Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 is in the books. The team over at Marvel Studios News Sean Gerber felt it reflected a rushed, unprepared leap into the abyss after the unexpected season 6 pickup. Queenie and Jahnya at Random Tea Podcasts, felt, well, just well, meh nonsense.
First of all, Coulson (Clark Gregg) is dead, long-live Coulson. Melina May (Ming-Na Wen) and Phil Coulson deeply enjoy a sunset or few before his demise. But before that in season 5, prophecy and space, return and misalignment. The opening half in space was strong than S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Earth-bound return. There was an end.
And there was a beginning. Long-live yet another not Coulson. Not an LMD. Something different. And always hope that not so. The DNA matches, but not the brain. And then flashes of memory. But the demon or alien inside is too much (and really, on the DNA. It matches but Coulson can still turn into a particle monster—and that would require some serious DNA tweaks). So Sarge surrogates for Coulson. For fans, they get Clark Gregg. For the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team, they get moments of hope followed by craploads of chaos.
But despite some plot holes that not even Sarge’s supercharged big rig from another galaxy could avoid (like, why the parallel development of vehicles…um?) I thought it was one of the best seasons if just for its weirdness. It felt looser and edgier. Unfortunately, as much as we hear Izel (Karolina Wydra) talk, we never really understand her evil plan to take over Earth with her shrike (a nod Dan Simmons and his Hyperion books). But we do get zombies, because, what show without zombies doesn’t get better with zombies.
So what plot holes? Well, there are all the issues of who is Izel and why Earth and why now? As Captain Marvel said in Endgame: “they didn’t have you guys,” meaning the Earth was protected by the Avengers. Seems the Avengers were taking a break from this invasion and leaving it to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not sure that was a good move. Worked out though, but could have gone south even with a couple of powered individuals on the team (one of which became a zombie).
And then there was the two Fitz issue. Which at times seemed even to confuse (and frustrate Fitz). And the bodiless that needed bodies, but seem to have bodies when we see them—could they just not invade with their bodies, which it seems like it was the point of the invasion. Perhaps too much alternative truth, which Sarge clearly suffered from—but perhaps the entire planet was a victim of some monolithic delusion (see what I did there).
But if you take the plot issues off the table, this was a satisfying season of reunions, tough problems to solve, exotic locations, sacrifices, deaths and near-deaths, resurrections, and the best visual effects for the series. And the Monoliths return to keep a long-running thread in play. Now at least viewers know they were meant to work together, and that they invoke an inter-dimensional portal if set up in the right ancient temple. They also do some human reconstruction and possibly scrubbing bubbles (thanks to Buffy The Vampire Slayer for Amulet inspiration).
In the end, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and viewers are left hanging over a booming New York City. A New York City with the Empire State Building as a work in progress. A New York ripe for takeover except, except if the hinge for the future is knowledge of S.H.I.E.L.D. then why go back before its invention?
Season 7 portends another invasion arc. A broken team in need of repair. Holes in the organization where the dead once stood. Isolation and desperation. Separation and confusion. The natural course of the lives of our heroes has been changed forever. Or so we are told (and not in nearly a campy or fun way as say, Kill Joys when they talk about their plot out loud—a little less serious AoS).
Perhaps you have never watched Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but you know what? There isn’t a new Marvel movie coming for a while, not until Black Window on May 1, 2020. And if we are going back in time with one of the all-time aces of S.H.I.E.L.D., watching her colleagues wouldn’t be a bad way to pass some end of summer and early fall hours. Take the plunge and binge. You might find a few cold spots in the digital pool, but overall, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the best Marvel near-MCU you probably haven’t seen yet.
What the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. never got to be
Marvel never found a way to integrate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It tried early on. When S.H.I.E.L.D. fell in the movies, it fell on television as well. But besides a few crossover extraterrestrial species (like the Kree and the Asgardians) and some references to movie events, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. universe feels lightyears away from the MCU (or on a different Brane for you string theory fans). Though in the final scene Nick Fury’s black box of S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets still acts as the fulcrum for the future.
As Disney management severed the ties between Marvel Television and Marvel Studios the disparities between the universes widened. Fortunately, the comic books set up the multiple universe foundation that could make “sense” of the disconnect. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in along a splinter of time parallel to the MCU. Maybe, or maybe the politics at the Mouse House just didn’t work out.
The show should have been a forum for the edge stories from the MCU. An exploration of questions left hanging, perhaps not the big questions, but the minor ones. A way to maintain the connections. A kind of social media prompt between the film releases. It should have been in shorter arcs connected to and promoted through the films. That would have been an innovative connective tissue play by Disney, but they didn’t end up overly disrupting their series rhythm save making AoS a summer replacement show.
As it was, there were always going to be problems with timing and alignment and the budget for star talent on a television show. Those could have been worked if the willingness existed between the Disney departments allowed for it, which it seems it did not once film/television split took place.
