May 17, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Agents of SHIELD”


The ratings for ABC’s AGENTS OF SHIELD have never been worse, and the show has been demoted for next season, reduced to serving as the Agent Carter for Marvel’s new Inhumans series and filling in during its post-fall hiatus.  The truth, though, is that these past two seasons were creatively probably the best SHIELD has ever been, and that’s partly due to the fact that they divided into two mini-seasons that accelerated and focused the storytelling, so a single arc of 13 episodes or so may not be at all bad for the series.  (The ratings pressure will also be less intense, considering that it will now have a limited run on Fridays.)

This season’s first half was devoted to an arc featuring the character of Ghost Rider previously played on the big screen by Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze (here Robbie Reyes in human form, played by Gabriel Luna), but it really started firing on all cylinders with the midseason stretch.  It largely took place in the Framework, a sort of super-Matrix alternate universe imprinted into the minds of our heroes by evil android Aida (Mallory Jansen), a dystopia where HYDRA had triumphed, and Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) was the Mengele-like scientist who was Aida’s chief aide and lover.  Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge), inserted into the Framework, had to awaken their friends and lead a revolution.  Freed of the need to connect to the rest of the Marvel universe, the Framework episodes were rousing and playful in a way Agents of SHIELD had never been before.

Most of the cast returned to the “real world,” alas, in last week’s episode, and tonight’s finale, written by Executive Producer Jeffrey Bell and directed by Billy Gierhart, didn’t represent the season at its best.  You could see what Bell and showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had in mind, a mash-up of the season’s two arcs that, by bringing back Ghost Rider to vanquish Aida, would have an even bigger cumulative impact.  But the Ghost Rider character was a far more blunt-force narrative figure than the Framework plotting had been, and even though his presence made sense (Robbie’s uncle had created the thingamajig that made Aida human and gave her super-powers), it diminished the momentum that had been built up through midseason.  The script chose not to explain the twist wherein Ghost Rider agreed to possess Coulson (Clark Gregg) rather than Robbie in order to fool and eliminate Aida, and that open end, along with the tag on the season that was meant to be the tease for Season 5 with our heroes mysteriously in outer space, weren’t wildly enticing either.

Still, there was much to enjoy in the episodes leading up to the final hours.  Gregg (a mild-mannered schoolteacher in the Framework), de Caestecker, Ming-Na Wen (a HYDRA agent), and Henry Simmons (who chose to remain in the alternate universe rather than lose his artificial child) all seemed recharged by the new twists on their characters.  Jansen, who ended up playing something like four versions of Aida in one universe or another, did yeoman work all season, and John Hannah, as the mad scientist who’d created the Framework in the first place, brought surprising pathos to his self-aware persona in his own Matrix.  The gimmick even allowed SHIELD to bring back former cast members Brett Dalton and BJ Britt.

Agents of SHIELD hasn’t delivered the way ABC and its movie studio had hoped four seasons ago, and its demotion is understandable, but it’s steadily improved through the years.  Its new form may actually be advantageous to the series, and the fact that it’s coming back at all is a bright side to the new network reluctance to cancel marginally-rated shows.  A cloaking device may be just what the series needs.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."