UK TV review: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Season 7
Martyn Conterio | On 19, Feb 2021
With Season 7 now available on Disney+ in the UK, we take a spoiler-filled look back at the final run of the MCU’s first TV show.
It’s been said that the tradition in American TV and cinema, whereupon a character dies and returns if they happen to be a fan favourite, lowers the stakes and wrecks any dramatic weight and significance to their departure. The flip-side to this, however, is a nightmarish scenario where the dead may never rest, their cyclical returns becoming a terrifying spin on reincarnation. In the case of Agents of SHIELD, the revivals of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) over the course of seven seasons initially began as a disturbing nightmare, but ended as a writers’ room not knowing what to do with the guy. His hero journey mirrors the show’s creative fortunes, in a way. Both ran out of steam before the finish, instead getting by on charm and team chemistry.
AC’s first resurrection occurred as part of the concept of the show and formed, in earlier seasons, part of a deep mystery. After all, he was killed right before our eyes in Avengers Assemble, when Loki stabbed him in the heart with his sceptre. Bringing AC back once was controversial enough. By the end, though, it was wearing thinner than Gregg’s hairline, the stakes pretty much rendered to zero. Add to this a lot of Season 5, 6 and 7 feeling like a continuation trying to justify its own existence. In early seasons, which brilliantly tied to events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Hydra’s takeover of SHIELD, the show was in its gripping pomp. So, what happened?
Maybe there is some terror in being consistently renewed because of decent viewing figures and running out of good storylines. After a fantastic fourth season, which incorporated a plot element from the recently cancelled Agent Carter and brought in a fresh and riveting take on Ghost Rider, Agents of SHIELD made a mistake going into outer space (even if aliens and the galaxy were part of the MCU). It created a bigger canvas, but the storytelling suffered because the show didn’t have a MCU budget. Having committed to venturing into space and the future, Agents of SHIELD was altered significantly, and therefore forced to play the hand it was dealt. Seasons 6 and 7 often felt like a scramble to make sense of what had been set up, rather than tell a compelling story in its own right.
Season 6 and 7 certainly benefitted from chopping episodes down. In a way, they are one season split in two. They connect as one big story, involving the dastardly Chronicoms attempting to rewrite history and destroy Earth. The writers latched onto the multiverse theory introduced in Doctor Strange (2016) too. Again, like characters dying and returning, the introduction of the multiverse freed up room to manoeuvre the storytelling in different directions, and Agents of SHIELD Season 7 also used Ant-Man’s Quantum Realm to save the day in the final episode. Marvel fans will definitely get a kick out of references to the movies, as it reminds us how all these shows and films exist in one mighty universe, but incorporating the multiverse kicked up such convolutedness; it ended up cheapening the drama and relying on way too much exposition-heavy dialogue.
While Season 5, 6 and 7 are lesser entries in the run, they still proved fun along the way, thanks to individually excellent episodes anchored by that winning Joss Whedon formula for ensemble casts, comic dynamics and loveable characters. For instance, Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) was an inspired addition in Season 5, bringing a Scrappy-Doo energy to the beleaguered team (nearly everyone finds him irritating, to begin with) and blossoming into an essential element of the dynamic with his enthusiasm, acts of try hard heroism and genuine heart. His pining for Daisy Johnson and his relationships with Fitz and Simmons added a lot of welcome humour to the fold.
Bringing Enver Gjokaj into SHIELD, reprising the character of Agent Daniel Sousa from the ill-fated Agent Carter – cancelled after two seasons with plots left hanging – was an equally inspired decision, but you’ll only get the most out of his surprise return by going back to Agent Carter. As Iain De Caestecker’s replacement (the actor was unavailable for nearly all of Season 7’s run), Sousa brought a pleasingly old-school brand of heroism to proceedings, but also acted as a commentator on the craziness of the plot. His mystification at time travel and the modern world was well done, as was the blossoming romance with Daisy. It’s another Whedon-esque touch: make ironic fun of the plot when it gets silly as a way of covering your tracks.
Once the lynchpin of the saga, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) was reduced to being a sidekick in later seasons, as just another a member of the crew, when Agents of SHIELD was at its greatest while exploring the computer-hacker-turned-Inhuman’s backstory and her dealing with a series of existential shocks. In Season 7, she was reunited with an older sister and her villainous mother in a new timeline. Again, in harking back to earlier seasons, it provided much-needed emotional underpinnings and makes you care again about what’s happening to Daisy.
Season 7 at least began on a strong footing, as the team had to travel to the 1930s – and from there to the early 1980s – tailing not just the Chronicoms but Hydra in the form of a new threat named Nathaniel Malick (Joel Courtney), who used time travel to go around collecting the powers of Inhumans with ambitions of becoming an unstoppable villain. He also formed an uneasy alliance with the Chronicoms. The time-hopping narrative brought several highlights, including a brilliantly gory episode with killer robots, Simmons passing herself off as Agent Carter, Daisy reliving the same moments over and over at a time of peril and Deke becoming a rock star – an amusing continuation of his scavenger-thief personality, this time taking well known songs from the 1980s and passing them off as his own. Although it rallies for an action-heavy climax, we unfortunately had to wade through some fairly stodgy episodes in the middle, more evidence the season could have been a bit shorter and padding was needed to stretch the material, subsequently ending with a whimper than a bang.
At its best, Agents of SHIELD was exciting, funny, thoroughly gripping and downright endearing. Should it have lasted seven seasons? Probably not, but the cast and the characters are what made it, and they ensured it was worth sticking with through thick and thin. While Coulson’s arc began as intriguing but ended up a damp squib, Daisy Johnson, aka. Quake, could easily graduate to the MCU, such is the strength of her character and screen presence.
Agents of SHIELD flew under the radar for much of its run, and it marked the end of Marvel relying on other networks to produce its material. Given the mega-budgets of WandaVision and other Marvel series in the pipeline, Agents of SHIELD was a victim of being restricted by its traditional production methods. In being forced to conform to the 22-episode season and other demands of mainstream networks, the well ran dry long before it finished. With Marvel taking control for its Disney+ originals, stories don’t need to be padded anymore; the story justifies the length not corporate demands. Could Agents of SHIELD be revived? Not likely. The show that was killed before its time was Agent Carter, but even then Avengers: Endgame wrapped up Peggy Carter’s storyline, giving her and Cap the ultimate happy ending.
Both Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD have a small group of loyal fans, and now Disney+ is around for the foreseeable, the pair will be readily available to view at the click of a button. Agents of SHIELD developed its fan base by sticking to the Whedon formula and although he wasn’t around beyond co-creating the series with his brother, Jed Whedon, and sister-in-law, Maurissa Tanchareon, and directing the pilot episode, the setup, the comedy, the banter-heavy dialogue and tale of an ordinary young girl finding out she’s a superhero, it all bears his brand throughout (including the use of actors brought in from his other shows). Agents of SHIELD wasn’t perfect, but it will continue into the future as a cult item in the Marvel Universe.
Agents of SHIELD is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription.