‘Agents of SHIELD’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22: ‘Absolution/Ascension’
Welcome back to another Agents of S.O.M.E.T.H.I.N.G., where Comics Alliance’s Special Agents Chris Haley and Ziah Grace debrief you on all the things to like and complain about in this week’s episode of Disney’s ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
For the big finale, we were treated/subjected to not one, but two, episodes! People lived. People died. People smirked. “Absolution” was directed by Billy Gierhart and written by Chris Dingess and Drew Greenberg, while “Ascension” was directed by Kevin Tancharoen and written by Jed Whedon.
Chris: Holy moley, okay, Ziah, where do we start? I mean, I know where I’d like to start, but I really think we should save that particular Christmas present for the end.
Ziah: Chris, these were some good episodes! Which honestly makes me annoyed at the preceding 22 hours of television we’ve watched. These last two episodes weren’t even ground-breaking television, but they were enjoyable genre showcases with some twists and cool fight choreography, so why can’t they do this every week?
Chris: Because they’ve only got so much story, but they have to stretch it to fit 22 episodes, I imagine is the problem. Plus there’s all the water treading they have to do to wait and see what the fallout from the year’s Marvel movies is going to be. I think someone was saying in the comments recently about how this show always has to kill time until the end of the season and then they just floor it, and they don’t have enough time to get to everything they try to throw in. This all just kinda ran together for me, but I agree, it was generally better than the usual fare I expect from this show, so kudos on that end.
Ziah: So, Mack finally gets his shotgun axe, but it’s far too late. Remember when he hinted at building this at the very beginning of the season? When we still had hope?
Chris: I do not recall this, but I am willing to take your word for it. It was definitely neat looking, even if he never used it in the way it seems like it would be best to use it. You know, to axe baddies/monsters with.
Ziah: See, the problem with making a huge quality jump at the end of the year is that it really does call into question why people bother watching the first 22 hours of every season. And while last year’s Winter Soldier reveal ostensibly allowed for better storytelling by revealing traitors in the midst (and if this were The Flash, gorillas in the mist), what did the Civil War tie-in do to reinvigorate the show? There were no constraints that were lifted once the latest episode of Marvel Movies came out, so why the jump in quality for SHIELD?
Chris: Well, if we hadn’t been watching the whole year, we would have missed out on all those great moments like when Sonic showed up for the first time, and when Coulson smirked at someone, and when Lincoln got hit in the head with a fire extinguisher.
We wouldn’t want to miss out on great moments like that would we?
Ziah: Never! But honestly, I’ve seen that .GIF so many times I’ve started noticing that the fire extinguisher bounces too high to be realistically full, reminding me that it’s a lightweight plastic prop, and not an actual fire extinguisher. I’ve seen the strings that hold this show up, and now there is no joy left.
Chris: Well, I mean, of course it’s not a real fire extinguisher. It was never about him actually getting hurt, it was about the symbolic gesture of what it represents and how jealous we felt of the grip or FX person that got to fill in for all of us as they threw it at him. My favorite part is the way you can see him start to wince just before it hits him.
Ziah: That’s also my favorite part! They must’ve had to film that scene a bunch.
But back to my original point, why is it apparently asking too much for the main characters’ personalities and fight styles to be unique to their characters? We had to wait for Mack to get a special tool and for Fitz to use an invisible gun, which work for their characters, but it took, what, three seasons? That’s ridiculous. It’s just taking your audience’s attention for granted, really.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, if they have the technology for invisible guns, it seems like the kind of thing they should be using constantly. Just like Coulson’s energy shield! Why hasn’t he used it again?! Why isn’t he just walking around with it and feeling like a badass? I know that’s what I’d be doing if I had a hard light hologram version of Captain America’s shield that I could generate from my robo-hand.
Hey, speaking of his robo-hand and fight styles, I’ll give them credit for having Coulson’s fighting seem to revolve around using his robo-hand in several different ways.
Ziah: Yeah, in the same fight scene as Mack’s shotgun axe, and the same episode as Fitz’ inviso-gun. Which is great, but again, why did we have to wait so long? That is a cool detail that Coulson favors his super-strong robot hand in fights! Run with that!
