The final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been playing with tropes of every era, from black-and-white filmmaking to bellbottom jeans. This week, the team heads to the 1980s — and stars Henry Simmons (Mack) and Jeff Ward (Deke) promise they’ve jammed in about as many facets of the big-hair decade as possible within that one-hour runtime.
Simmons and Ward chatted with SYFY WIRE about the show’s next episode, “The Totally Excellent Adventures of Mack and The D,” which drops Wednesday night on ABC. The preview teaser for the episode already showed off everything from a Max Headroom-style resurrection of Coulson, to some Short Circuit-style murder-bots rolling around. Both Mack and Deke were left behind in the 1980s when the Zephyr jumped ahead in time, so they had to settle in for a while and hold out hope the team will return further down the time stream. In the meantime — party like it's, umm, 1982?
Ward opened up about how Deke has always found a way to survive no matter where — or when — he ends up. He made himself vital in that aborted future where the team first picked him up, and when dropped back into our present day, he co-opted tech and ideas from the future to turn himself into a tech visionary. Strand him in the '80s? Well, Ward says Deke still finds a way to leave his mark on the world.
“He kind of figures out a way to, I don’t want to say take advantage of any situation he’s in, but kind of finds a way to thrive in it for sure,” Ward teases. “The way that he does that in this episode is one of his most creative, and my personal favorite, ways he’s used his surroundings to his advantage.”
Simmons, who plays S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current director Mack, said this week’s installment is among the most ambitious things the series has ever attempted — with a storyline and visuals positively dripping neon lights and hairspray.
“I think this episode is one of my favorites of any episode we’ve ever done of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he says. “We’re stuck in the '80s, so everything about the '80s — whatever you love or hate, you will see it in this episode. The music, the movie references, the hair — everything about the '80s is in this episode.”
Of course, no 1980s sci-fi story is complete without some throwback robot action, and the duo promises this one delivers in spades. Think if the Short Circuit robot made love to a Dalek, then started creeping around a S.H.I.E.L.D. base, and you have an action set piece unlike anything that has come before.
“There’s robots in it, there’s some fight scenes, and those robots may or may not end up firing off some Uzis and stuff like that,” Ward says with a laugh. “These robots were really doing it. There were people controlling them. It wasn’t like, ‘Alright, put the gun in its hand’ — it really was rolling around!... When you see these things in the hallway on patrol and it just rolls in and turns — it feels alive.”
Simmons teases we might get to see him take on a few of these killer Short Circuit bots, and though it comes across as equal parts silly and menacing onscreen, it was actually a bit on the creepy side to have those gun-wielding robots rolling around the set.
“Because they are remote-controlled, there were times where you had to kind of hide and be ready to attack, and in those moments of hiding you see robots going down the hallway and just moving on their own,” he explains. “There’s a moment there where like, this is freaky and scary [Laughs]. Because there’s this dark hallway and this thing is going around with a life of its own.”
Though the story obviously zeroes in on Deke and Mack’s experiences stuck in the past, they’re not alone. While the rest of the team bounces ahead in the time stream, Ward says Deke takes it upon himself to put together his own crew in the meantime. Think the A-Team, but goofier — and of course they get the classic montage intro fans of a certain age will know and love. Maybe more of a... Deke Squad?
“It’s just such a fantastic group of people I am so excited for S.H.I.E.L.D. fans to meet because I think they’ll be some of the favorite characters of the entire series because they’re so fun and so good,” he says. “One of my favorite scenes is when me and these new recruits, and we’re all huddling up in a circle and it’s looking up at us in a circle. And you see the way these people kind of relate to each other, and the way they back up Deke as a friend and co-agent, it’s a real gas... I just love those old '80s tropes in TV shows, and getting to do that with such a fun, eclectic group of people. Creating this '80s feeling was such a fun sandbox to play it because it allowed a bit more of a heightened performance.”
Of course, they don’t play it all straight with the '80s cliches, and Ward explained there’s just enough winking along the way to let viewers know they’re in on the joke: “It was an absolute blast to shoot that kind of thing earnestly, but also have a side-eye kind of making fun of it at the same time. Everything about this episode was a dream come true, it was my favorite episode.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Wednesday nights on ABC.