Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recap: Robot vs. robot
The title of this episode, “Adapt or Die,” refers to one of my favorite themes in comics. “Change or die” is the through-line of such classic graphic novels as Watchmen and The Sandman. Obviously, this one installment of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t live up to those works, but it does reach new depths for the season, probably because this is a very high-stakes concept to mess around with.
Poor Rick Stoner (who, Coulson jokingly notes, should probably have a more fun personality given his name). He doesn’t even realize that his S.H.I.E.L.D. base is slowly being taken over by Chronicoms, who are stealing his agents’ faces and memories. Stoner loves all their fancy technology (such as the tracking device that allows ‘70s S.H.I.E.L.D. to pursue the high-tech Zephyr) but doesn’t think about where it comes from or what it might cost. When missiles are fired at the Zephyr, he starts to suspect he’s not in control anymore, but it’s not fully confirmed until the Chronicoms try strapping him down to their brain-drain machine. He’s saved in the nick of time by Coulson and May, whose new empathy superpower allowed her to detect that Stoner’s right-hand woman had already been Chronified (since they don’t have emotions).
Meanwhile, Sousa and Daisy find themselves in the captivity of Daniel Whitehall and young Gideon Malick. Daisy’s superpowers are obvious, but Malick also suspects Sousa must be an Inhuman or a supersoldier, since he’s a young man in the ‘70s despite serving in World War II (clearly the Chronicoms don’t explain everything about time to their allies). Given how affectless the Chronicoms are, I’m glad we can get some more solid villainy out of the young Malick. Cameron Palatas plays him as a super-charged spoiled obnoxious rich kid who has almost everything he could want and still hungers for what he doesn’t have. He’s all bravado and bragging as he drains Daisy’s blood and spinal fluid, but naturally isn’t remotely prepared to actually handle her powers. When he stumbles out of the operating room, his quake powers start crushing his bones and immediately bring the roof down on himself. Sousa is able to get Daisy back to the Zephyr, and they both seem okay.
On the Zephyr, Coulson and May have a conversation. The former suspects that the Chronicoms are mimicking him in order to seem more human; despite being an LMD, he’s apparently not in the Uncanny Valley as much as them. May says that she’s grown accustomed to his many returns: “You never die. You always come back.” Incorporating both those ideas, Coulson infiltrates the Chronicoms’ timeship and finds himself face-to-face with Sybil, one of their “predictors” rather than “hunters.” They have a very abstract, sci-fi conversation in a white room about mortality and time. Sybil says that humans are pathetic, panicked creatures due to their overwhelming fear of death, but Coulson hits her with the Tolkienesque argument that only having limited time on earth is what makes human lives special. Their sacrifices mean something, and he promptly proves that by blowing up the Chronicoms’ timeship with him aboard. May isn’t too worried when she hears: “He’ll come back. He always does.”
The most brutal stuff in this episode, though, is saved for last. Mack almost ruined the plan last week in order to save his parents from the Chronicoms’ clutches, but he’s enjoyed talking to them as a man and introducing them to his girlfriend Yo-Yo even though they have no idea who he is or why they should care about that. But as they approach the Zephyr, May realizes she’s not picking up any emotions from them either. Sure enough, it’s soon revealed that Mack’s parents have been drained and replaced by Chronicoms. Mack has to not only fight his parents but literally throw them out of the plane’s bay doors as they call him nicknames stolen from his dead parents’ memories. Intense stuff! It’s hard to blame Mack for taking a motorcycle ride shortly after they land, to get some air. Deke follows, since he knows what it’s like to lose his parents. Unfortunately for them, the Chronicoms are already on the move again, and the Zephyr time-jumps without Deke or Mack on board!
Hoping that means we might see Fitz again soon. Despite the story reasons for his absence, laboriously explained by Simmons at least once an episode, I really miss Ian de Castecker’s onscreen presence. Simmons isn’t nearly as fun a character without him to interact with.