So that happened.
On paper, I should be reporting that Tuesday’s first season finale for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a big letdown. Coulson finally gets to ask why he was resurrected, and it’s basically “Because you’re nice and we like you.” We don’t find out what Skye’s powers are, or exactly what she is. There’s a major character “death” that really isn’t, while a previous major death gets weirdly undone. The “new” status quo for the now-official Season Two (as widely expected, Coulson and his team will now “rebuild” S.H.I.E.L.D. in secret) doesn’t feel that new when you consider that our heroes were already a separate mini-agency of their own for all intents and purpose. Heck, the identity (or even history) of the dead blue “alien” didn’t even come up.
And yet, almost none of that actually occurred to me until I sat down to go over my notes. I’d simply enjoyed the finale, built almost exclusively around characters and plot elements native to the series itself rather than bigger Marvel Universe references, enough on its own merits that questions of continuity (either its own or in-connection to the Marvel movies) ceased to matter. And as much as I’m sure I’d have enjoyed seeing MODOK or Stegron The Dinosaur Man come stomping out for a big moment, it wasn’t necessary. I like these characters, I was invested in the outcome of their main story, that was enough. And that’s how good TV is supposed to work, period.
We open in what looks like any mid-sized tech company, with a middle-manager walking a new hire to his cubicle. The gag? This is Cybertek and the troop of mostly college-aged techies are the remote-controllers for the CENTIPEDE soldiers currently in a standoff with The Agents in Garrett’s abandoned underground base in Cuba. While Skye finishes uploading the Computer Magic that will let her do… “things” to HYDRA’s systems, May grabs the Berserker Staff away from one of the thugs, charges up and beats everyone down so badly she ultimately brings the whole building down on them. So, I guess this is what they were saving their budget for.
Up on The Bus, Garrett’s gang (Ward, Deathlok and Raina) are en route to Cybertek themselves for their big endgame of selling the U.S. Army on CENTIPEDE super-soldiers, but Garrett is freaking everyone out with the newfound powers/personality he got from being juiced back to life by GH.325 last week. Apparently the “insanity” Coulson had warned Fury could result from using the drug as a resurrection agent is actually some kind of enhanced level of thinking/perception to go along with the super-strength Garrett also has, and he’s ranting like a mad prophet (it’s hard to describe just how good Paxton is here – imagine Val Kilmer doing his best Willem Dafoe in “Spider-Man” impression) while excitedly scribbling “some ideas” onto a pane of glass. On pullback, those ideas turn out to be… the “possibly alien” equation from the vault in Episode 4: “Eye Spy.”
Back with The Agents, Skye says her phone now has “eyes inside” Garrett’s operation. Coulson emerges to reveal that Fitz/Simmons tracking device has the bad guys’ plane heading for New Mexico, but without any contact from the Science Kids themselves. We, of course, know that Ward locked them in a container and dumped them in the ocean, and that’s where we next find them: Alive, but banged-up (Fitz broke his arm) and stuck in a sealed container 90 ft down on the ocean floor with no means of escape. Fitz has activated an old S.H.I.E.L.D. distress signal, but since S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer exists the writing is on the wall – they’re going to die there.
Coulson lays out his plan for the big final attack on Cybertek with a big, Fury-quoting pep-talk. Elsewhere, Raina has a heart-to-heart with Garrett where he (correctly) guesses that she was already at least partially aware of whatever otherworldly things he’s now dialed in to. She says she’s only interested in “evolution.” He asks to know what question she’d been planning to ask back when he was pretending to be clairvoyant. The answer: “What will I become?” that’s interesting. Back down under the sea, Fitz/Simmons have a touching back-and-fourth about the nature of death, before realizing that they might be able to cobble together a way to blast a hole in the container and maybe swim to the surface.
