Agents of SHIELD: 122 “Beginning of the End” (Finale) Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After twenty-one episodes over a long, often frustrating run, the first chapter of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally comes to a close with “Beginning of the End”, and there are still many questions to be answered, although the big is this: can they pull off a satisfying finale and answer all of our questions?
Short answer: no, they can’t. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because they do cover more of the first part than the second: not all of the big mysteries of the season are resolved, but the finale still manages to be satisfying with some excellent moments scattered throughout. So if you went into the episode expecting mysteries about Skye’s origins and what the blue thing in the Guest House really was, then chances are you may be disappointed. But if all you wanted was a decent resolution to the Cybertek/HYDRA/Project Centipede storyline, then you would probably have walked away a happy customer.
So we begin with a look into Cybertek’s offices, a classic Joss Whedon-style evil organisation that seemingly offers Deathlok upgrades as an ‘incentive program’. The big boss man sees Team Coulson trapped in the barbershop basement on the monitors and tells everyone working there to ‘let them have it’, an order which can only turn out badly for one of the parties involved.
It does, naturally: Team Coulson engages while Skye uploads the Trojan horse, and May manages to wrestle the Berzerker Staff away from one of the Centipede soldiers and thoroughly beats down on everyone in there before smashing some pillars and bringing the roof down as the team escapes.
On the Bus, it becomes apparent that after receiving the updated Centipede formula last week, Garrett has gone bonkers: he tears a glass door off the wall and starts drawing out crazy formulae on it with a nail, stating that he’s ‘just getting some ideas down’. He waxes lyrical about being able to ‘see the universe’. Ward realises that this is the end result of everything they’ve been doing, from his training in the woods to joining HYDRA, to infiltrating Coulson’s team, and seemingly has a flicker of doubt about what he is going to be able to do next. As established last week, Ward is a soldier whose sole purpose was to follow Garrett: he even states at this point that neither of them are ‘true believers’ in HYDRA’s cause, that they were just using the organisation as a means to an end to get them to where they are now. It feels as though the writers are attempting to instil some level of sympathy for Ward now we’re coming to the natural end point of his storyline, but unfortunately that doesn’t last.
Elsewhere, Coulson tells the team that Fitz and Simmons managed to get a tracker on the Bus and that it’s landed in New Mexico, but that they aren’t answering their comms, but also that if they are alive then capturing Garrett is their only shot at saving them.
Of course, they are still alive, albeit at the bottom of the ocean in a sealed container. Fitz reels off the science of how long they are likely to survive: turns out not long. Later, they have a bit of a maudlin discussion about what happens after you die, and Fitz shows that he’s rigged up a device which will help one of them get to the surface, and he wants Simmons to use it. In trying to convince her, he also tells her how he feels, the thing he’s been trying to say for what seems like the majority of the season, but it is clear that Simmons doesn’t feel the same. Anyway, she finally does use it, but she manages to drag an unconscious Fitz back to the surface, where they are miraculously rescued by none other than former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and alleged corpse Nick Fury, who managed to track them.
Back with Coulson, he gives an odd and quite poorly-written speech about how they are going to stop Cybertek, reminding them that they have no backup. Fortunately, when they arrive in New Mexico things go reasonably well, as Coulson and Triplett commandeering a large armoured vehicle with machine guns and rockets, and blasting their way into the Cybertek compound, allowing Skye and May to find the big boss man.
Elsewhere Team HYDRA is doing some rather nasty things: as Ian Quinn shows the military types around the compound, telling them that he can offer them a truckload of super-soldiers for a price, Garrett shows up and starts spouting his general crazy at them. The general decides that he doesn’t want to work with Garrett, so Garrett pulls out one of his ribs and then stabs him in the eye with it: a pretty nasty way to go, all things considered. When Garrett discovers that Team Coulson have infiltrated the base, he sends Ward after Skye, and faces down Coulson himself: there is a bit of a firefight, but then Nick Fury miraculously appears again, hands Coulson the Destroyer Gun (remember that thing he used against Loki in The Avengers?) and they present a united front against Garrett.
Elsewhere, Ward confronts Skye and cements his place as a bad guy for one very simple reason: by saying ‘maybe I’ll just take what I want’, it’s a clear allusion to raping Skye, and generally characters don’t get to redeem themselves after a threat like that. Fortunately, May swiftly beats the ever-loving hell out of Ward, crushing his throat so he can’t speak and damn near killing him. Meanwhile, Skye grabs the big boss man and gets him to take them to their prisoners: as it turns out, a lot of the Centipede soldiers have friends and family who have been captured by Cybertek to be used as leverage, and Team Coulson goes about freeing all of them. But Skye is mostly focused on one: a little boy named Ace who also happens to be Mike Peterson’s son, who is able to send his dad a message via his robo-eye and bust through his programming. He does so in an extraordinarily violent manner, shooting Garrett with a rocket and then stamping on his face, effectively ending Project Centipede.
The rest of the episode is a clean-up: Mike talks to Skye, telling her that he’s not ready to be with his son, and that he needs to go and do some good before he can be the man Ace needs, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has its first bespoke ‘wandering superhero’. Ward and the other Centipede soldiers are arrested, and Coulson hints at all the very bad things that are going to happen to Ward from now on: naturally he is unable to respond due to the lack of vocal ability caused by May. Fury speaks to Coulson and tells him that he is the only one who can truly rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D., and that it’s going to take a lot of work, but he can proudly call himself the new director of the organisation.
And just when we thought we were done, a classic Joss Whedon moment: Garrett, still alive, manages to haul himself into the Deathlok machine, and gets various cybernetic parts grafted onto his body, proclaiming himself ‘unstoppable’. However, before he can even finish the word, Coulson wordlessly, and slightly out of character, vaporises him with the Peruvian 0-8-4 from episode 2. It’s a moment which I very much associate with Whedon and his team, reminiscent of Coulson cutting off Loki’s monologue in The Avengers: have the villain start gloating, then immediately cut them down before they can even finish.
And finally, a few quick moments finish off the season: Team Coulson arrive at another secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base where Fitz is in intensive care and Simmons is ready to greet them, along with one Billy Koenig who just so happens to look and act exactly like his brother Eric (speculation abounds that this could be a clone or a life-model decoy, but for now just be happy that Patton Oswalt is back in the fold); Raina confronts a blood-covered figure, one whom she believed she would never see again, and tells the figure that she has found their daughter, and that daughter is Skye; and Coulson wakes up in the middle of the night and starts scratching out some formulae on the wall with a shard of metal, formulae very similar to the ones Garrett was drawing out earlier. Does Coulson also ‘see the universe’, and what kind of effect will that have on him? Only season two will tell.
A solid, satisfying finale to a varied season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Beginning of the End” answers some questions, raises some others and neatly brings the first chapter of the show to a close while also setting up some themes for the second.