Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recap: What if The Winter Soldier happened in the '70s?
After two episodes in the ‘50s, it’s finally time to move on. Apparently we jump two decades at a time here in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so now we’re in the ‘70s. Now that we’re five episodes into the season, though, there are a lot of bubbling plot elements, so the “ooh look at THIS iteration of weird period clothing” is mostly confined to the first few minutes. Sousa is the most surprised by ‘70s vibes — understandably since this is his first time travel trip, and he didn’t have the benefit of reading about all this in history books. He can’t believe people barely look each other in the eye anymore. Wait until they get cellphones, May warns.
As for those bubbling plot elements, the time-displaced S.H.I.E.L.D. agents wind up at a bar where present-day S.H.I.E.L.D. is celebrating a grand occasion. We see Patrick Warburton’s General Rick Stoner, who you may remember from a couple of seasons ago as the pre-recorded video message that introduced the Lighthouse base. It's fun to see him in the flesh, although he’s not as in charge as he seems at first. Wilfred Malick is still calling the shots, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be dead by now as far as the history books are concerned. Not only that: The point of this party is for Malick to announce the inception of Project: Insight, a satellite that can monitor and assassinate threats before they become threats. Yes, that’s right: With the Chronicoms’ help, HYDRA is activating the technology from Captain America: The Winter Soldier 40 years ahead of schedule! The connections between Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have faded a bit in recent years so I enjoy this direct callback. Plus, critics have often compared The Winter Soldier to '70s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View, so it is fun to imagine its plot happening in the actual '70s.
Luckily, Wilfred has the same weakness as so many other rich and powerful men: A dumb son. Gideon Malick is a young man in the ‘70s (R.I.P. original actor Powers Boothe) and tries hitting on Daisy at the bar. That doesn’t exactly work, and when Wilfred later reveals that he remembers exactly who Coulson and the rest are, Gideon becomes S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hostage, which helps them get out of the situation safely. But then the Chronicoms are time-jumping again, and the Zephyr is forced to follow.
They pop back in just in time for the bicentennial celebrations of 1976, which is also being adorned with the launch of Project: Insight. It’s a race against time now for S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the satellite. Thankfully, they finally reconnected with Enoch after abandoning him for literally 40 years; he graciously does not seem to despise them for this. But Sousa is having trouble adjusting to a situation that not only involves time travel and the future, but also a lack of understanding: Simmons keeps professing not to know how the time engine driving their ship even works. Enoch too, for that matter. Sousa channels his frustration by going into the field with Daisy, but they’re soon knocked out by Gideon Malick, who later places a call to Daniel Whitehall asking about his experiments on superpowered people.
The older Malick isn’t as lucky. Time finally runs out when he makes the mistake of taunting Deke and Yo-Yo, saying there’s nothing they can do against the Chronicom/Hydra alliance because the Chronicoms think of everything. Deke responds by shooting Wilfred dead, which helps get the time-space continuum closer to the status quo. Didn’t think of that, did they?
The Chronicoms did think of something else, though. Just as Coulson and May are going to follow through with an attempt to flood the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to stop the Insight Satellite from launching, Mack sees on a security monitor that the Chronicoms have imprisoned his parents on the base. After they used Malick's child against him, the Chronicoms are now using Mack's parents against him. Even though he yelled at Deke already this season for disobeying direct orders for more dangerous routes, Mack does not take his own advice. He aborts the flooding mission and instead shoots the satellite out of the sky after it launches. Problem solved, but in the process, the time-traveling S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have made their presence known.