One of the great things about anthologies, Marvel’s What If…? being one of them, is that you (usually) never have to spend too long in a story setting that bores you, or with characters who grate on your nerves, before you’re on your way again. That’s not to say the next installment will always be good, but variety keeps things interesting – and I’m finding that’s especially true of What If…?, which at least finds ways to shake things up each week, even if the series has yet to reach another high-point on the level of episode four and has declined markedly in quality in its last two episodes.
It’s a bit of a shame, too, because with a little more focus and a few touch-ups to the script, I think What If…? could surely have done something more interesting with a character as wonderfully ridiculous as Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the unofficial nickname of this Variant of the MCU’s Thor who comes to Midgard to escape his kingly duties on Asgard and ends up hosting an intergalactic get-together based out of Las Vegas that threatens to tear the earth apart.
That intriguing concept harkens back to actual Norse mythology, which is a lot more weird and trippy than I think most MCU stans realize (as evidenced by all the MCU Loki fans horrified that he could ever be attracted to himself, as if mythological Loki didn’t turn into a mare so he could…uh, have “diplomatic relations” with a stallion and give birth to that stallion’s babies). The MCU’s version of Thor has never been much like the mythological character who would go out partying with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the giants of Jotunheim, only to find himself trying to drink the ocean out of a horn, so it’s pretty awesome as a fan of both to see some crossover there, and even spot a couple callbacks to the myths.
But these are the MCU versions of Thor and Loki we’re dealing with, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. For one thing, it allows the scope of today’s What If…? to expand well beyond Asgard and Midgard. There are cameos, some sizable and some of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety, from a bunch of cosmic characters plucked mostly from Thor: Ragnarok and the Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise. Jeff Goldblum pops up as The Grandmaster (and “release the foam” is instantly immortalized as one of the character’s most iconic lines); Karen Gillan, Taika Waititi, and Clancy Brown reprise their roles as Nebula, Korg, and the Norse deity Surtur, respectively, while Mantis, Rocket Raccoon, Yondu, Ayesha and Valkyrie all have background roles.
The only character missing from the crowd, or at least the only character I missed, is Hela. The Nexus Event of this whole timeline is Odin returning Loki to his birth-parents in Jotunheim and raising Thor as an only child, but technically Thor’s sister Hela should still exist in this timeline regardless – and personally, I think What If…? missed out on a great opportunity by not having her living in Vegas and running her own casino when Thor arrives. It’s an actual storyline in the comics, people! Forget Party Thor, we could have had Party Hela!
Unfortunately, even with this incredible assortment of characters all onscreen at once like it’s the Endgame of parties (which technically it’s about to be if they don’t all leave), the story still finds a way to drag…perhaps because it’s centered around a romance between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) that didn’t work seven years ago when the MCU tried to make that a thing, and still doesn’t work now. In a franchise in which Steve Rogers once kissed his dead girlfriend’s niece, and where the most believable romance is between a woman and a sentient computer program, Thor and Jane still somehow stands out as one of the MCU’s low-points when it comes to love-stories.
It wasn’t just that Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman had no chemistry, either, or that every time they shared the screen Hemsworth looked vaguely uncomfortable and Portman seemed bored out of her mind. It was more so that the early Thor movies hinged on the notion that their characters were soulmates being forced apart by the universe itself, and nothing about their painfully apathetic performances seemed to back that up. At least in What If…?, Hemsworth and Portman both seem more enthusiastic about the whole businessand Hemsworth is leaning into his strengths as a comedian, which makes their interactions amusing to watch if not particularly romantic, but there’s still nothing that explains why these two are supposedly fated to fall in love.
Frankly, I was far more interested in the high-speed romance between Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Howard the Duck (voiced by Seth Green) that unfolds across just a handful of scenes, in which they go on a date, get married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator, and are last seen squabbling like an old couple. It’s the kind of outlandish pairing that makes absolutely no sense on paper, but in execution it just works. It’s ridiculous, yet completely in-character for both Howard and Darcy, and I bought their chemistry and mutual attraction for each other.
