Synopsis: Our SHIELD agents find themselves thrown into the future, where the Earth has been cracked apart and rendered uninhabitable, while humanity is enslaved by an alien race. They must find out how they got here, what happened, and how to get back in order to stop the end of the world.
Their information about the apocalypse is incomplete, and each agent must make their own decisions about what they think it will take to save humanity–and whether they’re willing to do that.
Series: The fifth season is over, there will be a sixth.
I’ve Watched: All of it.
Verdict: Totally worth it, though not everything worked for me this season.
Agents of SHIELD is always a good, solid watch. The first arc of the season, where the team ends up in the future and witnesses a post-apocalyptic world, was less enjoyable for me because the character reactions to their situation felt off. But the action was still exciting, and the moments when the characters were on point were totally worth it. Then everything was back on track after that first arc—the space arc—ended.
The team is back in the past, knowing that the world is going to end, and thinking that they understand how. But as the season continues, we discover that their knowledge is still missing several pieces and are left to wonder how it all fits together. With the introduction of the some charismatic villains and some dark character arcs for our own protagonists, this made for a wonderful ride.
The tension between the inevitability of their situation and what they need to do to break the cycle was palpable. And the way it played out—simultaneously revealing exactly what the things our protagonists thought they knew actually meant, while showing the exact break-point of what needed to happen for things to be different—was very well constructed.
Let’s get my main complaint out of the way first:
Weird Character Choices in the First Arc of the Season
This is the main weakness of the season, for me.
The team’s take on morality in the first arc of the season feels off. The show is trying to make the point that the people of the future have been oppressed and focused on their survival for so long, that they’ve lost a sense of compassion. One that the SHIELD agents, having come from a non-dystopian world, still have. But they’re pushing it too far.
Because maybe the SHIELD agents still have a sense of heroism. Maybe they believe in fighting to make things better. But they’re not naive optimists with no concept of loss or hard choices–they’re secret agents.
Jemma’s character probably had it worst.
For example, why would she immediately rush to treat someone’s injuries in a dystopian future she doesn’t understand, exposing expertise that she can reasonably assume she shouldn’t have? She puts herself, her friends, and the entire mission at risk for one life. Without knowing the consequences for her actions, or who would pay for them. And that doesn’t make sense for her personality.
Sure’s she’s compassionate–but she isn’t compassionate no matter what the cost is. She worked as an undercover agent for HYDRA, for crying out loud. If giving up on this one person’s life lets her save more in the future–potentially including the entirety of humanity–Jemma would probably let him die.
Then there’s another moment when Coulson, May, and Mack are on a spaceship with a supervisor they’ve knocked unconscious. That supervisor has enough information to incriminate them. Their ally proposes killing him and calling it an accident, which they refuse to do–and that makes sense. But it’s how they refuse that rubs me the wrong way.
No one brings up how suspicious it would look if the person sent to watch them, when they were already distrusted, doesn’t make it back alive. Which is the logical objection for a bunch of secret agents to make.
Instead, Mack says that they live by a code–which is the first time in five seasons I’ve heard about it–and that they’ll find another way. Look, I would have even been happy if they’d insisted that they avoid killing civilians. That would have at least sounded plausible coming from a group of professionals who have killed before. But ‘living by a code’, come on.
May killed a kid. Yes, it’s haunted her ever since, but she still did it when that was what it took to save more lives. And the show has backed that decision up in the past.
It’s consistent to portray the team as trying to be good people, but it’s unrealistic to portray them as this naïve and impractical. They acted like they had the entire situation under control and could afford to be the better people—but none of that was true. They were thrown into a chaotic situation and spent the entire time scrambling to keep from being eaten alive by this world. Pure luck kept them going half the time.
They should be showing their allies their professional side, the ability to combine practicality with the minimization of civilian casualties. Not making speeches about codes and doing things the right way. It’s the first time this show has ever felt like it’s forgotten its own character development.
Fitz’s emotional journey is a highlight, this season. At the close of the previous one, he had an entire alternate life inserted into his brain. While that life never actually happened, he remembers it like it did. And in it, he hadn’t been a good man, experimenting on people he knew personally in his real life.
We get to see Fitz struggle with the knowledge of what he’s capable of, but also embrace it as part of himself. When things get difficult, he becomes open to more extreme solutions than he would have considered before. It’s complex and messy and wow does he cross a line, but the resulting story is massively interesting. I especially love how his character’s demeanor is noticeably different as a result of his experiences, while retaining many of his core traits.
Aside from the confusion that the first arc made of her character, there were a few moments which were brilliantly just so her.
- When she instructed the team on what they had to do to prevent inevitable death, in the cheeriest tone ever.
- When she reversed her situation with the bad guy, calmly applying the same silencing substance he’d used on her to him instead.
The next arc was much better for her character. I have to highlight the scene where she decides to demonstrate that she can’t die, because she knows she’s alive in the future, by a game of chance where pure luck determines if she survives. And then she uses her actions as a form of emotional manipulation to stage a jail-break for her fiancé. I loved that scene. It was slightly horrifying, but also kind of amazing.
Daisy has been going for quite a ride ever since the show first started. In this season, she’s coming off a lone wolf spree, reintegrating with the team. And dealing with Coulson’s expectations that she would take his place as the leader of SHIELD.
This season does a pretty good job of showing the difference between a leader versus the lone hero taking on the most powerful of bad guys alone. Specifically, that Daisy is the latter and not the former. She’s the tip of the spear. She’s leading the charge. She’s the symbol the world can look to, the one everyone sees taking on the most dangerous enemies. But she’s not calling the shots behind the scenes, and she’s way too independent to keep her mind on everyone’s tasks rather than just her own.
It’s interesting, in that in personality, she’s a Coulson. But in terms of her skill set and abilities, she’s more of a May.
Still a solid, enjoyable season, though with caveats. The character development is still going strong, and the show really knows how to craft great twists and build some powerful moments.
“Release the ferrets.”