14 May 2014

[Review] - Agents of SHIELD Season 1 Finale, Episode 22, "Beginning of the End"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios

It is only fitting for SHIELD to end it's first season with an offering that perfectly encapsulates the entire 22 episodes to this point: it began with great promise, only to drop off steeply almost immediately and languish in mediocrity for the bulk of the run time, only to come back strong at the eleventh hour, complete with oddly placed hiccup and a touch of Fury ex machina. Was the episode the best thing ever? Far from it. Was it bad? Not entirely. Will I tune in next season? Against my better nature, and like I've done every week this year, for some reason I can't explain, yes I will.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that bring the noise and the funk wherever they go.

This episode was everything we've come to expect from SHIELD. Parts of it were lazy. Parts of it were under written. Parts of it were borderline embarrassing. And parts of it, mostly those relating to Coulson, were fun and exciting and remind us why we've stuck it out for 22 episodes that really didn't deserve that much faith. And in the end, while promising an exciting new narrative shift, you can easily see the lines along which the show will easily fall into old (bad) habits once they return in the fall.

Last week avoided being a Ward redemption story, but this episode couldn't help but tease such a turn. His faith in Garrett's leadership was tested when Garrett revealed himself to be a complete loon. Happily, he made it clear that he wasn't turning his coat back to the side of the good guys, just completely useless without his CO giving him commands. As Garrett went more and more off the deep end, with Deathlok not really doing much of anything, and Ward running around on the verge of tears, you really had to wonder how these guys managed to run this evil scheme for this long. I mean, four guys with sixty year old trinkets managed to destroy their entire operation.

The bad of this episode was mostly the dialogue. Most of it was stilted, some of it was hammy, and the endless parade of one liners seemed like the writers spent an entire day pretending to be David Caruso, only to realize that they had to have the script delivered by 9 the next morning. It speaks to the quality of some of the actors that they managed to deliver some of this stuff and made it sound less than groan worthy. Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, for their scenes together, seemed to be appearing on an entirely different series than their co-stars. Even Bill Paxton, taking Garrett way over the top, couldn't salvage what he was given, which is a first for him in this role. And even with his megalomaniacalism taken to 11, he didn't really accomplish much other than getting curb stomped by Deathlok, which was so obvious an outcome of that storyline it wasn't worth the dramatic tension.

Fitz and Simmons were discovered to be temporarily alive, resulting in a very sweet and emotional set of scenes in which they discussed death, and Fitz revealed his intention to sacrifice himself for her. Which would have been lovely, a "Not Penny's Boat" moment that the show has needed for a while now to really ramp up the emotional stakes, but the writers clearly lack the back bone to follow through. Fitz and Simmons both survived when realistically both of them should have died, or at the minimum Fitz should have been fish feed. Something to give Simmons some emotional trauma and survivours guilt to deal with next year. Instead, he's "condition uncertain," which will translate to "perfectly fine" come the start of next year.

Once again, the show attempts to be interesting and mysterious, with the final moments of the show revealing that Coulson is suddenly susceptible to the same intergalactic nonsense that Garrett was spouting and scratching on the wall, which would have been a clever through line in the entire season. If we'd glimpsed Coulson mindlessly scribbling symbols all year, unknowingly using free association writing to create these patterns, and have that fuel May's suspicions that his mind isn't entirely up to spec, only to reveal through Garrett what that meant for our fearless leader, it would have been engaging and worth a measure of worry. As it stands, it seems like an aggressive afterthought, a Jello mold taken out of the fridge before it had time to set. Also feeling tacked on, but far more welcome, was the return of Patton Oswalt as an apparent Life Model Decoy (add another MCU introduction to SHIELD's hat). If Oswalt becomes a actual recurring character next season, that will go a long way towards improving the show's good will.

Later this week, I'll be taking a look at the ways the show might improve itself moving into a second year, but this review I'll say that a wildly uneven season came to an end with a wildly uneven finale that was cruel in it's introduction of a variety of power tools, only to settle on the power nailer. Though, excellent use of a power nailer.

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