TV review: ‘Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ final season is a blast to the past

‘I am TOO Agent Carter, and I have the British accent to prove it.’

The seventh and final season of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is upon us and, five episodes in (at the time of writing), it has certainly been a blast so far.

Sure, the series got off to a sputtering start back in 2013 after fans had such great expectations for it (come on, a spin-off from The Avengers which had its own rich comic-book history to boot – what could go wrong, eh?).

And over the years, it has turned out to be both hit and miss, with some great seasons and a couple of clunkers.

Part of it stems from the show’s alienation, despite a cameo-ing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, from the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although events on the series were influenced by stuff that happened in the movies, the antisocial distancing enforced by the powers-that-be for whatever reasons did not serve Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. well.

The show perked up only after the whole Hydra infiltration mess came to light following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, upsetting its status quo and forcing new – read: refreshing – roles on the characters.

The subsequent half-hearted attempt to bring the super-powered beings known as Inhumans into the narrative was off the mark, alas.

Fortunately, business picked up a little with the introduction of Ghost Rider (the version with the car, not the motorbike – or the horse), and took a sharp turn into its own version of the Matrix (the virtual world known as the Framework).

The last three seasons have seen the intrepid agents contending with a variety of alien menaces, the future destruction of Earth, and now a plot by sentient synthetic beings to turn our planet into a replacement for their lost homeworld.

‘I may be an artificial person, but that outfit is causing my optical receptors considerable distress.’‘I may be an artificial person, but that outfit is causing my optical receptors considerable distress.’

Something lasting and tangible did come about through all the series’ ups and downs, and twists and turns, however: some truly terrific characters that grew on us and formed strong on-screen bonds of their own.

Of these, perhaps the one with the wildest arc has been that of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), unceremoniously brought back to life after being killed by Loki in The Avengers.

Without going into all the developments in his life – just in case some reader out there is saving all seven seasons for a massive binge – let’s just say that the Coulson in the final season is not the man we met way back in 2008’s Iron Man.

In fact, he’s not even a man but a Life Model Decoy (LMD), a classic device from the Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. comics – lifelike androids whose purpose is right there in the name. Basically, their function is to pass off as key personnel and draw enemy fire.

LMD Coulson, though, is just as winning and inventive a character as Coulson Prime, and his artificial personhood has been used to fantastic effect by the writers this season.

The main thrust of the season involves the agents jumping through time in their handily modified mobile command station to stop the abovementioned sentient synthetics, the Chronicoms, from converting Earth into their new homeworld.

The Chronicoms plan to do this by altering key events in the past century and, of course, our heroes have to thwart them at every turn. Within the first five episodes, we have followed them to the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s – and really, the writers have pulled out all the stops to milk the situations for maximum fun, with some pointed social commentary thrown in.

From title cards appropriate to each setting (even a Quinn Martin Production-style intro for the 1970s-set episode) to evocative cinematography, costumes, lighting and moods, the five episodes to date are all right up there among the series’ best.

The 1950s stop, for example, goes right for the paranoia and distrust of the period – with a hilarious scene where a synthetic being uses a Voight-Kampff Test question to root out other disguised synthetic beings. (Quite possibly the absolute best Blade Runner reference ever.)

It also brings back fan favourite Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) from Agent Carter, at a most inconvenient time for our heroes.

The 1970s sojourn, besides being crammed with era-derived humour, also features a boatload of MCU and comic-book callbacks, down to the iconic blue S.H.I.E.L.D. costumes (though not as form-fitting as how the great Jim Steranko drew them).

It really warms the cockles of this old geek’s heart to see how the folks behind the show have rallied to put together a terrific send-off for both the series and its loyal fans.

Eight episodes to go, and after that I’ll truly miss all versions of Coulson; the stoic, lethal Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen); the stalwart and principled “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Rollins); the smart powerhouse Sky/Daisy/Quake (Chloe Bennett); resident geniuses Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge)... heck, the whole Zephyr-load of terrific individuals, regular, semi-regular and recurring.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone through a few name changes from comics to movies to TV so we may not always be able to remember what it stands for; but for this final season, at least, we know what it means.

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Seven airs every Thursday at 9pm on Fox HD (Astro Ch 704/unifi TV Ch 453).

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