After the season six finale of Agents of SHIELD, fans waited with bittersweet excitement. The signature aircraft of the show became a time-ship, and the gang stood mouths agape staring at the 1930s New York City skyline. Also, Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson returned from the grave, as a life-model decoy. Normally, one might expect the show to immediately throw them in peril, have a bunch of action sequences, and a quick reveal of the Big Threat before a smash to the end titles. However, the Agents of SHIELD final season premiere took its time and gave us quite a few character moments during a slow-burn investigation episode.
To be fair, this may have been a creative choice made by budget constraints. While the episode still had subtle VFX shots, the attention-to-detail in the 1931 setting surely ate up their cash. The ballroom scene that precedes the climax of the episode is especially remarkable in its authenticity, from the wood-paneling to the sepia-tinged lighting.
Unfortunately, if you saw the trailer for the forthcoming season, the big twist at the end of the episode got spoiled for you. Still, even knowing it was coming, the episode was delightful. It suggests that that storytellers decided to focus as much on character as they do on spectacle. The premiere of this final season of Agents of SHIELD shows they know they earned a victory lap, and they’re more than happy to take it.
Light spoilers ahead, but not much more than the marketing for the final season revealed.
Agents of SHIELD Final Season Premiere Basks In Its Setting and Its Relationships
Image by Mitch Haaseth, via ABC
Agents of SHIELD is one of the few series wherein the characters can talk about how “cool” stuff is without it feeling like they are urging to audience to agree. Even though these characters time-traveled before (to the future), most are near-giddy that they are walking around in the 1930s. It’s the “fun” past of fashion, speakeasys, and quirky slang, not extreme poverty, prejudice, and danger.
Henry Simmons’ Mack encounters some safe-for-TV racism, just as Chloe Bennett’s Daisy faces some light sexism. Even with Agent Carter, Marvel always presents a sanitized version of the past. They tangentially address the bigoted elephant in the room, but they never truly examine the issue as seriously as even the Silver Age comics did. While some might see this as a flaw, it’s for the best. They signal that their characters hold the correct moral positions and recognize that this story is perhaps not the most ideal place for such an examination.
Along with the setting, we get emotional moments for the characters. A short side-story in the episode involved Natalia Cordova’s Elena getting some high-speed, sci-fi prosthetic arms. Her reluctance to take them at first is a powerful moment for the character. She delivers a speech about self-acceptance that moved a number of people on social media. We see that the time between the penultimate and final appearance of Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma last season hardened her considerably. Finally, we see Mack and Daisy coming to terms with the “new” Coulson, who is also coming to terms with himself.
Hail Hydra, the MCU’s Problematic Fave
Image via Marvel Studios
In the MCU, Hydra is a stand-in for the Third Reich-brand of fascism. They aren’t Nazis, per se, but they certainly think that Hitler kid had the right approach. Famously, Hydra survived World War II. They hid their brand of authoritarianism in the institution meant to protect people from it, SHIELD. Thus, we get to watch as the characters learn the revelation from the trailer: In order to save SHIELD, they have to save HYDRA. Thus, instead of rescuing a famous historical figure, they have to help the father of one of the show’s best villains (and a movie crossover character, barely).
There are two reasons why this choice is brilliant, despite the fact that saving terrible fascists is the opposite way people are supposed to use time-travel. First, it provides a great amount of conflict for the characters. They hate HYDRA as much as Captain America does, perhaps even more. So, forcing them to protect what already happened, even the tragedy, is a great source of drama. (If they even need to protect it at all.)
The second reason this is a great call is that protecting key moments of SHIELD’s creation, to include helping HYDRA, means they have an excuse to make their last season a Greatest Hits album. Arrow did this in their final season, and it’s a good model to revisit past characters and settings one last time. It’s a concept full of potential, especially if the storytellers’ focus remains on how the characters deal with revisiting and/or participating in these events.
The Agents of SHIELD Finale Season Premiere Is a Great Start to a Good End
Image by Mitch Haaseth, via ABC
When Agents of SHIELD first debuted, fans and critics were skeptical. As awesome as Clark Gregg is, bringing Coulson back after his heroic death felt like a cheat. Conflicting production timelines and a possible chilly relationship between Jeph Loeb and Kevin Feige (or Ike Perlmutter) further separated this “connected” series from the MCU proper. In fact, it took almost the entire first season for this show to know what it wanted to be. When Captain America destroyed SHIELD in The Winter Soldier, the show truly came into its own. Since then, it consistently increased in quality and delivered some amazing, wholly-Marvel tales.
The fact that the show almost came to an end two seasons ago is also worth mentioning. When they killed off Coulson for real, the producers assumed the show wasn’t coming back. However, it came back for not one but two more seasons. When they did, the show (like the team in it) seemed to gain more confidence in the idea that it was as much Marvel as Cap, T’Challa, or Spider-Man.
What did you think of the final season premiere of Agents of SHIELD? Are you excited about what’s to come? Are you ready to say goodbye or do you want more spinoffs? Share your reactions, thoughts, and reviews in the comments below.
Featured image via ABC
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.