Viewers who’ve stuck with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this long were rewarded with two pieces of good news this week. ABC has officially renewed the series for a second season (and has also picked up a ‘Captain America’ spin-off companion series called ‘Agent Carter’). Just as importantly, the Season 1 finale didn’t suck – and it really could have. Perhaps there’s some hope for this show after all.
Not that the finale episode, called ‘Beginning of the End’, is anything spectacular, of course. In fact, I think last week’s episode was a little more consistent and fun overall. However – I’ll say this again for emphasis because it could have gone down the crapper very easily – the episode doesn’t suck. It’s a solid “pretty good,” which by this show’s standards is far better than average.
We start at a Cybertek office, where a new hire is being shown around a cubicle farm that turns out to be the super-soldier control center. The scene is bizarrely mundane, and almost plays like something out of ‘Office Space’. His manager blathers something about an “Incentives Program.” Later on, we’ll learn that most of HYDRA’s recruits are there because the organization has kidnapped family members and is holding them hostage to ensure cooperation.
The last episode ended with Coulson and group trapped by super-soldiers. They manage to get out of that situation when May busts out the Asgardian staff from earlier in the season and gives the soldiers a good ass-kicking.
With the alien juice running through his system, Garrett feels much better and stronger, but is also acting a lot crazier. He plans some sort of uprising, and babbles about a “world beneath the surface of the world” while scratching elaborate alien mathematical formulas onto a pane of glass. Ward is concerned about his erratic behavior and thinks that Garrett may be losing it. However, Raina – who previously seemed so disappointed to learn that Garrett isn’t really clairvoyant – is suddenly fully on board with his plans. She excitedly talks about an impending evolution for the human race.
Ian Quinn has invited a group of American military commanders to Cybertek headquarters to sell them on the super-soldier program. He shows them an automated medical bay that can outfit a wounded soldier with cybernetic enhancements in minutes. When one general expresses skepticism, Garrett shows up and kills him. He doesn’t give a shit about money or power anymore. He believes that he’s seen the future and nothing can stop him.
While that’s happening, Coulson and Triplett hijack some military equipment and invade Cybertek. Skye hacks the HYDRA network and distracts most of the super-soldiers. May gets the jump on Ward and they have a big fight. Fury shoots Garrett, but it has no effect. All of this is interspersed with some pretty funny, Joss Whedon-style dialogue.
Elsewhere, Fitz and Simmons are trapped in a storage crate that has sunken to the bottom of the ocean. Fitz was able to send a brief distress signal, but believes that nobody’s listening to the old S.H.I.E.L.D. frequencies. He devises a plan to blow a hole in the container so that Simmons can get out, but it entails sacrificing himself for her. She refuses to leave him behind, and drags his body to the surface. Just at that very moment, a helicopter swoops down and the presumed-dead Director Fury (Samuel Jackson) reaches out to save them. Conveniently, he received the distress call.
In no time at all, Fury somehow gets himself to Cybertek to join Coulson. They sarcastically mock Garrett as he rants about his plans to control the universe. Garrett, with Deathlok (a.k.a. Mike Peterson) at his side, does seem fairly unstoppable, though.
Skye unlocks the Incentives Programs and rescues Peterson’s son. She gets the boy to send a message to his father, which allows Deathlok to override his programming and turn against Garrett. He kicks the shit out of Garrett, who pleads that, “You need me to translate the words of Creation,” upon which Deathlok stomps on his head and appears to kill him.
The other super-soldiers get rounded up. Ward is arrested. Deathlok leaves to wander the world and make amends by helping people in need, like the 1970s ‘Incredible Hulk’ or something. Simmons is OK. She says that Fitz is alive, but suffered oxygen deprivation to the brain, and she doesn’t know how much he’ll recover.
When nobody’s looking, Garrett revives on the floor, drags himself to the med bay, and gets RoboCopped into a suit of cybernetic armor. He gloats that he’s stronger than ever, and now no one can possibly stop him. Hilariously, Coulson steps into the room and zaps him with an energy weapon thing seen in a previous episode, instantly blasting Garrett into goo. So much for that.
Coulson corners Fury to have a chat about the Tahiti project and how he got resurrected from the dead. Fury says that he regrets nothing. He calls Coulson an Avenger, and tells him that his life is essential to the safety of the world. He wants Coulson to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. from scratch, and names him the new Director. He then sends Coulson and team to yet another secret base, this one called The Playground, where they’re greeted by… Agent Koenig (Patton Oswalt). He introduces himself as Billy Koenig. Is he a twin? A clone? A Life Model Decoy? I suspect the latter, and that all of Fury’s secret bases are manned by Agent Koenigs.
In brief wrap-up scenes, Raina visits one of Skye’s parents. All we see of him/her/it is a gooey arm. This is followed by Coulson waking up in the middle of the night and scrawling Garrett’s alien mathematical formulas onto a wall. Apparently, the alien juice is getting to him too.
So, it looks like Season 2 will pick up with S.H.I.E.L.D. back, but in some greatly reduced capacity – no longer a major government agency, but also presumably no longer hunted as fugitives. Coulson will struggle with the alien stuff inside him, and we’ll learn more about Skye’s alien origins. That’s a little disappointing, as the disbanding of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of the few interesting things about the first season, and I can’t give even the slightest damn about Skye. However, this episode has some high points, and I’m not willing to write the show off just yet.
I’m aware that Joss Whedon doesn’t have much direct hands-on involvement with this one, but most of the TV series he creates take a season or so to find their footing. Even though ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ had a very rocky start, maybe it can stabilize and grow into something more consistently entertaining over time. I’d like to give it that benefit of the doubt, but my patience does have its limits.