Unfortunately, the decoupling did as much of a disservice to the MCU as it did to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because in the books, the two were joined at the hip. Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D. gets its cameos in Endgame, but outside of Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and logos on the time suits, the Avengers, not S.H.I.E.L.D. were running the show. One and the same some may argue, but not really. The Avengers are all captains and no foot soldiers. Endgame had no foot soldiers. That is because all the foot soldiers were stuck in the alternative reality of television. But bringing them into the MCU at the late date would screw with things at the Plank scale, can we agree on that?
If you want to see what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could have been, read the Civil War comics written by Mark Millar and penciled by Steve McNiven.
What Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might become
Given that season 7 is already in the can, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sets no longer adorn the cavernous spaces of Culver Studios. The location of such great films as Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, E.T, The Matrix. and Kill Bill—and of course, the pilots for Star Trek.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is already whatever it will be.
The last major plot shift in Season 6 may set things set up for a different reality on Disney+, one that brings Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back into the fold as other MCU characters find their stories shift from big screen to high bandwidth stream. But that future suggests the Chronicoms don’t take over Earth. Who knows. The only thing I can say with confidence is that the Coulson character will find a way to out-think the opposition. The consequences? Who knows. Perhaps in some future, the Chronicoms make Earth their robot bitch and in another, the current Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. help nurture a nascent S.H.I.E.L.D. in an alternative timeline. Perhaps one more cameo for Ms. Haley Atwell.
Could be that Coulson is just the splinter at the start of an alternative universe or two.
All I know is I don’t want a reboot. I want to see Daisy become what she can become. I want to see S.H.I.E.L.D. as a force for good in a not always good world. I want to see some synergy and sense-making.
But it appears, at least early on, the future has come to the past and we’ll have to wait to see if aspirations catch up with the fictional reality.
Reflection: The problem with time travel
Even though I love many shows that involve time travel, I find it often acts as a lazy storytelling crutch, not a meaningful way to resolve or introduce conflict beyond the gimmick. In Timeless, time travel, and all of its ramifications for individuals and for history orbited around the shows core idea (even if they got time travel wrong). Classically, the Wells book, The Time Machine (along with the films and television that derive from it) explores the possible implications of what might happen to humanity in the future. The characters and events offer insight into how Wells speculated about the future, and what he thought of the human mind in the present.
Using time travel in the present to explore the future was a clever literary device for Wells. It now arrives as near cliché (and in many cases full cliché).
Keep in mind that any futures-oriented science fiction is by setting a time travel experience for the reader: being that they are reading about a future that hasn’t happened yet, they just might influence the actual future through that reading.
When it comes to fictional time travel, the highest number of variations on the theme in a single franchise circle in and through Star Trek. Early on, time travel was an accident. A dark star, a time planet where mapping eddies in time lead to a doozy of a dose for Doctor McCoy who ran into the future with a half-filled mental syringe. Prior to ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday’ and ‘The City on the Edge of Forever,’ the Trek episode ‘The Naked Time’ set up a mechanism for time travel (though they don’t seem to remember it early in ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday’) that was later overshadowed by a slingshot around a star. Not overused yet. Still in service to the story.
I don’t want to go into the alternative ways Trek approached time travel, but suffice it to say, as the series matured and the films proliferated, time travel became a major plot device, and its service to the story waned. Star Trek, though known for some good research on the science behind its fiction, never seemed to do due diligence on time travel.
Most modern time travel sets up self-contemplation and often awkward encounters with predecessor selves. It is used as a way to reset an existing future, not as a way, for instance, to study the past as was the case with the TOS episode, ‘Assignment Earth.’ That episode started out with a unique premise. But as viewers later learned, ‘Assignment Earth’ was carrying its own baggage, being a kind of slipped in pilot for a show that never got picked up. The core of the episode focuses on the Enterprise crew and an alien-influenced Gary Seven, Both attempt to quash a nuclear explosion that ends up being the result of the two parties meddling in time. They cannot avert a predetermined history.
There is too much time travel sci-fi trivia to explore it all here, but our general position is that in too many cases, time travel is more a contrived convenience to lead to some other goal rather than a meaningful tool to explore the past or the present.
As for the season-ending Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. foray into the past, we can’t know until next summer what that means. They have arrived at a time before S.H.I.E.L.D., a time before World War II and the creation the first Avenger, Steve Rodgers (though long after the birth of the oldest Avenger, which in the MCU is Thor—which might change when The Eternals hits the big screen).
I hope the team behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thought more about the implications of this leap than they did the implications of Inhumans, LMDs, the Kree or the monolith makers. Now with Coulson (spoiler) resurrected as an LMD/Chronicom, there are many people in places they shouldn’t be and made of things from which they shouldn’t be made.
Hopefully, time travel won’t be a trap for the characters, or for the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whatever the case may be, Marvel is out of time to go back in time for any do-overs.
We’ll catch up on more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. next summer.