The problem with using the death of a character as a marketing ploy is that it’s rarely worth the anticipation. At best, it’s a lazy and cheap way of trying to snag a few extra viewers, and at worst, it robs the audience of the full emotional payoff of the meaningful and surprising loss of a beloved character. In the middle is a sort of ‘meh’ feeling when the dying character in question proves to be one the audience doesn’t have much of an attachment too. The finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. falls into that latter middle ground by making its week-long build up to the death of an agent result in the loss of the show’s most ‘meh’ character: Lincoln Campbell.
By teasing the death of an agent for the past few episodes, we knew that it had to be one of the main cast members. While some of the Secret Warriors were an option, Yo-Yo and Joey didn’t seem likely as we haven’t gotten to know them much. Lincoln was always a possibility, but the teases made it seem like it’d be one of the core cast members. Again, using the whole thing as a marketing ploy robs the moment of its impact, but still, it’s a sign of how good the show is that we as an audience probably would have been legitimately bummed no matter who they killed from the main cast. We’ve gotten to know these characters for three seasons (two for Mack, but he’s risen to an essential place on the team and in our hearts) and I know I’d hate to see any of them go, even if I can understand the narrative purpose for losing someone who hasn’t quite had much to do this year. But despite May’s general absence in the back half of the season, Mack’s character building, FitzSimmons’ blossoming love, Coulson’s lack of purpose, and Daisy’s new-found superhero angst, the show decided to avoid all of the ramifications of pissing off any fans with the death of a beloved character by just killing Lincoln.
The show attempts to sell it as an emotional moment, and Lincoln has definitely improved as a character in the past few episodes, but ultimately, no amount of swelling strings can make us care too much about him. He’s been so poorly defined for so long, and in “Absolution” he even says himself that he’s not sure why he’s around or what he wants to do. That feels like the writers addressing the problem with the character that no amount of cool powers or forced relationships was ever able to cover up. It’s win-lose because while we didn’t have to say goodbye to any of our favorite characters, we still have that rotten taste in our mouth that we were toyed with by the producers only for the most meta-convenient character to be removed from the board. But before you think my three paragraphs of bagging on Lincoln and the crew of the show means it was a terrible double-episode, let’s talk about the cool stuff that happened!
That’s right: we finally got to see Hive in all its glory. We saw his tentacles teased in “Paradise Lost” but “Ascension” finally gave us the full frontal. While his face is a bit too fishy (as in he looks like a pirahna) to be truly frightening, it was still some exceptional effects work bringing his comic visage to life. Between this and last week’s flame chain, the show continues to prove that it fares far better with CGI than it does with prosthetics. While it would have been neat for Hive to use his true appearance a bit more before he was blown up, especially in his final moments of life, it was still an effective moment that elevated the character to the monster threat status Brett Dalton‘s performance in a knock-off Loki coat was never quite able to achieve. Not every part of the Ward-as-Hive story worked, but it was still an interesting gamble on how to keep Dalton around while introducing a new threat, and it’s nice to see his arc come full circle in a way. That said, I am looking forward to a season where Ward isn’t a key threat any longer. The show has had some neat villains, but it’ll be nice to not constantly have Ward and all of his baggage lingering menacingly in the background as we move forward. Enough about our two deceased characters though; let’s talk about the living.
While I didn’t care for the two-episode long game of Pass The Cross or the show giving into the tired TV trope of using Christianity as a stand-in for faith, morality, evil, and finding meaning in life, there were a lot of great moments peppered throughout the finale. I enjoyed FitzSimmons taking some time to explore their burgeoning relationship. The scene of them talking about their vacation was all kinds of adorkable. Radcliffe was also a stand-out addition to the cast with his ability to add levity to almost every tense situation he was in. All of these moments of love, happiness, and comedy really help keep the show from veering too far off into brooding darkness and I’m glad the patented Marvel heart was always present throughout the dire proceedings. It was also pretty satisfying seeing Fitz continue his season-long arc of becoming more of a badass when he took out Giyera using an invisible gun. I believe this now completes his James Bond training that we saw begin during his Moroccan escapades in the season premiere last fall. Speaking of season-long payoffs, Mack finally got a full-fledged shotgun-axe!