Chris: I have no idea, man. That’s a great question. Okay, before this gets any further away from us, let’s try to break this down a little and talk about the plot and what happens exactly. It already just seems like a blur. So, Daisy is stuck in self-loathing Hive withdrawals mode (which they treat exactly like a drug addiction, just as we predicted they would weeks and weeks ago). That’s literally all I can remember from how things started. Help me out here.
Ziah: Yeah, good call on seeing that coming. Okay, while she does that, Yo-Yo, Mack, and Lincoln set a (surprisingly clever) trap for Hive, using the memory machine to bring Hive’s dozens of sublimated memories to the front of his brain, and making him remember being more interesting characters. They also bring amoral scientist on the bad guys’ side to the good guys’ side, right before Hive predictably breaks out. Then Daisy tries to jump back on that sweet Black-Tar H train again. Think that was it for the first episode.
Chris: Okay, I definitely remember all of those things happening, but where they all took place was anyone’s guess. Except for that ending with Daisy trying to get that “sway” back in her veins. Did you think she was going to be faking him out as part of a plan to defeat him/get her revenge or that she was just really jonesing for a fix?
Ziah: When the credits rolled, I definitely thought the former, but when Hive couldn’t get into her, she really did seem genuinely mad and hurt by it, so I think it’s the latter. Which is way more interesting! That’s a really good hook; someone who would rather join the bad guys because she felt at peace with them even once she knows that feeling was artificial. We’ll see if the writers can actually connect the dots next season, but that’s the first time I really bought Daisy’s character as interesting.
Chris: I was sure she was trying to lure him in when it went to that momentary cliffhanger, but then when that wasn’t the case, it was a little bit of a pleasant surprise. Not because I wanted her to go back to being a bad guy, but just because it wasn’t what I was expecting them to do.
You know, I’ll also give it to them for the fact that there were several moments this week that had me feeling for the characters. Some of it was down to the writing, but I think the majority of it was that we got better-than-usual performance out of some of the cast. They were asked to deliver in a few scenes and did a commendable job. The scenes that stick out in particular I’ll probably wait a little bit to discuss, but I’m happy to give credit where it’s due.
Ziah: Well, let’s jump into it a little bit. Yo-Yo and Mack are cute! They’re cute. It’s nice to have a flirtation on the show that seems easy and relaxed.
Chris: I cannot argue with that. In fact, I’d have to agree! Her making fun of how slowly he does things and giving him a hard time when he tried to give her her cross necklace back (which of course only happened to keep the thing moving around and keep us guessing as to who was going to be holding it at the end). Great stuff. I wish they’d been given a little more time to show off their burgeoning relationship, but I’ll take what I can get.
Ziah: I don’t even need them to have a real relationship because every damn character on this show is in a romantic partnership with somebody off-and-on, but their flirtation is cute, and I like it. Speaking of positivity, that cross necklace hot potato was actually really fun to watch, I’ll be honest. I’m weak!
Chris: It’s okay. I understand. Hey, I just remembered something! What about the way the first episode opened with Daisy and Coulson seemingly on “The Blue Planet” in one of those containment boxes! And Coulson saying they were on Earth? What was that about? Did I completely miss something? Was that supposed to just be a dream? If so, why? What sense did it make? Was it not supposed to make sense? Ziah, I have so many questions!
Ziah: Yeah, that was just a dream sequence meant to show what would have happened if Hive won, I guess. It was fine.
Chris: Maybe I just completely blanked on whatever made it clear that it was a dream sequence, but I really thought it was one of those “flash-forward to what’s going to happen at the end of the episode” moments.
Ziah: So I was watching the second episode of the two-part season finale, and my friend looked over and said, “It looks like you’re watching adult Power Rangers.” This feels pretty accurate to me. Does it feel accurate to you?
Chris: I’m not sure if that’s more insulting to Agents of SHIELD, the Power Rangers, or adults. Speaking of the Power Rangers, there were two special effects moments this episode that I’d like to give them credit for. (Just look at how much credit we’re giving!) The first was when Hive finally shows the viewer his “real” face. You can tell that was expensive, because it looked great and they could only do it for about a minute before he went back to his normal, less expensive, Grant Ward head.
Ziah: That was pretty good! At least we finally got to see him look pretty good before he got space-murdered.
