ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Beginning of the End TV Show Review. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Episode 22: ‘Beginning of the End’ brought the inaugeral season to a satisfying end, while setting the stage for what may be coming next. With John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and his loyal Ward (Brett Dalton) embarking on Garrett’s end game, Coulson (Clark Gregg) led the ramnants of his team through the first steps on the comeback trail.
The initial confrontation, between Team Coulson and a Centipede squad, came with a lead-in that not only gave a peek behind the Cybertek curtain, but provided some insight on what it took to become a part of the Cybertek/ Project Centipede ‘family.’ A reunion, of sorts, between May (Ming-Na Wen) and a weapon suited to her talents, set part of the tone for the whole episode, as part of the fun was spotting Easter Eggs from past episodes (and one even older). For May, that first round was barely a warm up.
If Skye (Chloe Bennet) learned anything from her time with the dark Ward, it was the value of the phrase “nothing personal.” The series wild card was the picture of self control, executing her end with a vengeance served at optimum temperature. By then, May had warmed up. Skye had other concerns, such as an obligation to Mike Peterson/ Deathlok (J. August Richards), proving she had become more of a team player, more level-headed in her execution, and less self-involved, than earlier in the series. As Coulson’s resurrection had become part of a larger mythology, currently centered on Skye’s origin & true nature, it is somewhat important that we are given a reason to care about Skye, again (if ever at all). So far, so good.
Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), having survived their pod being dumped into the ocean, got to spend some quality time together. The techno-twin babble took a turn for the poetic, and this wound up being useful (usually the pair are more useful when they babble less). The solution to their problem may have pre-empted Fitz’s “as long as we’re stuck here, and going to die” declaration to Simmon’s, but provided an opportunity for him to act on those feelings. I’m not big on the whole ‘shipping’ thing, but I generally prefer the avoiding of obvious pairings; so there may be a smidgen of cynicism when I cite any future romantic obligations, on Simmon’s part (regarding Fitz’s declarative act of heroism), as a point of suspense for next season.
Fitz gets two gold stars, this episode, since an earlier action – considered a token effort, at the time – made his sacrifice worthwhile. It made it worth our while, as well, since it secured them a rescue by arguably as welcomed a savior sight as any loyal (former) agent – or fan – would be likely to want.
With Garrett skipping past his older schemes, and going straight for New World Order, Team Garrett had effectively boiled down to himself, Ward, and Deathlok. Completely self-assured, Garrett took his eye off the wider operation, allowing Team Coulson to exploit its protocols. Even at its cheesiest, the Team Coulson comeback provided more of the feints & Trojan plays worthy of a spy series.
As much fun as it has been, seeing Paxton play up the rogue angle, wild-eyed, cosmic consciously crazy Garrett was all kinds of nostalgic fun. Usually, the big bad goes off the deep end, when close to, or having achieved full power; but Paxton’s brand of crazy channeled characters like Chet, from Weird Science. The final face-to-face, with Coulson and the series’ ranking cameo character, suggesting that a key motivator to the why of Agent Garrett might have been adherence to a misquote, was hilarious. Moments like these give tone a backseat to commitment – any scene can work if you get a sense that those involved are enjoying themselves.
If anyone still held out for a redemption of Ward, keep waiting. Personally, I think it would’ve been a huge mistake to even try (within the first season, anyway). Too much damage had been done (I’m still miffed about Agent Hand), and the whole twist, to his betrayal, would have been cheapened by a quick fix. Besides, a last minute conversion would have denied non-Ward fans the vicarious thrill of revenge. The darker the villain’s heart, the sweeter the justice sauce.
The first season of Agents boiled down to three points of focus: Coulson’s resurrection, Skye’s background, and Mike’s odyssey, regarding his son. With Uprising, all three threads were tied up – the remaining characters all coming into their own around these developments. Garrett became the bane of Coulson’s second existence, and was the face of the “incentivization” behind Mike’s transformation into Deathlok. Ward had played the whole team, as part of Garrett’s plans for Coulson, but specifically played May, on his way to securing Skye – team Garrett’s new objective. How very satisfying, then, that each of the be-grieved got to settle their respective scores, with extra points for a fairly even distribution of the payback.
I’d go into some detail (including a delightful, Joss Whedon worthy non-starter of a villain comeback), but I think the execution was handled better than a summary would do justice.
I’m not particularly thrilled with Ian Quinn (David Conrad) being passed over for comeuppance, but if any villain earned a second season pass, it was Raina (Ruth Negga). The character has become the heart & soul of Agents‘ rogue gallery; her objective curiosity, matched by her wide-eyed & passionate belief, cut a figure at once sympathetic and sinister. With her character now tied to Skye, she has been primed for a key role in Agents‘ next season (at least). That in mind, I suppose Quinn may yet prove useful as an in-house foil. Much of what made Raina appealing was how she contrasted against the likes of Po and Garrett – the good cop to their bad cop. A total cad, like Quinn, could serve to maintain an appreciation for Raina’s finer points.
The resolution to the episode, the Uprising arc, and the entire season, boiled down to a farewell that was sort of expected for The Winter Soldier, but never materialized. Ranking cameo character Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gave Coulson the honor of an in-person goodbye, and the increase in pay-grade (non paying, of course) that came with it. The whole affair not only welcomed Agents back to the MCU fold, but served as a recognition of Coulson’s crucial role in bringing it together. The hardest working man of the Marvel Joint Universe project got his due; even if that meant having to start from scratch, again. Just to show that there were no hard feelings, the once-and-future agents were confronted by another resurrection, of sorts, as part of their relaunch package.
Coulson may have also inherited an obscure preoccupation of Garrett’s; but that’s one more for the wait and see column….
Satisfaction might not be the most fitting description of what ‘Beginning of the End’ was going for, after all. With so much of its cast getting the kind of closures they wanted/ needed, in manners that likely elicited profane sentiments of approval, from fans, wish fulfillment or fan-service might be more accurate. After a promising start, Agents floundered through efforts to reconcile its MCU ambitions with its ABC budget. The result was action that amounted to pulled punches, whimsical moments and characterizations that became annoying, personal moments that became unprofessionally self-indulgent, and the overall impression that the series was a place-holder between film releases. I am still convinced that its second half was a reboot, and that with it came a sense of direction for the series, a sense of purpose for its characters, and a definitive place in the MCU.
‘Beginning of the End’ not only gave the Uprising arc an ending to be expected, given the noticeable spike it gave to the overall quality of the show, it exceeded the expectations viewers may have held for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., given the noticeable drop in quality, since the pilot. Going out on a higher note than the introductory one redeems the audience’s time, and fan devotion. Going out on a note this high justifies their return for an encore.