After a slow start doing mostly case-of-the-week stories, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really ramped up through the spring. Necessary, given the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The season finale, “Beginning of the End,” is the climax of that arc, a battle between Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) S.H.I.E.L.D. team and John Garrett’s (Bill Paxton) Hydra men. It’s got plenty of action, but also takes the time for some really satisfying character interactions, resolving hanging threads, and revealing yet another character thought dead is still alive. The costs are high, but as expected, the good guys win.
If you watch Marvel fare for the action, “Beginning of the End” has plenty of that. Coulson, Antoine (B.J. Britt), May (Ming-Na Wen), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) storm the compound, guns blazing. Ming gets to take out her frustration with the traitorous Ward (Brett Dalton) in hand-to-hand combat, which the more experienced agent wins. Deathlock (J. August Richards) shows his powers of destruction. Even Skye, traditionally not a fighter, pulls a gun and acts tough. These are special agents tasked with protecting the world and they show it.
But the dynamics are far more interesting. Ward himself, a part of the main team for most of the freshman year, has unresolved feelings for Skye, and both Skye and May take Ward’s turning very personally. The conversations they have, sometimes during the battle, allow the characters to put into words what they’ve been going through. The cast is forever shaken up, and even though the seeds have been planted for a possible Ward redemption (which I honestly hope they don’t pursue), he’s not one of them any more, and this hurts emotionally, viewers and characters alike.
Coulson is experiencing a similar thing with Garrett, his old buddy. Garrett has gone completely crazy, unlike Ward, which makes him easier to hate. However, there is still the lingering ghost between them of their camaraderie. This influences the scenes they have together, even after Coulson terrifically blasts him into ashes in a pure Joss Whedon twist. It’s these relationships, carefully built to show depth in only a few episodes, that makes the proceedings mean so much more.
The best dialogue in “Beginning of the End” is between Coulson and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), whom Coulson and movie-goers know is alive, but not most others in the world do not. Their banter in observing Garrett is great, but the explanation as to why Fury brings Coulson back to life (because he’s an Avenger) is even better. Marvel doesn’t just make superhero stuff, it breathes complexity into those people, and with terrific, memorable one-liners, these moments in which personality is exposed remain firmly ensconced forever in one’s head, which is what all TV strives for.
There’s an emotional sequence with Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) too, who begin the finale at the bottom of the ocean. Fitz sacrifices everything for Simmons. The duo have a wonderful bond, but no romance has been pursued between them. One wonders if that will change now that they’ve been through this, and Fitz has been willing to give himself up. He may be permanently damaged; something that could make for rich drama next year and more growth for him, but because Simmons is present for this, let’s hope some of the change rubs off on her.
Unlike most televison fare, “Beginning of the End” gets every detail right. Most shows hit certain notes, but miss others. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. frequently leaves viewers without complaint. The dynamics and relationships are well served, and the writing is snappy, but the direction deserves credit as well. Who didn’t get excited when Fury shows up at an unexpected moment to pull Fitz Simmons to safety? Or when Coulson finds the big gun? Or when Patton Oswalt returns in a different role (a clone, perhaps?) after being killed off a few weeks ago? There are so many little things that can be picked out and celebrated, which form a cohesive, unimpeachable whole. Quality-wise, it’s one of the strongest entries on network television, even if it is the popcorn genre.
This continues even in the trademark Marvel end tags. Garrett’s resurrection may be deliciously sabotaged, but Raina (Ruth Negga) escapes and most fans will never see coming whom she goes to. Toss in a shot of Coulson that proves he’s crazy like Garrett, maybe just keeping it reigned in a little better, casting the future of the new S.H.I.E.L.D., which he has been put in charge of, in doubt, and there’s plenty to anticipate over the summer, getting us excited for the sophomore presentation.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed for a second season, which will air as two mini-seasons next fall and spring, with Marvel’s Agent Carter in the middle to avoid repeats and off-weeks, on ABC.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00KARA13O,078518998X,B0090SI3GQ]