Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 finale review: Absolution & Ascension

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. wraps up its third season with a two-part showdown between Hive and Coulson’s gang...

This review contains spoilers 

21 & 22 Absolution & Ascension

Absolution kicked off with a rather strange opening scene, seemingly on the planet Maveth, with Daisy attempting to rejig some wiring while Coulson looks sad. Everyone else, apparently, is dead. Part of me thought that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was showing us the end of the story first, Fight Club-style, but this scene ended up being a dream sequence. It was totally irrelevant to the two-parter season finale that followed. Odd. 

So, the season 3 finale didn’t exactly start by putting its best foot forward. But from there things soon started to look up. We had some cool spy stuff, with Fitz using motion capture and a green screen to secure the code needed to shut down Hive’s nuke. Followed quickly by John Hannah begging Hive not to kill him and attempting to make friends with the Primitives. Meanwhile, Skye is back at base guilt-tripping herself for the blood spilt during her time away. 

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Considering the writers had two episodes to tell this story, it’s somewhat surprising that things get going so quickly. Before long, the gang have tracked down Hive and incapacitated him. The brain-frying scene was a highlight, with Grant Ward’s memories suddenly resurfacing and Hive struggling to keep himself together. There were nice call-backs here to previous seasons, and further proof that Brett Dalton is a much better actor than we thought in the first place.

Moving Hannah’s Holden Radcliffe into the S.H.I.E.L.D. base was an inspired move. There’s been a dip in comedy since Lance and Bobbi left the show, and Radcliffe’s behaviour this week – whooping over Hive’s new state, frantically explaining that he was under ‘extreme duress’ the whole time, and commenting on Talbot’s moustache – was a very welcome breath of fresh air in that regard. His attempt to remember what all the letters in S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for was also a neat nod all the way back to Phil Coulson’s debut in Iron Man.

This lighter touch spread over to Fitz and Simmons, as well, as the duo took the time to plan a holiday despite the fact they haven’t found a cure for the Primitives yet. Simmons’ snorkelling comment came right out of the leftfield, and raised a really big chuckle for me. Of course, the pair were soon separated again and Fitz had to fight off a pack of Primitives in the hangar.

There was still room for heart, too. Mack’s scene where he forgave Daisy was really touching, for example. Making it all the more shocking when Daisy begged Hive to take her back at the end of the episode. This was a good cliffhanger, albeit one that was resolved very quickly due to this being a double-bill…

Onto part two, then, another episode that had rather a lot of great moments. Daisy being rebuffed by Hive was a surprise, and the fight that followed was decent (if not show-stopping). The bit where she tried to stab him to bits and nothing happened was certainly effective. That’s one way to increase the threat level. Yo-Yo taking a bullet, although a rather rushed-past scene, had a similar effect. There are stakes here, as we’re also constantly reminded of by the cross necklace from Daisy’s vision being passed around like a hot potato.

The things that worked in the first half of this finale continued to work in the second. Radcliffe’s ‘science hunch’ moment was funny, as was Simmons’ attempt to lob a lamp at Coulson (“Thank god you missed!”). Fitz got more cool spy stuff, in the shape of that invisible gun. Coulson joined in too, calling a Quinjet using his bionic forearm. “I really enjoy the way you do things”, Radcliffe remarked, and it’s hard not to agree at this stage. Gadgets, guffaws and good character moments are what we’ve come to hope for from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and they were all being served up here. 

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Hellfire, one of my favourite characters this year simply because he’s such an arse, got a standout moment around this point too. “Even the ladies?” he asked, when discussing the imminent transformation of half the planet into deformed Primitives. Trust him to be thinking of that during a time of such chaos.

Then Coulson shows up as a hologram (cool spy stuff and a Star Wars reference? What more could I possibly want?), and Hive gets his squid face out for a few seconds. “Yeah, yeah”, Coulson snarks as Hive explains his crusade. He’s heard enough of these insane villain plans now and clearly can’t be bothered to argue back. A nice twist on the formula, that.

The episode’s really ramping up at this point, and we soon get one the show’s best action scenes yet – the gang taking down a bunch of Primitives as the camera spins around them. It was like those big splash-page shots they do in the Avengers movies, but with the added bonus of Mack’s Shotgun Axe 2.0. And then, just when things are at their loudest, they suddenly quieten down.

Daisy and Hive are on the Quinjet. He creepily explains that he smelt her blood. Lincoln sends Daisy flying as the ship takes off, and suddenly it’s all over. There’s no escape now, for Hive or Lincoln. They’re trapped with a nuke and headed up to space. This was a really impressive way to end a villain arc that’s been going for months – not with a big fight, but with a quiet acceptance that he’s lost.

Lincoln and Daisy get their Cap/Peggy moment over the comms, with the former accidentally letting slip that he loves the latter. Lincoln’s split opinions all year, but here – in making the sacrifice play, like Tony at the end of The Avengers – he proves that he’s a better guy than many of us thought. His final chat with Daisy was a little bit heart-breaking, and his discussion with Hive about how small the Earth looks from space was just a really interesting place to finish the story. Two mortal enemies admitting defeat, and having a chat before they blow up. I liked that a lot.

And then, after Daisy laments that Lincoln is paying for her mistakes and Coulson remarks that he’s sacrificing himself for everyone (a bit too Jesus-y a comment, perhaps?), we suddenly jump forward six months. There’s a new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Radcliffe is working on Life Model Decoys, and Daisy is running around dressed as what a room of network executives agreed that a cool person looks like.

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A strong finale, then, which sows plenty of seeds for the future as well as wrapping up season 3 in some interesting ways. I would’ve maybe liked a few more big superhero moments and people using their powers, but a quiet moment in deep space was a very cool curveball instead. See y’all in the ‘fall’, folks!

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Emancipation, here.