OK, look. When I went to the big San Diego Comic Con, I missed that week’s ep of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and when I came back home, I forgot that Friday’s episode as well. Then last week, they burned the last episodes of the season as “an event” and except for the last ten minutes, I didn’t really have anything to say about four full episodes. I wasn’t pissed, wasn’t thrilled. When a guy like me can blow off a week of S.H.I.E.L.D. with no apparent ill effect, that says something.

I had some thoughts about why that was but my family went to see my wife’s grandmother and I have stuff to do. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the summer on Friday is just easy to forget about if you aren’t connecting with the season’s over-arcing plot.

Then they announced that Hayley Atwell will return for an appearance next season, and all of a sudden my thoughts on why I blew off a month of S.H.I.E.L.D. started to gel.

You guys remember the first season, right? Weird fan reaction to the first few episodes, until everyone realizes each episode contained a component to build the new Deathlok, the Hydra bad-guy reveal, and Bill Paxton. Everything went out on a high note. The second and third seasons had some interminable Inhumans stuff that’s pretty forgettable, but some fun stuff, too, “The Spy’s Goodbye” being a high point. The fourth was when it really started to shine, and, not so coincidentally, this is when the “story pod” concept came in and revitalized everything. If you thought the Inhumans were ridiculous, you skipped out on seasons two and three, but if you didn’t like the Ghost Rider stuff, it did slide into the LMD stuff and culminated in the alternate reality Framework thingie. So Darkholde -> AI -> The Matrix Lite was a season-long epic with three main working parts. Ratings were up and critical acclaim cascaded everywhere; what did they do? Abandon that and if you thought being kidnapped to the future only to return to battle Graviton was satisfying, then they kill Coulson. How many times is the lead of your story going to die? It makes it hard to root for the main character when he goes through… not transformations, but iterations.

And it gets worse. They bring back a version of Coulson that is a Monolith construct the audience has no attachment to, and makes the throughline of the season watching endless versions of the same story viewed from the POV of the whole team: “I know that’s not Coulson, but it’s hard not to judge the book by its cover.” If the whole cast is doing that, it actually drives the audience away. The guy you’re rooting for isn’t the guy you’re rooting for. Not anymore.

The only way to correct this, in the show’s last season, is to lean into it. With the reveal of Coulson’s most sophisticated LMD yet, just go all the way. The episode ends with Jemma saying they needed a SHIELD historian to get out of the jam they’re in in 1931, and she reveals super-Phil. With the announcement that Hayley Atwell returns to reprise her Agent Carter role, it’s easy to see the agents and Enoch the Chroniton cascading through time, and all of a sudden I’m excited again.

I know they’ve wrapped filming on the show, and thanks for all the fun. But if you’re going to keep killing Coulson… keep killing Coulson. Kill him every episode and have the next one start with a new Coulson LMD leading the time team to the present day, Mission: Impossible-style. I hope they spend a couple eps in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, losing Coulsons all the time. A couple each in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, showing some of Hank Pym’s Avengers. The Nineties and Aughts, do a Captain Marvel tie-in.

Then end the show with the latest PhiLMD finally getting that meeting in 2008 with Pepper Potts. Maybe a final reveal of Nick Fury activating SHIELD again.

I mean, it’s all connected, or it’s not.

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