Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s Season 4 Finale “World’s End”:

I have to say it. COULSON. IN. SPAAAAAAAACE!

That taken care of, we should get some major bullet points out of the way. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a habit of finale teases that showrunners haven’t necessarily put thought into defining yet, and the closing stinger of Coulson abducted to some intergalactic prison probably falls along that line. Coulson was the only one visibly abducted (or directly addressed) by those silhouetted agents, and it’s impossible to say whether said abduction somehow correlates to the offscreen bargain made with Ghost Rider*, or even define what we saw. Phil had apparently been in that cell for some time, which could set up a space-faring angle for Season 5, perhaps the comic Negative Zone, or even some pre-Inhumans tie-in.

Obviously, the bigger news of recent days has been Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. securing its Season 5 renewal, and for a full 22 episodes at that. I get the sense that the team’s chummy diner sendoff could have doubled as a sort-of-goodbye for the series, just as easily as the abstract nature of that cliffhanger probably isn’t meant to be scrutinized too heavily just yet.

*Coulson got to be Ghost Rider! Short of getting his wish to meet Iron Fist, you know Clark Gregg was overjoyed to participate in such a cool moment, regardless of easier ways to get the Rider and Aida in one room.

In any case, I’ve been consistent with my feeling that the Framework arc had some fundamental flaws; tempering the sort of creative re-energizing that very likely got us the Season 5 renewal to begin with. Its biggest issue is one of timing; we had to relearn the rules and history of this virtual world and spend so much time establishing drastic changes to the major characters, that by the time we escaped, there were only two hours to pivot Aida’s rebirth into some climactic endgame. It was a notable rush of Mallory Jansen’s emotive work this season, but took the biggest toll on tonight’s finale. Not only did we have to spend significant time returning to the Framework for Mack, but also reintroduce Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider and establish Aida’s plan to frame S.H.I.E.L.D. for high crimes; to say nothing of the many dangling threads. What became of Ivanov after Aida’s destruction? What of Vijay Nadeer, and his second Terrigenesis on the ocean floor?

And for goodness’ sake, why did Ward disappear from the Framework (remember, he and Burrows were shown to survive the TV station), and no one ever mentioned it?

“He does remember begging us to keep the character dead last year, right?”

The Mack storyline felt particularly frustrating, as the Framework never established any means to reawaken characters to their true selves, and the decision to remain behind for a digital daughter has no weight without choice. I appreciate that Season 4 invested enough in Mack and Yo-Yo’s relationship to structure so much story around his rescue, but this would be a very different, and much more affecting beat if Mack even poked his head into the real world, remembered both lives equally, and made an actual decision to embrace digital oblivion. “World’s End” also arbitrarily placed a ticking clock on the Framework, if only to manufacture tension where the real world’s Aida showdown fell short. What was even the alternative? Mack and Yo-Yo die for nothing, off-screen?

From a practical standpoint, I get it. There’s limited budget and time, and the real estate taken up by the Framework arc meant Aida’s scorched-earth plot to punish Fitz and re-Hydra reality had to move quickly. By the same token, there’s no pressing need to set a final confrontation in the bombed-out base; but rather it makes use of an existing set, and easily pairs off characters like Coulson and May, or Daisy and Robbie. Aida’s exit would never amount to more than Ghost Rider burning her alive, either, even dressed up with the reveal of Coulson as a temporary Rider, and the Thor 2-style teleporting battle.

“I thought for sure you guys would at least do Ghost Lola.”

Strong set pieces aside (and that first Ghost Rider fight looked great), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always lived in the team dynamic, and having Daisy be the one to pull Fitz out of taking the fall was a nice full-circle touch, buttoned by the camaraderie of that final diner scene. My only wish was that Fitz and Simmons got some stronger resolution for all they’d been through this season, given the prior talk of marriage and moving in. Instead, their biggest moment was relegated to Aida threatening what turned out to be an Simmons LMD they’d apparently had left over.

I’m surprised that ABC sprung for a full 22 episodes next season, likely indicating a return to the pod format. That’s for the best, having kept Season 4 consistently fresh and memorable, even if the awkward timing of the Framework arc kept “World’s End” from living up to the season’s overall standard. I wouldn’t mind if Season 5 turned out the last, either, if only to end the series on a high note,

I mean, where else can you go after COULSON IN SPACE?


  • If nothing else, good on the Framework for giving a bittersweet conclusion to John Hannah’s Holden Radcliffe.
  • That was Robbie making a Doctor Strange-style sling-ring portal, if you missed it.
  • General Talbot was shot in the head! He’s … okay, for some reason?
  • I asked this last year as well, and I understand why S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t go out of its way to address it, but did Aida have a plan if The Avengers took notice of her scheme?
  • I wonder if Robbie’s talk of other dimensions and planets at war with ours is either meant to foreshadow Infinity War, or wherever Coulson ended up. Robbie even dropped the famous “It’s all connected” line!
  • I see you, moving cars in the background where the CG bridge already disappeared.
  • They definitely seemed to hint at, but not pay off the chemistry between Robbie and Daisy, so I’d bet on his Season 5 return.
  • Presumably, the Rider wants to reap Coulson, for having died once already?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will return for Season 5 at midseason, after Marvel’s The Inhumans, Friday nights at 9:00 P.M. on ABC.

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