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'Agents of SHIELD' react: Welcome to your new life, Coulson

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Agents Of Shield
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Is everyone okay? No, really, it’s a serious question: Is everyone okay? Because I’m not okay and — full disclosure — I’ve had over a week for this finale to sink into my head.

This year has been a helluva ride for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While we’ve endured some ups and downs in terms of storytelling and pacing (we’ll dissect all of those in tomorrow’s wrap-up post) and while we dealt at times with some ultimately frustrating character developments and plot lines, there’s no question that we ended on a high, explosive note. After a really shaky takeoff and a slightly smoother flight, the finale really stuck its landing by setting up a ton of new stories for next season, while leaving us with some tantalizing questions. And, of course, what would the hour be without action, humor, and a few gut punches? Without further ado, let’s dive in.

[Warning: This recap is long. Super long. You’ve been warned.]

We start at Cybertek, where a nice man named Zeller is giving a brand-new employee the lay of the land. He’s doing a really good job of selling how awesome it is to work there, and then asks New Employee what brought him to Cybertek in the first place. “The incentives program.” Hmmm. File that one away for later. Zeller tells him that no one’s turned that down yet, which should probably be a decently big red flag, but Cybertek seems like a great office to work in and no one’s suspicious…right?

Zeller continues to take New Employee on a tour of the system, where we learn through his exposition that “everyone is in charge of one unit.” Just then, a real live emergency happens — what are the chances of that on your first day, New Employee? Zeller takes him to the monitors, which shows Coulson, May, Trip and Skye in the Super Secret Lab Underneath The Barbershop. Turns out the “units” that the Cybertek people are manning in this control center are actually the Centipede soldiers.

Zeller lets them have it, and the soldiers attack. One has the audacity to call May “the Cavalry” and apparently he never got the memo about how those words will leave you incapacitated. While May, Trip and Coulson take care of the soldiers, Skye manages to get the hard drive into the computer. And then May basically takes down everyone with the Asgardian Beserker before they make their escape. It’s kind of bad ass and awesome and exactly the way you want to start off a finale.

After seeing the destruction, Cybertek calls Garrett and tells them about Coulson’s attack. Honestly, at this point Garrett could care less because he’s feeling good. Like, really good. Like, Lucy good. He’s lifting doors and flexing new muscles and according to Raina, he has every ounce of research in his veins. Quinn’s a little upset that Garrett took all of their miracle drugs, because he’s supposed to meet these military guys to make a sell and how are they supposed to do a demonstration if there’s nothing to show? But Raina’s not exactly worried. Now that Hydra’s involved, they won’t even have to ask for volunteers. And if they run out? That nifty “incentive” program we heard about earlier should help fill the ranks.

Ward, meanwhile, seems a little wary of the intensity of Garrett’s newfound power, which seems to have turned him from kind of quietly evil to aggressively brutal. It’s almost as if the drugs have heightened the worst parts of him that are now being brought to light, and it’s safe to say that Ward probably has never seen Garrett this unhinged before. He tries to understand how Hydra has helped them get to this point and asks if they’re really planning to stage a coup. Nah, says Garrett. “It’s more of an uprising.” Did I mention that Garrett can apparently now do anything? He’s currently scribbling a string of code full of symbols that don’t make much sense, which he calls “scribbling ideas down.”

While the team regroups, Skye tells them that the Trojan Horse worked — they now have eyes on Cybertek’s secret weapons. But their optimism is shattered when Coulson comes to tell them about FitzSimmons. The good news is that the tracker they put on the plane allowed them to see that Garrett was in New Mexico. The bad news is the scientists aren’t answering his calls. You don’t have to be a mind-reader to know what Coulson means by that, and Skye’s devastated face proves it.

BUT! Our favorite science team isn’t dead! Not yet, anyway, and collective fans across the S.H.I.E.L.D.-verse are currently crying and sighing in relief. True, they’re at the bottom of the ocean. True, Fitz has broken his arm in two places (the same two places he broke it in second grade, apparently) which kind of sucks when you’re stranded anywhere, let alone 90 feet under the ocean. But they’re alive, which is the bright spot that Simmons focuses on, considering that by all mathematical accounts it should have been impossible for both the pod and themselves to survive the fall. Thankfully, physics and luck had a hand in that.

