if we’re going to spend the entire season in the past, but that’s where we start. In spite of my irresoluteness about time travel stories, I really liked this episode. It was fun.

Most of the old gang are represented. I mentioned the LMD Coulson, who is like Coulson in every important respect except that now he’s a superhero, too. Which Coulson is, naturally, geeking out over, just like he’s geeking out over being in 1931 and meeting FDR before he becomes president. But, Coulson is no longer the leader of the team. That’s Mack (Henry Simmons), who seems equal to the task, even though being black in 1931 presents a few barriers. Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) receives new, improved arms from Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), human in appearance even if still “better-than” in function. Quake (Chloe Bennet) is still quaking. Late additions to our team roster, Enoch (Joel Stoffer) and Deke (Jeff Ward) are still on hand.

I mentioned that May (Ming-Na Wen) is almost not in this episode. She’s been recovering in some sort of suspended animation from almost being killed by Sarge last season. She’s out of her pod at the end of the episode, but it is a non-speaking appearance. Since her Phil Coulson died, the reunion of the two should be interesting.

Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), however, does not appear in this episode at all. There’s an in-story explanation that I somehow managed not to listen to. Maybe he’s off shooting another mediocre WWII monster movie with J.J. Abrams. Who knows? This immediately lowers my grade for this episode. Fitz is a necessary ingredient in this science-fiction gumbo. I’m taking it on faith that he will make a grand reappearance at some point (sooner is better than later), just like he did last season. Or was that the season before last? All this time travel has corrupted my own timeline.

I’m not going to spoil everything about this premiere episode for you because I want you to watch it. It’s no spoiler to say that Enoch’s fellow Chronicoms are trying to change the past. I won’t tell you how.

This may be a spoiler, but I can’t keep it to myself: Patton Oswalt makes a return to the series as the 1931 Koenig who was probably the template for the ones we’re familiar with. I like Oswalt and am happy to see him on the series again.

I’m not sure how much of this last season will be spent in the past, but it’s a safe bet that it will be for at least a three or four episode arc. Probably more. The timing doesn’t work for a Peggy Carter appearance, but a man can dream.

Here’s to hoping that the series ends on a high note.

Firewater’s Ripples-Not-Waves Episode Report Card: B+

As always, I’m optimistic. Let’s take this puppy all the way home.

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