Agents of SHIELD: Season Seven Review
A warning of spoilers as we delve into the final season of Agents of SHIELD...
Before the hype over WandaVision, Loki and all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney+ and the Netflix project that launched the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the first true TV-based project connected to the MCU was Agents of SHIELD. Set around the events of the phase 2 movies and with Clark Gregson resurrected as SHIELD agent Phil Coulson after his death in the first Avengers movie, the first few seasons saw the intrepid band of SHIELD agents react to the events of Thor: The Dark World and the cataclysmic events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It was the show that picked up the HYDRA threat and introduced the Inhumans long before that terrible one-season TV series. The first season Agents of SHIELD was fun but ultimately a little underwhelming, only really finding its feet after the destruction of SHIELD. It's second season and third seasons played off that event, tapping into the galactic feel of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and then really hitting a high with it's superb fourth season that dealt with the LMD threat and the debut of Ghost Rider. Having been all but ignored by the movies, Agents of SHIELD went out on its own with time travel, world-ending threats and invading alien forces. And it was all the better for it. By the time the series caught up to the events of The Avengers: Infinity War, it was largely on its own, not even bothering to pay reference to the dusting that wiped out 50% of the world's population. The lack of connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the time season six rolled by might have frustrated some fans, but arguably the show was far superior when it was doing its own thing.
The end of season six saw the team on the run as the Chronicoms were determined to wipe out SHIELD in order to save their future and establish a new home world on Earth. Jumping back into the past, the crew - minus Fitz - had a mission to follow the Chronicoms as they attempted to change history, taking the Zephyr to 1931 New York. It was an intriguing premise and one that promised to be a fun send-off for the long suffering team of agents.
Season seven of Agents of SHIELD is a lot of fun. The time travel element is liberating, allowing the show to have fun with the established events of the series and wider MCU. Kicking things off in the 30's, the opening two episodes The New Deal and Know Your Onions saw the team indulge in the world of gangsters, speakeasys and corrupt cops, as the face-stealing Chromicons replaced humans. Think The Untouchables meets The Terminator. It's a solid opener, with the cast having fun in period costume, fitting into their surroundings while trying to uncover the threat from the future.
The twist surrounding Darren Barnet's Wilfred 'Freddy' Malick, the father of the man that would run HYRDA, is great, forcing the agents to save an enemy that will cause so much harm to stop an even greater threat. Being a time travel adventure, there's plenty of moral drama over the right to stop one evil over another, playing right into the 'would you kill Hitler as a baby' debate. Interestingly, the solution is not clear cut as it first seems, with the HYDRA threat offering something of a nostalgic slant on the rest of the season, feeding off the seeds planted in these opening two episodes.
The pacing on the seventh season is terrific and no time period outstays its welcome. No sooner has the team been forced to save Freddy from the Chromicons, then the Zephyr is jumping forward to the 50s to embrace the whole 'B movie' vibe. It's also where the season takes the opportunity to act as a sequel to the cancelled too soon Agent Carter with the return of Enver Gjokaj as Daniel Sousa. The wonderfully titled Alien Commies from the Future! sees the team infiltrate a military facility in Nevada to stop the Chromicons sabotage. Elizabeth Henstridge's Jemma Simmons posing as Agent Peggy Carter provides plenty of humour, particularly when Sousa - who worked with the actual Agent Carter - appears. This episode is the first real highlight of the season, balancing humour with action, culminating in a thrilling showdown with the Chromicon infiltrator. It doesn't quite play into the Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe, focusing more on humour than tension, but the stakes feel very real.
This is followed by the superb Out of the Past, a delightfully kitsch black and white adventure that recounts the final days of the legendary Agent Sousa. The episode captures the 50's crime noir motif perfectly, right down to the pitch perfect voiceover from Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson and plenty of twists and turns leading up to the impending fate of the first agent of SHIELD. Once again, Agents of SHIELD plays into the moral debate surrounding the change of timeline, complete with a surprise twist that allows Sousa to 'die' in the original timeline while joining the crew for the rest of their mission. Gjokaj brings a pragmatic, old school charm and outside perspective to the series, fitting in wonderfully with the cast and having instant chemistry with Chloe Bennet Daisy 'Skye' Johnson. Bringing Sousa into the ensemble is the masterstroke of season seven, giving him much needed development and closure that was denied him after Agent Carter's cancellation.
The other masterstroke is the greater focus on Joel Stoffer nice Chromican Enoch this season. The droll, rumbling delivery and 'alien' approach to every situation brings something new to the show. But he is also terribly endearing. You feel the loss of Enoch when he is stranded in 1931, even more so his eventual demise in As I have Always Been later that season. The absence of best friend Fitz (who is sorely missed) gives Enoch the opportunity to bind with the rest of the crew, most notably Simmons who's connection to the mission and Fitz grounds Enoch as a member of the team.
Jumping to the 70s in A Trout In The Milk, it's all flairs and platform shoes as the crew adapt to their latest surroundings and the show becomes something of a homage to 70s cop shows. There's also a great bit of continuity with comics as May introduces herself as Agent Chastity McBryde, while being very in keeping with the setting. The resurgence of HYDRA offers plenty of surprise, not least a surprise re-run of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier almost four decades early. The list of names on the Project Insight List is a delightful array of MCU Easter Eggs.