With subplots like that, the heavy focus on Thor and Jane’s relationship feels underwhelming, and the happy ending to their love story tacked on at the end of the episode is so contrived that the episode itself immediately turns around and forces a new problem to arise: one involving What If…?‘s ultimate big bad, revealed here for the first time – an alternate version of the genocidal cyborg Ultron who’s apparently succeeded in downloading his consciousness into the Vision’s body and then also conveniently picked up some Infinity Stones along the way. As we near the end of the season, I hope to learn more about this Ultron in next week’s episode.
I also hope that we get to see more of Carol Danvers (voiced by Alexandra Daniels) before the season’s end. She has a pivotal role in this week’s episode, summoned from the heavens by S.H.I.E.L.D. to put an end to Thor’s partying – allowing for an effective if slightly shallow commentary on how women are often depicted in media as being “no fun”. I enjoyed seeing Carol trade punches with Thor in an epic battle spanning several continents, and I admired her capacity for understanding and empathy; but I’m still not sure how I feel about her – and most of the women around Thor, for that matter – having to teach him lessons about responsibility and common decency.
Oh, and as for who would win a duel between Thor and Carol, the episode doesn’t fully answer that question which has long riled up MCU fan-forums. The two cosmic heroes seem pretty evenly matched in their first fight: Carol’s power-absorption protects her from Thor’s lightning, and she’s stunned but not seriously injured by a blow to the head from Mjolnir – ultimately, it’s only when Thor uses the hammer to pin her down that she’s defeated. But Carol reveals later that she’s unable to use her full power on earth without making a considerable dent in the planet’s surface, and when she does lure Thor out to Siberia to try and fight him more freely, the fight seems to be turning in her favor before it’s interrupted. Sorry, Thor, but I think Carol wins this one; and someday I’d love to see a fight between the two where neither has to hold back.
I appreciate that the premise of What If…? would suggest that anything is possible if you simply let a timeline spiral out of control, but let’s be honest: there is no timeline out there where I don’t start this review by penning some kind of heartfelt tribute to Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. Once an Agent, always an Agent.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Coulson on our screens. The finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was only last year, bringing a (temporary?) end to the adventures of Coulson and his crew after seven incredible seasons…but technically the original Phil Coulson died at the end of season five, and was then replaced by a Life Model Decoy with all of Coulson’s memories, so you could say the last time that we’ve really seen Coulson – like, the OG Coulson – was in Captain Marvel, where he showed up briefly in sequences set during the 1990’s. Until today, that had been his last appearance in the MCU proper (since Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still considered to be on the fringes of MCU canon).
But the MCU keeps finding creative new ways to bring Coulson back, and at this point it’s getting mighty suspicious given all the recent rumors about Clark Gregg boarding the Secret Invasion Disney+ series (he skillfully avoided an interviewer’s question on the topic just the other day, using the kind of vague language that usually means the interviewee is wary of revealing too much). The MCU proper hasn’t ever addressed his first resurrection, the one that launched him from an untimely end in Avengers to a fresh start on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., so all of his post-Avengers appearances in the MCU have been flashbacks, but things are starting to look up.
And who could resist bringing Coulson back into the MCU proper, after watching his performance here and seeing how his character continues to connect with fans? What If…? itself didn’t trend on Twitter this morning: but Coulson did, and even cracked into the top ten trends. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans like myself were just happy to see him again, and MCU fans who don’t watch the “non-canon” TV shows were enthused because they barely got to know Coulson in the movies. Clark Gregg, meanwhile, is at the top of his game in What If…?, delivering rapid-fire humor and characteristic charm.
One of the great things about Coulson’s character is that he’s constantly evolving. He’s died and been resurrected so many times he makes it look like an Olympic sport, but every time he’s been brought back to life Gregg finds something new to bring to his performance. Today’s episode of What If…?, for instance, highlights an unexpected story element that Gregg apparently had a lot of fun with – Coulson having a crush on Thor (this has led to a lot of confusion online because some fans jumped to the conclusion that he was gay. I can easily believe that Coulson is bisexual or pansexual, but I will not be accepting any erasure of his slow-burn romance with Melinda May).
Anyway, Coulson’s ability to cheat death time and time again is a quirky bit of meta-context to have going into this episode, which is centered around the subject of death, rebirth, and the encouraging thought that some hopes and dreams can never really die….even if all but one of the original Avengers are murdered in a string of killings that range from unsettling but family-friendly (like Thor being impaled by a rogue arrow) to downright freakish (I’m sorry, did The Hulk just inflate and spontaneously combust?). And in What If…?, the dead stay dead.
Based on the events of that fateful week between Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, today’s episode envisions an alternate timeline where a serial killer haunts S.H.I.E.L.D., specifically targeting each of the candidates on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s Avengers Initiative shortlist for mysterious reasons. This timeline’s Nexus Event is the sudden murder of Tony Stark (voiced by Mick Wingert).
Or at least, so you’re led to believe throughout most of the episode. The big twist is that this timeline had actually branched much earlier, but where the episode falls apart as a good whodunnit mystery is that the twist (which could have been really well-done) relies on so much information that is nowhere discernible through any previous clues that it just comes out of left field, and feels totally unearned and frustrating because how was anyone supposed to guess that in this universe Hope Van Dyne of all people was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. and killed on a mission, or that her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) went off the deep end because of it?
It’s no fun to try and play along with a mystery where the answer is designed to be totally random, but at least the lead-up to the twist is thrilling and suspenseful – largely thanks to Lake Bell voicing Black Widow with a nearly-perfect blend of the wry humor sported by Widow in her earliest MCU appearances and the nuance and depth that only crept in later. She still dies by the end, but at least that fate is shared by all of her teammates so she doesn’t feel quite as singled out in What If…?. The lack of Scarlett Johansson’s voice is noticeable, but Bell is an experienced voice-actor with a lot of flexibility and range, so it’s not egregious.
More than ScarJo, what’s missing from Bell’s Black Widow performance is a great animated action sequence that really puts you back in that 2010 headspace when Black Widow was still a lethal spy and assassin who used her wits to get the upper hand in a fight. She does break out of the back of an armored van, but we barely get to see her in action there. And her final one-on-one fight with Hank Pym in a darkly-lit library is eerie and intense, but not exactly flattering to the Widow given that she’s not able to land a single punch or kick on Pym before dying (and yet somehow in the Black Widow movie, she’s able to survive a fall from the stratosphere).
A more evenly-balanced fight ensues at the end of the episode, when Hank Pym suits up in the Yellowjacket armor to duel Nick Fury over his daughter’s grave, only to get more than he bargained for when he realizes that Nick Fury is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in disguise. Out of context that probably sounds even weirder than Hank Pym turning into a serial killer (to be honest, that character regression totally tracks; it’s just poorly-handled), but the fight is well-established, allows for an interesting clash of science and magic, and highlights three characters who have never been very action-oriented in live-action.
But Fury’s alliance with Loki quickly disintegrates when the God of Mischief decides to stick around on earth and simply…take over. With no Avengers ready to challenge him, his conquest is swift and decisive, and it could have ended the episode on a really sour note were it not for another twist: Fury calls in Captain Marvel (voiced by Alexandra Daniels) as back-up. And just as things are getting really interesting, that’s where the episode ends abruptly.
Now, I know last week’s episode kind of did the same thing, but that was left a little more open to interpretation. The threat of Ego didn’t necessarily feel urgent. This plays like the first half of a two-parter, and I’m left wondering where’s the second half where Nick Fury and his new Avengers take on Loki and the entire Asgardian army. You can’t just tease the possibility of war between gods and mortals, and then not follow through with that! My desperate hope is that the episode of What If…? that was reportedly moved from season one to season two because of time-constraints is the one that picks up this story thread again.
