Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has kicked off what appears to be the final story arc of Season Five with the team returning to present-day Earth from a future where the planet was destroyed, having saved what was left of the human race from their Kree oppressors before they left. Now they need to stop that Earth-ending disaster from ever happening—but they’ve returned to a world where S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles, and they’re hunted fugitives. It looks like their mantra in this final arc of the season will be one previously used by the X-Men in the comic books: “Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been in dire straits before, but their current difficulties look even worse than the situation they faced in the future. They are wanted by the authorities, afraid that whatever they do will trigger the destruction of the world, and down to their last few remaining resources. Fortunately, as we get into the episode, we learn that those resources look better than the team might have expected. But then again, the threats look even worse.
Secret Plots and Governmental Misadventures in Marvel Comics
In the episode “Rewind,” after Fitz and Hunter escaped, the USAF officer General Hale murders a junior officer and civilian agent in cold blood because of their failure. This lack of respect for the disciplinary procedures in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and civil service regulations not only marks Hale as a villain, but also establishes her as one in a long line of governmental or military officials in the Marvel universe who go rogue, abusing their positions and authority.
There are too many of these incidents to catalog in this column, but I will touch on a few. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we saw this theme play out in a big way in Captain America: Winter Soldier, when agents of Hydra had fully infiltrated the shadowy World Security Council and the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself—something that has reverberated through all five seasons of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. The fact that the World Security Council was willing to nuke New York City in the first Avengers movie was, in retrospect, a big clue that not all was as it seemed.
In the comics, a shadowy group called the Secret Empire infiltrated the U.S. government over many years. First appearing as a sub-unit of Hydra in Issue 81 of Tales to Astonish in July 1966, the Secret Empire eventually broke with its parent organization and wound its way throughout the government. Captain America and the Falcon finally defeated the organization and unmasked its “Number One,” with Cap horrified upon finding out this figure’s identity. While the comic didn’t make the link specifically, the plotline hinted at the real-world misadventures of Richard Nixon and his eventual downfall. It also led to Steve Rogers stepping away from his role as Captain America, just as he did in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War.
Alien beings have been trying to secretly infiltrate governmental organizations since the early days of the comics. The shape-shifting Skrulls have been doing this for decades. An early alien plot, which will soon be replayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, took root when Mar-Vell, a Kree officer, assumed the identity of NASA scientist Dr. Walter Lawson. His people were interested in the growing space travel capabilities of the humans, and Mar-Vell soon ran afoul of NASA’s Cape Canaveral security chief, Carol Danvers. Becoming sympathetic to the human race, he took on the mantle of Captain Marvel, and became a defender of Earth. Danvers, a former USAF officer, eventually gained Kree superpowers and took on the mantle of Captain Marvel herself.
A military organization that strayed from its original mission was the Hulkbusters, a joint Army/Air Force team charged with stopping and neutralizing the Hulk, which first appeared in Issue 148 of Incredible Hulk in February 1972. Their leader, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, became so obsessed with stopping the Hulk that he often threw caution and regulations to the wind. And interestingly enough, the Talbot who has played a role as a sometime antagonist and ally of S.H.I.E.L.D. got his start in the comics as a member of the Hulkbusters.
Marvel history is full of renegade military leaders, double agents, secret identities, spies, and traitors. And with General Hale, it looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. will be encountering yet another high-ranking person in a position of trust who cannot be trusted.
What We Knew Going In:
At the end of the last season, General Talbot lay near death after an LMDaisy tried to assassinate him—and since the existence of the LMDs is not known to the rest of the world, it was Daisy herself who got the blame. The S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ was left in shambles. Jeff Mace was dead under mysterious circumstances. The mysterious General Hale is searching for any sign of our agents. Disney Channel star Dove Cameron has joined the cast as Ruby, daughter of General Hale, who appears to be somewhat obsessed with Quake.
Here are the synopses for the first three episodes of the new arc, as provided by ABC:
Episode 511, “All the Comforts of Home” synopsis: Coulson and team set out to rewrite the course of humanity’s fate, but they’re unaware that their efforts will dramatically change one S.H.I.E.L.D agent’s life. (Aired on 2 March)
Episode 512, “The Real Deal” synopsis: In the milestone 100th episode, Coulson finally reveals the mysterious deal he made with Ghost Rider, which will impact everyone on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. (Airs on 9 March)
Episode 513, “Principia” synopsis: The team goes in search of Gravitonium in order to help save the world. (Airs on 16 March)
The Second Arc Premiere: “All the Comforts of Home”
The episode begins as young Ruby fights with her mother, General Hale, about skipping class. Ruby asks her mom if she’s “a good guy.” The General replies that her orders are to capture Daisy Johnson, that we all must answer to someone, and she is making a better world. To do that, she needs to put an end to S.H.I.E.L.D. Then the S.H.I.E.L.D. team reappears, still in the Lighthouse…but it is in the present day. They made it home! They trigger a video in which a pompous bureaucrat, General Stoner (Patrick Warburton), explains how the Lighthouse was established back in the 1970s. Coulson mentions that the Lighthouse doesn’t even exist in Fury’s toolbox, which means that they should be safe from detection. Daisy awakens, and she is angry with Coulson, but he says he wouldn’t accept leaving her behind. May and Fitz find Kree monoliths while touring the facility. They meet Noah, who is a Chronicom like Enoch, and he takes them to his observation center. He says people are looking for them, and May comes close to breaking the fourth wall by replying wryly that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a small, but active, fan base. May sees a sign of alien contact, a light from the sky.