Fitz, unfortunately, doesn’t share Simmons’ hope of rescue or survival. While she’s been knocked out, he’s already gone through the process of trying to rig a distress call with the supplies they have. But nothing’s worked, and Simmons finally understands what Fitz is implying: they’re both going to die. (Cue my own crying as Elizabeth Henstridge starts to tear up.) I really love how this life-or-death situation heightened the responses of both Fitz and Simmons: Fitz has always relied on hard science, but Simmons holds the faith and belief. It’s what makes them so compatible with each other, and I love that it was showcased here.

Coulson continues to plan how to break into Cybertek. It won’t be easy: they’ll be outmanned, outgunned, and they’ll have no back-up. But Coulson has faith: Fury always said that “a man can accomplish anything when he realizes he’s a part of something bigger” and that’s what the team, however torn apart, has to believe in. So, are they ready to change the world?

“No,” says May. “I’m ready to kick some ass.” (Okay, Fury’s motivational words were inspiring, but that works too. It’s also what I imagine Natasha Romanov probably said at some point early on in her training.)

Ward and Raina have a talk about Garrett, because Ward’s worried that he’s gone insane with his new “powers.” He asks her to go talk to him, you know, to make sure he’s okay and only half a of psychopath instead of a full blown psychopath or something. She finds Garrett staring at the gravatonium as if it’s the most impressive thing he’s ever seen. Raina mentions that Quinn is expecting it as payment, which is interesting, because I would think that Garrett would want to keep it for himself. But maybe he also just told Quinn that to get him on his side.

Raina stresses she has no allegiance to Hydra, or for that matter, Centipede and Cybertek. All she was ever interested in was evolution. She admits that the reason she was sad Garrett wasn’t actually The Clairvoyant was because she had a question she didn’t get to ask. Well, good news, Raina — Garrett practically IS clairvoyant now. And he has answers. So what would she like to know? Well, Raina wants to know what she’ll become, which is interesting if you’re a part of the theory that Raina and Skye possibly share the same type of DNA/background/etc. Raina’s intense desire to understand herself seems to indicate that there’s some evil or darkness that needs to be “awakened,” sort of like the way that the GH-325 has awakened Garrett. Does this mean Raina is an “0-8-4” as well? Or is she just all knowing about Skye being the second coming of something that will change the world? Things to ponder, while we continue to ponder the fact that Marvel can’t mention the word mutants, which is certainly what Raina seemed to be hinting at in her conversation.

Still trapped under the sea (and not in the fun Disney way), Simmons and Fitz talk about dying. In this case, it’s Simmons that tries to calm herself with science by referencing the Law of Thermodynamics while Fitz is the one who is more logical. It’s an intensely emotional scene, and both actors hit their mark in another nice moment where Simmons gets to calm Fitz down the way she routinely does.

As Simmons talks, she realizes that the window has bulletproof glass. And although Fitz swears he’s thought of every scenario, what do we know about our science team? They work the best and solve the most complicated of problems when they do it together. Simmons helps him to realize they can use the defibrillator to help implode the window, which will allow them a way out. SCIENCE!

Back on the mainland, Coulson and Trip are staking out a Humvee on its way to Cybertek so they can steal it and use it to blast through the compound, which allows May and Skye to get inside. Meanwhile, Quinn is giving the military their tour, showing off a prototype of a machine that can replace the limb of a severed soldier in minutes. (Sounds like Extremis to me, but in metal form.) Quinn wants to build dozens of machines just like this one, which in turn will churn out dozens soldiers to replace special ops, for better security. But the military guys aren’t completely sold. They want specifics. They want hard evidence. They want…what was that? What just happened? Oh, nothing. Just the sound of the artists formerly known as S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up to kick your asses.