As is, this is a decent episode; nothing more. Seeing Coulson again made me happy, but honestly I think the people most likely to get a kick out of this episode are the three or four die-hard fans of The Incredible Hulk. Not only does What If…? recreate an iconic moment from the much-maligned Universal movie with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner supplanting Edward Norton’s version, but the character of Betty Ross shows up for the first time in official MCU canon. Much to my dismay, Ross is not voiced by Liv Tyler (Stephanie Panisello takes the role instead), but hopefully this clears the last hurdle that prevented Tyler from returning in the She-Hulk series; her character’s disputed canonicity.
Ah, well. Perhaps, taking a page out of Coulson’s book, this storyline could pop up again somewhere down the line when we least expect it, and we might even get to see Nick Fury’s new Avengers in a future episode or season of What If…?, with Captain Marvel, Captain America, Betty Ross, and/or whoever else makes the cut. Never say never, am I right?
After seven years, the end has finally come for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m pleased to report it’s a glorious one. In so many ways, it’s the end of an era – for us, as the devoted fandom who stuck with the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team even when others claimed it wasn’t worth it because it would never be Marvel canon; for the cast and crew, obviously, since they’ve put so much hard work into making this show everything that it has become; and for an epic chapter of television history; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought us seven seasons worth of brilliant, albeit absolutely bizarre, storylines spanning the entire Marvel Universe (and occasionally breaking out from its confines). And best of all…it’s a happy ending, the kind where all our major characters get to go out on a high note and nobody gets killed off just to make the plot more dramatic: in fact, precisely zero of our protagonists died on last night’s two-hour long finale event. On the flip-side, I think I can safely say that we, the audience, all died just a little as we had to grapple with the realization that this is…really it. It’s over. It’s done.
Though, if anyone is wondering – and be warned, you will be hearing about this a lot from me in the near future – there’s still plenty of ways in which Marvel could continue the story of certain S.H.I.E.L.D. team members, particularly Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), both of whom I still firmly believe can and should join the MCU proper.
The finale, which is actually two back-to-back episodes, gave us a lot to muse on: from Avengers: Endgame tie-ins and references, to cinematic visual effects, to the individual endings for each and every character’s arcs. Because this show has always centered around its amazing characters, we’re going to break down all of those endings one by one: yes, even the villains because villains deserve satisfying endings too.
Well, except for Chronicoms. And speaking of Chronicoms, let’s talk about them first and foremost because these folks (a race of emotionless cyborgs with the ability to steal human faces and wear them as their own) have been a mixed bag since they first showed up in any large capacity. When it was just Enoch (Joel Stoffer) back in season five, they did seem kind of interesting – but ironically, that was because Enoch turned out to be a rogue Chronicom who had actually developed emotions during his long sojourn on Earth. Particularly in this final season, the Chronicoms have felt very one-dimensional, with only their leader Sybil the Predictor (Tamara Taylor) having much personality. And that doesn’t really change much in the finale. The Chronicoms are extremely threatening, which helps, but they still don’t rank high on the list of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains, with their vague motivations and bland character designs. In the opening minutes of the finale’s first half, they capture Daisy, Al “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) as the trio of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tries to launch a daring raid on the Zephyr One, where their friend Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is being held prisoner. But apart from Sybil, the Chronicoms don’t actually come out in full force until the last half of the finale, when their entire army heads to the Lighthouse S.H.I.E.L.D. base in a last-ditch effort to stop their arch-nemesis Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), only to find themselves defeated by a very unlikely threat from above: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who, after incapacitating Sybil with a kick to the face, uses her newfound empathetic powers to give the entire Chronicom army emotions. It’s a good idea in theory and it underscores the point that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been about compassion and unconditional love, but it’s definitely a concept that needed more set-up: and the way the Chronicoms simply drop their weapons, declare themselves to be friends, and then disappear completely from the story afterwards is…well, not exactly underwhelming because I didn’t expect much from the Chronicoms, but just a little anti-climactic.
