This review contains spoilers.
2.21 & 2.22 S.O.S
Since I took over reviewing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple of months ago, analysing it more than I ever did as a just-for-fun viewer, I’ve realised one thing: this show really has improved. Even the episodes I’ve complained about seem like necessary evils when considering the big ballsy finale they were building to.
Indeed, it’s with great relief that I can sit here and report that S.O.S. is a satisfying end to the season. It hasn’t always been the case, but S.O.S. truly felt like a Marvel Studios product. It was stuffed to the brim with interesting powers, engaging action and quip-happy characters, who even got some development. If you like Marvel movies, you’ll probably like this. It’s a shame that such a statement wasn’t always true about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but at least it is now.
Perhaps the masterstroke behind this finale was the decision to make it a two-parter – characters had room to breathe, talk and develop without sacrificing time spent punching, kicking and whacking people with an axe. Side bar: did anyone else think Mack was about to dub himself Axe when the camera zoomed into his face pre-Gordon-fight? Alas, Axe’s mutant origins probably rule that out.
Anyway, on the subject of camera movements, if you thought that S.O.S. felt like two completely different episodes directorially and writing-wise, that’s because it was. Co-showrunner Jeffrey Bell penned the first and chattier half (which Vincent Misiano directed), while the other two showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen wrote the second and more action-packed instalment (directed by Bill Gierhart).
All of those folk are Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. regulars, but by splitting their workload and focussing on each half of the episode as a separate entity, the problem of balancing action and character seems to have pretty much disappeared from S.O.S., resulting in a finale with a sense of both fun and finality.
Indeed, if Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended here (it hasn’t, season 3 is already confirmed), these episodes would still have offered suitable wrapping-up; we had a dramatic and deadly conclusion to the Inhuman issues, Cal wonderful-placed and memory-wiped away (making Coulson and Skye pretty much M.I.B.s at this stage), May finally taking some time off (even if she is bringing a gun on holiday), Fitz and Simmons finally agreeing to go for dinner ‘somewhere nice,’ and Bobbi and Lance on the verge of retiring from duty. Not that we believe that last one.
Yes, of course there were loads of teases for future arcs (Ward’s new HYDRA, Simmons probably gaining superpowers, and that whopping Secret Avengers tee-up which will surely tie-in to Civil War), but on the whole this felt like a fitting end to season 2, which really has seen Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. grow even further than it did in those rejuvenating Winter Soldier episodes from season 1.
Other than stretching the finale action into two episodes, I’d say that S.O.S.’s other main strengths came from the script, which knowingly played to each individual character’s strengths, making it a bit of a lap of honour for the people we’ve been enjoying spending time with. Just to be clear on what I consider the characters’ strengths and how they were embraced this week, here’s a full list of the script’s strongest bits:
Coulson was leading operations and (our favourite use of him in ages) encouraging an unhinged and over-powered individual to join a team and save the day; Skye remembered that she was a computer genius, used her superpowers and got another strong fight scene; May was cracking wise and cracking skulls; Fitz remembered that he’s a genius scientist (biatch!), and cutely asked out Simmons; Simmons stopped being unnecessarily evil and remembered she’s both a doctor and a nice person.
The same can be said for most of the supporting cast, too: Lance was quipping while attempting to reunite with Bobbi; Bobbi was talking tough, fighting tougher and throwing her own life on the line to save Lance, despite everything; Mack was patching up the boat, kicking arse (well, axing arms) and urging Fitz on; Cal went full berserk (great scene, even if the prosthetics were a bit distracting), and came back again to save the day; Raina and Lincoln got some redemption; Ward was coyly creepy, and was given a new motivation; and, perhaps best of all, Agent 33 was killed off. That character never really seemed to take off in the way the writers must have initially hoped, and now the show can stop trying to squeeze her in where she doesn’t really fit.
As scripts go, this one really served the characters well. And by cramming in some solid fight scenes, too (particularly Bobbi versus Ward in the corridor, a la Daredevil), Jed Whedon and co. have built a finale that will please Marvel fans, action-lovers, Fitzsimmons shippers and adorers of character development alike.
Of course there are qualms, too, but only minor ones this time: after that whopping twist last week, the transition from loving mum to finale villain seemed a little sudden in Jiaying; Simmons’ character turnaround (as much as I prefer the likeable version) similarly seemed like a U-turn at breakneck speed; Brett Dalton’s ‘no… no… baby?’ reaction to 33’s death was so wooden it could have been in season 1; and, I can’t help feeling that maybe the Inhuman Fish Oil (now on sale!) may have been one ending too far. Maybe leave the never-ending endings to Peter Jackson, guys.
On the whole – it was a very solid finale. It even has me excited for the third run, which wasn’t always a given. Now, how much do you want to bet that Coulson will have a Stark-made Iron Man gauntlet next season?
Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Scars, here.
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