‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Finale Review: ‘S.O.S.’ Is a Marvel Movie for the Small Screen
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 2 Finale – S.O.S.:
In its earliest episodes, some viewers complained that they were sold a false bill of goods with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as apparently, many people figured they’d be getting a Marvel movie for the small screen each week. Yet now, with its season two finale, the show has finally delivered on those expectations by giving us just that. “S.O.S.” is the best this show has ever been.
Of course, when you give a show two full hours to tell its story, each storyline has more time to breathe. But even if “S.O.S.” Parts 1 and 2 had been split up by a week, I still think they would have told a cohesive, big event-driven narrative to match even the most grandiose Marvel blockbusters. In fact, this might have had an advantage over Marvel’s big screen efforts, as the smaller scale allowed for a more incisive focus on character. On the one hand, it might be obnoxious to some that so much of this finale’s plot centers on Skye (Chloe Bennet), since it seems as if the entire world revolves around her at any given time. On the other hand, it’s a choice that allowed the finale to have a singular focus, as everything that happens springs off of plot developments that center on her. She initially sides with Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), only to see her mother murder Raina (Ruth Negga) in cold blood, thus fulfilling the visions Raina had been having. Her death brings her character full circle, as she has now been proven to have been destined for something more. In this instance, it wasn’t to lead, but to enlighten. With her death, she shows Skye the truth about her mother, and the horrific nature of her plan for a world without S.H.I.E.L.D. or its ideology. It’s almost a shame Jiaying became a villain so late in the season, since this ideological struggle between the persecuted Inhumans and the “for the greater good” approach of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been far more interesting than much of what we got in Season 2. Then again, revealing Jiaying’s true nature at this late hour allows this finale to play out like a self-contained movie, as the nature of her threat is pretty much introduced and resolved within these two hours.
What’s most cinematic about this, really, are the big action setpieces. The climax on Gonzales’s ship is an absolute marvel (no pun intended, although I have no shame either way). Every facet of the action is intricately tied together. Skye gets a killer fight scene against an Inhuman who can make copies of herself, while Coulson (Clark Gregg), Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Mack (Henry Simmons) go 3-on-1 against Gordon (Jamie Harris) to prevent him from reclaiming the Terrigen crystals (on a side note, what WAS it with good guys going 3-on-1 against villains on superhero shows tonight? Play fair, guys!). Meanwhile, May (Ming-Na Wen) and Hunter (Nick Blood) go on a search for Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) that results in some of my favorite fights in the episode. Seriously, that Bobbi/Ward/Kara three-way was downright badass, and featured some of the sickest fight choreography this show has ever had, easily topping the May vs. May brawl from Episode 4 as my favorite fight scene this season. In short, this episode was home to some really inventive action sequences that built drama because of the high stakes involved. For instance, Coulson’s team playing keep-away with Gordon and the crystals, or May and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) helping take down the multi-girl so Skye could go after Jiaying before she could escape. And then that climax, where Skye tries to make Jiaying see reason, only to have her mother declare her a failure and begin the process of seeping away her life force. Cal’s arrival is not only triumphant, it’s heartbreaking, as he’s forced to kill the woman he loves to protect the daughter he loves more. It’s made all the more tragic by the knowledge that Jiaying wasn’t always like this, but was instead shaped into a monster by the grotesque experiments Whitehall performed on her. It’s just a fantastic series of sequences, and while I don’t think the show could necessarily get away with this level of grandiose action every single week, this truly felt like a major event. It was essentially proof that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t need to ride the coattails of the Marvel movies to feel like a big deal.
