'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Season Finale Review: "Beginning of the End"

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its twenty-second and final installment of the first season in “Beginning of the End,” as Coulson enlists the help of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in making the ultimate assault against Garrett, Ward and Deathlok, while several new mysteries for season 2 arise, and the team suffers a devastating loss.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Ragtag” saw Coulson using the team's limited resources to track down John Garrett through his Cybertek connections, while Ward remembered the past that led him to Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D., so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series wrap up its marvelous inaugural season?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s twenty-second episode, season finale “Beginning of the End!”

A man named Zeller introduces a new employee to his job at Cybertek systems, showing him their control over the team of soldiers ready to take on Coulson’s team. Back in the barbershop, the team just barely manages to gain the upper hand (in particular May with the Berserker staff), as Skye retrieves the data and May brings the structure down on the soldiers.

Garret learns of the setback over the phone, but ignores it, feeling stronger and more alert than ever, ripping a door off the hinge to scratch out some of the information now surging through his brain. Quinn laments that they’ll need more of the super-soldier serum to display to their buyers, as Ward questions Garrett if they really intend to follow Hydra, now that they have all they wanted. An enthusiastic Garrett urges Ward to focus on what he wants now, as we see him having scratched out the alien equation from earlier in the season.

Coulson and the team learn that Fitz and Simmons have apparently gone missing, before briefing one another on route to their impending assault of the Cybertek facility. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons actually survived  the capsule’s fall from the plane, even if it has since sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Having broken his arm in the commotion, Fitz informs Simmons that he can’t feasibly see a way they’d escape the capsule, or signal anyone who might respond, likely leading to their deaths.

Ward urges Raina to keep an eye on Garrett, as Garrett observes the gravitonium and espouses that he can see both its purpose and the true origins of all life. Raina admits that she was disappointed at first to learn that Garrett wasn’t actually clairvoyant, having had a question to ask him , but Garrett now believes the truth to be behind his eyes. Encouraged, Raina ask what she’ll become in the new evolution they believe imminent. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons wonder aloud what death will be like, before Smmons realizes that the window pane’s unique chemistry would allow them to craft a homemade explosive, and thus a slight chance of escaping the sunken capsule.

While Ian Quinn shows several military generals around Cybertek’s new base in hope of funding, Coulson and Triplett manage to commandeer an armored truck from outside, providing enough of a distraction to allow May and Skye to enter the base. The generals all demand an explanation of the gunfire, for which Garrett, Deathlok and Ward arrive, though Garret insists that the generals are a remnant of the old world, ripping out a rib from one of the men and stabbing him to death with it..

While Raina and Quinn prepare to leave with their gravitonium, Ward protests that Garrett has clearly lost his mind, even as Raina insists he’s seeing clearly for the first time. Raina points out that both Ward and Garrett want exactly the same thing: Skye, the key to whatever evolutionary change they want the world to undergo. Ward doubts her words, but Raina points out that the two could both be monsters together after the plan comes to fruition. Meanwhile, Skye and May enter the Cybertek control room and take director Zeller hostage, the intended effect of which gives the super-soldiers new orders to abandon Coulson and protect Garrett.

Fitz and Simmons prepare to activate the charge on the window, as Fitz hands over a breather with just enough air to allow her a chance to make it to the surface. Fitz laments that he never had the courage to tell her how he felt, but pleads with her to let him show it by sacrificing his life for hers, just before blowing the window. Simmons successfully manages to swim to the surface, dragging an unconscious Fitz with her, when above the water a hand reaches out to help her: none other than Nick Fury himself. A short while later, Fury explains that he and his remaining men had tracked the beacon the two had sent out earlier, as well that while Fitz managed to survive, his condition remains somewhat critical for the moment.

Ward confronts Skye as she keeps the Cybertek director hostage, Ward insisting that she didn’t even have the wherewithal to kill him, whom she hates. Ward admits that she woke up a certain weakness in him, but Skye soon plays her hand, that she only meant to distract long enough for the spurned May to begin her attack. Meanwhile, Coulson confronts Garrett and lands the first punch, though Garrett easily overpowers him and sends Coulson flying behind some cannisters, right into the path of a waiting Nick Fury. Coulson tables their need for a conversation about his resurrection, as Fury hands over a weapon to even the odds: the Destroyer weapon from ‘The Avengers,’ which makes short work of Garrett and his men, before losing power.

While Skye attempts to work out what Garrett has over the Cybertek director, Fury and Coulson marvel at how off the deep end Garrett seems to have gone, with all his rhetoric about being “a part of something bigger.” Meanwhile, May gains the upper hand in her fight with Ward by nailing his foot to the floor, and striking him in the throat before finally knocking the agent out. Skye enters a Cybertek holding facility with the director and leads him to his captive wife, opening another cell to find Mike’s son, Ace. Having hacked into Mike/Deathlok’s ocular implant, Skye has Ace deliver a message to his father that confirms the boy’s safety, leading Mike to finally turn on Garrett. After several blasts, Garrett remains near death, for which Coulson and Fury encourage Mike to finish the job.

The situation resolved, Coulson confronts a captive Ward and updates him that both Fitz and Simmons survived, while Coulson and May intend to see to it personally that Ward spends the rest of his life feeling the weight of his actions. Outside, Mike watches his son led to safety from a distance, leading Skye to assure that Ace would accept his father no matter what. Instead, Mike wants only to make amends for his actions as Deathlok, and walks off into the night to begin making things right for the sake of his son.  Meanwhile, Garrett resurrects in the Cybertek facility and activates a machine that outfits him with even more cybernetics of nightmarish proportion, though upon gloating of his survival, Coulson reappears and disintegrates Garrett with the recovered 0-8-4 weapon.

