Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep22: Beginning of the End

... Or the end of the beginning?

This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … Fitz and Simmons face a watery grave. May takes out her anger on Ward. And Coulson receives some unexpected help to take down Garrett.

This week’s mission

The team launches an attack on Cybertek’s base in a last-ditch attempt to bring down John Garrett.

XXXX (Image: ABC)

The team hit Cybertek to stop Garrett’s plans (Image: ABC)

A so-so finale

I have to admit, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s season finale left me slightly underwhelmed.

It wasn’t bad by any means. It ticked all the necessary boxes to tie up the various arcs which ultimately tied back to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It set up some clear agendas for next season. It even repositioned the entire modus operandi of the show itself.

And yet somehow something was missing.

Garrett’s megalomaniacal “I see the universe” pontificating was over-the-top and cartoonish, as was his final execution by a too glib Coulson. By contrast, the scale of events wasn’t grand enough, being largely restricted to a single Cybertek building with people running up and down corridors between rooms. I know the show has to work within the realities of a TV budget, but in terms of production values this felt more like a mid-season episode than a finale, and overall it meant the whole affair lacked a sense of ambition and global jeopardy.

Aside from May‘s fight with Ward, during which you could feel her anger behind every punch, the action sequences felt a little lacklustre too. Again there was a lack of scale. The Deathlok sequences were dull, and while it was cool to see the huge gun that Coulson pulled on Loki in The Avengers again, it reduced the Centipede super-soldiers to little more than cannon fodder.

I’m also not a huge fan of the reversal of Ward’s character to reveal his doubt about Garrett’s plans. If this was meant as a simple counterpoint to reflect Garrett’s growing insanity, I’m okay with that. But if it’s the opening gambit of a redemption arc for the character, I’m less enthusiastic. Ward has killed too many people and burned too many bridges to make his redemption credible, and he’s more interesting as a conflicted villain than as a testosterone-fuelled version of May.

The good stuff

There were plenty of good moments, though.

In many ways, the quieter moments were the most successful. We had a chance to explore Raina‘s motivations a little more. She’s not in it purely for power but for understanding of the future: “What will I become?”

And Fitz and Simmons‘ conversation in the underwater pod could have been a drag on the pace of the episode but turned into a lovely character piece as she generated the idea that would allow one of them to escape, he finally confessed his feelings for her and she refused to leave him to die. For a pair of characters who have spent most of their time together in this season, this felt like the first time they actually spoke properly to each other, rather than merely finishing each other’s sentences.

Oh, and the return of Nick Fury. My favourite moment of the entire episode was when Coulson confronted Fury about using Project T.A.H.I.T.I. for him when it was intended for the fall of an Avenger, only for Fury to tell him that he considered him an Avenger too.

Where next?

In amongst all the action, there was plenty of set-up work for next season.

First and foremost, Coulson is no longer in charge of a fledgling team flitting abour on the fringes of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s far-reaching operations – he is now Director, the driving force for rebuilding the organisation from the ground up, with the aid of Fury’s miniaturised ‘toolbox’.

All of a sudden his team are the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. – there is no one else to stand in the way of all the weirdness and evil in the world, and no back-up should they fail. On its own, this creates a new and more interesting dynamic for the show. There’s a real sense of jeopardy about everything this team does now.

It looks like we will again kick off the season with mysteries surrounding both Skye and Coulson. Who are Skye’s ‘monster’ parents, and is her 0-8-4 status due to her being somehow alien? And with Coulson drawing the same strange diagrams as Garrett, what actually are they and what does this mean for his state of mind? Hopefully neither of these puzzles will be strung out for too long.

The team itself looks like it will receive a welcome shake-up too. There was a lot of criticism early on that Fitz and Simmons, and to a lesser degree May and Ward, were fulfilling the role of one character. But with Ward now on the other side and captive (please, no redemption arc!) and May consciously leaving her ‘Cavalry’ persona behind, there’s clear differentiation between the two specialists (and Antoine Triplett remains effectively a blank canvas).

And with hints that Fitz has been deeply affected – physiologically? psychologically? both? – by his near-death experience, we should see him and Simmons develop more distinct roles too, not least because his feelings for her are out there now.

Then there’s Billy Koenig, who has all the same verbal mannerisms as his twin Eric. We’ve seen Life Model Decoys in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – are Eric and Billy the first TV LMDs, and what will this mean for the show?

Mike Peterson is still out there too, seeking to make amends – although if Deathlok goes vigilante that could position him either with or against the team depending on circumstances. And then there’s Quinn and Raina, not to mention the gravitonium sample ready to give birth to Graviton.

Season 1 assessment

Overall, the closing episodes have done an excellent job of tying together events in the Marvel films with disparate elements from early standalone episodes, from the Tesseract weapon found in 0-8-4 to the Berserker staff from The Well and the various plot elements explaining Ward’s betrayal and connecting Deathlok to Garrett, Raina, Project Centipede and HYDRA.

It’s still far from perfect – the biggest issue remains the lack of an out-and-out charismatic lead to bind together a good cast of developing characters – but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely hitting its stride.

I’m hoping that season two will show us some of the rebuilding of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a focus on Mission Impossible/Alias-style high octane espionage and a little super-hero/villain action thrown in. Even though the final fell a little flat for me, the second half of the season as a whole made good course corrections to iron out many of its kinks, and was strong enough to demonstrate that there’s the makings of a very good show here.

Best line

I have a weapon much better than a bomb that will absolutely destroy you … because you slept with her and she’s really pissed off.

Skye warns Ward that May has some anger issues she needs to work out with him.

Episode rating: 7/10. Season 1 rating: 7/10.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews

Preview: Can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work without Avengers?

1.1 Pilot

1.2 0-8-4

1.3 The Asset

1.4 Eye-Spy

1.5 Girl in the Flower Dress

1.6 FZZT

1.7 The Hub

1.8 The Well

1.9 Repairs

1.10 The Bridge

1.11 The Magical Place

1.12 Seeds

1.13 T.R.A.C.K.S.

1.14 T.A.H.I.T.I.

1.15 Yes Men

1.16 End of the Beginning

1.17 Turn, Turn, Turn

1.18 Providence

1.19 The Only Light in the Darkness

1.20 Nothing Personal

1.21 Ragtag

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