Chris: The other one was the hologram Coulson, which is definitely the kind of super-duper high-tech spy stuff I wish they did more often. Everything in the SFX budget doesn’t have to be super-powers oriented! Just do cool spy stuff that makes sense, and we’ll be into that too.
Ziah: Man, I couldn’t agree more. That, the shotgun-axe, inviso-gun, these are all things that are clever and reveal character details without breaking the bank. We don’t need the show to have the budget of a Marvel movie, we just need it to have the ambition to be at all in the same ballpark. As long as they aren’t, then the MCU actively ignoring AoS’s contributions to the universe makes a whole lot of sense.
Chris: What’d you think of the addition of Dr. Radcliffe to the mix on the good guys’ side? A welcome touch of levity with Bobbi and Hunter gone or too much?
Ziah: I like him! But I also like Hellfire, primarily because he finally killed Lincoln. We did it, Chris! We’re free. Free!
Chris: Wait, how was Hellfire responsible for Lincoln’s death and not, you know, the detonating warhead? Skip it, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Ziah: So, let’s roll into the finale. Lincoln takes a few moments --- while he’s bleeding out from the old “planted an explosive in your jacket when you weren’t looking” trick --- to break up with Daisy in a moment that honestly made me like him more than any other time in this show. That is so incredibly tacky. He’s likely dying and he still wants to clarify that they are no longer dating. Amazing.
Chris: Interesting, I didn’t read that as him saying, “You’re dumped”, but more as, “We clearly need to work on some of our own ish before we get too wrapped up in worrying about our dating.” Maybe I’m an optimist.
Ziah: Maybe you are! Let us know in the comments section who was right!
Chris: In my final act of “giving credit where it’s due” for the season, that ending went a long way towards redeeming Lincoln as a character we’ve had to suffer through dealing with for these many hours. It was not only a little heartbreaking to see him basically say, “I know I suck and no one likes me. That’s why I need to die so all of you can live”; it was basically a real version of that speech Homer tries to give as Poochie. It’s honestly touching. I mean, Lincoln’s is not as good, but still.
Ziah: Oh my God, Chris. Yes. He is literally Poochie. That connection redeems him so much in my eyes. Plus, no more Ward! After all this time, he’s gotta be dead now, right? Provided they don’t have a clone or a twin brother or something.
Chris: Well, they did introduce LMDs there at the flash forward ending, so who knows.
There were two other parts of that death scene I wanted to give some props to. The first was the way Chloe Bennet played her desperation for Lincoln not to go, and to somehow be saved. She felt so genuine it also made me feel a little bad for how much we hated Lincoln.
Ziah: I did not feel bad for my dislike of Lincoln because life is too vast to feel bad for hating an eminently hateable character in an often mediocre television show.
Chris: And the other part was how chill Hive and Lincoln were together in the face of impending doom.
Ziah: Man, all that did was remind me how much they really didn’t figure out what Hive’s deal was. Was he a dude who craved absolute power? A lonely alien trying to be less alone and feel loved? A mastermind and manipulator who knew how to work behind the scenes? An octopus in a suit? What was his deal?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, they really had him playing it a number of different ways, and several of which don’t really line up together as making sense, but I still liked that at the end they’re just floating there going, “Man, can you believe this? Crazy.”
Ziah: I really related to that scene, because I also thought the entire season was crazy and had difficulty believing it.
Chris: That’s the good ol’ Ziah Spirit. So, last things last, what’d you think of the glimpse of a new status quo we were given, and do you have any closing thoughts on this season?
Ziah: It was an interesting look, but definitely jarring to see Daisy on the run from her teammates. On the plus side, that was definitely intentional. Overall, this is not a good show. But there were definitely glimpses of an enjoyable work that you and I can enjoy watching! I hope next season works more on building character relationships and making use of their limited budget, rather than trying to build a mega-plot about Inhumans and fate and expensive docking sequences.
Chris: It’s certainly not. Of all the shows I’ve watched for ComicsAlliance, this one is definitely one of them. And no matter how bad it got, at least it wasn’t Arrow. I’ll always be thankful for that.
Thank you to all the readers and commenters and we’ll see you again before you know it, and of course, remember: should you ever decide to rewatch this season, even though we won't be, the drinking game is still here for you.