The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have unwittingly unleashed an ancient evil on the Earth: an Inhuman who has the power to control all other Inhumans—a parasite called Hive who can infect others, and gain their absolute obedience. A mad scientist has developed a gas that can turn ordinary humans into twisted versions of Inhumans, who will immediately fall under the control of Hive. And now they’ve captured a warhead that can disperse this gas over a large portion of the planet Earth, infecting millions.
It’s the end of the season. Could it also be the end of the world?
Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!
What We Already Know
The other day, I met someone who is a science fiction fan, and familiar with the Marvel movies, but was only dimly aware that there was an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. And in doing my best to explain to him what was going on, I realized just how wild Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been, especially during this past season. I had to explain that Coulson is still alive, and how he survived, and that remnants of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra have been fighting each other, and among themselves, behind the scenes after everyone thought both groups were destroyed. And how the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D. were in a race to find ancient alien artifacts. And about fish oil pills spreading Inhuman transformations around the world. And explain struggles with new government agencies and the military, with side trips to another planet. And describe how a sect of Hydra worshipped an alien parasite who was exiled to another world, but has now returned to Earth. And…and…and…it’s quite a lot to wrap your head around!
The season finale is actually two episodes, “Absolution” and “Ascension,” being aired back to back. The last few episodes have aired with the subtitle of “Fallen Agent,” and the press release for the episode promises quite a bit: “#FallenAgent is revealed! It’s a showdown a season in the making as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. try to thwart Hive’s master plan and take him down once and for all. But not everyone will survive the epic battle in the must-see Season 3 finale. Tune-in to find out who will live and who will die.”
The network has been teasing that someone will die for weeks, and a previous episode revealed a vision of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent dying in a spaceship where a gold crucifix was prominently revealed. Not content for the viewers to notice that crucifix themselves, the advertisements have been mentioning the fact that whoever ends up with the crucifix will die. Mack received the crucifix from Elena in the last episode, but I doubt it will stay with him. So the season finale is basically set up to be a superhero version of the playground game “hot potato,” with whoever holding it last not coming back when the show returns next year.
Before we dive into the season finale, though, I’d like to mention a couple of other things related to the show. On a sad note, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed for another season, next fall it will be the only Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, representative on network TV. While the Netflix MCU shows are doing well, after a disappointing corporate earnings report, Disney has done some retrenching at ABC. Agent Carter was cancelled, and the proposed Marvel’s Most Wanted show (featuring Bobbi and Hunter from AoS) was not picked up by the network. There is a movement among fans to save Agent Carter through a petition on Change.org that urges Disney to move the show to Netflix. But while that petition gathered over 50,000 signatures in just a few days, it remains to be seen whether or not the effort will bear any fruit.
Before Captain America: Civil War came out, and became an immediate worldwide hit, there was some speculation about crossovers between the MCU TV shows and the movie. As it turned out, were no direct references in the movie to events in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, at one point Vision made a statement about a large increase in the number of superpowered individuals around the world, and suggested that the existence of the Avengers might be a kind of catalyst for that growth. That statement left room for the events from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix MCU shows to have taken place—while they are not specifically referenced, their narrative was not refuted or contradicted. With the lead time for writing and producing the MCU movies being so long, it is probably too much to hope for if you want to see TV elements showing up in the movies. The flow of movie ideas into the TV show continue, however, and the impact of the events of the movie and its Sokovia Accords have already been seen in the TV show, with signs of more to come next season. It would be nice to see direct nods to the TV arm of the MCU in the movies, but for logistical reasons, it just doesn’t look too likely.
The two episodes are full of action and adventure, and twists and turns—some predictable, and some unexpected—so there will be a lot of “but then this happened!” in this short recap. We open with a misdirect: Daisy and Coulson are on what appears to be the planet Maveth, but it is all just a dream. Hive is just about to launch his warhead when the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is able to infiltrate the facility, fight their way through his deformed Inhuman minions, and stop the launch. Hive’s team escapes with the warhead, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to capture Hive, put him in a stasis pod and take him back to their base.
Hive has smuggled his transformation gas into the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, however, and soon agents are being transformed into deformed minions left and right. They free Hive, and the rest of his team flies in with the warhead. They load the warhead into the Zephyr, and Daisy confronts Hive. She doesn’t want to stop him: like a junkie hungry for a fix, she wants him to possess her again. When it turns out he can’t, they battle, and he takes her prisoner. Hive plans to fly the Zephyr into the stratosphere use it to deliver the warhead and release his gas, but Coulson comes aboard, and confronts Hive alone. Hive transforms into full monster mode, and moves to take over Coulson’s body…but he has been deceived. Coulson is a hologram, and he is not alone, he has his whole team along. They are going to put the bomb into a quinjet, fly it into space and detonate it there, so the gas can disperse harmlessly.