Quinn tries desperately to save his sales pitch to no avail, so Garrett (along with Deathlok) shows up to take matters into his own hands. The men are still unimpressed, even when Quinn tries to pass Garrett off as his “strategy consultant.” Garrett basically becomes unhinged at this point and goes crazy, ripping out the General’s insides, and this isn’t just Garrett making a simple kill because he’s angry. This is like Hannibal Lecter intense. Ward actually looks upset, and even Quinn looks a little green. But Garrett is alive.

Back on the Bus, Quinn and Raina are trying to steal the gravitonium. Ward stops them, pissed off about Garrett becoming Psychopath Extreme, but Raina has reached some sort of zen state where she doesn’t care to deal with Ward’s whining or his anger. Raina thinks Garrett is connected, and berates Ward for “following” him before telling him that they need Skye. That’s all Ward ever wanted anyway, wasn’t it? Again with the looks on Brett Dalton’s face — if you had told me I would be this invested to a character I didn’t care much for at the beginning of the season, I would have told you that you were crazy.

This “evolution” that Raina is obsessed with? Skye will apparently be a big part of that, and Raina tries to impart this fact on Ward, who thinks that Flowers is crazy — after all, Skye hates him. She thinks he’s a monster. And then we get a rather interesting exchange, where Raina asks if this is Ward’s true nature, or what Garrett made him to be.

“I don’t know.”

We don’t know, either. Like most people who become “evil,” Ward was made into his current self primarily by someone else’s hand. And look, I don’t want to get lynched for months after this finale by saying I don’t believe Ward is evil, because I do. But I am saying that there’s a clear divide between someone like Garrett, who seems to have no emotional connection whatsoever, and Ward, who is evil but still maintains a sense of humanity.

Anyway. Raina tells Ward that he knows about the darkness that lies inside her. (“What darkness?!” I yell at the television. “TELL ME!“) She also says that she believes in a world where “her true nature will reveal itself.” And look on the bright side, Ward: when that day comes, maybe you can both be monsters!

At the facility, Coulson and Trip are still trapped in the Humvee and being attacked by soldiers while May and Skye storm the control center. Skye gets leverage by freaking everyone out with the claim that she has a bomb in her backpack, but Zeller is smug: they’ve already thought of every scenario to thwart the team. “You mean switching the soldiers to default directive?” May deadpans, as the soldiers attacking Coulson and Trip back off, having received override orders to go defend Garrett. OH, SNAP. Of course, the fact that the soldiers are heading to Garrett will lead Coulson right to him.

Ward goes to Garrett and tells him that the compound has been hit, and also that Raina and Quinn took off. It’s increasingly clear that Ward has no idea what to do if he’s not being given orders by his surrogate father, almost as if he doesn’t know what his purpose is otherwise. They’re interrupted with a phone call from Skye, who baits him with the fact that she’s infiltrated Cybertek. Garrett baits her right back by throwing the fate of FitzSimmons in her face, and as the call drops, Garrett also mentions that Raina told him how special Skye is. And he wants her.

Speaking of FitzSimmons! Our science babies are still alive and trying to set off the explosion that will save them from an underwater grave. It’s at this moment that Simmons realizes that Fitz hasn’t planned his own escape: he means to sacrifice himself so that Simmons can survive, because there’s no way the two of them can make it. Simmons is not having this. At all. And in a scene that completely broke my heart, she loses it as she begs Fitz not to leave her alone. In turn, Fitz finally admits what we as viewers have all known (or come to realize) over 22 episodes: Simmons means more to him than just a friend. She kisses him over and over while pleading with him to change his mind, and I grab for my wine as Fitz blows in the window before she can stop him.

But there’s no way Simmons is going to leave him — they’re going to go down together, or not at all. And so she saves Fitz, but it’s not long before their next complication arises: they may be alive, but they’re also in the middle of the ocean. With nary a flotation device in sight.

…and suddenly, a wild Sam Jackson appears! Apparently, he found them via their makeshift beacon. Simmons wakes on a jet, disbelieving that Fury’s alive. She wants to know where Fitz is, and all Fury tells her is that survived — barely. We don’t get many details, only that his brain was without oxygen for a long time, which makes me wonder what kind of Fitz we’ll see next season. Either way, I’m guessing we should prepare for some angst, because that underwater pod talk may be nothing compared to what we’re getting when we return in the fall.

