On August 12, 2020, Marvel Studios’ first run on network television officially came to an end with the series finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. This show has had quite since its debut in 2013, finishing with 136 episodes and an absolute roller coaster of a ride over the last seven years.
The fact that this show even came into existence is an accomplishment in and of itself, showing the perseverance of Marvel fans to save one man: Phillip J. Coulson. After he was unceremoniously killed off in 2012’s The Avengers, fans almost instantly started the #CoulsonLives movement in order to get the return of Clark Gregg. This gave Marvel the perfect opportunity to introduce this show with Coulson as the lead while also exploring dozens of new characters and classic stories from Marvel Comics.
Alongside Coulson at the start was an incredible team that only grew more awesome with every passing season as we learned more about them. One of the aspects about this particular team compared to other long running TV series was that over the course of seven years, every single core cast member went through some trying times and major life-changing experiences that they always had to adjust to, no matter what they were dealing with.
Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May came in as the mysterious, stoic, battle-tested SHIELD veteran with a mysterious past before Coulson brought her in to pilot the Bus. Learning her backstory was one of the most emotional journeys of the show as we saw the moment she became the Cavalry, the countless times she single-handedly took down her foes, becoming a mentor figure and a motherly figure to multiple characters, all before her traumatic experience in the fear dimension lead to her gaining powerful empathic abilities. Having the show send her off as a teacher of all things was such a drastic evolution to where she began, and it helped balance her out so well after so many years in battle.
One of TV’s most amazing couples was introduced to us in the form of Iain De Castecker’s Leopold Fitz and Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons. From best friends to married and parents, these two have had one of the most tumultuous relationships of any couple I think I’ve ever seen on TV. The experiences FitzSimmons went through include, but aren’t limited to brain damage, being stranded on an alien planet, being stuck in the Framework,, fighting LMD’s, being infected by an alien virus, being trapped in other dimensions, and being trapped in different timelines. Their pairing served as the heart of the show for its entire run, and they deserved every bit of love and happiness they got in the end with their new daughter Alya as they seemingly retire from the S.H.I.E.L.D. life for the moment.
If we’re talking about transformations and evolutions, we can’t ignore Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake played by Chloe Bennet. While she’s always been the wild card of the group ever since Coulson picked her up out of an alley in the Pilot, the changes she had to go through are absolutely mind-boggling. Finding out about her family, discovering her Inhuman roots and powers, facing the brink of death more than once, and being pushed down countless times only to get back up again without fail, she is a prime example of the perseverance these characters have shown on screen through their entire run. More or less, Daisy went from a hacker hell-bent on taking down S.H.I.E.L.D. to giving her life to it on multiple occasions, and her maturation has been something to behold as she became a fan favorite.
While this quintet was the show’s core cast for the entire run, credit has to be given to plenty of other actors who filled plenty of screen time along the way. Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward from the first four seasons helped give the series one of its biggest plot twists very early on, and he toed the line so well between hero and villain as the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra tough guy with an excellently flexible performance. Henry Simmons as Alfonso Mackenzie did so much to help keep things grounded when he first came on in season 2, and his no-nonsense attitude not only kept his family and organization alive, but helped lead the fight against whatever ridiculous foe came in his path.
Natalia Cordova-Buckley blasted in during the Inhuman outbreak of season 3, and she served as another rock for the team to lean on even while she was taking out dozens of bad guys in a heartbeat. Her adjustment to being a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and learning how to use and adjust to her powers was such a fun and emotional ride all at once. Even later on, we got Jeff Ward as the constant man out of time, Deke Shaw. His adjustment to nearly 200 years of human history from 1931 to 2091 was endearing and hilarious all in one, and he even helped give one of the biggest reveals of the time-travel portion of the show upon revealing that he’s the grandson of FitzSimmons.
Along with the fluctuating core group came guest appearances by some of the most prominent figures in Hollywood, every single one of them a knockout. The late Bill Paxton and Powers Boothe as heads of Hydra, longtime hunk Blair Underwood as the former Mr. Melinda May, Jaime Alexander and Hayley Attwell keeping the MCU connected by reprising their characters from the movies, Enver Gjokaj reprising Daniel Sousa to close the series, and Patton Oswalt playing an entire family basically by himself are just a few examples of this show not holding any punches back. It was so fun seeing how many big-time stars molded into the Marvel universe and added a new level of awesome to the show every single time.
Getting into the actual content of the show, it went down so many amazing routes with its story all originating from the MCU movies, the comics, or both. One show over seven years was able to tackle the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., Life-Model Decoys, Inhumans, the Framework, Ghost Rider and even more! There were new challenges every single year, and no matter what literal comic-book villain or event they brought in, it all melded together so well over the course of the show.
All of these comic book stories and cast members meshed so beautifully together, and they overcame a lot of odds considering the hand that they were dealt. Fans before this show were seemingly expecting the MCU movies to literally come to the small screen with only a fraction of the time and budget the movies get, and this show did a damn good job of making it work. Being in danger of cancellation a couple of times, having to shift time slots, and deciding to go a completely separate route from the Marvel movies, this show simply made it work, and it turned out to be an amazing product.
I’m so thankful for this show coming in as the first branch-off from the MCU movies, and with seven solid years of work, it laid the foundation for everything the franchise has brought since and has planned for the future. Agent Carter, the Netflix Defenders series, Runaways on Hulu, Cloak and Dagger on Freeform, and the big-time shows being prepared for Disney+ in the near future all owe a debt of gratitude to this series for paving the way and making all of this possible.
Thank you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for an amazing seven years. It was an incredible ride, and I can’t wait for what the MCU’s future will bring on the small screen!