This is one of those few times where all you can really say is… just watch the episode. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done a lot of wild things over the years, but this beautifully weird homage to everything about the 1980s is arguably the craziest. It’s a standalone work of eclectic, throwback joy — but cut down the middle with a year of mourning for one of the show’s fan favorite characters.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for “Totally excellent adventures of Mack and the D,” the latest episode of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which aired Wednesday, July 8, 2020**
It turns out Mack and Deke are stranded in 1982 after the Zephyr jumped unexpectedly, with Mack still reeling from the timeline-changing death of his parents at the hands of the Chronicoms. Where Deke takes full advantage of the era, Mack just collapses into himself in mourning, under the assumption that Coulson’s attack on the Chronicom base was enough to end their assault.
We’ve seen Mack go through a lot during his tenure on this series, but we’ve never seen him break like he does here. Isolated away from Yo-Yo, and constantly pushing Deke away when he tries to reach out, Mack just loses himself in model cars and drinks himself into a stupor for what seems to be the better part of a year. SYFY WIRE chatted with Henry Simmons, who plays Mack, about pushing his character to the brink as he processes the death of his parents.
“I think in a funny way it was necessary to see Mack hit rock bottom that way, because Mack has been through so much. We’ve seen him be strong so much,” Simmons explained.
Jeff Ward, who plays Deke, said he was impressed with the way the episode handled the story of Mack’s mourning — a testament to how a sci-fi show about a super heroic world can get so granular and tell a story about death and its fallout.
“Henry so beautifully depicts that, because it’s a hard thing that could be trivialized in this world, and it’s not,” Ward told us about the episode. “That is one of the things that I love so much about it, because there’s an emotional heft without ever feeling too corny, or too on the nose about it, there’s a feeling of what real loss feels like, and how real people deal with it and come together to overcome it… It led to a really human experience that I think people will relate to.”
To that end, Deke spends part of his time in 1982 looking out for the younger version of Mack, who is now growing up without his parents, being raised by his uncle, in this altered timeline. Coming from a post-apocalyptic future, Deke has also seen his share of loss, and it’s something he connects with as Mack loses himself.
“Deke has gone through a similar loss with his parents, but he feels the weight of Mack’s loss and Mack’s pain, and does everything he can to make it better for both of them,” Ward said.
Thankfully, in the end, Deke finally gets through to Mack and pulls him out of his spiral — just in time for the two to get back to work thwarting a resurgent Chronicom plot.
Murder bots and The Deke Squad
No matter when you drop Deke, he’ll find a way to thrive. Instead of starting up his own tech firm based on ideas borrowed from the future, he goes a … different direction this time around. Deke starts up his own rock band, borrowing a few of the greatest hits from the mid-to-late '80s, a few years before they become chart-toppers. We get a killer rendition of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” as Deke uses his touring band as a front to form his own spy team — The Deke Squad. We even get an A-Team styled montage intro to really set up this motley crew.
Deke also used that downtime to get Coulson’s hard drive back online, though without some future tech to build an LMD, he had to get creative. Instead of a body, Coulson is relegated to a TV set, popping in Max Headroom-style to help out with his expertise and drop a few one-liners along the way.
It’s a good thing Deke didn’t spend this time napping, because the Chronicoms are cooking up their return in the wake of Coulson’s sacrifice to blow up their supply of new hunters. Considering the limitations of the era, Sybil reaches out to a computer repairman to build her a body. Just, you know, one that’s a bit more Short Circuit than Westworld. These basic bodies are plenty dangerous, though, outfitted with saw blades and Uzis as they raid Deke’s base. This sets up some robo-fighting action set pieces straight from the best schlocky movies of the 1980s.
It’s clear everyone involved in this episode had a blast doing it, and this stands among the best standalone-ish episodes the series has ever attempted.
Deke and Mack lean on their new team to stop the infiltration (we even get a Dalek-like scream of “Exterminate!”), though Sybil uses the cover to steal away their time-jumping Chronicom tech. We also get a look and who is helping her stage that comeback — Nathaniel Malick, who is still alive despite dying in the original timeline. Uh-oh, looks like that HYDRA/Chronicom alliance is still alive and well.
With Mack finally out of his funk, they spend the rest of the time waiting for rescue by whipping Deke’s team into shape, leaving them as full-fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agents by the time the rest of the team finally shows up — 22 months after they jumped away.
We end with the team reunited, including Yo-Yo and Mack. Stranding Mack in the past to process his grief was a clever, delicate way to tackle the story of his grief and still find a way to keep him clearly in the mix for the remainder of the season. Thanks to that time travel hop, Mack got almost two years to work through his grief, and we have a new S.H.I.E.L.D. support team dropped into the 1980s to hopefully provide a bit of support moving forward.
Here’s to the future — with only six episodes left until it’s all over.