Back at the control center, Zeller basically says he’ll die before he talks, even as Skye pressures him about the incentive program. They’re interrupted by Ward, and in another interesting exchange of the night where unspoken words speak volumes, Skye tells him that some people are just born evil while Ward retaliates with, “yeah, maybe they are.” He goes on to tell Skye he’s learned things about her past, and that they’re really not all that different,when it comes down to it. So Garrett, Raina and Ward now definitely know about whatever Skye’s secret is — the question is, when will Skye find out?

Ward calls her bluff on setting off the bomb, remembering how Skye refused to kill him when she had the chance, but Skye’s not deterred. She has a weapon that will destroy him, something that’s actually better than a bomb: she’s got a pissed off Melinda May, who finally gets to use that pent up anger to literally beat the ever living crap out of him. And boy, does she ever.

While May and Ward take each other on, Garrett and Coulson face off. Coulson gets knocked around, and when he regroups, he looks up right into a vision of…Director Nick Fury. (Just don’t call him “sir.” Not when he looks like this.) Fury tells Coulson he’d kind of appreciate if he didn’t die, because he went through a lot to make sure that didn’t happen the first time. And Coulson’s going to have a long talk with his superior about that, but right now, they have more important things to deal with — like John Garrett. Fury hands over a very familiar looking gun and Coulson takes. Those. Guys. OUT. This is only second in awesome moments to Fury coming in and shooting Garrett with about a million rounds of bullets.

Not that Garrett dies, of course. Because that would be too easy. But wow, Bill Paxton is really at his best when he’s overly freaky, and the deranged bloody smile really got to me. Garrett baits them with his new powers, but Fury and Coulson aren’t really having it. In fact, they’re kind of amused by it, and all of a sudden I find that I really need the Fury and Coulson comedy hour. (Maybe on their downtime?) While all this is happening, Skye is dragging Zeller to different rooms and finally uncovering the “incentive” program: aka, people that Cybertek have captured and held hostage in order to force people to work for them. In one room, they find Zeller’s wife. In another, Ace, aka Peterson’s son. Skye opens the bag, revealing not a bomb but instead a bunch of children’s toys. She gives Ace the Hulk toy and tells him that he needs to communicate with his dad, though Zeller argues that there’s no way for them to do that from here. Sorry, buddy — Skye’s got you one-upped on that as well.

Garrett is continuing his rampage aboard the crazy train, heralding, “I am the key to the future of the universe!” (Seriously, Fury ain’t got time for that.) He orders Deathlok to kill them, but right then is when Ace gets his message to his father: Dad, what are we? We’re a team. That’s all the confirmation Peterson needs to flip his switch, and he blasts Garrett instead of his intended targets. This time, Garrett actually looks dead.

While the soldiers are led away and dead Garrett is covered with a sheet, Ward is led out among the soldiers. He can’t really speak (May kind of fractured his larynx) but Coulson tells him he’s got the rest of his life to figure out who he is if he’s not Garrett’s puppet. It’s interesting coming on the heels of his flashback, where Garrett rescued Ward from a life in prison while promising something better. Now, Ward is essentially right back where he started. Coulson also tells him about Fitz and Simmons’ survival, but also that Fitz may never be the same — again, no confirmation on the extent of Fitz’s injuries (I can hear fans screaming) but I assume this development is going to be a big part of next season.

Deathlok watches Ace from a distance, but refuses to go to him. He doesn’t want him to see who he’s become, and he’s not talking about the physical changes. He leaves, but not before telling Skye that everything he’s doing now will be for his son, including all of his amends. It’s a nice way to “end” Mike Peterson’s story (I say “end” loosely because we don’t know if we’ll see him again next season, but I really hope they keep J. August Richards around in some capacity because I’ve loved everything he’s brought to the show this year.)

