Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are time-hopping their way through history, trying to save the world -- if they can stay out of their own way!
The timeline-bending series returned for its seventh and final season last week, catching fans up with the agents' mission to stop the alien Chronicoms, who see S.H.I.E.L.D. as the last line of defense in their mission to overtake the Earth and are attempting to stop the organization before it can ever begin.
"I'm a time-travel nut," series star Jeff Ward raved to ET ahead of Wednesday's all-new ep, which continues the agents' Chronicom chase through 1931 New York City. "I love time-travel stories, so this was genuinely a dream come true for me."
The complicated folds in the S.H.I.E.L.D. team's mission started to reveal themselves almost immediately in last week's premiere, when they realized that the low-level young bootlegger, Freddy (played by Never Have I Ever heartthrob Darren Barnet), whom the villainous aliens had been targeting, was actually Wilfred Malick, the father of Gideon Malick, aka one of the future heads of Hydra.
Killing Malick, and preventing his son from being born, and Hydra from becoming the evil superpower comic fans know it to be, would in turn mean that S.H.I.E.L.D. might never be formed to fight it, a consequence that confounds the agents as they seek to thwart the Chronicoms' plans.
It's the S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent of the "Baby Hitler conundrum" -- that is, the famous philosophical debate over the ethics of traveling back in time to kill Adolf Hitler as an infant, thus preventing the rise of his Nazi Party in Germany and potentially, the Holocaust itself -- which, ironically, Ward himself was studying as part of an online Yale course on morality just as his character, Deke, was wrestling with the question on the show.
"It's all theory," he noted of the season's time-travel quandaries. "There isn't a hard and fast answer for it until you're dealing with the repercussions of your actions."
In a promo for this week's episode, it's clear the time for theorizing is over, as Deke is seen in a moment of crisis, with a gun trained on Freddy. Daisy (Chloe Bennet) pleads with him to take the shot, while S.H.I.E.L.D. director Mack (Henry Simmons) orders him to lower his weapon.
The question of how much of the past they can alter in order to achieve their present directive, Ward said, is a main source of conflict for the team this season. "It's kind of so up in the air what the actual rules are, that as people continue to try and bend them, with good intention, it for sure is going to rub up against other people and their thoughts and opinions on what the right way is to do something."
Despite any turmoil their time-travel headaches might cause, the seventh and final season seems to mark a settling-in point for Deke, who joined up with the agents in season 5, when they paid a visit to the year 2091 and met the former scavenger living in a Kree-run stronghold among the last remnants of humanity.
While he was later revealed to be the future grandson of Agents Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and was officially made an agent after returning to the present and aiding the team in their war against Izel in season 6, Ward said this season is when his character finally becomes comfortable with his place among the found family of heroes.
"I felt like Deke was kind of set up at the end of last season as being at kind of a moral and personal crossroads, and I feel like he's always been a victim of his own circumstance," he noted. "Now I think he is in a place where, hopefully, he can make some decisions based on listening to himself and trying to figure out who he actually is, not who he has to be. I have hope that we'll find out more about what actually makes him tick, and who he really is underneath all of the kind of crazy pot-stirring antics."
As for his character's feelings for Daisy, Ward teased that, after a few years of unrequited pining, there might be some thawing around the corner on the part of the icy Inhuman superhero.
"Deke is obviously always holding out hope that Daisy will notice him," he said with a laugh. "One of my favorite moments in that first episode is when Deke starts the car and he looks at her like, 'Huh?' And she's like, 'Yeah, yeah, I'm very proud.'"
"I love that moment, 'cause to me, that's where Deke and Daisy are right now, She's not super antagonistic. She knows that he brings a lot to the situation, that he can help, and that he wants to help and that he's ultimately, probably mostly a good person.... I already enjoy where they start off, and you'll definitely have some Deke and Daisy push and pull [this season]."
And just like his character, Ward couldn't have been more excited about what fans can expect from the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season. No surprise, as a self-proclaimed "time-travel nut," he agreed with his castmates that the cross-decades adventuring lent some welcome levity to the final run of episodes.
"For me, I was finally there for a couple of years, and felt a little more comfortable... I was just able to really soak it in," he said. "I also felt like just, narratively from a writing perspective, the season was clicking on all cylinders so much that it just became a joy. I mean, it was difficult and it had some hard stuff and I had an episode that almost killed me, but generally, it was such a great time."
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. PT/ET on ABC.