He teased the idea in the premiere, brought it up again in the episode before the mid-season finale, and during “Watchdogs” he finally made a prototype; but there’s just no beating the real deal. While he barely gets to actually use it this episode, it still looks incredible. Here’s hoping the team has to fight some tree demons next season so Mack can really lay into some baddies with both ends of that thing. His growing relationship with Yo-Yo is also a highlight. I’m glad they’re both sticking around and hope that she joins the team permanently for Season 4. She’s got some neat powers and Henry Simmons and Natalia Cordova-Buckley have great chemistry. Sadly, May did almost nothing this episode, which is a shame as they seemed to be fleshing out her character a bit early in the season only to abandon it aside from some occasional moments with Andrew. In Season 2, her relationship with Andrew brought out some new sides to her, but since he became Lash it’s really held back her development since the writers seem more interested in his conflict than hers. Let’s hope next season see’s the return of the May-centric episode that was sorely missing this past year.
Coulson got some neat moments but no real development on what he wants or why he’s still running things. I was hoping to see SHIELD get dismantled in this episode and have the team move out of its shadow for next season, but that’s impossible given the title of the series. Either way, he really needs some new direction next season. Rosalind gave him some new depths but then her death just had him on a revenge kick. After he satisfied that urge, we really never got anything new from him besides self-recrimination. The tag indicates that he’s no longer the Director, so looks like him and Mack are running field ops and commiserating about those times they were in charge of SHIELD. There’s tons of potential in that development and maybe they can even meet up with Fury over a beer. Unless he’s the new director! Either way, it’s gonna be harder and harder for everyone to convince us that Tony Stark doesn’t know Coulson’s alive with him constantly running around in plain sight. It’ll be a long few months, but I’m definitely intrigued to see where we end up when the show returns next fall.
4 LMDs out of 5. Marketing gimmicks aside, this was an intense, action-packed, and emotional way to close out a strong season. There’s been some ups and downs, mainly in this back half of the season, but it’s been nice watching the show grow and succeed on its own terms.
I’m not Doug, by the way. The death of Lincoln was too much for him to bear, so I jumped ship from doing the weekly episode breakdowns to tackle the audacious task of reviewing the finale. So let me know what you all thought of the finale and season as a whole. If you haven’t heard, ABC announced that it’s once again bumping the show back an hour. It’ll now air at 10pm, which doesn’t bode well for the already low ratings. Luckily, the later time slot means the show can hopefully explore some darker territory and perhaps start to feel a little closer to the Netflix shows.
Anyone interested in donating to a Kickstarter I’m working on to get S.H.I.E.L.D. a better make-up effects budget? I thought Lash was terrible but the Primitives are some of the worst looking creatures I’ve ever seen. They really destroy the tension they’re supposed to create with their weird blowhole mouths. It’s like live-action Voldemort and Origin‘s Deadpool had a kid and then injected it with Silly Putty.
I will counter that with a good design choice: Jemma and Radcliffe’s shoe games were on point in this episode.
If there’s ever a Marvel/DC TV crossover, I want Mack and Cisco from The Flash to have a nickname battle. Mack calling Lincoln ‘Electric Company’ in the middle of the super tense moment of Yo-Yo bleeding out gets him serious dedication-to-his-craft points.
I get that she was pissed, but Daisy could have taken like three seconds to destroy the Zephyr’s controls before attacking Hive in the hangar.
Adding insult to fatal injury, the writers didn’t even give Lincoln a cool superhero name before he dies. But…
Glad the show finally got around to sort of giving Chloe Bennet‘s character the name Quake. But for now, looks like she’s just #SoftGrungeDaisy.
As referenced in the score above, looks like the show is officially introducing LMDs, or Life Model Decoys. Back before we knew how Coulson was resurrected, this comics staple was one of the leading theories as to how he’d returned. I’m excited to see how the series uses them next season and whether they’ll ever pop up in the movies.
Biggest disappointment of the finale: James didn’t use his flame chain once.