Daisy is wracked with grief, has the cross, and thinks it is her destiny to be on that plane. She is confronted by Hive, but then Lincoln reveals his presence, blasts Daisy out of the quinjet, and takes off into space with Hive trapped in the cargo bay. Daisy realizes that Lincoln has the cross, and she and Linc share a tearful “hero is flying a plane to certain death in order to save the world while he talks with his girlfriend” moment. The quinjet blows up, and Hive goes up with it. The world is saved. Befitting the fact that this is a season-ending episode, there is not one but two stingers: in the first one, Coulson and Mack are on stakeout, trying to capture Daisy, who has apparently become a wandering vigilante, like the old TV version of Hulk. She has evidently honed her powers, because she can now quake herself into the air and escape, leaping tall buildings with a single bound. Coulson makes a reference to “the Director,” which makes you wonder if he is still in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the second stinger, Doctor Radcliffe, creator of the Inhuman transformational mist, has evidently cleared his name. He also has a new project, creating Life Model Decoys, or LMDs. For those familiar with the S.H.I.E.L.D. comics, this is a big moment, as LMDs have been part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. narrative from the very first comic adventure.
The Cast and Their Roles
The episode gave everyone some standout moments. Coulson was conflicted and remorseful about his murder of Ward, which brought Hive to Earth, but was also capable, and full of wry quips, which had been somewhat lacking earlier in the season. I especially liked his use of a hologram to trick Hive, and his use of apps in his artificial hand to summon a quinjet, saying, “I’ve got something up my sleeve.” Clark Gregg did a great job balancing the humor with some very intense scenes with Chloe Bennet. She showed a greater acting range than in previous episodes, very skillfully playing remorse, anger, and finally all-consuming grief; Daisy has become a fully realized character, with a lot of depth. Lincoln’s sacrifice was somewhat predictable, and there were a number of people on the internet in past weeks speculating that he would be the one to die. But Luke Mitchell was effective in playing out his self-sacrifice, and gave the character a sendoff that even people who originally disliked the character could find satisfying.
Henry Simmons as Mack was a solid cornerstone of the cast, as he always is. He had some great moments with the remorseful Daisy, and also got to reveal his new shotgun axe, no longer an improvised device, but now a capable weapon. Ming-Na Wen was her unflappable self, and had a great fight scene in the missile silo with a team of Inhuman minions; the writers also teased us with a scene where May was just about to show some emotion, only to get knocked out. Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) got to share some tender moments with Fitz, and used her wits to help neutralize the Inhuman minions in the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. After that tender moment, the writers made it look like it might be Fitz making the sacrifice, but instead of dying, Iain De Caaestecker got to have a hero moment on the Zephyr, killing the Inhuman Giyera before he could stop S.H.I.E.L.D. from saving the day.
Mark Dacascos, who played Giyera, didn’t get much to do during this episode, but will be missed, as he had some great fight scenes. Axel Whitehead, who played the obnoxious Inhuman James, was also killed during the episode, after providing a few moments of comic relief. As always, Adrian Pasdar played a wonderful General Talbot, having a role in some of the lighter moments in the show, most notably a scene in which they were using motion capture to deceive the Defense Department, and an epic exchange of insults with the visiting mad scientist. And this episode finally brought an end to Brett Dalton’s time on the show. He started out as Grant Ward, a boring boy scout of a character, became a vicious double agent, and finally did a great job as the creepy and alien Hive. After all that transformation, it is doubtful the writers will come up with yet another incarnation for him to play. Surprisingly, John Hannah, playing the mad scientist Doctor Radcliffe, got a lot of screen time and some of the best lines of the night as comic relief—but perhaps that isn’t so surprising, because it looks like he will be playing a major role in the show going forward.
Tonight’s episode was a wild end to a wild season. There were lots of great fight scenes and action set-pieces, and while the overall arc of the story followed a somewhat predictable path, the journey along that arc had a lot of surprises and treats along the way. Looking back on the season, I realized that the team’s white rectangular escape/containment pod has probably played a role in more scenes than some of the central cast, so whoever in the props department designed it sure deserves some credit for developing an all-purpose scene setting device. I have really come to like all of the central cast, and was glad that it was the newcomer Lincoln who made the sacrifice, as I would not have wanted to lose any of the other actors. I also feel that while Ward/Hive had a good ride during his time with the show, it is time to move on to a new antagonist. It remains to be seen whether Doctor Radcliffe will be that antagonist, or merely an unreliable ally for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.
The reveal of Life Model Decoys in the stinger opens up a lot of possibilities: those devices played a big role in some of the best adventures of the comic book incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D., even developing self-awareness and trying to take things over at one point. So there are plenty of directions the show could take, going forward. S.H.I.E.L.D. had reached an uneasy accord with rival agency ATCU by the end of the season, which could continue, or move into a new direction. Enforcement of the Sokovia Accords could also bring some interesting changes, with S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly ending up opposing those directives, rather than enforcing them. After three seasons of steadily improving quality and more confident storytelling, I look forward to seeing what the show will do next.
So let’s hear what you have to say. Where do you think the show will go next year? Where would you like it to go? How will events on the show fit into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe? Will we ever see these TV characters move on the big screen? If Coulson is no longer the Director, then who is? And when did Daisy decide that goth makeup was a good idea? In the words of the ineffable Stan Lee, “Don’t yield, back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”
Alan Brown has been a fan of S.H.I.E.L.D. from its comic book beginning over fifty years ago. He still remembers reading that very first adventure in Strange Tales #135.