Unofficial season finale week continues as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finishes out its first season with a disappointing mix of resolution and exposition.
Let’s bitch it out…
SHIELD has had its ups and downs this season, taking more time than many would have imagined to find its way before really sticking the landing with the post-Captain America 2 episodes. And while those episodes have all been mostly successful, it feels as though the finale suffers from many of the same issues that befell the early episodes: it’s all over the place and spends too much time setting things up.
The last five episodes have been so entertaining because SHIELD was done establishing the world and the characters and finally turned its attention to bringing those elements together with a significant dose of serial plot. Ward (Brett Dalton) was revealed to be evil and working for John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and together the two essentially destroyed the team. The finale suffers for trying to rein this storyline back in and provide resolution while simultaneously setting up the second season. That means Garrett and Ward have to be dealt with, cliffhangers have to be resolved and new exposition has to be introduced to ensure viewers remember the few irons in the fire over the summer and come back in in the fall.
Unfortunately this proves to be too much because although there are aspects that are enjoyable, ‘The Beginning of the End’ feels more like one of those work in progress episodes from earlier in the season. The action ranges from great (Ward’s fight with Ming-Na Wen’s May) to the shrug-worthy (the humvee-tank hijacking; the final showdown between Coulson and Garrett). The visual aesthetic is pretty bland and uninspired: most of the episode takes place in generic locations (desert) or shoddy looking sets (empty hangar – complete with call-centre!). What’s most alarming is that there’s a startling lack of urgency or gravity to the proceedings. ‘The Beginning of the End’ should have been the pinnacle of the season and yet the stakes feel incredibly low (as though no one is really in danger and Garrett and his super-soldiers pose no significant threat).
Part of the blame for this is the comedy. Some of it works but most of it honestly feels cartoony and childish. Blame Coulson’s desperate desire to please father figure Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), as Coulson reverts back to little boy mode the moment he sees his mentor. And the less said about the decision to turn Garrett into an over-the-top maniac, the better – Paxton has walked the line well during his tenure, but here he falls completely off into camp and it’s not enjoyable (though I will confess his resurrection and immediate death are pretty fun).
The comedy unfortunately drains the conflict of its drama and, most problematically, jars completely with the scenes featuring Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) in their near watery grave. Although most of these scenes are perfunctory, De Caestecker and Henstridge still manage to heighten the emotional gut-punch of Fitz’s decision to sacrifice himself. It doesn’t approach the heights of the series’ other more significant emotional moments, however, and their unlikely last minute rescue by Fury feels like another cop-out from a show that’s afraid to show its seriousness by killing a cast member.
At least Fitz and Simmons’ teary goodbye plays better than Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Ward’s confrontation. In the last few weeks both Dalton and Bennet have been the series’ shining stars, selling the betrayal and anger in every interaction and striking all but the most ardent of naysayers silent. So what the hell happened? Because their confrontation here feels diluted and muted, carrying next to none of the oomph that drove their previous scenes to such enjoyable heights. Hell it doesn’t even have a resolution! May dives in and then Ward is shipped off to be tortured – it’s disappointingly anti-climatic and, coming off Raina’s (Ruth Negga) earlier comments, there are still signs that at some point Ward may be brought back to be redeemed (don’t do it show!).
Look, I thought ‘The Beginning of the End’ was an okay episode. As a mid-season entry this would have been perfectly fine. As a season finale, it’s was an underwhelming episode that has its share of disappointments. If nothing else it proves that there’s still a need to do some retooling on the show. Hopefully the kinks will be out by the time the show returns in the fall.
- Exposition-y groundwork for S2 includes: Fury handing Coulson the keys to the SHIELD kingdom, Quinn (David Conrad) escaping with the gravitonium and Raina informing Skye’s bloodied father that his little girl is still alive.
- In what feels like a spin-off, but is likely just an opportunity to have J. August Richards return sporadically for one-offs, Deathlok walks off into the sunset to fight crime and make his son proud. It’s a little barfy and completely in line with expectations, but that’s fine.
- Looks like Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt) is now officially a member of the team. I’d say “yay” but he doesn’t really have a personality. Yay?
- MIA: Fitz is alive, but his state isn’t properly unaccounted for in the closing moments. This almost feels like the producers debated whether or not to renew the contracts of both tech geeks and settled on “we’ll decide later”.
- IGN’s post-mortem interview with the exec producers suggests that we re-examine 1×04 ‘Eye-Spy’ for clues on the drawings that both Garrett and Coulson draw. Or…you know…don’t
- Finally, who isn’t overjoyed by the return of Patton Oswalt? The welcome wagon at the Playground shares many similarities with his deceased colleague, suggesting that he’s likely a Life Model Decoy (aka what most of us thought Coulson was for the better part of the season);
- Fitz (when Simmons asks if he’s scared of dying): “Yeah. And I’m hungry, too.”
- Fury (saving Coulson): “You don’t have to call me sir, Coulson. Look at me, I’m dressed like I live under a bridge.”
- May (when Coulson suggests Ward’s torture will be internal): “And a little bit external.”
Your turn: what are your thoughts on the season finale? Were you underwhelmed or satisfied? Were you expecting something more epic? Did the resolution to the various storylines satisfy? Do you think Fitz will be back next season? What about Ward? And should Patton Oswalt become a regular? Sound off below
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finished airing its first season. It returns to ABC in the fall.