Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 Recap, Episode 22: ‘Beginning of the End’ [Season Finale]
Congratulations, you guys. We made it. We've been through a lot together, but the day has arrived; we're finally here. It's the very last episode of Agents of SHIELD.
Season one. Yes, the first live action TV show from one of the biggest multimedia franchises of our time managed to get a second season. This is not surprising. The show could have been awful and it would still would have been renewed. And, what do you know, it was. But can the show finish strong enough to get audiences excited for season two? Spoilers follow.
The final episode of the season opens with a touch that may feel familiar to fans of the movie Cabin in the Woods, a movie produced and co-written by Avengers filmmaker and Agents of SHIELD co-creator Joss Whedon. We start in the offices of what appears to be a technology company, on the first day of a new employee -- but it quickly emerges that the company is Cybertek and their business is villainy. The boss, Zeller (Josh Daugherty), is controlling the Centipede soldiers that we saw cornering the agents at the end of last episode.
It's the first of several very Joss Whedonesque touches in this episode. Agents of SHIELD has often been talked about as a Joss Whedon show, and he is a producer and co-creator, but it's been clear since the pilot (which he co-wrote and directed) that the show would not have the confidence or rhythms of a Joss Whedon-run show. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he was a little more hands on this episode.
The confrontation between the agents and the Centipede soldiers resolves remarkably quickly when May (Ming-Na Wen) manages to steal the Asgardian berserker staff from the one sloppy non-Centipede soldier in the room and use its strength to bring the roof down. It a hasty resolution to a forced cliffhanger, and the berserker staff is disposed of as quickly as the soldiers.
Meanwhile, in evil; Garrett (Bill Paxton) is feeling juiced up and super-smart since his hot Kree injection. He tears a glass door free from its moorings and starts drawing a schematic or alien hieroglyphics on it with a nail while his Legion of Bad Guys With At Best Tangentially Overlapping Objectives looks on in concern.
Ian Quinn (David Conrad) is worried that there's no serum left to help him impress the generals that he wants to contract out to. Ward (Brett Dalton) is worried that Garrett has gone mad. We don't spend much time with Peterson/Deathlok (J. August Richards), but we already know he's only here so they don't kill his kid and/or him, so he's probably still just generally worried about that.
Only Raina (Ruth Negga) seems placid. If anything, she's starry-eyed at seeing someone use superpowers. Maybe Raina is a stand-in for those mean ol' audience members who wanted a show set in the Marvel Universe to look or feel like it's set in the Marvel Universe. If that's the case, order me up a 'Raina Was Right' t-shirt pronto.
Quinn meets with a bunch of generals (led by Glenn Morshower) at a Cybertek facility to sell them on his cyborg super-soldier program. The meeting goes a little awry when Garrett steps in, tears out one of Morshower's ribs, and beats him to death with it. Why? I don't know. Garrett had a vision of the future, and it involved beating Glenn Morshower to death with his own rib. Regardless, this little demonstration convinces Raina and Quinn to swiftly depart the episode, taking the gravitonium with them.
While all this is going on, our friends the agents besiege the compound. May and Skye (Chloe Bennett) walk in to the Cybertek offices with a bomb and trick Zeller into resetting the centipede soldiers so that they convene on Garrett. Garrett responds by sending Ward to take down Skye.
While all that is going on, there's the small matter of Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) being trapped in a box at the bottom of the ocean. This story thread is actually the episode's strongest, as it gives the actors a quiet moment to talk about life, death, and thermodynamics. It's some of the best character stuff we've seen all season.
The two scientists concoct a plan to blow out the window on their room-shaped escape pod. There's enough air in an oxygen tank for one of them to survive to get to the surface. Fitz finally confesses his feelings for Simmons and insists that she use the air. They blow out the window and Simmons drags Fitz to the surface.
At this point she has the bends, he's probably brain-dead, and the two of them are stranded in the middle of the ocean. So it's fortunate that very special guest star Samuel L. Jackson turns up with a helicopter, responding to a tracking device that Fitz had activated.
I say it's Samuel L. Jackson. Technically it's Nick Fury, but because Fury is officially dead (since the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) he now wears a beret and sunglasses and looks like Samuel L. Jackson wandering in off a nearby sound stage.
At Cybertek, Ward comes for Skye and says some generally vulgar things, like, "Maybe I'll just take what I want. Wake up something inside you." It's like an evil version of When Harry Met Sally. Can a man and a woman ever truly be enemies without gratuitous threats of sexual violence coming between them?
Thankfully May arrives to put an end to this nonsense by beating Ward up in a half-finished office. Sure, their conversation also takes a puerile sexual turn (Ward pins May and says, "Reminds me of the old days." She responds, "You were never on top"), but at least the fight ends with her shooting him in the foot with a nail gun and kicking him in the head, and that makes up for something.
