The season finale of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. answered very few questions, choosing instead to continue to build toward the greater mysteries its been carefully mapping out since the show's premiere. Some fans might take offense to this sort of open-ended storytelling, wishing instead that the series would wrap everything up with a neat little bow every season. That might be how television used to work in the days before every network was in the original scripted programming business, or before the DVR and binge watching, but the world of television has evolved beyond that simple premise.
A satisfying finale should conclude its main storylines, yes, but there's nothing wrong with carrying a plot thread through from one season to the next. From one standpoint, it's the show's way of making sure viewers return for Season 2. It works similar to a cliffhanger in that its a narrative decision that writers and producers hope will entice you enough to return. If they've done their job correctly, viewers will have invested enough of their time in the show to want to see it through to its inevitable conclusion. It also gives the show something to build toward.
When new series are pitched to networks, the producers have to show they have enough material to make it worth their while, and seasons-long story arcs are often a means of making that point. It proves there's a long-term goal in place and the writers won't be throwing ideas at the wall hoping one of them sticks. Of course, the story needs to be compelling, too, and I think "Beginning of the End" was probably one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most exciting and best episodes to date after "Turn, Turn, Turn." It was able to wrap up Garrett's arc, conclude Mike Peterson's storyline, and find time for a rather sizable guest appearance from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Add to that the ongoing storylines regarding the consequences of Coulson's resurrection, Skye's origin story, Raina and Ian Quinn's lofty dreams, and Ward's betrayal, and I feel pretty safe heading in to Season 2.
After Garrett was injected with GH325 last week, there were a lot of questions about how it would affect him. Well it turned him into a philosophical whackjob, for starters. He spent an awful lot of time saying things like "I can see everything now!" and talking about the big bang, which just made everyone around him want to know where he bought his weed. It also turned him into the world's weirdest graffiti artist with a bad habit of ripping out people's ribs and then stabbing them with said ribs. Maybe I spend too much time watching vampire shows on The CW, but I thought he'd just ripped out his heart and was kind of like, really, the amateur heart grab? Ugh, that is so last week's Vampire Diaries! But I was pleasantly surprised to see the rib. In fact, my reaction to that scene was the equivalent of this scene from Tommy Boy a.k.a. the best film ever made. Perhaps more important than the rib-ripping, however, was that this new development finally allowed Ward to see Garrett for the selfish bastard he's always been.
Garrett finally had everything he wanted, which meant he honestly didn't care much about what Ward was doing. Like the good little soldier that he is, though, Ward kept asking for his next set of orders. If I were Garrett, I'd have been like, "You want orders? Here's what I like at Chipotle! And don't forget the guacamole!" I don't get why villains don't ever think about the little things, always thinking about, like, world domination or whatever. Villains gotta eat, too!
Anyway, Ward was finally able to catch a glimpse of what we all knew already, which is that Garrett used him and abused him for his own agenda, but because it would have been ridiculous for him to immediately start pumping Ace of Base and singing about seeing the sign and opening up his eyes, Garrett sent him on his next mission, which was to collect Skye. There was a lot of talk about monsters this week as Raina claimed Skye was one and again when she asked if Ward's true nature was as a monster or if he was just a product of Garrett's selfishness. It's clear Ward doesn't rightfully know who he is without Garrett, because Garrett manipulated him in to being a perfect right hand who obeyed orders and never asked any questions. Which is why he walked right in to a trap when he went to capture Skye. The gods of justice finally let May get her revenge by kicking his ass. If I had one item on my checklist for the season finale, it wasn't to see Garrett meet his end, or for Deathlok's storyline to come full circle, it was to see May finally get to kick the shit out of Ward for what he did to her. He betrayed every single member of the team, but he slept with May, which definitely gave her first dibs at him. There wasn't a direct hit to the crotch that I could see, which was too bad, but she did nail his foot to the floor and damage his larynx rendering him unable to speak. May: 1. Ward: 0.
So Ward ended the season captured as a villain with Coulson promising torture (personally, I think his threat could have been infused with a little bit of Crowley from last week's Supernatural to really sell it) to but according to executive producers Jeffey Bell and Jeph Loeb, Brett Dalton will be back next season. In an interview about the finale, Bell said they loved Dark Ward and the way Dalton brought him to life. (I'd argue Dark Ward is actually what brought Dalton to life.) They also believe, as I do, that there's a lot of story left in Ward and that he's worth more to the show alive than dead. Loeb even compared him to Bucky Barnes, which is what many of you have been doing since it was revealed Ward was Hydra. "The Winter Soldier has done things that are far more heinous than anything Grant Ward has ever done as far as we know," said Loeb. "And yet, at the end of the movie, you're rooting for him to come back on the side of the angels."
