As we know, “The End” isn’t really the end for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The episode may have worked as a series finale, but there are some threads left hanging that will be far more satisfying to pick up next season. While we thank Disney and ABC for that, we can also take comfort in the fact that it’s not the end of their world either. But the road to saving the day is a long and windy one, not to mention the sacrifices everyone must make along the way.
In the Midst of Life
The team is falling apart at the beginning of “The End,” arguing over what to do with Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) as the former lies dying and the latter prepares to destroy the world. Daisy (Chloe Bennet) makes the call to use the Centipede serum as a way of saving Coulson so that he in turn can talk Talbot down, but Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) makes a final plea to avoid the future she saw in the Lighthouse. Even Mack’s (Henry Simmons) hopeful speech doesn’t clear the way for a vote, because instead May (Ming-Na Wen) destroys the odium so that the serum can only be used for Phil. A pretty reckless move, but who among us hasn’t been blinded by love at one point or another?
When Coulson wakes up, he still hasn’t taken the serum. May visits his bedside with no remorse for her actions, but this time leaves the decision whether or not to keep living and fighting up to him. While their love for each other clearly brims beneath the surface of the conversation, Phil still struggles with the words because of how difficult leaving her would be after all of this. As for the rest of the group? The reality of what’s at stake hits them all pretty hard and leads to some interesting existential conversations. While Yo-Yo laments to Mack that he’s going to die, he points out that everyone does one day and what really matters is answering for their earthly deeds in the afterlife. Whether or not you agree with Mack, it’s clear that he has the most balanced head on his shoulders and most morally-centered heart of anyone in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which certainly becomes important as the team refocuses itself on the mission at hand.
In another small moment that pushes the larger narrative forward, Deke (Jeff Ward) is ready to move out of the Lighthouse and see the world before it or he blinks out of existence. He has some words of wisdom for Daisy about leading before he goes, which seem to play into her decision to step down from her role as captain. She then offers the job of leader to Mack precisely because he is their moral center, and the vote is unanimous with even Coulson walking out to give his blessing. It’s a nice and cathartic moment that helps heal the breach between various team members, and allows both Mack and Daisy to focus on their strengths in order to be an asset to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. family. And, true to form, Mack’s first command as leader is to save lives before engaging the enemy.
We Are in Death
While the team is gathering their forces, Talbot tries various methods to obtain Robin’s cooperation in discovering the remaining Gravitonium deposits, including threatening her mother Polly’s life. Given how convinced convinced he was of being Earth’s savior, it’s surprising how cavalierly he destroys parts of said Earth for his own gain. He is so focused on his power and potential that he’s totally lost sight of why he wanted power in the first place, which has been a recurring theme with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains that plays out beautifully in “The End.”
May and Mack rescue Robin, and we’re treated to another signature fight sequence in order to save Polly as well. This may not be a particularly fancy sequence visually speaking, but it is a nice reminder of how far May has come this season after being physically incapacitated for most of it. Meanwhile, Coulson reveals that he never took the Centipede serum and is actually standing through the sheer force of his will and his love for May and Daisy. He then appeals to Daisy with that same love and willpower, reminding her that she alone is strong enough to either talk Talbot down or take him down if need be. After they went through so much to save his life, it almost feels anticlimactic that he wouldn’t take the serum. But, at the same time, it’s important for him to have final say over his own body. Not to mention that said serum will be needed again in just a second.
Daisy takes Coulson’s words to heart, trying to get through to Talbot with words of heroism. But he’s gone through the ringer one too many times with leaders like Hale and Coulson himself, so rather than join forces he attempts to literally absorb her and her powers. Thankfully, she has that very special syringe on her – presumably Coulson himself slipped it on her when she wasn’t looking – that allows to break free at the last second before quaKing Talbot out of orbit. Never has watching someone freeze in outer space been so satisfying, even as we mourn his family’s loss. But all’s not well that ends well, because the Talbot-created earthquakes caused enough damage to find Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) trapped under the rubble and impaled by shrapnel. Mack and May do their best to keep him calm in his final moments, which are truly heartbreaking on many levels. For one, neither Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) nor Deke were present or even aware of his condition – and neither even got a real scene with him in the finale. Nevertheless, Jemma’s heartbroken face upon learning the news is responsible for more than a few tears. And speaking of Deke, does he even exist anymore?
Instead of exploring that question, or even how characters are coping with Fitz’s death, we instead flash to Coulson’s retirement party. “This is a celebration, not a funeral,” he admonishes, but really it’s both. “The End” may not be the of the world, but it’s the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. as we know it. Coulson says his farewells, poignantly sharing an “I love you” with Daisy in a scene that solidifies their father-daughter bond, and then heads out to live his final days in Tahiti. But he’s not alone, for May is right by his side in the perfect ending to years of unspoken love and anguish. In many ways it’s the quintessential final shot, and it’s easy to see why Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancheroen thought it would be an appropriate conclusion even if the series had ended.
As for the rest of the team? In the world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., nothing is ever as it seems, so while Fitz may be dead now he’s also still in space attempting to rescue his friends from the Lighthouse. Perhaps picking him up will be the first pitstop in the sixth season…