But that’s okay, because they were never the real big bad anyway. This whole time, that’s been Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), the son of HYDRA royalty, who was supposed to die young in 1970 but, due to timeline meddling, ended up surviving all the way into the present day, stealing some of Daisy Johnson’s seismic superpowers and becoming the finale’s main antagonist. I didn’t have a problem with this: Malick, despite his questionable fashion statements and anarchistic tendencies, is a lot more compelling than any Chronicom – and the duel between the two Quakes is every bit as epic as was promised. Malick’s goal by this point in the episode is to kill Daisy and use the remaining half of the Chronicom fleet that’s still descending through the earth’s atmosphere to wipe out S.H.I.E.L.D., and he figures that Daisy won’t be able to stop him because the only way she can feasibly kill him is by killing herself in the process. “That’s the idea”, Daisy responds – and she explodes. In the biggest display of her powers ever, she sends shockwaves tearing through space, ripping the entire Chronicom fleet to pieces: taking Sybil and Nathaniel Malick with it. But Daisy, at the eye of the hurricane so to speak, unintentionally survives the blast and her drifting body is picked up by Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the Zephyr One just in time for her sister, Kora (Dianne Doan), to come in and revive her using her own healing powers.
Kora, the final season’s third major villain, has an awkward redemption arc at the last moment. She comes to her senses after a confrontation with Daisy, tries unsuccessfully to convince Malick that Daisy is actually a good person, gets shot for her efforts, and then uses her powers to assist Melinda May in the final battle. Fitz describes Kora as the key to ensuring the survival of the world and that’s great and all, but…what exactly did she do? Her powers get upgraded so quickly it’s hard to tell what her limits are anymore: first it was just glowing punches, then it was somehow related to electricity, then she could heal people, now all of a sudden she can shoot laser beams through space. But while I might have to rewatch the episode to clarify certain details, I’m still a little confused as to why her power was so vital. She saved Daisy, so I’m eternally grateful for that, but Daisy had already defeated the Chronicoms – her survival wasn’t necessary, except to fans. And the laser she shot at the Lighthouse achieved…what, exactly? In hindsight, I wish she had been introduced earlier in the season if only so we could have gotten a better idea of what she wanted and what she could do. But of course, that wouldn’t have worked because of the way the time jumps were going, so…
Speaking of time jumps. The emotional core of the entire finale is the FitzSimmons duo, who, as it turns out, have been orchestrating most of the events of seasons six and seven with masterful intricacy and a lot of help from time travel. As is explained in flashback, they both took off at the end of the season six finale and spent years perfecting a time machine design so they could eventually come back and save their friends. Fitz, whom we’ve been waiting for ages to show up again, finally reappears at the crucial midpoint of the finale and confirms that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually utilizing the same time travel logic from Avengers: Endgame – which states that going into the past creates divergent timelines, rather than changing the future. Amazingly, the Endgame tie-ins don’t end there. Not only does Fitz reference how time travel makes use of the subatomic Quantum Realm and explain that he’s been traveling the Realm all the time he’s been gone, examining different timelines to see which ones work in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s favor, but he actually takes the S.H.I.E.L.D. team through the Quantum Realm, along with the entire Chronicom fleet. This is all to make sure that the Agents get back to their original timeline and leave the other timelines mostly unscathed, but it has the added benefit of bringing the show closer to the MCU than it’s been in years.
