Friday, August 7, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 22, "Beginning of the End" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

Image Courtesy

Here it is at long last:  the season 1 finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This is what the entire season was building toward, and it is pretty awesome.  I think the season 2 finale may have been even more epic and “huge,” but the first season finale had some fun action scenes, and exciting fight between May and Ward, and some great “crazy Garrett” moments.

Reminder:  This retro-review contains potential spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.

The episode begins in Cybertek’s control center with Kyle Zeller, the original operator, showing a new “recruit” around the facility.  We learn that Cybertek currently has 20 “units” (super-soldiers), and has plans to add another 100 by the end of the month.  However, while Zeller is showing the recruit around, he gets the call from one of Garrett’s men letting him know that S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the way to the barbershop base.  He orders the other operators to “let them have it”—meaning “attack S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Coulson, May, and Trip fight the super-soldiers to buy time for Skye while she uploads her program to the Hydra computer system, activating the Trojan horse and giving her access to their systems.  May takes on Kaminski, the Hydra agent holding the Berserker Staff, wrests the Staff away from him, uses it to fight off a few of the soldiers, and then throws it to take out one of the support posts, causing the ceiling to collapse and bury the soldiers.  Too bad she lost it; it probably would have been useful later on!

I like how this opening picks up right where the previous episode left off.  It puts us in the middle of the action and leaves us wanting more.  However, even more than that, the opening introduces us to a couple of concepts that play a huge part in the rest of the episode.  First, the new “recruit” is only there for the “Incentives Program.”  What is that?  We find that out near the end of the episode when Skye rescues Zeller’s wife and Ace from locked rooms in the Cybertek facility.  Second, we see just how much Zeller fears Garrett when he calls to inform him that Coulson escaped.  Even though these operators don’t have cybernetic exploding eyes, they are still terrified of what Garrett might do to them.

Image Courtesy
However, Garrett really isn’t concerned about Coulson’s escape; he’s too busy losing his mind.  The most fascinating thing about this episode actually is just how much Garrett descends into madness under the influence of Raina’s GH-325 derivative.  He starts carving the blueprint design on one of the glass lab doors.  He starts talking about how he can unlock the secrets of the universe.  He tells Raina that he can see “through” the gravitonium to its soul, and that the answer to her question is “written on the back of my eyes.”  He is going so absolutely insane that Ward is actually worried about him.  In fact, Garrett is so far gone that when they get to the Cybertek facility and Quinn is showing the military guests around the facility, he interrupts, spouts nonsense, and finally reaches into a general’s chest cavity, rips out a rib, and beats him to death with it.  Quinn’s reaction to Garrett’s interruption is actually pretty funny—the general demands “this is your strategy consultant?”  “He’s part-time.”  It’s a bit reminiscent of Thor’s “He’s adopted” line from The Avengers.

Coulson and the team meanwhile follow the tracker Fitz left on the Bus to New Mexico (not Miami?), where the four of them succeed in infiltrating the Cybertek facility.  Coulson and Trip steal an armored personnel carrier and use it to bust their way through the outer defenses, draw the attention of the super-soldiers, and blow a hole in the wall for May and Skye to infiltrate through.  Skye and May enter the control center and threaten to blow it up, at which point Zeller switches the soldiers to “Default Directive.”  I had to laugh at just how arrogant he sounded in telling May and Skye that they couldn’t take control of the soldiers, and how confidently he confirmed the switch.  It was only after the fact that he realizes they should not have even known what “Default Directive” is.

It turns out that Skye had reprogrammed “Default Directive” to mean “Defend John Garrett at all costs.”  This causes them to stop fighting against Coulson and Trip and instead head into the facility straight to Garrett’s location.  Coulson instructs Trip to leave the facility, call the Armed Forces, and make sure that the compound gets turned to rubble regardless of whether or not the team gets out safe.  Coulson himself follows the super-soldiers into the facility, using them to lead him directly to Garrett.  One thing I’m not thrilled with is that they never explain where the super-soldiers are during the final confrontation—especially since they are supposed to be “defending John Garrett at all costs.”  Did Skye do something to shut them all down?

Garrett sends Ward to the control center to take care of Skye, but he gets waylaid when May shows up and tries to kill him.  Their fight is impressive in its brutality, with neither side holding back at all.  Everything can be a weapon, and everything really is a weapon, from boards to pipes to saws.  May finally ends the fight by nailing Ward’s foot to the floor, crushing his larynx, and knocking him out.  It may not necessarily have been as impressively choreographed as the fights in season 2—something that was hurt (in my opinion) by having it cut in with the other scenes—but it was still a really good fight scene.

