This review contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Season 6 Episodes 12 & 13
Besides the welcome familiarity of the unexpected twists we’ve paradoxically come to expect from Agents of SHIELD, the season 6 finale benefits from a healthy dose of fearlessness. At this stage of the game, the show is unafraid to confound its own characters’ beliefs, and even though the defeat of Izel shut down the whole invasion with Night King simplicity (can this trope please die?), every action and consequence around that pat ending created dread for the fate of several characters and excitement about the final season to come. It’s enough to make anyone wish we could skip ahead to the much cooler-sounding Chronicom takeover storyline.
But although Agents of SHIELD may have taken the easy way out with the shrike invasion, it did not resort to the simple solutions along the way. For example, the writers confronted the concern of some characters and likely many viewers that Flint isn’t any more real than Hive or Lash were in last season’s fear dimension episode. Wouldn’t he disintegrate if poked with a sharp stick? And they allowed Deke to finally shed his cocky veneer and admit that he “built this company because no one liked me!” Mack calling him Agent Shaw was all that was needed to complete an arc that could have easily been otherwise dismissed as solely comic relief.
We even get confirmation that Daisy’s earlier disintegration of a flock of shrike didn’t end the scourge altogether, and the invasion of parasite-infested hosts from a nearby resort town created a believably horrific zombie infestation. The destruction they wrought was balanced nicely by the development of the special dagger-bullets, but the difficulty with the quinjet and Zephyr One was also appropriately suspenseful, especially once Yoyo swallowed a bat and created one of the most emotionally tense situations of the finale — and that’s saying something given May’s fate in this episode.
No one should feel guilty or deceived for backing May’s trust in Sarge, by the way. When, upon dispatching a wounded zombie, the man wearing Coulson’s face quipped, “Too much? I don’t know, it kind of felt like overkill,” whose heart wouldn’t leap for joy at a little trademark Coulson sass? Even after Sarge killed May to rid himself of the pain of love, many viewers likely thought it was a ploy once they saw that her death was meaningless in the incorporeal realm. Never mind the fact that Ming-Na Wen’s social media tells us a lot about who survives through season 7, her death felt very real as did the close call for Yoyo. Those are the kind of ultimate stakes a finale needs, even if they were undone in the end.
Those dramatic moments allow us to overlook the protracted and overly ritualistic nature of Izel’s opening of the portal, wooing of Sarge, sending of signs, and waiting for her colleagues on the other side to place their medallion keys in the door that will allow her people to flood through to Earth. Even her fight scene with May seemed a bit long considering that once she unlocked the door and came back through the portal, all of her efforts were quickly undone by a sword in the back. Even if we accept Izel’s death as an end to the shrike menace, the closing of the portal as well with the horde contained upon her demise was a boon too lucky to wish for or even completely accept at face value.
Fortunately, Agents of SHIELD immediately distracted us, which was no small feat given how Mack disintegrated Sarge, destroying any vestiges of belief that a remnant of Coulson could be saved (or that Ghost Rider would be the one hiding under that skin). Amazingly, May’s dramatic death was quickly upstaged by the floodlights as Jemma Simmons calmly reassured everyone and placed May in cryosleep. With all the mayhem in the Yucatan, it was difficult to focus at all on the Chronicom infiltration at the Lighthouse, even when Fitz and Simmons almost blew themselves up to protect the Framework brain scans from being exploited by the Hunters.
But the narrative gap was expertly explained away with the phrase, “We had time,” as Simmons walked the survivors through a clearly upgraded Zephyr One. Never mind that Mack, Daisy, Yoyo, and Deke just abandoned the massive aircraft to the zombies only moments before. All thoughts of Izel and Sarge were swept away by the threat of Earth becoming Chronica-3, and learning that SHIELD would have to escape through time again heightened audience expectations immensely. Bringing forth an LMD Coulson in order to hide effectively from the Chronicoms in the 1930s may seem questionable as a strategy, but it’s an incredibly satisfying alternative to forcing Sarge into a Coulson-like existence.
So what’s really going on in the end, and what plans have Enoch and the mysteriously absent Fitz cooked up with Simmons? We have some ideas about how to interpret what we saw, but inviting speculation during the hiatus is another crucial function of an effective finale, and “The Sign” and “New Life” fulfilled that obligation beautifully. It was an imperfect ending to a spotty season, but the set-up for what’s to come is all we could have hoped for and more. Season 5 may have come full circle with the Centipede serum and the departure of Coulson, but if Agents of SHIELD season 7 ends up going back to the real beginning of SHIELD in Peggy Carter’s time, we could be in for a real treat. Hope springs eternal!
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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.