The final episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that aired last night marked the end of an era in Marvel Comics-related television fare. The show was the last TV show produced without the involvement of Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige. Of course, there are a couple of other shows that are coming soon like Hellstrom and some animated fare, which are not spearheaded by Feige. But with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conclusion a chapter has been closed in a time of shows not directly related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for it. After all, Joss Whedon, the director of the hit film The Avengers, created it and directed the pilot episode, but more importantly it was supposed to be set in the MCU. It did star Clark Gregg, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, a recurring character in the MCU films. The complication was that Coulson was killed off in The Avengers so a big mystery in the early episodes was how he was resurrected. There were numerous other connections to the MCU such as guest appearances by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jaimie Alexander as Sif, Maximiliano Hernandez as Agent Jasper Sitwell, Powers Boothe as Gideon Malick and a few other actors that appeared in the MCU films. Not to mention, the early seasons of the show were directly connected to MCU films, notably Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World.
However, many viewers came away disappointed with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that many episodes were bland, unimaginative and did little to satisfy the cravings for the MCU between films. That was not entirely the fault of the show’s producers. It turned out the show was the victim of a turf war between Kevin Feige and the head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter. The two men often clashed over the direction of the MCU and while Feige was in charge of the films, Perlmutter handled the TV shows and other media. As we all know, Feige ultimately was allowed to directly control Marvel Studios and the MCU without having to report to Perlmutter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began its slow divorce from the MCU.
Even before the schism fans complained about how the show was never referenced in the MCU films. Meanwhile, for a time it seemed as if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. namedropped whenever it could every single MCU character or incident. It was clear any connection to the MCU was a one-way street.
Still, despite its missteps, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did find its legs and made the most of its tenuous connection to the MCU. This was best seen during the latter half of its first season which tied-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that film’s plotline of the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy organization revealed as having been infiltrated by the terrorist organization Hydra. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), one of the core characters in the show, was revealed to be a Hydra agent and the show fully dealt with the ramifications of the film’s events.
A major story line that was supposed to be carried over into the films was with the Inhumans. Originally, Ike Perlmutter wanted a film made based on the characters since he wanted these superhumans to fill in the role of the mutant X-Men. At this time, Marvel Entertainment did not have the film rights to the X-Men and Permutter did not want to promote them in the remaining media. Thus, characters who were Inhumans popped up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and took on prominent roles. It went so far as to retroactively make another major character, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennett), to be an Inhuman (the Marvel superhero Quake). But once Feige was allowed to go his own way, he dropped any plans for an Inhumans film and the show was left holding the bag.
While this was frustrating, this gave the show the opportunity to find its own voice. It wholeheartedly embraced the Inhumans plot point and then embarked on season-long arcs that allowed the show to shine. It introduced other characters from the Marvel Comics such as Ghost Rider, Mockingbird, the Hive and the Aborbing Man, and they were well received by fans. At one point, Ghost Rider was to be spun off into a new series but those plans were cancelled.
Arguably its best arc was during its fifth season when Coulson’s team was hurtled into a future where Earth was destroyed and the remnants of humanity were slaves of the alien Kree. A new character Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) a scruffy, goofy, Peter Quill-type character was introduced and became part of the team after he and the agents returned to the present to prevent Earth’s destruction. Another interesting character that joined the team was Enoch (Joel Stoffer), a Chronicom anthropologist (a race of alien androids). He was perpetually fascinated with humanity and the actor’s befuddled and whimsically befuddled mannerisms were often the highlights of episodes.
In the latter half of the season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its last tie-in with the MCU as it tenously referenced Avengers: Infinity War. As Coulson and his team dealt with an alien threat and preventing Earth’s destruction, there were many references to Thanos and the early events of Avengers: Infinity War. The season culminated in a climatic battle between Quake and Graviton. This battle was pivotal since it was revealed that Quake was responsible for destroying Earth and the battle marked Glenn Talbot’s (Adrian Pasdar) final and tragic transformation into the villainous Graviton because Talbot was seen as a sympathetic frenemy before he became Graviton.
After the fifth season ended, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. abandoned any ties with the MCU and took off with its own stories. There were some Easter eggs that hardcore fans could spot, the most recent was the use of the MCU films’ quantum realm to time travel.
An obvious sign of the show branching off was that at no point did anyone become a victim of Thano’s Snap as that event had a major impact throughout the world in the MCU films. The sixth season had our agents dealing with Enoch’s villainous race and other alien threats to the world without any mention of the events of Avengers: Infinity War. The real-life reason was that the showrunners were just as in the dark as we were about the development of the MCU films. Essentially, the show had no choice but to branch off with its own storylines.
In the final season that just concluded, Phil Coulson (who died at some point in between seasons five and six and was now replaced by a Life Model Decoy android) and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were involved in a time-traveling arc that had them jumping to various points in history which saw the early formations of Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. This event allowed for Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) from the Agent Carter TV show to pop up and become part of the team. The mini-arcs where the agents traveled to specific time periods such as the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s and 1980s were very well done as the agents dealt with culture shock.
As good as the last season was it did suffer in that the final villains were lackluster. They were younger versions or relatives of villainous characters such as John Garrett (originally played in the first season by the late Bill Paxton and replaced by his son James Paxton), Kora (Dianne Doan), an Inhuman sister of Quake, and Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), the son of Gideon Malick. The villains lacked oomph and gravitas; and they often seemed as if they were trying to fill in bigger shoes to the point that they wore clothing that was too big on them.
However, as the final episode “What We’re Fighting For” neared its conclusion, a feeling of sadness pervaded as the final mission turned out to be the team’s last. The last moments when we see Phil Coulson, Quake, Mack (Henry Simmons), Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), Fitz and Simmons (Iaian De Caestecker and Elizabeth Hentsridge, respectively), and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) reuniting were very touching to see as we learned what they were up to after their final mission concluded.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not the best superhero or Marvel TV show and it was outdone by many others such as Daredevil, The Boys, and Doom Patrol. But it was an enjoyable diversion with some pretty terrific episodes full of action and solid acting and story lines. As we eagerly await the next chapter of Marvel TV to begin with the Disney+ shows let’s take a moment to acknowledge the merits of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.