We are now fully in boss fight mode. Coulson tracks down Garrett and gets punched across a room, and Nick Fury arrives on the scene with a giant gun that takes out the Centipede soldiers. In another Whedonesque moment, Fury worries that Garrett took the HYDRA path because he misunderstood an inspirational speech about one man "being part of something bigger". (Garrett heard it as "one man can be something bigger".) It's the classic Joss Whedon pin-pricking of a villain's pomposity.
Skye discovers Cybertek's "incentive program"; the company holds hostages to keep its employees loyal. (I used to work for Google; they had a similar thing.) She frees Zeller's wife and Peterson's son, and sends a message to Peterson that lets him know that his son is safe. Peterson turns his missiles on Garrett, blows him up, and stamps on his head, with Coulson's blessing.
We see Garrett's body, which means he's definitely dead. Which means he's definitely not dead.
And that's the bad guys dealt with! Coulson tells Ward that he threw his life away, and Peterson walks off, Littlest Hobo-style, to right wrongs rather than let his son see the monster he's become.
But it's not over yet! Garrett pulls himself out of his coffin, climbs into the Deathlok machine, and gets rebuilt as an unimpressive-looking middle aged Deathlok. To everyone's great relief, Coulson disintegrates him. Sure, it's yet another cold-blooded murder, but even I'm inured to them by now. And hey, it was a gag murder!
Fury and Coulson have a little sit down on the wingycarrier, in which Coulson yells at Fury for bringing him back from the dead. Fury gives Coulson a new assignment; Coulson is the new director of SHIELD, and he has to rebuild the organization from the ground up. What was done in The Winter Soldier is undone in Agents of SHIELD.
But knowing the speed this show moves at, I don't suspect Coulson will have got very far by the time Avengers: Age of Ultron rolls around.
Fury effectively repeats his disappearance speech from the end of The Winter Soldier and walks away. The team heads off to new coordinates and a new secret base, the Playground, where Simmons is waiting for them. Fitz, we're told, is alive. We don't get more than that. A big question mark hangs over the character's head for next season.
Incidentally, the Playground is run by Billy Koenig, identical to Eric Koenig. Yes, Patton Oswalt is back. One suspects he's a life model decoy.
In the first of two kickers, Raina attends a meeting with a shadowy figure with burns on his or her arms. Raina hands the figure a picture of Skye and says, "I found your daughter."
In the second kicker, Coulson gets out of bed and uses a knife to etch into the wall a version of the same strange markings that Garrett was drawing earlier in the episode.
So the good news: Ward has not been redeemed (yet) and if the next season starts as this season ended, Trip (B.J. Britt) will be his full-time replacement. The loss of Fitz is probably only temporary, but I think the show can afford to lose him. It seems odd for a Whedon-related show to try to milk the pathos from a loss like that without committing to an actual death.
The mystery of Skye's parents is still unresolved, and moving by the slowest of increments. The mystery of Coulson's resurrection is semi-resolved, but clearly there's more for the show to milk there. The uncharismatic Quinn is still at large, but thankfully so is the much more interesting Raina.
The big change at the end of the season is that these Agents of SHIELD we've been following for half a year actually are SHIELD now, with minimal resources to call on. Given how little use the show ever made of the wider organization, that may be a blessing.
Looking back over the season, it frustrates me that the show had access to characters like Graviton, Lorelei, Blizzard, Blackout, Deathlok, and Victoria Hand, and couldn't make good use of them. It infuriates me that the show had a HYDRA reveal to play with and couldn't find a satisfying way to lead up to it. It baffles me that the show could create interesting new characters like Akela Amador, Agent Blake, and Agent Triplett, but couldn't energize its core cast.
Agents of SHIELD had one of the easiest jobs of any show I can think of. With the strength of the Marvel mega-franchise behind it, it only needed to be OK to win over a large and passionate audience of Marvel fans. The show improved in its final six episodes, but it was climbing out of a pit, not rising up onto a pedestal. The showrunners have a lot of work to do if they're going to elevate Agents of SHIELD to the level of "good". And I don't mean good by the standards of Marvel's movies. I mean good by the standards of other TV shows.
Credit where it's due:
'Beginning of the End' was directed by David Straiton and written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon.
SHIELD, Nick Fury, the Howling Commandos, Hulk, the Avengers, and HYDRA were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Deathlok was created by Doug Moench and Rich Buckler. John Garrett was created by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. Cybertek was created by Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright, and Butch Guice. Graviton was created by Jim Shooter and Sal Buscema. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.