Image Courtesy
At this point, we need to go back to Fitz and Simmons, who are in the pod trapped at the bottom of the ocean.  They provide the only real slow and reflective moments in the episode, as they slowly come to terms with the reality of their predicament.  I like that we get to see them just sitting and talking about death and what might come after death.  But then, just as Fitz is about to tell Simmons how he feels, she realizes that they can blow out the seal around the window to escape.  They rig it up, but Fitz is only able to make one compressed air device to re-inflate their lungs after the 90-feet-worth of water pressure pushes all the air out of their lungs.  Fitz tells Simmons to use it herself to save herself, but she begs him not to make her do it because he is her “best friend in the world.”  It’s only then that Fitz tells her “you’re more than that” and she realizes that he loves her.  It’s clear that she does not want to risk him dying after that, but it is equally clear that he does not want to risk her dying—and that before he’s expressed himself.  He sets off the explosive as Simmons screams “NO!”  Then the camera switches to outside the pod, and we watch the air rush out, followed by Simmons dragging Fitz behind her.  She reaches the surface (suffering from the Bends as they had predicted) and holds Fitz up while looking around wildly.  Suddenly she starts screaming and waving her hands.  What follows may be one of the coolest shots in the episode:  the camera’s underwater, and then it comes up to see Samuel L. Jackson in all his awesomeness leaning out of a helicopter and reaching down to Simmons.  He grabs her hand and pulls her and Fitz onboard.  Between the camerawork and the soundtrack, that is an awesome shot.

The next scene is Simmons waking up in a pressurization chamber on a JumpJet headed for the States.  Fury explains that he managed to track their improvised distress signal because he was in the area looking for Coulson.  In response to her question, he tells her that Fitz is still alive, though his brain was oxygen deprived for quite a while.  Finally, he asks if she knows how to find Coulson.

Image Courtesy
Coulson, meanwhile, confronts Garrett and punches him.  Garrett of course responds by punching him back and knocking him clear across the room.  Coulson slowly pulls himself to cover, and finds himself kneeling in front of Fury (which isn’t quite as awesome as the helicopter scene, but still up there.  I think they’ve got the formula down:  Whenever Fury shows up on AoS, it has to be a surprise, and he has to look like a badass!).  The two of them catch up quickly, and Fury hands Coulson the Destroyer Gun (“I know what that does”), and Coulson uses it to take out almost a dozen super-soldiers.  Finally Fury and Coulson are left to fight Garrett and Deathlok.  And Garrett starts monologuing like a nutcase, leading to one of the funnier dialogues in the series:

Fury: “You didn’t tell me he’d gone this crazy”
Coulson: “He’s really stepped it up a notch”
Garrett: “You remember that speech you used to give us, Nick?  About how one man can accomplish anything once he realizes he can be something bigger?  Well, now I am.”
Fury: “‘A part.’  A part of something bigger.”
Garrett: “Is that how it went?”
Coulson: “Not a great listener.”
Fury: “If you tell me this whole HYDRA path thing you took is because you misheard my damn ‘one man’ speech…”
Garrett: “I am the key to the future of the universe.  I’m the origin of all things…”
Fury (to Coulson): “You got it, right?”
Coulson: “Totally.  Loud and clear.”

I think that sums up the three characters at this point in the story better than anything else.  Fury—who trained both Coulson and Garrett—is upset with Garrett for going to Hydra.  Coulson is the loyal son to Fury, despite everything that’s happened.  And Garrett, meanwhile, is just plain off his nut.

Image Courtesy
Garrett orders Deathlok to kill Fury and Coulson, but at that moment he receives a message showing that Skye has rescued Ace, and he unleashes months of pent-up rage against Garrett in about 15 seconds of pure, unadulterated pain and violence.  I think the best part is when they cut away just as Mike stomps Garrett to death, showing us Coulson and Fury’s reaction of shock instead of Garrett’s mangled body.  It’s a bit unsatisfying not to see it, but at the same time it leaves it to our imagination (which can fill in the details much more graphically than an 8:00 ET network TV show would ever allow).  The one downside to that is that they show us Garrett’s not-very-mangled face in the very next scene.  I think it would have been better if they just showed us the rest of his body with the head covered, and saved showing his head for his supposed resurrection.

Unfortunately, this episode suffers from Return of the King-itis:  There are a few too many endings.  First we get Coulson telling Ward that Garrett is dead and he will have plenty of time to figure out who he is apart from Garrett while rotting (and being tortured) in a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison cell.  Next comes Mike and Skye talking, and Mike walking off to atone for his actions.  Then we get Garrett’s miraculous recovery by means of the Deathlok machine—which is cut hilariously short when Coulson zaps him with the Peru 0-8-4.  Then Coulson and Fury talk on the Bus and Fury tells Coulson that he is an Avenger and is going to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D.  Then the team lands at the Playground, reunites with Simmons, and meets Agent Billy Koenig (Eric’s twin).  Then Raina goes to “The Doctor” (Cal) and shows him Skye’s picture.  Finally, Coulson starts carving on a wall at the Playground.  It’s not that any of this was unnecessary or extraneous.  However, most of these felt like they could have been legitimate endings.  There was enough distinction with the actual ending—the team standing on the Bus loading ramp together and looking out into the future—for it to feel more “final” than the others, but the other scenes still had an air of finality to them.

All in all, I really enjoyed this episode and thought it did a great job of wrapping up all of the season 1 plots and teasing major plots for season 2.  The ending(s) could have been better, but I’m not going to hold that against them.

What did you think of this season finale?  What was your favorite moment from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1?

If you want to get an email whenever I publish a new article, go to the top of the page and enter your email address in the box labeled “Subscribe to Mostly MCU Reviews” and click “Submit.”

No comments:

Post a Comment