The light has been intermittent, shining down in St. Louis, MO. Daisy stays with Noah to run backup. They know they are being hunted by General Hale, so the team is cautious. They use tunnels leading into the nearby town of River’s End, enjoy the fresh air, and borrow an old minivan. Daisy jumps on a keyboard to look for alerts, and finds the S.H.I.E.L.D. team at the top of America’s Most Wanted lists. Deke suddenly appears in a nearby park. How did he get pulled back from the future?
Deke sees a bar, and samples the pleasures of the present day, including Zima, burgers, fries, and onion rings. He gets drunk and the bartender calls the cops. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team finds the Zephyr and head to St. Louis. Coulson and May share a moment, and he admits he isn’t feeling well. Fitz realizes that the light is a Kree beacon. Mack and Yo-Yo have some quiet time, and they talk about the tortured future version of Yo-Yo. Mack promises that they can change the future. In the ops center, Daisy catches up on the world while eating “sugar bomb” cereal, a hacker back in her element. She finds out that Deke has been arrested. Noah will not intervene, because it is not an extinction level event, so Daisy heads out on her own. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team breaks into the facility where the Kree beacon is hidden. There is someone in there, but it turns out to be Piper—a former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative who has been continuing to fight the good fight while the team was gone. In jail, Deke spills everything he knows in a drunken rant. Daisy shows up, pretending to be a social worker. One of the cops, however, is suspicious. General Hale has been notified.
Piper says she has been keeping an eye out both for the team and for alien threats, which is why she showed up at the beacon. Fitz disables the beacon, but Piper pulls a gun. A masked team comes in, and everyone is in a standoff. A masked woman arrives on the scene, and Piper admits that the beacon was not intended to call aliens; it was there to attract S.H.I.E.L.D.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team know they are outgunned, and put down their weapons. The masked woman orders her team to kill them, but Yo-Yo takes all of their weapons using superspeed. The team fights back, and discovers that their attackers are robots. Piper, seeing them using lethal force instead of bringing the team in for a safe debriefing, realizes that she got played and backs Coulson. The masked woman uses a kind of Xena-style boomerang knife ring which chops off Yo-Yo’s arms, just like they were cut off in the future. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team escapes. Daisy and Deke make it back to the Lighthouse. May and the Zephyr are coming in fast, and land in an underwater hangar. The team does what they can for Yo-Yo. Mack is devastated. The masked woman walks into Ruby’s room where General Hale waits, and it turns out to be Ruby behind that mask. They talk, and all I can say is, she is a vicious psychopath, and General Hale is a terrible mother. Or, Ruby is a robot, like the rest of her team. From what Hale says, it seems that the beacon is some sort of Trojan Horse. The daughter’s room, which looks normal, is actually in some sort of government facility. At the Lighthouse, the beacon begins to heat up; Noah tells the team to run, and he throws himself on the beacon, which explodes.
In the stinger, we see a hooded jogger in Philadelphia. An SUV pulls up, and in it sits General Hale. The jogger is Creel, the Absorbing Man, and she wants him for a team she is putting together. He gets in the SUV. Hale definitely plans to play dirty.
In the preview, we see hints from the next episode, the 100th for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It appears the team’s past will be coming back to haunt them as they face down threats from throughout their careers—while wondering if there is any S.H.I.E.L.D. left to fight for.
The episode moved at a fast, action-packed clip. The Lighthouse of the present looks like a good base for the team’s operations going forward, and I hope we see more of Patrick Warburton and his ironic monologues from the 1970s. Deke’s return was a surprise, and led to some good comic moments. It was a nice twist to have Piper trying to do the right thing, only to realize that she’d been duped. She was always a solid character, and it’s good to have her back. General Hale looks like a good antagonist going forward, as does the ruthless Ruby. They will be a potent threat for the team to face. Noah was also an intriguing guest, but unless he has the power to absorb earth-shattering kabooms, his appearance may have been a one-shot. And speaking of earth-shattering kabooms, the team should be facing the threat of a real one in this season’s upcoming episodes.
There are reports that showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are crafting a final episode that will also work as a satisfying end to the series. ABC had reportedly considered cancelling the series after last season, and with Friday being a tough night for shows to get traction with viewers, ratings for Season 5 have not been spectacular. With that in mind, we may see a lot of narrative threads being wrapped up in the coming episodes.
Now it’s your turn to discuss the show. What did you think of the team’s return home? What do you think will happen next? What were your favorite quips in this episode?
As we’ve done in the past, this post will kick off a discussion thread I will shepherd as the season unfolds, adding new comments every time another episode airs. If you want to follow the discussion, the best way to do it is to use your Tor.com user account. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to sign up. Then you’ll be able to follow the thread using the “My Conversations” feature, which makes it a lot easier to participate in discussions on the website. Feel free to come back each week and discuss the latest episodes, or share any S.H.I.E.L.D. news you might hear.
And, as always, I leave you with the words of the indomitable 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.