Unfortunately, escaping the alternate timeline to return to the original one comes with consequences: one member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to stay behind in the past to work the time machine apparatus, and that member is the rascally Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward), who offers himself up voluntarily. Deke has spent his entire time on the show trying to fit in, and he’s never truly belonged anywhere but the 1980’s. And, as he explains to the team, he’s kind of a rock and roll superstar in this alternate timeline. But that’s not his only task: with all of 80’s S.H.I.E.L.D. in chaos, Deke promises to step up to the challenge of becoming the organization’s new director, a title that definitely should not suit him as well as it does. Thankfully for him, he’ll get to work with a couple of agents who escaped the Chronicom attack on last week’s episode – including a younger but still instantly recognizable Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), who gets her long-overdue justice on her killer John Garrett (James Paxton) by shooting his younger version in the forehead.
Returning to the day of the season six finale and what should be the proper timeline, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to overcome both Chronicoms and Malick. This requires a slight detour to the ancient Mesoamerican temple where the season six finale took place, where we reunite with Piper (Brianna Venskus) and the Inhuman Flint (Coy Stewart), both of whom have hilarious interactions with the time-traveling FitzSimmons as they try to make sense of what’s going on – one of the funniest moments is when Piper, for whom only a few minutes have passed, asks whether or not all the commotion is being caused by the death goddess Izel (the season six big bad), and Simmons has to wrack her brain just to try and remember who that is. But Piper and Flint aren’t just there for laughs, being asked by Simmons to stand guard over a mysterious chamber while she and Fitz manage the whole time travel business. As we discover near the end of the episode, that chamber contains something incredibly precious to FitzSimmons: their daughter, Alya, named after the star system in which they hid for years, lived their lives and designed their time machine. Alya, who speaks with a Scottish accent clearly inherited from her father, is the reason why the fight is so personal for FitzSimmons, and she’s the perfect culmination of their incredible love story.
And on that point…culminations. The end for so many characters we’ve grown to love over the past several years. FitzSimmons, luckily, are the first ones to get their happy ending, and they even get to enjoy it twice – since by finale’s end, they’ve settled down in the current timeline, on Earth. The last scene of the finale follows the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team reuniting via hologram message at Enoch’s old hideout, the Swordfish bar, discussing old times, playfully teasing each other, and promising to stay in touch, with each eventually disconnecting and giving us a little glimpse into their new lives. FitzSimmons and little Alya are enjoying a picnic when we last see them, and they’ve never looked so happy. Their romance, which one seemed like a curse, has blossomed into something beautiful.
Mack and Yo Yo had the least to do in the finale overall, with Yo Yo only getting a couple of action scenes (standouts, nonetheless: that’s just how awesome she is), but their lives in the present day look fascinating. Mack is still director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he’s sporting a very Nick Fury-like coat as he strides about the deck of his helicarrier. Yo Yo, meanwhile, is on assignment with her own team, which includes Piper and Davis (Maximilian Osinski), who has been resurrected as an LMD. Yo Yo has one last incredible moment as she jumps out of the team’s car and speeds off down the road, her upgraded Inhuman powers giving her the ability to go wherever she wants and never have to “bounce back” any longer.
For Melinda May, her future involves a lot of hard work – but no longer as “The Cavalry” (a nickname she finally embraces near the end, putting aside the trauma she had formally attached to it). Instead, she now works as a teacher at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, which has been renamed the Coulson Academy and also seems to sport a daisy in its new logo. Flint is amongst her students, and May seems genuinely happy helping the next generation begin their training as agents. Some fans of the Philinda romantic coupling are upset that she and Coulson didn’t head off into the sunset together, and I get that, but I also feel like May’s new empathetic powers lend themselves well to the role of a teacher (besides which, her and Coulson are still giving each other meaningful looks in the closing minutes so maybe there’s still a spark between them?)
