Did this show seriously just end its first season without revealing what Project: T.A.H.I.T.I. is? Coulson drawing random marks on a wall doesn’t tell us what the blue thing in the tank was, and after a season of teasing us with the truth behind Coulson’s resurrection, it still hasn’t delivered the full story. It was the mystery that this entire show was built on, so I assumed this episode would offer some straightforward answers, but instead, “The Beginning Of The End” delivers a lot of cryptic clues setting up the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a solid chapter that wraps up the Garrett and Ward Hydra plot with a neat bow while setting Coulson and his team on a clear path for next season, but there’s a lot of teasing where there should be more substantial story.
This episode is still much stronger than what came in the first two-thirds of the season, but there are plenty of areas for the show to improve as it moves forward. It needs to invest in better set design, because this finale spotlights such exciting locales as a random desert, empty construction site, and multiple nondescript military facilities. Dialogue generally isn’t this show’s strong suit, and there are far too many one-liners in this episode that are supposed to sound cool, but land with a thud. Triplett telling Coulson, “I bring the noise and the funk wherever I go,” is embarrassingly bad writing, and May gets rough fight scene banter when she should be silently kicking ass.
That ass kicking has gotten much sharper in the back half of the season as the directors realized that an action series should have more dynamic fight sequences, and this week’s brawl between Ward and May is a sterling example of how the series has learned to stage tense, impactful action. I’m hoping that scheduling this show an hour later next season means that the violence will become more intense, because without superpowers, action is a huge part of the cool factor for these characters. A huge part of Arrow’s success is the strength of its action sequences, which solidify the main character’s threat level while heightening the thrills in each episode. May nailing Ward’s foot to the floor before punching him in the larynx and roundhouse kicking him in the face definitely shows that she is one secret agent you do not want to mess with, and I’d love to see more moments like that in the future.
Stuck at the bottom of the ocean, Fitz and Simmons spend a lot of time mournfully pondering their forthcoming deaths until they figure out a way to escape with science, hatching a plan that will allow one of them to safely get to the surface. Fitz is willing to sacrifice himself to get Simmons to safety, and while she tries to convince him to find another way, he uses this opportunity to tell her about his romantic feelings for her and his regret that he never acted on them earlier. He was never able to tell Simmons how he felt, so he’s going to show her in this moment of selfless bravery. After blowing a hole in their underwater prison, Simmons makes her way to the surface with a comatose Fitz in tow, where their lives are saved by an unlikely ally: Nick Fury.
This episode makes good use of Samuel L. Jackson while he’s around, taking advantage of his distance from the central drama to bring some humor into the proceedings. His appearance is a deus ex machina, but it’s an entertaining one that comes with jokes and a big gun, and Jackson’s chemistry with Clark Gregg helps bring weight to Coulson’s plot. Things are looking dire until Fury shows up in the middle of Coulson and Garrett’s showdown, an appearance that coincides with Skye finding Mike Peterson’s son to get Deathlok on their side. Coulson takes care of Centipede soldiers with the gun, Deathlok takes care of Garrett, and the day is saved. In one of the season’s most Whedonesque moments, Garrett is revived and gets put into full Deathlok armor moments before Coulson blows his body into smithereens, putting an end to Bill Paxton’s run on this show with a moment that highlights the comic energy he brought to the series.
Raina has become one of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most fascinating and frustrating characters thanks to her ominous messages about evolution and the future of humankind, and it definitely feels like she’s being used to set up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have been ongoing rumors that Marvel is grooming the Inhumans to become the MCU equivalent of mutants because Fox owns the M-word, and Raina’s talk about discovering inner potential and revealing monsters and changing into something new definitely jives with concept of Terrigenesis in Inhuman mythology. When an enlightened Garrett tells Raina that she can ask him anything, she only wants to know one answer: “What will I become?”
According to Marvel comics history, back in prehistoric times, Kree aliens came to Earth and experimented on Neanderthals, creating a race of beings that developed extraordinary powers when exposed to Terrigen mists. The Inhumans are essentially a superhero royal family with all the drama that entails, but in the past year, Marvel has started an event that revealed Inhuman descendents have been living among humans, waiting for Terrigen mist to expose their full potential. If the creature held in Project: T.A.H.I.T.I. is indeed a Kree, that means the show already has an Inhuman connection, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was revealed next season that blue alien goo has replaced Terrigen mist as the catalyzing agent for Inhumans. Granted, I’ll be very surprised if this show goes down the Inhuman route in the first place, but that does appear to be where things are headed.
Nick Fury doesn’t just appear to save Coulson’s ass this week, he’s here to hand over the reins of S.H.I.E.L.D. to his best friend, the kind of man who was always the heart of this organization, and who now gets to serve as its head. Armed with a little black cube called the Toolbox, Director Coulson can get to work rebuilding the world’s foremost peacekeeping agency with his small crew of trusted companions. That is, assuming Coulson doesn’t go insane with alien knowledge and his team isn’t killed by Skye’s father, who gets a bloody introduction in one of this episode’s cliffhanger epilogues.
“The Beginning Of The End” sets up quite a few questions for next season: Who is Skye’s father? What is Coulson drawing? What are the Cybertek “incentives”? What happened to Fitz? Where is all this evolution talk going? That’s a lot of material to get this show’s second year off to much more energetic start, and the angle of Coulson and his agents rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. from scratch provides a more focused direction moving forward. This season had its share of faults, and as Todd VanDerWerff described in his review of the first season, it was basically “a whiz-bang kids’ show,” but in the end it delivered the type of fun, rousing entertainment I expect from a Marvel Studios project, and I’m eager to see what happens now that the growing pains have subsided.
- ICYMI, ABC announced that Agent Carter would be debuting next season, which means there will be two series about the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., focusing on the first and second generations of the organization. Could be interesting, or could be overkill. The “Agent Carter” short film is very entertaining, so I’m looking forward to it.
- Huzzah! Patton Oswalt is still around playing Billy Koenig, who is either Eric’s twin or more likely a Life Model Decoy. I really hope this means he’s joining the cast next season, and if he’s an LMD, they can have him be the team’s Kenny, constantly getting killed off in fun new ways and always coming back the next week.
- Garrett rips out a guy’s rib and smacks him with it this week. That’s hardcore.
- Where is MODOK?
- Deathlok: “I was told to never leave your side, sir.” Garrett: “I love you, too.”
- Skye: “I have a weapon much better than a bomb that will absolutely destroy you.” Ward: “And why is that?” Skye: “Because you slept with her, and she’s really pissed off.”
- Coulson: “Think he learned his lesson.” Fury: “He learned something.”
- “Sometimes to protect one man against himself, other times to protect the planet from an alien invasion from another universe. It’s a broad job description.”