Now Quinn is at Cybertek, showing off an almost quaintly low-rent Deathlok-making machine to a bunch of Pentagon brass – it’s basically a dentist’s chair that snaps robot parts onto you. (I have a game where I try to decide which charmingly dopey 90s syndication genre show Agents reminds me of most each week. This week’s winner: Acapulco H.E.A.T.) Outside, Coulson and Tripp (the chemistry BJ Britt has with Clark Gregg has been a great surprise) steal an armored vehicle and start blasting the crap out of the place so Skye and May can sneak in. Solid action scene, even if it does appear that our big Final Conflict really is going to play out in and around what looks like any random Southern California industrial park property – much as I’d like them to have a better budget, I almost hope this show never stops looking like a mid-80s Canon Films release. The military guys are concerned, but Garrett arrives to reassure them by ripping out a guy’s rib and stabbing him to death with it.
Raina tells Ward (who’s having second thoughts about the whole “Garrett is The Highland thing) that he needs to fetch Skye; who just took the Cybertek floor manager guy hostage. He activates “default mode” on the CENTIPEDE soldiers, but that’s what they wanted: “Default” is “Protect Garrett;” so now Coulson can just follow them to the prize. Alright, that’s cool. Garrett gets a taunting phonecall from Skye, but taunts her right back about Fitz/Simmons and reiterates for Ward to go get her. He also casually points out that Deathlok hasn’t left his side all day, which may as well come with a subtitle asking us to remember that for later…
Speaking of stuff you already saw coming, Fitz/Simmons escape plan will work… but there’s only an emergency one-breath air-tank for one of them, and Fitz has decided its Simmons who gets to live because he can’t go on without her. Tears, kisses, blow the hatch, Simmons and Fitz’s lifeless-looking body burst to the surface just in time for her to be rescued by NICK FURY, who swoops down in a helicopter to close out what was, all joking aside, as good a “serious” scene as the show has had all season. As it turns out: Fury had followed Fitz’s beacon to them, but while Simmons will just need some time in decompression, Fitz is alive but in very bad shape…
Back at Cybertek, Skye wants to know if the middle manager is a HYDRA loyalist or part of the “Incentives Program,” a term that’s come up a few times throughout the episode. Before he can answer, Ward shows up to taunt her and (I’m pretty sure) more or less threatens to rape her, which is… wow. Okay, guys, I know you want to make sure everyone “gets” that Ward is all-the-way bad now, but geez. I’m pretty sure even Tumblr is over “SkyWard” by now. But whatever: Turns out May gets the honors of “killing” Ward, jumping him offscreen for an everything-not-nailed-down brawl that stretches over the next few scenes in pieces and is easily the best fight scene of the whole series so far, ending with Ward knocked out after having his foot nail-gunned to the floor.
Meanwhile: Coulson shows up in the… basement(?) to fight Garrett, not realizing his enemy is now a superhuman. Fortunately, when Garrett punches him across the room, he lands next to some backup: Nick Fury, which doesn’t make the barest sliver of logistical sense but who cares because May is beating a guy to death with power-tools in the adjacent scene and now Sam Jackson is here and everything is awesome right now!!! Fury gifts Coulson with The Destroyer Gun from The Avengers (okay, now they’re just showing off…) which of course has exactly enough ammo to take out Garrett’s CENTIPEDE henchmen but not Garrett himself.
Garrett gets in some ranting about one of Fury’s old speeches (the gag: He actually misheard it) while Skye makes middle manager guy show her what The Incentives Program is: Kidnapped relatives of people being forced to work for Cybertek. Middle manager guy gets his girlfriend(?) back, and Skye rescues Mike/Deathlok’s son Ace – allowing her to reveal (in case you hadn’t already guessed) that her “eyes on Garrett” was actually Mike’s eye-camera, which she’s hacked and has been communicating with this whole episode. With Ace’s safety confirmed, Mike turns his weapons on Garrett, presumably killing him.
And so, it’s wrap-up time: Ward is alive, but he’s so badly-beaten he can’t talk. Fitz “may never be the same again,” and Coulson/May are planning to make sure his (Ward’s) interrogation for HYDRA info is extra painful for it. Ace goes back to his mom, but Deathlok won’t join them – he’s ashamed of what HYDRA made him do, and he’s off to walk the earth redeeming himself (read: see you randomly throughout Season 2, Mike!)