Eventually the series brings us back down to where it all began, with Coulson and Daisy. Their relationship is the real core of the whole story: it’s fitting that they get the last word. For Daisy, her future includes a journey into the depths of space alongside Daniel Sousa (they end up together, which is…fine, I guess), and Kora, with the intention of reaching out to alien races across the galaxy – almost like they’re Agents of S.W.O.R.D. or something. Those of us who still want Daisy Johnson in the MCU will continue to push for an Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series that includes her in some capacity, and the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale has given us a tantalizing hint of how awesome it could be.
And as for LMD Coulson…who did NOT decide to power down or turn off completely, the future is looking bright. He’s taking some time to himself, traveling the world without any urgent plans, and he’s got a “cool” (the very last word spoken in the entire series) new flying Corvette modeled after his original car, Lola. A gift of Mack’s, the sci-fi vehicle allows Coulson to go out in an appropriately epic style, soaring over the streets of Washington D.C. and zipping away to destinations unknown. I was certain that Coulson would die this season, completing his cycle of death and rebirth, but this is a much more fitting end: after all, this whole series was started partly because of how much fans rallied behind the hashtag #CoulsonLives, after it seemed we had lost him forever in The Avengers. Coulson is, indeed, living his best life now.
And that’s the true beauty of this show. It’s always been about the fans. We’re not the biggest subsection of the Marvel fandom, but we’re passionate, we’re persistent, and we made it so much farther than anyone could have ever guessed. And in the end, I hope we’ll all keep in touch, just like the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – raise a toast to a spy’s goodbye for now, but somewhere down the line we might cross paths again. Maybe in the MCU, even, if we pressure Kevin Feige enough…
Thanks to Hurricane Isaias and a poorly-timed power outage, this review is several days late – but still just in time to get out before the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale this Wednesday: a hotly-anticipated two-hour long farewell event that will bring seven seasons worth of intricate storytelling to a close…and hopefully tease further adventures with certain characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe down the line. Fingers crossed.
But before we start looking ahead, let’s break down everything that went on last Wednesday, in the penultimate episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the episode serves mostly as finale set-up, moving characters into place like chess-pieces ready for battle, but it still manages to get a lot done: particularly when it comes to strengthening the relationship dynamics between our main cast. Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) have a chance to clumsily – but adorably – rekindle the romance they started during the turbulent time-loops a week or two ago, while Daisy’s long-lost evil sister Kora (Dianne Loan) establishes a fragile bond with both Daisy and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), which quickly breaks down after she learns of the death of her mother, Jiaying – an atrocious act committed by Kora’s partner-in-crime, Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), which she nonetheless blames on S.H.I.E.L.D. because Malick is apparently so precious to her that by the end of the episode they’re locked in a passionate embrace, kissing while Chronicom warships blow S.H.I.E.L.D. bases to smithereens from space. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Obviously the most urgent issue at hand is the captive state of Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), whom Nathaniel Malick and his crew of mercenaries snatched away from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters week before last, with the intention of probing her memories and discovering the location of Malick and the Chronicoms’ arch-nemesis, Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker, appearing only in flashback sequences). By the end of the episode, despite Malick doing everything in his power to ransack Simmons’ mind and emotionally torture her, Fitz’s locations remains a mystery. Add onto that the fact that Simmons apparently doesn’t even remember who Fitz is anymore, and we have ourselves a big problem: the Fitzsimmons ship, which I listed as the most romantic coupling in the Marvel universe, is in real danger of not becoming endgame. Fitzsimmons is known for the emotional trauma it inflicts on all of us, but this episode really outdid itself – through flashbacks, we bore witness to the moment Simmons had to say goodbye to Fitz, screaming through her tears that she didn’t want to forget him or the life they had together. Would it be possible for her to share her memory-suppression technology with the rest of us, so we too can forget that painful scene ever happened?
