[Requisite spoiler warning: This recap discusses "Absolution" and "Ascension" at length.]
The two-part Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale opens with a staggering revelation: Everyone is dead, except for Daisy and Coulson. "I knew someone was gonna go. I just didn't know everyone was gonna go," Daisy says. The duo are apparently stranded on Maveth, the deserted alien planet on which Hive spent thousands of years. Daisy is busily attempting to fix their shuttle so they can get back to Earth, then Coulson drops the second crazy twist: "Daisy … this is Earth."
For a moment, it looks like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will burn it all down — until Daisy wakes up. It was just a nightmare, so we're back to business as usual.
Unlike Daisy's nightmare, the season finale plays out almost exactly as expected — right down to the character who dies. The scripts for "Absolution" and "Ascension" don't hold any surprises, but the finale still manages to connect on an emotional level.
It starts with Daisy, who's struggling through withdrawal and shame following her time as Hive's minion. As she sleeps it off in a containment tank, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes sure we know how depressed and guilt-ridden she is by having every single character visit her cell so she can break down about it. Though the material gets repetitive, Chloe Bennet deserves credit for managing to sell every tear: "I deserve the blame," "Keep your forgiveness and your pity because I don't deserve either," "Just leave me alone," and on and on.
While Daisy treads water, the rest of our heroes make some big moves. Hive is very, very close the final phase of its plan: Detonating a nuke above the Earth, which would turn most of Europe into those creepy Alpha Primitive monsters. The clock is ticking, and S.H.I.E.L.D. busies itself with an elaborate plan to shut down the bomb, scramble Hive's brain, then freeze it indefinitely in a gel-matrix chamber, à la Han Solo in carbonite. Meanwhile, the team's various members pass Yo-Yo's cross around like a hot potato, teasing the audience with the possibility that any of them could wind up being the dead one from Daisy's vision.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plan basically goes off without a hitch. This is a two-part episode, after all, and the show needs to set up its whole second act. Although the mission to capture Hive goes remarkably smoothly, the decision to bring the gel-matrix chamber back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base turns out to be a very bad idea. Hive, as it turns out, has a contingency plan. A package of supplies in the hangar contains a Terrigen bomb, which transforms a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into Alpha Primitives. (You might want to review those security protocols, Coulson.)
After the Alpha Primitives free Hive from the gel-matrix, it orders them to wreak havoc on the base while it commandeers a Zephyr and carry out the Inhuman nuclear plan. While the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. is busy, Hive is confronted with the episode's sole unexpected development: An offer of support from Daisy. "Please. Take me back," she pleads on her hands and knees, a junkie begging for another hit of a very powerful drug. But thanks to Lash, Daisy has been rendered utterly impervious to Hive's brain parasites. When it attempts to absorb her again, it fails, and she responds by attacking it with the full force of her quake powers.
Hive manages to escape, falling back on the absorbed memories of Grant Ward and Simmons's former lover, Will, to successfully pilot the Zephyr and carry out the next phase of the nuke plan. Once again, S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives to gum up the works — and as Coulson confronts Hive mano a mano, it finally reveals its true face.
The big reveal turns out to be pretty underwhelming. Hive's true face is just your standard tentacle-faced CGI monster: a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean's Davy Jones, an extra in a Star Wars prequel, and a Lovecraftian Elder God. Coulson is noticeably underwhelmed, too — perhaps because he's only there as a hologram designed to distract Hive so the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. can do its thing. (He even drops a "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!" as he fades out.)
Despite the alleged skills, memories, and wisdom of everyone it has absorbed over the years, Hive has been duped and its various minions subdued. (Nevertheless, Lincoln is seriously wounded after taking one of James's little fireballs to the stomach.) Of course, there's still the matter of flying the nuke into outer space, where it can go off without harming anyone. As Daisy reflects on her vision of the future, she realizes that she's the one who is fated to die.
Psych! Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would never kill off Daisy. Lincoln, who recognizes that Daisy is about to atone by sacrificing herself, lifts the golden cross and flies off with the warhead instead. "This is my purpose. I know that now," he says, referring to his semi-unconvincing theory that every Inhuman is created with a specific fate to fulfill. Moments after Lincoln tells Daisy he loves her, the comm-link cuts out, leaving her in tears as he floats off into space with both Hive and the bomb in tow.
Daisy and Lincoln's final good-bye is surprisingly affecting, given that he was always a pretty bland character and their relationship was completely dull. In the end, the real surprise comes from an even more unexpected source of pathos: Hive, which drops all its sinister mustache-twirling as it prepares for death after millennia of life. In a kind of "Major Tom" moment, the former enemies wax rhapsodic about the world as they wait to die. "I only wanted to make it better," Hive says, staring at Earth. "I know," Lincoln replies.
So ends Lincoln, Hive, and the last vestiges of Grant Ward. Where will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. go from here? The episode's actual flash-forward, which is set six months after the events of the finale, heralds an intriguing new direction for the show.
We rejoin Coulson and Mack on a stakeout, looking for none other than Daisy, who has apparently abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D. after Lincoln's death. In the time that has passed, "Quake" has become a tabloid fixture, notorious for both her vigilantism and the string of unnatural earthquakes that arrive in her wake.
From a vantage point over a park, Coulson and Mack watch as Daisy approaches the widow and daughter of Charles Hinton, the Inhuman who showed her that glimpse of the future in the first place. After lending her support — and offering to introduce them to a man who "loves animals," which is presumably her dad, Calvin Zabo — Daisy flees down an alley and uses her quake powers to catapult away from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s clutches. "Call the director. We struck out again," Coulson says, after missing Daisy by a matter of seconds.
It's an intriguing tease for a fourth season that promises to test our heroes' loyalties. Perhaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the cusp of burning it all down after all.
- Let's get the business out of the way first. Last week, ABC canceled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s sister series, Agent Carter. It's a disappointing decision, but an unsurprising one, given its low ratings and the fact that Hayley Atwell had lined up a starring role on a different ABC series. Here's the unexpected thing: ABC passed on Marvel's Most Wanted, the proposed Bobbi Morse/Lance Hunter spinoff that led to their departure earlier this season. Now that Most Wanted is dead, will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. resist bringing two of its strongest characters back into the fold?
- Who do we think is the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director? I'd like to say it's Melinda May — she really deserves more on this show — but it's just as plausible that it's someone totally new.
- The episode's stinger sees Dr. Radcliffe riffing on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s prototypes for the Life Model Decoy — a technology that allows for a perfect robot copy of a person. (As some have theorized, it might also explain how Patton Oswalt's Agent Koenig had so many identical siblings.) I'm not familiar with Radcliffe's version, which he calls A.I.D.A. — but per the Marvel Comics Wiki, A.I.D.A. (or Artificial Intelligence Data Analyzer) was a computer-based A.I. that enjoyed a harmlessly flirtatious relationship with her creator. Given the MCU's recent history with A.I. robots, I'd expect the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. version to be a little less benign.
- Both parts of the finale are well-directed, but a special shout-out to Billy Gierhart's work in the first ten minutes of "Absolution," which condenses a crazy amount of moving parts into a coherent, exciting spy mission.
- Stop trying to make Mack and Yo-Yo happen. It's not going to happen. (But more Mack and shotgun-axe, please.)
- Thanks so much for following along this season! I'll see you next fall, when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. moves to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.