Naturally, in-between the big action setpieces, there were loads of character moments. Hunter traveling to the ends of the Earth to find Bobbi does more to develop his character than any quippy interactions he might have, and Bobbi’s willingness to take a bullet to protect him says just as much about where her heart lies. Similarly, I was surprised to find just how genuine Ward (Brett Dalton) was in his love for Kara (Maya Stojan). Seriously, her death is one of the more poignant moments of the episode, particularly since it plays out as May’s vengeance, by tricking Kara into wearing her face again, knowing that Ward (or someone) would shoot her. For May, this revenge is far more elegant than putting a bullet between Ward’s eyes, although the latter solution might have actually saved S.H.I.E.L.D. a whole lot of trouble, considering where Season 3 is headed (but more on that later). Another interesting moment that was a long time in coming was Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) realizing the true nature of her feelings for Fitz, since it feels like that’s a story that’s drifted off to the margins of the narrative this season. It was good to see them reconnecting, even though it seems the romance might be over before it even begins next season (again, we’ll get to this in a bit). However, of all the character development contained in this episode, none was as effective as seeing Skye’s two father figures, Coulson and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), bond over their shared desire to keep her safe. The reveal of just how much she means to both is far from a surprise, but what was surprising was just how affecting it ended up being. I didn’t think Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would ever get me choked up, but two Cal/Skye scenes really hit the mark, the first being when he kills Jiaying to save Skye, and the second when he bids her farewell once and for all. Everything about it is just beautiful, from his observation that Skye turned out better than he’d imagined (“And I imagined you perfect!”) to his final acknowledgment that his “best day ever” was the day Skye was born, I didn’t know this relationship could be so heartrending. And both MacLachlan and Bennet play it perfectly, like two people who are recognizing how circumstances have robbed them of the relationship they should have had.
It all builds to a conclusion that might have served as a series finale if not for the cliffhangers with which we’re left. We learn that, instead of imprisonment, Cal has gone through the T.A.H.I.T.I. program, allowing him to re-enter society at the cost of his memories of Skye. He’s now a veterinarian named Dr. Winslow, and while that might seem like a happy ending, it seems like a moral grey area. I can’t be the only one who feels like the Cal we came to know throughout the season would rather spend the rest of his life in a gulag if it meant he could keep his memories of his Daisy. I just can’t see Cal going through with erasing any knowledge of Skye, even if it does mean he can go free and remain blissfully ignorant of the horrors he’s gone through. Still, this does manage to serve as an impetus for Skye to finally embrace who she is and where she comes from, as Coulson offers her the chance to lead a team of Inhumans under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s banner. Meanwhile, May goes off to explore the world, Bobbi tells Hunter she doesn’t want to be an agent anymore, and Mack rejoins the team as the man in charge of all the weird alien artifacts they’ve found. Of particular note is a giant grey monolith that changes shape at will, and while we don’t get an explanation of what it is, it ends up factoring into the end of the episode in a big way. Just moments after Fitz successfully asks Simmons out on their first date, she gets sucked into the monolith and vanishes. It’s an absolutely nightmarish ending made all the worse by the knowledge that this isn’t even the only threat S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to have to face in the coming months: Ward becomes the new leader of Hydra, essentially making the decision not to kill him a colossal mistake. Basically, this happy ending quickly turns sour, leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. in a situation where anything that feasibly can go wrong does. That said, this gives Season 3 a ton of plot momentum that the transition into Season 2 didn’t have.
In my book, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 was a huge success, from a narrative standpoint. The show took risks by essentially altering its very premise (although the show’s hands were somewhat tied by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but kudos to the show for rolling with those changes so admirably). Everything gelled together in a way that felt more natural, as the show took on a more serialized format that made excellent use of its growing ensemble. With a few scant details released on Season 3, I’m more anxious than ever for the fall to come, so we can pick this back up all over again. Between the renewal of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel’s Agent Carter, I’m really beginning to see the merit in ABC’s Marvel brand as a long-term project, and not just a programming block intended to coast on the success of the Marvel movies. This feels like it’s own thing now, and I couldn’t be happier (I also couldn’t be happier that ABC passed on that Mockingbird spinoff, if only because I enjoy having Bobbi and Hunter here, on this show). Season 3 could be a renaissance for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where it finally becomes the show people wanted it to be from the start. But even if it doesn’t become a weekly Marvel movie, I’m more than happy with the show we already have.
But what did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!
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