Then there’s the question of how to rescue Simmons from the Zephyr One, which Malick hijacked and flew straight into the cold void of outer space. Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) makes a half-hearted attempt that goes wrong very quickly, and gets tortured by Malick alongside Simmons. The last we saw of him, he was alive, but bruised, bloodied, and very confused. Thankfully, Daisy, Daniel Sousa and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Al “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) are on their way to the Zephyr One‘s coordinates in their own spacecraft, and they share the most memorable scenes in the episode: Mack tries to play matchmaker for the awkward couple (I wasn’t too fond of them before, but Mack’s teasing – paired with his very serious warning that if Sousa does anything to hurt Daisy, he will face the wrath of the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team – did a lot to warm me up to the unconventional pairing), and Daniel just can’t get over the fact that Daisy’s superhero nickname is “Quake”, a moniker he finds laughably ridiculous. Personally, I’ve always found “Quake” to be a very cool and fitting name, and I wish Daisy used it more often, but I will admit that Daniel’s suggestion to Daisy that she get a giant “Q” stamped on her utility belt (poor Daniel, with his outdated notions of superhero costuming!) was extremely funny.
On the ground, Kora spends most of the time locked away in a S.H.I.E.L.D. holding cell at the Lighthouse, until a confrontation with Melinda May leads to her unleashing her…weird golden glowing fist-punch thing…instantly knocking out all the electricity at the base (too soon, Marvel, too soon), including the computer system’s firewalls – in turn allowing the disembodied Chronicom Sibyl to creep into the Lighthouse’s computer systems, where she starts wreaking havoc immediately. Luckily, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is himself mostly robotic at this point, and spent a good deal of time trapped inside a computer in the 1980’s, giving him an acute knowledge of coding that keeps him…well, not exactly one step ahead of Sibyl, but maybe, like, just one or two steps behind her? He doesn’t manage to stop her from turning every other S.H.I.E.L.D. base around the globe into a heap of burning rubble, but at least he was able to figure out her evil plan a few seconds before she actually went through with it. That’s got to count for something…right?
With the power out, Kora also obtains her freedom. Despite Melinda May’s best efforts to turn the homicidal Inhuman into a force for good, Kora simply doesn’t want to change. She does genuinely offer her services to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, but her offer involves murdering a baby (though, that baby is the future Grant Ward, which doesn’t make it right but also doesn’t make it entirely bad), so Coulson turns it down. Enraged, Kora escapes back to Malick, and that’s where we get the whole kissing-while-the-world-burns nonsense. Honestly, it’s hard to visualize an outcome where Kora is redeemed by the end of this: her treachery hasn’t earned her any love from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Daisy is already hell-bent on erasing her from history. But, according to Kora, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are already living in an alternate timeline and the only way to make things right is to start killing off the people who shouldn’t be alive in the present day – cut to the time-displaced Daniel Sousa, who is definitely treading on very thin ice heading into the finale. Will he, like most of Daisy’s previous love interests, meet a horrible fate, or could he be the lucky one that gets away?
Heading into the finale, the world is currently under attack from the Chronicoms, who have an entire fleet of warships that are just occupying the earth’s atmosphere; Daisy, Mack and Daniel are about to collide violently with said fleet; Nathaniel Malick is no longer interested in finding Fitz, and has instead generously offered Simmons and Deke first-row seats to the end of the world; Kora is on her own, having alienated everyone who tried to care about her; Coulson, May and “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) are stuck at the Lighthouse, which is probably going to be the Chronicoms’ next target; and Jiaying is still dead, which is a disappointment.
I have no idea what’s coming next. There are hints and rumors going around that some kind of MCU crossover will happen in the finale, with the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly setting the timeline right only to get snapped out of existence by Thanos, and it’s entirely possible there are still some major cameos planned for this last episode. Fitz is going to turn up somewhere, somehow – I’m hoping and praying he’s actually on Nick Fury’s secret S.W.O.R.D. base from the Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits scene, but I’m not betting on it.
It’s been a wild ride, and I can’t wait to reach the end of the road. I’m also extremely grateful that my power was restored so I’ll be able to watch the finale and not wait almost a week to review it. Sorry about the delay, dear readers.