[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 22. There will be SPOILERS.]
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done much to right itself this year, and for that they should absolutely be commended. This highly-anticipated season 1 finale is not a great example of the series’ many triumphs, nor is it any indication of what the series may bring in season 2. Even so, there’s still much fun for fans to have in this closing tale, if they so choose.
In this week’s finale, “Beginning of the End”, written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and co. bring the fight to Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Ward (Brett Dalton) and infiltrate the heart of Hydra, while Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) works on bringing the “rest of the team” back together. As a battle breaks out, Garrett truly becomes a clairvoyant, forcing Coulson to use a familiar weapon he now knows the function of. Elsewhere, Deathlok (J. August Richards) gains his freedom, and Nick Fury lays out the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. and reveals who will run it.
The plot of this story is simple: defeat Garrett. Everything else that happens, no matter how compelling or dire the story arc, is funneled in to this overall goal of defeating villains; villains who just so happen to want to distance themselves from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s true nemesis, Hydra. As such, the subtle series mechanics which helped many disappointed fans enjoy the show’s new life are removed, leaving a bunch of action and not much plot to fill its final 60 minutes.
Thanks to Garrett’s most recent injection of GH 325 alien serum, he as well as everyone else around him are now more enlightened, though angry, which makes for an odd juxtaposition that neither benefits the story nor the future of the series. Still, it’s difficult to fault a family show for going the “big boss” route in its final episode of the year. Even so, after what all came before it - especially the first 15 episodes - it’s unfortunate that producers chose to bet on themselves - not their characters, actors or story - to help bring this season’s adventure to an end. To say that this episode is heavy-handed would be an understatement.
Even after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made a tremendous turn for the better, there was always concern about the show’s season finale and what it would contain, and for good reason. Previous episodes have been able to thrive on action and/or story alone, and through all of it the characters themselves were evolving and building towards something greater. The season finale put a stop to all these helpful mechanics unfortunately, and forced them to “show their cards,” deal with the task at hand and make a reason for people to want to tune in next season. The finale accomplished all of these things but in the end, too much of what was included was unnecessary and overwhelming, and generally a step back in tone from where this series was just one episode ago.
Agent Phil Coulson is not special, according to Nick Fury, and was only brought back to life because he trusts so few people – This is a perfect representation of the overall sentiment of this finale. New mysteries are created, introduced and hinted at throughout this finale; mysteries which may go on to break new ground for Marvel and help propel elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from far below. Sadly, this series doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to mysteries paying off, and it appears as if mysteries and unanswered questions are the only things Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to use as a lead-in to next year. Aside from Fitz, that is.
Fitz and Simmons are safe, it seems - or at least Simmons. Fitz is, for all intents and purposes, being held hostage by the series because of the fans. He was the first character who truly earned his spot on the show and at any moment could spin whatever situation is at hand into an earnestly entertaining moment, and because of that the fate of Fitz’ disfigurements or disabilities will come at the price of watching the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 premiere in September. No matter what, it’s safe to say: Fitz cannot be 100% ever again; the episode leans too much on his status throughout to simply “write it off” as a battle wound which healed.
On the other hand, Nick Fury’s return feels more required than relevant this time around. Sure, the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. has (somewhat) been laid out, forcing Coulson to take over and rebuild the agency “the right way,” but at some point Nick Fury’s use on this series should be more than looking cool and relaying information that sounds more impactful than it really is.
With all that said, the good should be celebrated as well. Garrett, no matter how overreaching, is/was a promising, energetic nemesis for the group to go up against in their first full adventure. Ian Quinn, Hydra or not, is also a helpful villain and manages to ground the series’ fantastical elements in the real world. Garrett clearly shines in this episode, along with Coulson, and the two help establish a fun battle where alien weapons and hilariously snide comments work perfect. This final battle is the finale’s success; everything else is what was required in order for the final battle to occur, essentially.
Through all the many evolutions of this series, no matter how fun or entertaining, there’s still something about this finale which feels as if producers are not as confident about next season’s adventures as previous episodes would lead fans to believe. Everything is a plot device now, it seems, or at least the has the potential to become one, if need, and the last 20 minutes of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 finale opens the proverbial buffet line up and allows its characters to pick and choose which secret, or (magic) box, or secret formula, or secret origin they’d like to hold on to until next year, which is then supposed to hold audience’s attention until next fall.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone to Hell and back in an attempt to stay on the air, and at the end of the day, it has earned the timeslot that it was given and eventually became a “real” show. When it comes to these season finales, even the best in this industry have major difficulties with their execution. So, while the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 finale isn’t an example of the best or worst that this series has to offer, it also isn’t an indication that things will go belly-up next year. If anything, it’s a much needed break following a monumental battle – something both fans and producers greatly deserve right now.
[Update: Check out our feature on the 10 big unanswered questions the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale left us with!]
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 premieres September 2014 on ABC