There has always been an element of the ridiculous in ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. After all, the show is led by a resurrected B-plot character from The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a super secret government organization that steals and uses alien technology, but still misses a robot incursion into its own ranks. In order to love S.H.I.E.L.D., viewers must embrace the suspension of disbelief. Comics have often been known for their convoluted plots, sudden deaths and resurrections, reboots, and rebirths. Rather than run from the show's comic book inspiration, S.H.I.E.L.D. has embraced the genre. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 6 finale "The Sign/New Life" makes a compelling case that S.H.I.E.L.D. is the most comic book-like of comic television series.
A rockslide of spoilers below!
From rocky start to shocking finish, "The Sign/New Life," is a crazy comic book-inspired romp through superhero and science fiction tropes. The entire two hour episode is one long siege, taking place over the course of a few hours. Yet in those hours, people live, die, and live again. Characters travel back and forth through portals in time and space. Friends long lost to the vagaries of time and space return, sometimes with different faces – or different hair. Zombies attack, the fast kind. And in the end, Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a robot and everyone travels back in time to 1931.
Whew, my brain hurts.
Deke Becomes An Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Through the ridiculousness of the plotline this season, Deke Shaw's (Jeff Ward) character arc has been a standout piece of excellent writing. As a man out of time and space, he is desperate to prove himself to his grandparents, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Daisy (Chloe Bennet). He tries so hard but still never manages to get it quite right. Until the Season 6 finale. Deke finally finds his place, making S.H.I.E.L.D. adapt to him, rather than the other way around.
Moving his whole team into the Lighthouse is a bold move. Fighting out his issues with his grandfather in the middle of his lab with everyone watching is even bolder. Being the human guinea pig for his own jump drive is stand-out bold. But the boldest move Deke makes is being the guy S.H.I.E.L.D. needs every step of the way. The very things that make him a man apart are the things that make him the guy S.H.I.E.L.D. needs in the season finale. Hearing Mack (Henry Simmons) call him "Agent Shaw" as Deke watches their backs is one of my favorite moments of the finale.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Beats The Shrike Out Of Izel
The inner sanctum of Izel's (Karolina Wydra) secret jungle monolith temple is where everyone wants to be. Agents are fighting for entry in order to keep Izel from opening the portal. An army of Shrike zombies are coming to meet their new alien overlords. Sarge wants to take out Izel. Deke wants to prove his grandparents wrong. And Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and Mack accidentally resurrect Flint (Coy Stewart) via the monolith energy. Almost everyone makes their way into the central temple room at least once.
In that room, one of the most epic, and most comic reminiscent, of S.H.I.E.L.D. battles takes place. Sarge (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) take on Izel after she opens the portal. As the aliens on the other side prepare to come through, Sarge fights both himself and Izel simultaneously. In the end, he decides that the easiest path to peace is killing everyone he cares about, starting with May. However, he sends her into the portal when he stabs her. Even now, it is unclear if he meant her to survive on the other side of the portal, preventing the rest of the warriors from coming through. But survive and fight she does, in one of the most "Cavalry" of May fight scenes – with swords, no less! When the rest of the team shows up, Sarge's inner demon comes out to play – literally. May saves Daisy and saves the day, killing Izel and giving the team the means to defeat Sarge. Apparently, that is all you need to close the portal and end the Shrike infestation. While the fight is awesome, the ending is a bit anticlimactic.
As much as I loved the fight sequences and the action in the temple, the May and Sarge "the pain is love" conversation was jarring and uncharacteristic, the one major wrong note in the episode. May uses her own love for Coulson, and Sarge's pain, to explain to him that he hurts because he loves his team. While May is the type of person who would experience love as pain, the speech is out of character for her. Yes, she loves Coulson, but "the Cavalry" would not attempt a heart-to-heart while facing off against a deadly enemy in the middle of an apocalypse.
It is after the fight ends, however, that things get really weird.
FitzSimmons Give The Gift Of Time (Travel)
As the rest of the team is attempting to save the world, FitzSimmons (Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge) are attempting to save S.H.I.E.L.D.. The Chronicom hunters attack, using the pair's own gigantic brains against them. Enoch (Joel Stoffer) has a plan, but it involves completely altering the course of their lives – again.
And time, it seems, is the issue. Simmons shows up at the temple after the battle with new hair, new clothes, and a new crisp attitude. Fitz is nowhere to be seen, and Simmons claims she not only doesn't know where he is, but can't know. As the team narrowly escapes destruction by the Chronicoms on the mysteriously upgraded Zephyr One, Fitz can be heard on the radio saying "tell them I'm sorry."
The fog clears and the team finds themselves in New York City. Well, to be more precise, 1931 New York City, as the Empire State Building is still under construction. Simmons explains that the Chronicoms have FitzSimmons' brains and Fury's (Samuel L. Jackson) black box. In order to defeat the Chronicoms and save Earth, they need to travel back to a time that predates the Chronicom knowledge of Earth.
But oh the questions we have. Why can't Simmons know where Fitz is? Can the Chronicoms still access their brains? How long have FitzSimmons and Enoch been out of this timeline in order to prepare for the rescue? Why 1931? Are we going to see yet another origin story for S.H.I.E.L.D. itself?
Is "Resurrecting Coulson" The New "Jumping The Shark"?
In comics, no one is ever really dead. Characters always come back in new worlds, reboots, clones, or retcons. The resurrection of Coulson has always been a bit of a joke on S.H.I.E.L.D., the retcon on which the show was built. In fact, most fans have likely forgotten exactly how many times Coulson has died over the years. But as he is resurrected yet again, this time as a robot with Chronicom technology, you have to wonder if the concept has finally gone too far. Coulson was ready to die. Sarge deserved to die. May though she was dying with Coulson this time. And the team still feels they cannot operate without him. As much as I love the show, it has struggled over the past two seasons. Maybe the reason is, it is time for the team – and the show – to let Coulson die.
The Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Series Itself Is A Comic
Yes, I know there is a comic that is based on the show.
But for this thought exercise, I want you to imagine the show itself as a comic. There have been 123 issues, some of them double issues. The team of superheroes and their friends has grown, changed, paired off, died, and restarted anew. The S.H.I.E.L.D. organization itself has been resurrected about as many times, and in as many forms, as Coulson himself. However, sales are decreasing. So, what do you do? You go for broke. You create an epic double issue that brings out every trick in the comics book. The fans laugh, they cry, they think their faves are going to die and their ships sink. And in the end, everyone is transported back in time to start it all over again.
As a comic, it works. As a series, we will have to see. Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is putting the comics into comic inspired television series in a way that few shows ever have. When the show returns in 2020 for its seventh, and final, season, writers and show-runners will have something to prove. They will have to try and show the world that comics storylines, retcons and all, can really work on the small screen. See you then.