In that same interview—which I highly recommend, by the way, because it gives great insight about Season 1 and what we can expect in Season 2—Bell also compares Ward to Jaime Lannister of Game of Thrones because the world loves me:
I really do believe that no one is too pious to fall or too far gone to be redeemed in some way. Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones did terrible things and now I feel so bad for him because his sister won't kiss him. Isn't that weird? Does she not love him? He lost a hand! It kills me that I care. We want to do that with Ward; we want him to kiss his sister, metaphorically speaking.
So there you have it, guys! Ward is totally making out with Cersei next season. Somewhere someone is already writing that crossover fan fiction. Anyway, knowing Dalton will be back in some capacity next season actually makes me glad we've spent so much time discussing his arc and whether or not his character can be redeemed, because it means it wasn't all for naught. If the show had killed him off or just locked him up alongside nameless villains, it could have given off the appearance that these last six episodes carried no weight, when in actuality, they changed everything we knew about the show and transformed it from a fun show with potential to a much more interesting drama. It would have also meant Fitz and Simmons' storyline this week was just an inconvenience created by a storyline involving a non-essential character, and that is not the case.
FitzSimmons have been the beating heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the series premiere, and were often the emotional tether that kept it grounded. "F.Z.Z.T." remains a series highpoint and it's because it was the first time the stakes felt real, but it was also the first time the relationship between Fitz and Simmons took center stage. So if you didn't cry or at least tear up during their scenes this week, you might want to go to the ER and have your heart checked because there is a very good chance you are dead inside. Iain De Caestecker turned in what was probably his finest performance of the season as the episode gave Fitz a chance to play the hero and tell Simmons the truth about how deep his feelings for her truly are.
For her part, Elizabeth Henstridge's performance was equally moving, first as the realization of what Fitz was telling her played across her face, and again when she refused to accept the plan as it was. "I never had the courage to tell you, so, please, let me show you," Fitz begged, and it was the saddest thing the series has ever done. Simmons may have saved Fitz, but he was pointedly never seen again after Fury rescued the two of them. And Coulson mentioned he might never be the same again, which raises the question of what kind of man he'll be when the series returns next season. Did they have to go to great lengths to save him—like Coulson and Skye-like lengths? I'm not sure how I feel about this development, but I'm not sure I would change a thing about how we got to this point.
Which brings us, finally, to Coulson. We thought he was the first person to survive Project T.A.H.I.T.I. and not show any side effects, but the episode tag, which showed him carving up a wall with a knife (what do these guys have against paper?!), hints that there's still more to come. He's been made aware of the truth, and being aware of the truth about the truth (think about it, it'll make sense in a minute) means he might have just had a delayed reaction. Is he smoking the same weed as Garrett now? Or was he a special brand of crazy? Because I'm pretty sure having a looney toon as the director of a baby S.H.I.E.L.D. operation is a bad idea.
Rebuilding the organization, however, is not a bad idea. It gives the series a chance to once again have a name that makes sense, and it also gives Coulson a sense of purpose again. He's honest, and he truly believes in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mission of protecting people, and I can't wait to see what a S.H.I.E.L.D. under Coulson looks like. Will he lead like Fury, doing what needs to be done no matter the cost? Or will he be a more honorable man? We know he's not afraid to use the big guns, like the very special gun that made an appearance tonight, or the alien technology he used to blow Garrett away for good in what felt like the most Whedonesque moment the series has ever had, but can he stay true to himself? I'm excited to see where all of these ongoing plot threads take us next season, but I also think the season successfully accomplished what it set out to do, which was introduce us to this world and make us care about these new Marvel characters just as much as we care about the big named superheroes. It started off bumpy, and there were some pitfalls along the way, but I give this season a passing grade. Until next season!
– Skye's father is alive! Who is he? What is he? Start throwing out your suggestions in the comments.
– I don't want to let this go without mentioning Raina. She's still mostly a mystery, and the series cannot use the word mutant, but it's pretty obvious that's the territory we're headed in regards to her character. And Ruth Negga continues to rock that role. Her performance gives the character a very weird vibe, but it works so well for what the story requires. I love it and I love her.
– Someone I don't love quite as much is BJ Britt who plays Agent Tripplet. He'll also be back next season, and he's turned out to be a nice addition to Coulson's team, even if I still haven't warmed up to him. Is he the new Agent Handsome? Only time will tell.
– Mike Petereson is free of Garrett's grip and his son is safe. I do like how the entire first season brought his story full circle, as he was our jumping off point into this world in the pilot. I hope we'll see more of J. August Richards in the future, too.
– OMG, PATTON OSWALT IS BACK! I took Ward's murder of Eric Koenig personally, and I've chosen to believe the writers brought him back just for me. No power on Earth can convince me otherwise. However, is Agent Billy Koenig the first introduction of the Life Model Decoys? Or were they just two really weird twins with a lanyard fetish? DISCUSS.
– I'm probably forgetting a ton of stuff but this is already longer than a Tolstoy novel and also it is late so BYE.