The second big bad of the season, Thomas E. Sullivan's Nathaniel Malick, emerges in this setting, becoming the primary protagonist as he steals Daisy's powers in a fraught and somewhat brutal narrative. If there's any fault to lay with Agents of SHIELD season seven, it's Nathaniel. Sullivan has the right level of arrogance for the role, but he doesn't have quite the same impact as the Chromicans and their cold, ruthless leader Sibyl, brought to life by the wonderful Tamara Taylor. Perhaps it is the continued focus on the character though, as his role in the 70s is effective, proving to be a dangerous wildcard for the team. There's also plenty of drama to be had out of Mack's decision to rescue his parents, resulting in a shocking final act, while Coulson plays the hero, seemingly defeating Sibyl once and for all.
The Totally Excellent Adventures of Mack and the D is absolute delight of 80s nostalgia, with Deke forming an 80s pop group that performs all the decades biggest hits years before they were release; Jeff ward's performance of Don't You (Forget About Me) is a worthy excuse for the season seven time travel concept alone, while the creation of his own inept team of SHIELD agents is pure farce. The sub plot involving Sibyl communicating with computer whiz Russel to build her an army of killing machine is pure War Games in design, while Coulson as a computer interface is hilarious.
We then go into season two territory in After, Before with the return of the Inhumans, Afterlife and Daisy's mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). The revenge plot of Nathaniel and the surprise reveal of a sister Kora (Dianne Doan) doesn't quite have the impact intended, though it does allow Daisy to deal with her previous trauma. The issue from this point forward is that Nathaniel and Kora take up a lot of screen time, distracting from the real Chromican threat and they are neither worthy of being the big bads of Agents of SHIELD's final season.
There's still a lot of great stuff happening in this segment. As I Have Always Been is the highlight of the season as the show goes into full Doctor Who territory and the Zephyr finds itself stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario as the vessel plunges deeper and deeper into a time vortex. It's a superbly funny and dramatic episode that makes the most of the concept, while allowing Chloe Bennet and Clark Gregg to take centre stage as Daisy and Coulson try to save the ship. The demise of Enoch is tragic and heart breaking. He has become an essential member of the cast over the last two seasons and the weight of his loss to save everyone is keenly felt.
Season seven looses a little momentum with Stolen and Brand New Day, though it remains no less fun. The time jumping stops, leaving the team stuck in the 80s and a very different timeline to the one they came from. The increased focus on Nathaniel and Kora and a sense that the replaying of established MCU events has already taken place earlier this season, does create a sense of season seven being in a holding pattern until the end of the run.
But where it does succeed is in the characters. Yoyo finally gets out of her slump with newfound confidence and enhanced powers, while May finally starts to warm up. Her extreme lack of emotion after her 'death' last season feels a little dragged out, and it is great to see her regain a closer bond with the likes of YoYo and Coulson. There's also a wonderful tribute to the late Bill Paxton as his son James takes up the pitch perfect mantle of a younger John Garrett.
The arrival of the Chromican fleet at the end of Brand New Day really takes things up a level. There is the much welcome return of Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), first in the flashbacks to his and Simmons' unseen life out of time at the end of season six and this his triumphant return at the final hour at the end of The End is at Hand. As much as it is great to see younger versions of old characters like Victoria Hand, the blossoming romance between Daisy and Sousa and the budding bromance he shares with Mack (blowing up Chromicans by activating their nuclear warheads is a lot of fun), the heart of Agents of SHIELD has arguably been the tortured romance between Fitz and Simmons (sorry Coulson). Both De Caestecker and Henstridge carry the weight of the show's penultimate episode.
The stakes going into the finale What We're Fighting For are incredibly high. Fortunately the episode delivers a satisfying conclusion to not only the Chromican / Mallick threat, but also the characters we have followed over the last seven years. As cheesy as the concept could have been, acknowledging that what they fight for is family gives the ending so much heart. The reunion between Fitz and Simmons after her initial amnesia is lovely to watch and there are plenty of surprises, not just in how the flashbacks wrap up their journey out of time, but in the family they formed. Daisy meanwhile finds herself saved by family; after a spectacular showdown with Mallick that sees her go up against a villain with a suped up version of her own powers - in true superhero fashion - her sacrifice to stop Mallick and the Chromican fleet us rewarded with her own reconnection to a sister she never knew she had.
Each character gets a satisfying ending. Deke becomes both a rock god and the leader of SHIELD, staying behind on the alternate Earth to help send his friends back home. It's a heroic and well deserved ending for a character that has grown on the team - and audience - over the last three seasons. After a fake out moment of self-sacrifice, Sousa and Daisy end their journey together, travelling out among the stars. Fitz and Simmons finally get that sense of peace and happiness long denied them over the course of the season. Even Mack and Yoyo remain together, despite the fact that their SHIELD roles often keep them apart. Yoyo's final moment is suitably badass and the sight of Mack on the SHEILD hellicarrier leaves him exactly where he deserves to be, complete with Nick Fury-style long leather coat. May's ending is quieter but still poignant, training up the next generation of SHIELD recruits, while the return of Coulson's flying car is the perfect place to leave his character.
Those endings - and that one year reunion - are deserved. The finale delivers on action, tension and plenty of great twists and turns, with a welcome addition of some of the big MCU elements like the Quantum Realm to please fans everywhere. While it kind of ignores the infamous dusting from Avengers: Infinity War, it doesn't really matter. The references to the Thanos threat is there as we tie back into the end of season six, but it is nicely side-stepped too. Agents of SHIELD does its thing to the very end.
While I am sad to see these characters go, and would still love to see the likes of Daisy, Mack and Yoyo in the MCU universe in some form again, the final season is a highly satisfying and very fun cap on seven seasons of adventure. It wasn't always perfect, but then Agents of SHIELD rarely was, but for a few mid to late season stumbles in narrative, tension and big bads, it came out on top with one of the most satisfying series finales of recent years. The show may not be as closely tied to the new upcoming crop of Disney+ shows, but it certainly made it mark.