Did you think we’re done? Not even close. Because everyone should remember that the famous Hydra saying is “cut off one head, two more shall take its place.” And despite the fact that Garrett should be totally dead, he’s actually alive. Kind of. At least, alive enough to pull himself into the prototype machine we saw earlier, which straps enough robotic metal on him to make him a super soldier.

And then Coulson shows up out of nowhere and blasts him to bits.

Seriously. I’m not even kidding. It’s an amazing moment. Followed up by an even more amazing moment where Coulson chews out Fury for T.A.H.I.T.I. Coulson argues that it was stupid (“stupid, stupid, stupid!”) and that it was only supposed to used in an emergency — the fall of an Avenger. Fury agrees, before going on another one of his patented motivational speeches wherein he basically tells Coulson that S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded on protection. It was also founded with the belief that everyone was worth saving: a belief that Coulson himself embodies. Therefore, Fury wants Coulson to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. As Director, no less. “There’s no one else I trust with this,” he says, sealing the deal.

This is actually a hugely interesting development for a show has always straddled the line of bridging the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the world that ABC has created on the small screen. We can imagine that going forward into the rest of the films (possibly Ultron, but definitely Cap 3), Director Coulson is going to be A Thing. This means that we (probably) won’t get Director Hill, as myself and some others were expecting at some point down the line, but also that the Avengers will have to find out about Coulson’s survival sooner or later, if they aren’t already aware. I’m super curious to see how and when this will all play out.

Fury disappears, kind of (does Nick Fury ever disappear?) But not before handing Coulson a toolbox which he’ll use to rebuild the organization. Inside the toolbox are a set of coordinates, which is where the team ends up at the end of the episode, reuniting with Simmons (Fitz is still MIA. But he’s alive, so we should all take comfort in that and not spend the summer banging our heads against the wall.) Apparently they’re at another secret base called “The Playground” — so says Patton Oswalt. Or rather, Billy Koenig, twin brother of dearly departed Eric, who meets them with a smile and promises of lanyards (let’s just hope they don’t have to undergo another lie detector test.) The agents are just as shocked as viewers at this moment, but it’s a truly great reveal. And what better way to begin to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. than with Billy helping? After all, in the comics, Eric Koenig was not only a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent involved in the Howling Commandos, he was also recruited by Nick Fury to help form the organization after the war.

Meanwhile, we finally return to Raina, who is walking into some sort of dilapidated housing unit. She enters a room where she starts talking to a man whose face we never see. “I know you thought you’d never see me again, but I found your daughter,” she says, handing him a photo of Skye. And was that blood dripping from his hands? And if that wasn’t enough to make your head spin…

Coulson wakes up in the middle of the night and roams the Bus in a case of insomnia. He sees the strange symbols that Garrett was writing after he was injected with GH-325, and then starts writing the same thing on another wall, and we all feel our heads start to spin. Does this mean Coulson’s mind is like Garrett’s after all? And that the team had a right to be worried about what T.A.H.I.T.I. might have done to his brain? And what do those symbols mean?

If you’ve made it through this (insanely long winded) review, congratulations! You get a lanyard! We’ll have a post mortem up after the west coast airing with head honchos Jeff Bell and Jeph Loeb that should answer most of your burning questions (including some non-finale questions, like what did happen to Buddy the dog?!) For now, get those theories going — it’s going to be a long summer. And in the meantime, I’m off to find a Tahiti of my own and a beach where I can spend the hiatus, though hopefully my vacation doesn’t include being experimented on by Hydra…

Line(s) Of The Night: (plural because there were so many, I couldn’t pick just one.)

Coulson: “Who do we talk to about getting a haircut?”

Trip: “I bring the noise and the funk wherever I go.”

General [about Garrett]: “This is your safety consultant?”

Quinn: “He’s part time.”

Coulson: “Sir?”

Fury: “You don’t have to call me sir, Coulson, look at me. I’m dressed like I live under a bridge.”

[while fighting each other]

Ward: “Reminds me of the old days.”

May: “You were never on top.”

Fury: “You didn’t tell me he’d gone this crazy.”

Coulson: “He’s really stepped it up a notch.”