Back on the bus, Fury defends his dangerous resurrection of Coulson in that May would be monitoring his mental state, while Coulson’s official status as an Avenger justified the decision to return him to life. Fury explains that S.H.I.E.L.D. was at least founded on a pure ideal of protection, turning over a “tool box” cube with which Coulson can begin to rebuild the organization as its new director. With that, Fury departs to head underground for the time being, dipping his shades and reminding Coulson that he’ll be “everywhere.”

Coulson and the team greet Simmons at their new base location dictated by the cube, learning of Fitz’s survival, before an exact duplicate of Eric Koenig named “Billy Koenig” introduces himself and the “Playground” facility.  Meanwhile, Raina enters a guarded cell at mysterious location and consults with an unidentified figure. Turning over a photo of Skye, May tells the figure that she found his daughter, as we see the man’s oozing hand grasp the image

That night, Coulson finds himself with trouble sleeping, before venturing into base storage and finding the equation Garrett carved out earlier. Seemingly in a daze, Coulson carves out an even larger equation on one of the walls.

OUR REVIEW:

There’s really no way around it, that was pretty friggin’ great. Everyone who’s anyone knows that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ has struggled since the getgo, and we weren’t so starstruck by tonight’s finale so as to claim that “Beginning of the End” redeemed everything about the inaugural season, particularly its early handicap in leading up to ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier.’ Still, tonight’s installment managed to cram just enough excitement, surprises, callbacks and incredibly fun moments into some genuinely high-stakes drama, for the first time genuinely earning that tagline they’ve been spouting all season, a palpable sense that it really was “all connected.”

In short, most of the episode just plain works, zipping along with enough momentum and purpose without falling into very many of the traps ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ still finds itself with the occasional weakness toward. Some of the highlights of the hour included Fitz’s emotional goodbye to sacrifice himself for Simmons (whether or not you thought it was a cheat for him to survive), May getting her deserved payback on Ward with a few brutal zings to boot, and Coulson simultaneously managing to get his catharsis with Fury as he proved himself an effective leader worthy of the S.H.I.E.L.D. mantle. And in keeping with the “all connected” mentality, “Beginning of the End” even managed to keep Skye and Mike’s emotional journey woven into the hour without necessarily distracting from the main action of the base attack, a neat little bit of payoff that could have just as easily been ignored by less clever writers.

Of course, a finale wouldn’t be a finale without a few loose ends, and not necessarily of the intentional variety. Ward’s sudden Hydra turn still leaves a bad taste with us, something last week’s “Ragtag” only had so much room to justify, but we imagine the character’s survival leaves plenty of time to suss out a more cogent path for the character to walk in the now-confirmed second season. Whether or not that ends up all boiling down to a fairly undeveloped relationship with Skye remains to be seen, but for now, the character was at least worth saving.

The same couldn’t really be said of Garrett, for as much dynamic presence as Bill Paxton brings to the proceedings, his various villainous transformations felt a bit underdeveloped and vague, even as his cartoonish monologue provided some enjoyable banter for Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson to riff on. We weren’t sure for a moment if the closing tags  were going to go all-out and somehow tie Garrett’s second robotic upgrade into the ‘Age of Ultron,’ but we were just as happy to see the cartoonish bent given a neat button in Coulson disintegrating the villain, no doubt one of the most Whedonesque moments of the series to date. Shades of Gachnar, really.

Plenty of new threads to continue exploring in season 2, as the first year ably managed to circumvent our theories about Coulson’s return (the moment where Jackson assured Coulson he was an Avenger and espoused S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fundamental purpose was seriously wonderful) in favor of something more original, so whatever Skye’s secret origins turn out to be should be afforded some credit, in spite of earlier missteps with the character. In the end, it’s mainly a relief that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s arguably most important hour didn’t end up relying on the movies, and stuck the landing in terms of finding its own place within the larger Marvel universe. Whether or not any of the movies ever actually touch on Coulson forming a new S.H.I.E.L.D. is certainly a question for the future, but for now, “Beginning of the End” left us with exactly what we’ve wanted from day one: a purpose, and a place.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • So, none of the soldiers were physically controlled, but rather given strict order through their ocular implants, presumably all with “incentives” held captive so as to keep them in line. Still, they seemed notably lacking in their own individual wills.
  • Why would you toss away the Berserker staff?!
  • Any theories on the mysterious alien equation, or Skye’s father?
  • What about Fitz’s place in season 2 or with Simmons? Seriously, Elisabeth Henstridge broke all our hearts tonight.
  • Leave it to Glenn Morshower to play a general getting killed by the main villain in yet another branch of the Marvel universe.
  • Guess we’re saving Graviton and Blizzard for season 2, then?
  • We have been waiting the entire season for the Destroyer gun to come into play, and could not have been more happy to see it used in the finale as such.
  • We can haz Patton Oswalt season 2 regular plz? K thx.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s first season finale “Beginning of the End” close out the year as successfully as we'd hoped? What do you think 'Agents' will look like next year with Ward in custody, Fitz gravely injured, and Coulson the head of a new S.H.I.E.L.D. while Fury remains underground? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and for the latest on tonight's finale and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s season 2 in the days to come!

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