Season 5 of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was an ending. The show, which seemed to sit on the proverbial “bubble” of being cancelled since season 1, had won over its solid fan base with consistently strong storytelling and impressive action, and the warmth and strong camaraderie of the actors showed on screen. Season 5 ended, Agent Coulson died, the team broke out of a time loop, and a paradox was created. Everybody seemed okay with that. Fans were sad that Coulson had died, but optimistic that Fitz could be rescued. It was the end.
So where does a show go when the ending is no longer the ending?
Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD, is dead. But SHIELD continues on, with Mac now taking command of the international task force designed to combat the increasingly bizarre threats facing the world. The team, however, is splintered. While Simmons and Quake travel to the furthest reaches of space seeking out their top scientist Fitz, Yo-Yo and Mack try to get past the failure of their relationship and the walking paradox known as Deke returns to his old ways as he becomes a thieving tech entrepreneur. Meanwhile, a grieving Agent May continues to do her job as best as she can, but SHIELD’s latest case is unlike anything she could have prepared for as she battles Sarge – a foe who seems to be Agent Coulson, back from the dead.
Sarge, leading a rag-tag army apparently from an alternate reality, will stop at nothing to achieve their goal… even if it means getting past SHIELD to do it. But their mission may be to protect the Earth, not destroy it, while a race of parasitic creatures called the Shrike start to summon their true leader. And somewhere out in space, Agent Fitz and the Living Recorder known as Enoch may hold the key to Earth’s survival…
This isn’t the first time a show was brought back, and on many levels Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been happy to see it get not one but two new seasons. Happy… but cautiously so. Because when a show ends in such a strong fashion like season 5 did only to get renewed, there’s always the possibility that its best days are behind it. A return might cheapen the impact of everything they achieved. As for the return of Coulson, while incredibly welcome, it also meant some kind of cop-out was probably coming regarding his tragic death.
Well, first the good news: at least they didn’t “Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower” him. While there are several clear scrambles to try to reboot Coulson in the show, nobody wakes up and declares that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 was all just a bad dream. Nobody discounts the heartfelt ending they previously presented. It’s clear that ending mattered, and season 6 builds heavily on that. But still, Coulson is back… kind of.
The problem though is that the debut of “Sarge” isn’t so much shocking as clunky. While Clark Gregg shows his versatility and shines as the more ruthless Sarge, story-wise it seems like there’s a lot of technobabble and padding thrown at the audience to explain his existence. Still, he’s got an awesome Portal gun that allows for some mind-bending effects and is backed up by a fascinating new team, so he’s still pretty cool.
Meanwhile, the rest of the regular cast continues to do stellar work even when given very little to actually work with. Unfortunately, the writing and production sometimes lets them down – two cases, in particular, being a lack of acknowledgement of Deke falling back into his old lifestyle, as well as a stunningly awkward scene of Simmons and Quake getting stoned on alien meringues. Yet there are some astonishing moments of brilliance, especially one where FitzSimmons argue out their problems for almost all 43 minutes of the entire episode.
Not only that, but SHIELD again allows its recurring cast a chance to shine at times. Winston James Francis as Jaco is absolute gold on screen, and Briana Venskus as Piper makes us wish that she’d featured so much more over the seasons. As for Joel Stoffer as Enoch… well, if he doesn’t feature in an MCU film quickly then it’ll be a real loss.
So the cast is great for the most part, and the effects and action are still impressive. So what’s the problem? Well, pretty much straight away there’s a vibe that feels somehow off for the show.
At times it looks like it’s running on a drastically reduced budget, forcing the scope of it to feel incredibly small. That isn’t the impression you want to give an audience when you’re telling them that half the team is travelling to alien planets while the other half is battling omnipotent interdimensional entities who could destroy the world. Like the saying goes, all we see is a room, then another room, then back to the first room, and repeat the process. With the writing facing restrictions and actively avoiding events in the MCU, and not explaining what SHIELD’s status is in the world now, it all feels somehow less than it should be.
Then there’s the worst, most irritating character ever to appear in the MCU (assuming the show even exists there anymore, which apparently it doesn’t): Sequoia, in the episode Code Yellow. Played by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s wonderful writer/producer/showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen, Sequoia is a shallow social media “influencer” and displays all the worst superficial embodiments that you’d expect. It’s an outstanding performance of a truly awful character and, hopefully, she’ll never be seen on screen ever again because she’s more detestable than any MCU villain.
On the whole, this season is a drop in quality from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s usual lofty standards. It’s still entertaining though, and picks up as it goes along after a couple of weak initial episodes. At times it feels forced but, at others, you can sense the old magic starting to return. It’s not the best, but still worth a look if you’re a fan. Let’s just hope that next season will elevate it back to its earlier heights.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6
An uneven season sees SHIELD’s best… and worst.