Warning! SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5:
"I think we can all agree at this point that anything is possible," Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) when they all realized that they are now living in a future where the Earth has been destroyed. That statement also neatly sums up Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has not only reinvented itself in season 5 as a sci-fi space adventure but has also effectively soft rebooted itself.
Season 5 is practically a new S.H.I.E.L.D. The series picked up immediately from where season 4 ended, with the Agents victoriously gathered to celebrate saving the world from being supplanted by the HYDRA-controlled virtual reality of the Framework. Coulson, May, Simmons, Mac Mackenzie (Henry Simmons), Yo-Yo-Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), and Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) all found themselves mysteriously abducted and brought in front of a Kree Monolith. Moments later, they're fighting for their lives on a space station controlled by the Kree, infested by Vrellnexian roaches, and containing the ragged remnants of the human race. They quickly discover they've been brought to the future - one where the asteroids and debris outside their viewports are all that's left of the Earth.
Now with season 5, fans are presented with a literally world-shattering mystery and the Agents are now in a position of trying to figure out what happened and how they are supposed to prevent this cataclysm from occurring in the first place. For new and lapsed fans, this soft reboot is an ideal time to jump on board Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
WHERE S.H.I.E.L.D. HAS BEEN
Many fans had gradually wandered away from S.H.I.E.L.D. during the first 4 seasons. Originally, Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. was set up as a specialized team that would travel around the world and explore the weird corners of the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much of the interest in the series for casual fans was in the potential for cameos from movie characters, which occurred in season 1 when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander) dropped by.
Fans hoping to see the biggest names like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) were left wanting. They began abandoning S.H.I.E.L.D. when it became clear the Avengers would not be helping their former ally Coulson out at any point. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. built its own complex mythology while being isolated from the MCU of the movies.
For lapsed fans, S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 provides a compelling new entry point into the series. S.H.I.E.L.D. has continually reinvented itself throughout its run, introducing the Inhumans and exploring their connection to HYDRA and the Kree in season 2 and 3, before delving into the supernatural in season 4 by introducing Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna). The science fiction elements of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics soon came to the forefront by introducing the Life Model Decoys (LMDs), which included AIDA (Mallory Jansen), who would become the Big Bad of season 4. Finally, taking a cue from The Matrix, S.H.I.E.L.D. went the sci-fi route and placed the Agents in a virtual reality world. Season 5 goes all the way with the sci-fi, turning S.H.I.E.L.D. into something akin to a Marvel version of Battlestar Galactica.
A CLEAN SLATE
Sending the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not just to outer space but to the future as well completely clears the chessboard. Everything in the prior seasons happened. All of their histories, their losses, their struggles with HYDRA, the Inhumans and AIDA remain intact and part of not just the Agents' but the audiences' memories. Everything else is brand new and exciting. Separating Coulson and his team from everything familiar creates a vast new playground to explore. Like the best sci-fi, season 5 already has been world-building by introducing its own concepts like the humans having 'Metrics' installed on their wrists, spacecraft called 'Trawlers', a fearsome Kree overseer called Kasius (Dominic Rains), and the space station itself dubbed 'the Lighthouse'.
The frustrating issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a secret team of special agents fighting wars within the MCU that the MCU movies never acknowledge has been handily swept aside. The question of why Coulson and especially the Inhuman members of his team, Quake and Yo-Yo, wouldn't help the Avengers fight Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Infinity War or why they're not dealing with the emergence of the Inhumans Royal Family in Hawaii is easily answered: they're in the future, and all of it is moot as Earth has been destroyed. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now charting the future of the MCU fans have never seen before and are tasked with trying to find a way to keep that future from actually happening. Most important, season 5 is a wide-open canvas where the series can do practically anything they want without immediately worrying about how it affects the rest of the MCU and vice versa.
S.H.I.E.L.D. retained the most popular aspects of the series - their beloved main characters, their ties to the Inhumans via Daisy and Yo-Yo, and even the Framework. Otherwise, season 5 seemingly tossed everything else aside. Though seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix, fans can walk into season 5 armed with just a basic working knowledge of who Coulson and his team are and still hit the ground running with this compelling sci-fi scenario. The big questions fans are asking are the same as our heroes themselves are asking. As the Agents and the audience are faced with the same mysteries and try to sort out what is going on together, it places fans and the Agents on the same side like never before.
THE FINAL FRONTIER
Outer space seems to be the saving grace for certain MCU franchises that are starting to flounder. Just like Thor: Ragnarok reinvigorated the Thor franchise by sending the God of Thunder into an intergalactic road trip of sorts with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the rest of the Revengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is using both outer space and time travel to literally create future shock and breathe new life into their five year old series. The settings are all-new, our heroes are fish-out-of-water scrambling to figure out what is happening, and fans have no idea what to expect.
Fans who found S.H.I.E.L.D. growing more exciting and innovative in season 4 have been rewarded with a mind-bending new reality in season 5, while lapsed fans who grew bored with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s redundant spy games are presented with a futuristic science fiction adventure they never could have imagined.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deciding to soft reboot the series in season 5 is a brilliant solution to creatively jump start the series, keeping it from treading the same old ground ad nauseam, and forging an open canvas where anything goes. As Coulson himself has said, in season 5 - really for the first time since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. initially came on the air - it seems like anything really is possible.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays @ 9pm ET on ABC.
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