Of all the superpowers the characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exhibit, perhaps the most impressive is their ability to defy the show’s anemic ratings. With little fanfare, the series has returned for an unlikely sixth season. You’ll be forgiven for not noticing. It came as a surprise to me to see an episode turn up in my DVR recording list.
The Final Frontier
After a lengthy recap, the premiere opens in deep space, on board the ship where Fitz is lying in suspended animation. Enoch, the so-called “sentient chronicom” minding over him, debates what to do as a fleet of ominous-looking battleships head directly toward them. One fires a swirling energy weapon that slices Enoch and Fitz’s ship clean in half.
Once just a fancy airplane, the Zephyr is now a full-fledged interplanetary spaceship. Agents Piper (Briana Venskus) and Davis (Maximilian Osinski) pilot it to a dystopian planet covered in junk. An irritable bumpy-headed alien boards and finds Daisy and Jemma in the cargo hold. He yells at them for landing on his planet without authorization. They claim that they’re low on fuel and didn’t have a choice. The alien says that’s bad news for them and now he’s going to have to take them into slavery, but then practically craps his pants when Daisy tells him that her name (one of the dozen or so she goes by) is Quake. Apparently, her reputation as the Destroyer of Worlds has spread across the galaxy. Daisy uses her powers to disable the alien’s goons and demands not just fuel, but information that will lead them to their friend.
The alien claims that he isn’t responsible for destroying Fitz’s ship, but obtained half of it in a salvage operation. He points them to the wreckage. Although Jemma finds Fitz’s cryo-sleep pod, unfortunately it’s empty. However, inside it she discovers a clue pointing to another planet where the pod was manufactured. Jemma is convinced that Fitz would go there for some reason. The rest of the team think the evidence is a little thin and want to return to Earth first to regroup and resupply, but Jemma argues that they need to press on.
Before they can make a decision, a destroyer ship from the league of evil alien races called the Confederacy comes up on them and attacks. Daisy issues a command to use the teleporter device confiscated from the Kree last season to return to Earth, but Jemma inputs different coordinates before they jump.
Back on Earth
S.H.I.E.L.D. has been legitimized as an official government agency and all of its agents are free to operate out in the open again. Mack is director now that Coulson is dead, but still feels so unsteady as a leader that he watches inspirational hologram recordings from Coulson every day to reassure himself that he’s doing a good job. Agent May, who stayed with Coulson in his final days, is back on the team. Yo-Yo is also still around, though she has broken up with Mack and is secretly dating a hunky new agent named Keller (Lucas Bryant, formerly the star of Syfy’s Haven).
Mack sends May to Indiana on a mission to intercept a big bald guy (no, not Thanos; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has more or less broken from doing tie-ins with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) who forces his way through some sort of dimensional portal that also turns a nearby kid’s basketball to porcelain and manifests a flock of birds. The guy’s partner isn’t so lucky and materializes in the middle of a brick wall. When May tries to apprehend the presumed baddie, he shoots down her jet with a laser rifle and gets away.
Mack isn’t too pleased when May returns to the headquarters beneath a lighthouse. Whoever the bald guy is, he’s somehow responsible for “reality warps” that cause hallucinations to come to life. Unfortunately, with both Fitz and Jemma gone, S.H.I.E.L.D. lacks a good science genius to figure out exactly what’s happening. May recommends that Mack recruit Dr. Marcus Benson (Barry Shabaka Henley), a washed-up college professor with a drinking problem. Benson doesn’t seem interested at first, but Mack convinces him to join the team and rebuild the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy.
Baldy is later joined by two more Mad Max rejects, a man and a woman, who arrive in another portal. They head for a museum to meet up with someone they call “Sarge.”
Mack has Dr. Benson investigate the corpse of the guy in the wall, who turns out to not be as dead as expected – at least, he survives for a few seconds. Conveniently, Benson discovers a GPS device on the body that leads to the local Museum of Natural History.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. team arrive at the museum just in time to watch the building explode in a giant energy vortex. May and Yo-Yo are knocked down and left woozy. Suddenly, a big semi-truck plows through the swirling vapors. Out steps none other than deceased former director Coulson (Clark Gregg), sporting a stubble beard and wearing a leather jacket and biker boots. May is dumbfounded. Another agent stammers, “But… but… but… you’re from S.H.I.E.L.D.” – to which the Coulson lookalike replies that he’s never heard of it and kills the guy.
The episode concludes with confirmation that Fitz is indeed still alive, but we’re not sure where he is. He injects something into his own neck, speaks an alien language, and has decidedly non-human eyes. So, that’s weird.
I can’t say that I’m overly excited for the return of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I’ve come with the series so far that I feel obligated to stick with it for a while. As far as the show’s premiere episodes go, this one is fine. The storyline it sets up is reasonably interesting, and the studio obviously poured a lot of money into a bunch of fancy visual effects for the space scenes. (However, as I recall, the last season also had a splashy premiere, only to spend most of the following episodes with the characters wandering a dimly-lit windowless bunker.)
The evil Coulson is a good plot twist, even if it is just a transparent ploy to keep Clark Gregg on the show after killing him off. Whether we’ll get a satisfying explanation for who or what this guy is remains to be seen.
If I’m correct, this season should only have half as many episodes as usual. That can only work in the show’s favor. Its last few seasons were bloated with filler episodes and protracted storylines. With luck, the writing may be a little tighter this time. I’ll hang around for a bit to find out, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to recapping every episode, as I have in the past.