Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 6 — a review

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As should be apparent from the series title, this show has been another comic-book-to-television adaptation. (Although, come to think of it, IMdB lists the series without the “Marvel’s” prefix—maybe I have the title wrong.)

In the Marvel comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. was a fictional espionage, special law enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby way back in the summer of 1965. Originally, the acronym stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division. The comic book series was capitalizing on the then-current trend for action series about international espionage agencies, such as television’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And, certainly, James Bond contributed to this trend as well. In the mid-’60s, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Nick Fury, who was an already existing Marvel character who famously led the Howling Commandos during WWII. In 1965, Fury was an older, eyepatch-wearing white guy.

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The organization has gone through changes and permutations too numerous to get into here. In 1991, the acronym was updated to stand for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. Most recently, since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the acronym (which, let’s be honest here, must really be considered a “backronym” by this point) stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

Way back in the series pilot episode, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) asked Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) what S.H.I.E.L.D. meant to him, and he responded, “It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out SHIELD.”

I couldn’t agree more, Grant. By the way, I miss Grant Ward as a character.

I brought up the convoluted history of the comic book version of the organization to point out the similarly malleable nature of this television series. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series I watched in Season 6 is no longer the series I enjoyed in the first two or three seasons. That’s both good and bad, of course. Change and growth is necessary in any serialized story. In spite of the seasonal story arcs, I prefer to think of this series as one long story. A story that will wrap up in Season 7, which was already announced as its last.

One of the early selling points of this show was that it was the first Marvel television series that was a part of the MCU. This meant that the events of the movies sometimes affected the events of the series. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was killed during the events of The Avengers, was resurrected prior to the beginning of the series, and that resurrection was a key part of the plot (Tahiti is a magical place). Plus, Maria Hill made her cameo, as did Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) did the same; plus, she had her own series for a glorious minute. Asgardian Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) was also a guest-star. While it is true that there was no Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk or Thor dropping by like sitcom neighbors (although Nick Fury is a pretty big deal), these little events kept the show tethered to the bigger canvas that is the MCU. Certain plot elements like the events of Captain America: Civil War, prominently the Hydra infiltration, did the same.

This MCU connection also prevented the show from blazing its own trail in many ways. Season 4 marked a huge change for me, which I both liked and was indifferent to. I enjoyed the Ghost Rider arc (although my Ghost Rider rode a motorcycle—just sayin’), but was largely unmoved by the LMD and Framework sections of the season’s uniquely divided triptych structure. I appreciated the idea of dividing the too-long season into more manageable chunks of story arcs, but the execution was ultimately lacking. Then, we teleported our favorite characters into a science-fiction future, where the Earth had been destroyed. Season 5 was pretty much a different series entirely. Not that there weren’t interesting moments. But, the whole time-travel plot made the entire season only a notch above an “it was all a dream” plot; maybe not even a notch.

Which leads us to here: Season 6.

There is plenty to like in this season. First, it’s shorter, only thirteen episodes, just like all of the now-cancelled Marvel Netflix series. I’m firmly on the less-is-more bandwagon these days. The British model of quality over quantity has proven to be effective in our quadrant of the world as well. Fewer episodes requires tighter writing, fewer self-indulgent tangents and side missions. At first, the thirteen-episode order led many to speculate that this season would be the last one for the show. It wasn’t. However, Season 7 will be.

Second, all pretense of tying events into the MCU seems to have been abandoned. The events of The Infinity War and Endgame don’t seem to factor into the story we’re telling now at all. I’m happy about that. At this point, I would prefer to believe that the series is operating on its own alternate timeline. Well…in a sense, having altered the future (multiple times, maybe), it probably does. Let’s call it the Kelvin timeline.

Third, Phil Coulson is back, even though he did, in fact, die after he and Melinda May retired to the real Tahiti to consummate their relationship. This time he’s a dimension-hopping super soldier called Sarge, who gives off strong Cable vibes. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here…

As the season opens, it’s been a year since Coulson’s death and S.H.I.E.L.D. is under the leadership of Mack (Henry Simmons). The organization is still in the process of rebuilding, and, right off the bat, we get an investigation into energy anomalies that turn out to be hostile dimension-hopping strangers led by Sarge, who just happens to be a dead ringer for Coulson, down to the DNA.

Now, that’s exciting stuff, and it immediately piqued my interest.

Less exciting and interesting—to me—was when we switched channels back to that other show, the science-fiction one. SHIELD in Space, maybe. Yeah, I knew we had to get back out there and rescue Leo Fitz from cryosleep in deep space. This would prevent his death. Which, by the way, would prevent the world from being saved in the first place. Such paradoxes are often mentioned as one of the main reasons that time travel (at least to the future and back again) must be impossible. It all gets very confusing. Like the writers of this series, I prefer to sweep any such rational logic under the rug.

At any rate, that’s where we find Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and agents Piper (Briana Venskus) and Davis (Maximilian Osinski) at the beginning of the season, out in space trying to find Leo (Iain De Caestecker). This story arc goes on a little longer than I liked, taking most of the season before our space-team manages to get back to Earth. Part of the justification for the entire arc, aside from rescuing Fitz, is to get the season’s Big Bad, a driven lady calling herself Izel (Karolina Wydra), to Earth as well. For dramatic purposes, Izel’s arrival needed to be during the final act of the arc. See? I can justify it. I just didn’t care for it much.

An aside: Agents Piper and Davis have apparently been around for several seasons, but when I first saw them this season I thought they might as well have been wearing red shirts. Also, I failed to mention that the character Enoch (Joel Stoffer) is always fun.

I was mostly just happy that at least part of the story action was set back on Earth. Mack, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and, eventually, Deke (Jeff Ward), have to deal with bodysnatching creatures called shrikes. Sarge and his team of interdimensional rednecks seem to be fighting them. Ultimately, the monoliths become part of the story again, and Izel is revealed to be the Galactus of the story. This happens and that happens, characters are reunited, and, at the end, the story arc is resolved.

I definitely oversimplified what was a much more complex story, even in only thirteen episodes, and I left out several subplots, including the entire Chronicom War, which sets up our very important epilogue. But, that was the gist of it.

I didn’t hate it. But, I didn’t love it either. I’ve spent time thinking about why. Some of it is a natural result of the overarching series story thread growing beyond its original parameters. It’s no longer the same series it was when it was about the relationship between Coulson, Melinda May and the hacker-formerly-known-as-Skye, with a generous side helping of cute provided by Fitz-Simmons. As more things happened and became additional backstory, we gained characters to add to our roster. Of course, we like all of them and want to spend time with them. In the process, the story itself becomes this unwieldy thing that can’t really stand under its own weight.

This story is going to remain complex until it ends. Which it will, in one final season, a fact I believe I’ve mentioned several times.

What can I say? Lots of great things happen. The special effects are amazing (although it’s a little sad that we expect no less these days). And the characters are all worth spending some time with.

It wasn’t my favorite season, to be sure. While I’m here complaining about the complexity, I still want Ghost Rider back in the mix one more time as well. It’s obvious that people like me are part of the problem.

Firewater’s There’s-No-Going-Back-There’s-Only-Moving-Forward Report Card: B

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You’re a completist: you must watch this. No, it isn’t the best season of the series, but we’re eternal optimists—you and I. The final season is going to make everything worth it.

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