Final Thoughts On ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’
by Erik Amaya
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. defied the odds.
Most of the shows produced by Marvel’s former television group never reached past three seasons — most eked out two. For the most part, the shows were undone by a mixture of cross-company business deals and, in a few cases, a nasty internal bid for power. Even when the quality was there, like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, little could be done to salvage a future for those programs.
Despite all of this, S.H.I.E.L.D. endured.
Which is remarkable considering just how bad it was in the beginning. Lacking the funds to look even as polished as a CW program and chasing an old-style, Whedon-esque vibe, those early episodes should have snuffed the show out early on. But the program defied the odds and survived long enough to pivot alongside the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it turned out S.H.I.E.L.D., the program’s titular organization, was overrun with Hydra agents. The later third of the first season had vitality, introduced a number of wonderful characters — we still miss you, Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt) — and reshaped the initial group into more than the Joss Whedon ciphers they initially seemed.
Then the close ties with the MCU were severed and S.H.I.E.L.D. went its own way. Edgy Hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet) was re-imagined as Inhuman Daisy Johnson. The whole Inhumans idea, at one time meant to be a key aspect of the MCU, became S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s answer to the merry Marvel mutants. And after one last key contribution to the Avengers films at the end of the second season, the show concerned itself more with its own mythology than that of a now separate production company’s line of films (the division between Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment is a long story all its own).
By Season 3, S.H.I.E.L.D. was its own pleasure. Its various will-they/won’t-they plots, the transformation of Mack (Henry Simmons) from a wisecracking mechanic to a strong and capable leader, and its use of ideas like Ghost Rider, the Darkhold, and Life Model Decoys all contributed to a show with the overall atmosphere of a Marvel Comic despite standing apart from the other Marvel ventures. Sure, it was still an ABC series, but that just added to the charm; particularly when the production team figured out how to play with those limitations. It was the best possible outcome for a network television series supposedly based in the MCU.
And the fact it endured proved that. Sure, the network was reportedly forced to renew S.H.I.E.L.D. for its sixth and seventh seasons, but why would Disney’s higher executive level rescue it when it let Agent Carter and the Netflix series die? Or, for that matter, why would they care after the appalling failure of Inhumans?
Clearly, it was well liked. And the surprise renewal gave S.H.I.E.L.D. a new confidence going into seasons it never expected to reach. The sixth and seventh years sparkled with confidence as they embraced not being part of the Avengers: Endgame plan — producers admitted to us they were never told about the film’s “Five Years Later” twist — and built their own future. Season 6 gave us the series’ overall best episode, “Fear and Loathing on Planet of Kitson,” and a further exploration characters like Enoch (Joel Stoffer) and Deke (Jeff Ward). Season 7 played with the program’s entire history as part of a well-deserved victory lap which, in the end, allowed all of the character to get their just desserts.
Nevertheless, it is sad to see these characters disappear as they find new adventures we, the viewers, will not be a part of.
In the end, S.H.I.E.L.D. stuck the landing because it focused on the things that mattered; creating a sense of family and giving people a second chance. Sure, a handful of people — typically with the last name Malick — didn’t earn those chances and, well, they died as a consequence. But it is interesting that the team’s sense of empathy won the day against a race of alien robots.
But then, all we want is for bad guys to have that sense of empathy too, right?
Meanwhile, we find it curious that the team actually made their way home back to the original timeline. Forging out in their own, truly distinct universe from the MCU seemed like the best possible ending for the group. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. went personal and gave each individual the ending they deserved in the context of their original universe.
For May (Ming-Na Wen) that meant running the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy, a destiny teased back in Season 6, but set aside when the Shrike and the Chronicoms threatened the world. It is interesting, though, that she had to literally become an empath in order to serve this destiny. But considering how she closed off her emotions to process the toughest choice she ever had to make, it is fitting, then, that she would have to open up again to teach the agency’s next generation — and that Flint (Coy Stewart) would end up her prize pupil.
Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) earned their together forever three season ago, so we’re happy to see it finally fulfilled. Similarly, Mack not only taking Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) place, but Nick Fury’s as well — dig that director’s coat — feels like the culmination of so much. Mack was such an unlikely survivor when introduced in Season 2, but leaving him in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the right ending. So much so, we hope Marvel Studios will honor that some day and have Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) call on him for ground support in whatever war he’s fighting over in Phase 4 and 5. And, while we’re thinking about it, Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) should also be recognized by the films as the reformed organization’s top agent. Like Mack, it seems so unlikely, but it is the best place for her to be.
Heck, even Deke got an appropriate end, staying behind in a 1980s where he could prosper as either a rock god or the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Then there’s Daisy and Coulson. Sending her back to the stars with a blood relative and the best possible boyfriend she could ever find in the multiverse is such a hard-won place to leave her that we can scarcely believe it. She literally started the series alone, so finding a role in which she can share her heart and have a purpose is just beautiful. Also congrats to Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), who always deserved more than to pine away for Peggy Carter. Seeing the stars (with Daisy) is a fitting end note for the Agent Carter character.
And, finally, after being destiny’s whipping boy, Coulson — or at least his LMD equivalent — finally controls his future. It’s nice to think of him always out there finding new heroes even if he will always have to keep his odd second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh lives secret from the Avengers.
Because S.H.I.E.L.D. beat the odds, everyone got what they deserved in the end. They found their families, they made their peace, and they never had to confront Thanos. We, as the viewers, ended up with a show that is, on the whole, more entertaining than its initial vision suggested. It became the longest-running Marvel television series and even if Marvel Studios never honors its existence, we were happy to see it to this end.