Here we are at last: The end of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s—if I’m being generous—extraordinarily shaky first season. And, as was finally announced last week, it’s not the last. The fact that ABC waited until the 11th hour to renew Agents speaks rather damning volumes in regard to the dramatic ratings tumble component of that shakiness.
It’s unlikely the network suits were swayed by anything other than big money contracts shuffling meaningfully between Disney’s film and TV ledgers, but maybe—just maybe—they saw this episode in advance, and it helped make the handshake a bit more firm. “Beginning of the End” is not only a fine example of how the show can be when firing on all its hovercar cylinders, it’s a hell of a great season wrap-up, with a couple extra seeds tossed down that have excellent fruit-bearing potential.
Following last week’s development, which had Garrett injected with H.Y.D.R.A.’s finalized Centipede formula, and FitzSimmons entombed in an escape pod under the sea (a predicament that was at least partly the fault of Fitz’s inexplicably recent BFF-ing of Ward), we arrive at an episode which feels energized to close the loop that, fittingly, began with “End of the Beginning.” With Garrett now not only super-soldier-ed, but also Mastermind-ed in intellect, we’re again treated to a tasty hunk of scene-chewing by Bill Paxton as he begins to see his prior H.Y.D.R.A.-based plans as puny. Ward, Flowers and Quinn begin to vocalize their reservations as Garrett’s psychosis becomes more exaggerated, particularly when he puts a hole through the Army General who arrived at Cybertek with the intent of buying its Deathlok-programmed soldiers. Speaking of Cybertek: the Mike Peterson thread beginning with the series’ pilot comes back into focus, and the “incentive program” mentioned in tonight’s cold open amounts to the company blackmailing its “employees” into service by kidnapping their loved ones. I had begun to think the showrunners had forgotten Peterson has a son.
Meanwhile, at the ocean’s floor, FitzSimmons pointlessly rhapsodize their watery demise, just before technobabbling their way out. Fitz, unfortunately, feels compelled to confess his feelings for Simmons as he insists that she have the remaining oxygen supply for their trip to the surface. (Why, Fitz, why must you make everyone as uncomfortable as possible in your final moments?) Lucky for them—but luckier for us—that magic science talk led Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury back to the show to rescue those crazy scientist kids (and us) from a continued, nightmarishly awkward time at sea with those two. Yep, Fury happily reappears as Coulson’s team hacks and fights their way into Cybertek in pursuit of Garrett. Like the also excellent “Turn, turn, turn,” Agents seems to work best when it’s not bothering to agonize over the characters’ motivations and relationships. Apart from the pained FitzSimmons scenes, this episode is mostly all punching and ‘splosions from there on out.
Agent May gets to square off against Ward and very painfully beats the holy hell out of him. Deathlok incinerates Garrett after he gets the message his son has been released. Coulson smashes through some super-soldiers with the giant gun Fury hands him, in a fun nod to his fatal encounter with Loki in The Avengers. (“I know what this does.”)
Even the falling action is plenty entertaining. A presumed-dead-but- -badly-burned Garrett crawls his way on to the Deathlok-o-matic, rising again as a cyborg, and appearing to become the Big Bad again for the next season. That is, right before Coulson vaporizes him with a nasty piece of alien tech. I’ll miss Bill Paxton for sure, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me laugh. Fury promotes Coulson to Director. And hey—Patton Oswalt’s back to help Coulson rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D.! (Billy Koenig? Erik’s twin, maybe? My money’s on Life Model Decoy.) Flowers approaches a mysterious figure with a bloody hand. “I’ve found your daughter,” she explains, handing over a photo of Skye. Lastly, Phil is shown drawing out some schematics we saw Garrett working on earlier, giving credence to Garrett’s claim that they are “blood brothers.” So there’s a tantalizing thread of a connection between Centipede and Coulson’s resurrection right there.
Many months ago, especially as the middle of the season dragged on interminably, I never could have predicted I would have cared that the series would be picked up for a second. In fact, there were entries so dismally awful along the way, I found myself actively rooting against it. But ending on a high note worthy of Banshee, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers have genuine reason to be optimistic about its future. And curmudgeons, like myself, are reminded that there’s often a potential new fan hiding behind a cynic.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.