The Good Stuff
In August of 2020, the Marvel TV show Agents of SHIELD aired its 136th and final episode after seven seasons with little fanfare. While TV shows come and go and seven seasons is quite an achievement, this particular show is very interesting. I still remember seeing a trailer for the pilot episode in a movie theater, I remember #ItsAllConnected being slapped on every ad across social media, I remember speculating with other fans on how Agent Coulson was still alive. There was hype! Oh, there was hype! The MCU was barely out of Phase One with the massive hit crossover movie Avengers at a time when a shared cinematic universe was an entirely new concept. Fast forward seven years and the final episode drops with a whimper. What happened? Is it because Marvel has been quietly striking the show from its canon for a while now? Is it because it was overshadowed by Marvel streaming shows from Netflix and Disney+? Is it because the final season aired during a pandemic? Who can say, but one thing is for sure: I’m going to write up a two part retrospective about the show for this site. I’ll start with the good and the next part will be the bad and likely anger some fans. So, without further ado, let’s dive into part one and explore what made this show great (oh, and there will be spoilers so you’ve been warned).
There were some very memorable characters on the show that had some great character arcs that spanned the entire series. While a lot of shows have the annoying habit of undoing character growth for whatever reason, Agents of SHIELD was never afraid of shaking up the status quo.
Fitz and Simmons went from the goofy science team in the first season to competent badasses who are running their own missions by the final season in a very gradual and satisfying way. Fitz especially takes a turn as he gets darker and darker throughout the series, terrifying both his team and himself. His dark side never seems forced, either, which is great. Of course, when we talk about character growth, we should talk about Daisy. If you were to talk to someone who had never seen the show and describe a character named Skye and then described a character named Daisy, they would likely assume they were separate people and not the same character who not only went through a complete personality change but even changed her name. She went from a snarky anti-establishment hacker to a badass secret agent who is loyal to the team to a superhero and second-in-command in a smooth transition that made sense to the character. Bonus points for the show sneaking in an established Marvel character from the comics without us realizing it.
Of course, if we talk about characters, we have to talk about Phil Coulson, arguably the main character of the show. The show wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him. He started off as a side character in the first Iron Man movie and soon became a fan favorite due to his dry wit and everyman-type personality. It’s unfortunate that he showed up more in this show than he did the movies as it would have been fun to see how he would have reacted to the likes of Ant-Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Phil’s confidant and eventual love interest Melinda May was also a very important character to the series, played wonderfully by Ming Na-Wen.
Then there are a lot of side characters or characters that showed up in later seasons. Yo-Yo and Mack were great additions to the series and had a really engaging relationship. Later seasons had the character Deke who was from an alternate timeline that, despite not being a full-fledged agent, was savvy enough that he constantly proved his importance to the team despite the fact that the team hated him for reasons that were never quite clear. And while he only showed up at the tail-end of the series and was more of a recurring character, I loved Enoch, their alien robot body. Speaking of side characters, the show also managed to show Marvel heroes such as Deathlok, Mockingbird, and Ghost Rider in multiple episodes, which was always fun to see. This all made for a very rich cast that played off each other well.
What a Twist
Now, let’s talk about the various twists and turns in the series which should be expected in a spy drama. The one that most fans will remember would be The Fall of SHIELD storyline which coincided with Captain America: Winter Soldier. Not only did we find out Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD for many years but one of their own was a Hydra agent. Agent Ward started off as the Riker to Coulson’s Picard and was a somewhat generic pretty boy hero-type, but the twist came when it was revealed he was a psycho double-agent and easily my favorite villain of the series. The fact that he had a love triangle with Daisy and May turned an otherwise cliched plot into a very dark storyline that had ramifications for several seasons. This show liked to subvert this sort of trope. When a second faction of SHIELD was revealed, one would expect that faction to be evil and/or incompetent, but they ended up being allies even if there was a lot of mistrust coming from both sides. The final season’s time-travel story had an episode which featured Daniel Sousa from the Agent Carter series. I expected him to be nothing more than a guest star and was pleasantly surprised when he joined the cast for the final handful of episodes. The show was also not unwilling to have the odd surprising death such as when it killed off Agent Triplett or introduced a character played by Lucy Lawless, then killed her off immediately.
There were also a lot of smaller arcs in which main characters were keeping secrets from the team. While this could easily become tiring or turn the show into a soap opera, it made sense every time. Coulson kept the Theta Protocol under wraps, for instance, due to a great deal of mistrust since it was given to him just after the Fall of Hydra and during the aforementioned reveal that a second SHIELD faction was in operation and Coulson wasn’t sure who to trust. These sorts of stories kept the audience on their toes as the episodes would often end with a character going to a secluded location or speaking to a hidden figure in private but the reveal would come later, which meant that we were always guessing what might happen next.
Okay, I like intros to TV shows, particularly if they have a catchy theme tune or some really great graphics. Agents of SHIELD didn’t have a theme tune so much as they displayed the logo to the show for a few seconds with some ominous musical notes. That sounds boring, but they made it work since the logo changed according to the storyline. The show might use a Hydra symbol instead of the SHIELD logo, for instance. When the heroes traveled through time, they used era-appropriate title cards and music. When Ghost Rider was on the show, the logo was on fire. It’s not something people talk about much, I know, but I noticed it and loved it. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.
My Favorite Seasons
Finally, let’s go over the seasons that are, in my opinion, the best the show has to offer. I’ve already talked about the Fall of SHIELD storyline which was the first season or two. That twist was what made the show “grow the beard” as they say. The creation of the two SHIELDS, the revelation of Agent Ward as a Hydra Agent, and “Skye” making her first turn as an agent were all very compelling.
Season four is likely my favorite of the entire series, however. This season saw the creation of the Framework, a Matrix-like simulated world created unintentionally by Fitz and his LMD Aida. The Framework essentially showed an alternate reality where Hydra ruled the world and it brought back both Ward and Triplett in simulation form. Since I love alternate reality stories and I really liked Ward, it was already a season that I was invested in, but wait, there’s more. This series also introduced us to Ghost Rider and the Darkhold, which saw the team fighting supernatural threats which was very rare for them. Ghost Rider looked great for a network TV show and the show did the character justice. What’s more is that while the Framework storyline and the Ghost Rider storyline initially seem as though they wouldn’t mesh, they do manage to integrate the storylines in the climax to the season. If you haven’t given the show a chance and want to only watch one season, I recommend this one.
Special mention should also go to the final season. While I wasn’t initially a fan of another time-travel/alien invasion story or another Hydra story (more on that in part 2), they managed to have a lot of fun going to different periods. I liked that they didn’t shy away from certain unpleasant attitudes that were around in those days but they also didn’t just pretend that everything sucked in the 20th century, either. It was a nice little send-off to the show where all the characters have a nice little happy ending all to themselves.
And that’s about it for what I think are the high points of the series. Agree? Disagree? If I forgot anything, let me know in the comments and stay tuned for part two in which I talk about the bad. Will there be hype? One can only hope.