Oh, wait a sec… With the Cybertek “crime scene” momentarily empty, Garrett’s “corpse” crawls up onto the Deathlok-making machine and gives itself a shiny new cyborg body. “Now I’m unstoppable!” rants cyber-Garrett… right before Coulson casually blasts him to atoms using that Peruvian HYDRA laser from Episode 2 (“Hey guys, I found it.”) Because, after all, this is Whedon Country.
Finally, the part we were waiting for: Coulson finally gets his “why” from Fury, and it turns out it really was as simple as Fury considering guys like him the “heart” of S.H.I.E.L.D’s original ideal. He also assigns him a new mission: Take his team and a “toolbox” of Fury’s remaining secrets and rebuild The Agency from the ground up, preferably HYDRA-free this time. He also gets a new title: Phil Coulson, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Awwww.
Simmons reunites with the team, but Fitz is nowhere to be found – “He’s… alive.” is all we get. Where are they? Another Fury secret base, “The Playground,” manned by… Patton Oswalt’s previously very dead Agent Eric Koenig? Well, sort of – this is Billy Koenig, who looks just like Eric, says a lot of the same things (as in whole sentences) and doesn’t seem too broken up about the other one dying. We’ll come back to that.
For the first of two stingers: Raina walks to a dingy apartment, where a burly door guard grants her entrance. She’s meeting what appears to be either an elderly or infirm man seated with his back to the camera. We only get a good look at his hand, which is humanoid but misshapen and dripping with an oily black slime. “I found your daughter,” she says, handing over a photo of Skye.
Stinger #2: Coulson can’t sleep, so he takes a walkabout and notices Garrett’s weird drawing from earlier. He finds a wall, takes out a pocket-knife and starts carving, eventually making a whole massive “alien” equation/map/whatever of his own. Uh-oh…
- So, Melinda May makes a last-panel “big reveal” debut in the Comics Universe in the very near future, right? We all agree that that’s inevitable at this point?
- I have no idea who Skye’s Father is supposed to be, especially since at this point it might make sense for Agents to start making up original creatures/characters of its own here and there so it doesn’t have to spend another half-season jogging in place because the movies aren’t done using a certain plot-point yet. One theory that seems to be prominent is that Raina and Skye are both Inhumans, whose offspring tend to look “normal” (and not exhibit powers) until being exposed to Terrigen Mists. If so, daddy could be any of a dozen guys.
- Apparently, some of The Internet seems to think it might be Baron Blood, who is a vampire. I’m not sure what the logic is there, but I’m all for a curveball like that. Especially if it means Blade could show up.
- Sad to see Fitz go, even with the door technically left open for him to come back in some form, but I can’t say that the team as it stands now (Simmons as the lone smarty, Tripp onhand as a much more interesting/likable replacement for Ward whose also carrying an obvious torch for her) already feels like a much stronger entity.
- So Billy’s just-slightly-strange mannerisms would seem to indicate that The Koenigs may, at last, be the official debut of LMDs in the MCU, yes? If not, there’s still got to be something going on there. I just hope this means Oswalt is a series regular now.
- I don’t recognize whatever it is Garrett and Coulson were both compelled to draw as being anything specific to Marvel, but it looks a lot more like a map or schematic than words or numbers. Star-charts? Something to do with parallel dimensions?
- It says some interesting things about the way fandom approaches different “types” of characters that Skye was so universally trashed as a “Mary Sue” that the show actually had to reference it… while Coulson’s entire arc from Avengers to this episode has been having the A-Listers of the Marvel Universe repeatedly tell him how awesome he is and how they all want to be his friend. Just sayin.
- I’m serious. It doesn’t bug me at all that getting answers about The Blue Guy and Skye’s origin/identity/species will apparently be held over for Season 2. I like where we’re at now, and I think there’s a nice solid foundation to build a good second season off of. I’m looking forward to it.