Warning! Spoilers ahead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Season 7 premiere, called “The New Deal.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 sent Agent Coulson, Daisy, Mack, and the rest of the team back to 1931-era New York City. It wasn't long before the team discovered that the Chronicoms’ plan was to take S.H.I.E.L.D. down by eliminating notable people from its history. The 1931 target turned out to be Wilfred “Freddy” Malick, the father of Gideon Malick, the man who would go on to become the head of Hydra. And if you're thinking that major Hydra twist will impact the characters heavily in Season 7, you're right on the money.
Coulson and the team initially thought they needed to protect Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, because if the Chronicoms took out one of the most influential men in U.S. history prior to him becoming president, then the timeline could be changed forever. However, they had been after the wrong man the whole time. The Chronicoms were only interested in taking out S.H.I.E.L.D. because they saw the organization as a threat to their takeover of Earth. Coulson deduced that to save S.H.I.E.L.D., they actually had to save Hydra, too. Blasphemy!
Here’s what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s co-showrunner Jeff Bell told Deadline about the impact of that revelation on Season 7:
With respect to S.H.I.E.L.D. saving Hydra, we live in a morally complex world and S.H.I.E.L.D. frequently has to do things that are a question of are you doing more harm or more good. Also, the idea of having to save Hydra would just annoy the hell out of our characters, which we like, and create big riffs between them. We are always looking for conflict between characters and each season we tend to either start with the characters apart and bring them together or the opposite. The idea of having to do this really puts our team at odds over how to go forward like if you can shoot Hitler why not shoot Hitler, you know.
This is why time travel is so complicated! The preview trailer for the next episode did show the team already being at odds over how to deal with the situation. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra have always been enemies, certainly, but their histories were very much entangled, and the complicated dilemma was the definition of “morally complex.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no stranger to arduous time travel scenarios. Coulson, Daisy, and the team had already been to the far reaches of space in the future, so time-traveling to the past was the next natural step. After all, getting to explore S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history was akin to coming full circle for both the show and its characters. Here’s how co-showrunner Jed Whedon put it:
As writers we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to launch into that feels as exciting as everything we’ve already done, and there was only one thing left on the list, which is traveling back in time. So it’s a great way for us to be able to revisit S.H.I.E.L.D. history, the history of the show we made, and a history of our characters. This launching point is back at the very origin of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is also the origin of Hydra. In fact, it is a reaction to Hydra, so we felt like that was a good way to re-explore some of the stuff we’ve been talking about for six years now.
It’s a fascinating way to close the Marvel series out. These beloved characters now have to examine some of the hard and uncomfortable truths sprinkled throughout S.H.I.E.L.D.'s history, which I think will only make Season 7 all the better.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC. For more on what to watch, be sure to check out our summer premiere guide.