Filmed before ABC’s last-minute (and frankly unexpected) renewal announcement, the season finale of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ was obviously designed to function as a series finale, right down to the seemingly-definitive title ‘The End’. On that mark, it’d be pretty underwhelming.
Coulson is unconscious, his mystery illness finally getting the better of him. The rest of the team argue over what to do. They’ve been forced to choose whether to use the last of the Centipede serum to make a cure for him or make a poison that will kill Talbot. Fitz points out that even if they decide to kill Talbot, the only way to get the poison inside him is for one of them to sacrifice him- or herself by ingesting it first and letting Talbot absorb them, which doesn’t seem like a great option.
Heeding the warning that her older self from the future had given, Yo-Yo is the most adamant that they need to let Coulson die and kill Talbot. When others disagree, she grabs the Centipede serum and refuses to give it back until they listen to reason. May finally ends the discussion by destroying the vial of Odium, the alien drug needed to mix with the serum to make the poison. Without that part, they can’t kill Talbot. The decision is made. They will cure Coulson. Yo-Yo is devastated. She believes they’ve just doomed the planet to destruction.
Talbot, meanwhile, tries to coerce young Robin into telling him where he can find underground reserves of gravitonium that will make him invincible and the most powerful being in the galaxy. She refuses until he takes her mommy away. Eventually, she points him to Chicago, and Talbot flies the alien spaceship down to earth, crashing it right into the center of the city, destroying a bunch of skyscrapers. (Poor Chicago. The city barely rebuilt after Michael Bay trashed the place in one of his ‘Transformers’ movies.)
When Coulson wakes up, he tells Yo-Yo that he would have sided with her. They should have let him die. Deke becomes very fatalistic, assuming that if the team is successful and breaks the time loop, he’ll simply blink out of existence like in the ‘Back to the Future’ movies (which he has somehow seen).
Talbot exits the ship, acting like Zod and causing chaos in the city. He uses his power to dig up a gigantic core sample of the Earth from deep underground until he finds some of the gravitonium he was looking for.
Zephyr One flies to Chicago. Believing herself to be the only one with any chance of facing off against Talbot, Daisy passes the reins of leadership over to Mack, whom she called the “moral center” of the team. Daisy herself prefers to be a soldier, not a leader. Coulson is up and active again, and supports this decision. He defers to Mack to make a plan of action. Mack says that they should focus on what S.H.I.E.L.D. does best – saving people. He calls for the local police (who would be hopeless in a fight against Talbot) to stand down and has the team assist with evacuation efforts.
While searching a building that the spaceship crashed through, May finds Robin, but her mom, Polly, isn’t with her. Mack sends the two of them back to Zephyr One while he goes into the spaceship alone. He finds Polly but gets ambushed by a couple of Marauders. While fighting, the aliens seem to get the better of him. This is bad news given that we know Mack doesn’t make it to the future in the timeline we saw earlier this season. Fortunately, May turns around and comes back with Fitz to save him.
Coulson reveals that he didn’t actually take the healing serum. He just pretended to but is very weak. Daisy goes off to face Talbot alone. To get his attention, she uses her powers to smash him into a bus. While he’s dazed, she tries to talk some sense into him, appealing to him as a soldier who swore to protect the innocent. She says that they should join forces to defeat the alien invaders.
Talbot isn’t interested. He wants to be Earth’s savior by himself. He grabs Daisy and flies high up into the air, then smashes her down into the ground. Somehow, this doesn’t kill her. However, an aftershock from the crash causes rubble to fall on Fitz inside the building.
When Jemma searches for the healing serum to cure Coulson, she realizes that Daisy took it. As Talbot tries to absorb her, Daisy injects herself with the Centipede serum, which I guess super-charges her powers and makes her invulnerable to Talbot. (None of this is explained very clearly.) She throws Talbot off her and then launches him straight up to the sky with a powerful blast. He shoots past the Earth’s atmosphere and freezes solid in outer space.
Talbot is dead. The Earth is saved. The time loop is broken.
Despite not being cured, Coulson recovers enough to be functional. Fitz seems to be OK but tells May and Mack that he broke his leg. As Mack lifts the rubble off him, however, he sees that Fitz has actually been impaled through the stomach by a metal sheet. It’s a fatal injury. He won’t survive it. Fitz is dazed and seems to be unaware of the severity of the situation, repeating again that his leg is broken and asking Mack to carry him back to the plane. After another moment, he dies while Mack and May watch helplessly.
May has to break the news to Jemma, who’s of course devastated. Mack and Yo-Yo reconcile their relationship. Daisy burns all of Robin’s prophetic drawings. May smashes a stone from the monolith that can open a portal to the future.
The team holds a very solemn memorial party in the cargo bay of Zephyr One, lamenting that Fitz couldn’t be there with them. Coulson acts strangely smug for someone attending a wake. Then he gives a speech and we realize that this isn’t a wake at all, but Coulson’s own retirement party.
Fitz is still dead, but also sort-of isn’t. While the Fitz that came back from the future with the rest of them has died, his original self from a few weeks earlier should be off in space somewhere, lying in suspended animation waiting to wake up in 80 years. Now that the time loop is broken, they’ve created a new timeline and there’s no longer any need for Fitz to go to the future that way. Coulson tells Jemma that he’s confident she will find Fitz again. She smiles and agrees.
Coulson says that he may only have days to weeks left to live, but he’s going to spend that time living to the fullest. In a very fatherly way, he tells Daisy that he’s proud of her and then exits the plane onto a sunny beach, depicted with incredibly fakey green-screen effects that look like something from the show’s earliest days.
Now Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Mack commands Zephyr One to depart. As Coulson stands on the beach, May joins him and they watch the jet fly away. “It’s pretty magical,” Coulson says, calling back directly to Season 1.
As a season finale, this episode is decent enough and wraps up the Talbot/Graviton story arc in a reasonably satisfying manner. Talbot seemed a little too easy to defeat, though. Considering that his power is based on gravity and he has already used it to fly, why didn’t he just pull himself back to Earth before hitting the atmosphere? I guess that’s a nit-pick, but it bothered me.
It also strikes me that, after Hive, this is the second master villain Daisy has defeated by sending into space. I guess that’s her go-to move.
The climax where Daisy injects herself with the serum is needlessly confusing (how the serum prevented Talbot from absorbing her is never explained, just taken for granted), as is the epilogue. I think I’ve figured out the logic of what happened to Fitz by thinking about it for a while, but the scene itself left me scratching my head.
Some questions are left unanswered, such as what happened to Kasius Sr. and the rest of the Confederacy? Is that being saved for next season? When this episode was shot, the writers weren’t even sure there would be another season. Deke is also notably absent from the epilogue. Did he blink out of existence and everyone forget him?
Does the beach at the end look so terribly fake on purpose, to suggest that Coulson is undergoing the TAHITI treatment again and having his memories altered? Or was that just a budget issue and we’re supposed to believe that he’s in the real Tahiti this time?
The epilogue feels very tacked-on, as a concession to the possibility of cancelation. Had this really been the close of the series, it’s a pretty flat ending. Then again, this was a very weak season.
I feel like ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ ran out of steam a couple seasons ago and I’m not sure that the show really needs 13 more episodes, but if we’re going to get them anyway, let’s hope they’re an improvement over what we got this year.