“You can’t protect me forever, Mack.”

“Did you ever stop to think that you’re alive in the future because I did?”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has long been talked about as a “novel for television” what with each episode being a chapter or each story arc being a volume or whatever. I haven’t really followed that metaphor much because it’s just marketing pap stolen from late 1970s miniseries like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. Every once in a while it comes up again, like Babylon 5 in the mid-Nineties. I guess two more decades go by again and it’s time to trot out the old saw again.

Me, I never saw it so much as a “novel for television” as the Whedons and their crew building a house. You lay the foundation, you frame it up, you run the wiring and the plumbing and sheetrock the walls. You choose the light fixtures and the paint and the new furniture, and and and, well, shoosh. You guys have built a house or seen one go up or moved into a new place. You don’t need me to keep going with the metaphor. But one of the things that makes it hard to keep writing about this show is that some parts are crazy interesting, or a new take on an old trope, and some parts are like writing about what color the living room walls are going to be. I guess it’s important down the line. I guess you might not want to hang out in there if you choose a dingy beige or an off sort of yellow, but no one is thinking picking out paint is like seeing the walls go up where there wasn’t anything but blank space, before.

So every once in a while there’s a bit of moving the chess pieces around, or a story arc that doesn’t land how they’d hoped. After the crazy slam-bang of Ghost Rider, the LMDs, the Framework, and the ninety-year time jump, honestly, I would have been surprised here, in the middle of what is probably the last season, if Disney started spending more money and told them to use Fury’s helicarrier to fight Alpha Flight and leave some room for Chris Pratt to do a guest spot the week before Infinity War comes out. There’s going to be some downtime after the events of the last year and a half, and it’s bound to be a different tempo when the team returns to the present. Bringing Zeke back with them gave the proceedings a little zip (“Deke is our grandson.” “Wow. Sorry.”), but ho-hum, the team’s on-the-run again wasn’t anything I was looking forward to seeing more of.

And then they did something pretty cool. Very subtly, too, which hasn’t always been a Whedon hallmark, but things started happening that had resonance with past events. Can you believe it? An adventure show where actions (eventually) have consequences? I thought the hundredth episode was great, if not a little gimmicky. Let’s bring back old favorites like Hive and the Lash and the Evil Astronaut in a fever dream. A little treat to the long time fans who have been paying attention. But they snuck gravitonium in there, in a callback to the first season, and all of a sudden Talbot and the Absorbing Man are back, if not front-and-center, well, then, at least tangential to the main plot. And, boy, when Coulson gets heart-punched and killed by one of the evil robots and Creel shocks him back to life, who didn’t laugh out loud when Talbot said, “You know, you die more than anybody I’ve ever met.” Robin, the Slaughterhouse Five Girl, maddeningly still seems to be a key to the future. And, is it just me, or does she look a little more like Chucky than usual? I mean, I suppose it’s hard seeing all time at once, but, come on. It shouldn’t be making her evil.

And you know who else is back? Dr. Hall, Raina, and Ian Quinn. Oh, those scamps at ABC, putting their names in the end credits instead of up-front so as not to ruin the surprise. The reveal when Crusher Creel touches the gravitonium that Dr. Hall and Ian Quinn are actually alive inside the CGI ball of floating mercury and Creel, while not being absorbed himself, can hear them in his head arguing about what to do. Solving this interesting little loose end from the first season while bringing back a semblance of Hydra to fight certainly looks like this will be the last season, and, if so, they are heading towards tying it up in the most comic book way possible: at the end of it all, every sacrifice, every adventure, every loss, and every triumph looks like it was all in service of one thing: getting everything back to the beginning. S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a legitimate force for good again in the world, and poor Phil Coulson (obviously through a world-restoring sacrifice) will die again.

But that’s all going to be OK, boss. This was never going to work, if they didn’t have something to

 

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