Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Heartbreak and Hope
Season 7 in 3...2...1


Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge, "The End," 5x22 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

"Time is not fixed. It’s a fluid, ever-changing, beautiful thing."
—Simmons to Coulson

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been an amazing, fun, often heart-wrenching ride. Coulson Lives Forever and his code name should be Phoenix. Clark Gregg is precious. This cast is irreplaceable. I’ll miss this show so much.

I already wrote one of these “It’s almost here! Can you believe it?” type posts a few weeks ago. But this show meant so much to me that, like the best of the best that have gone before it, I’ll never run out of praise. So here we are. Six lovely seasons behind us. One season ahead that I'm sure will leave us more than satisfied, with a bittersweet ache, jaws on the floor and tears streaming. They've done it before.

Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet, "The End," 5x22 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

There was so much hurt the past two seasons (in all the seasons, really) that I’m not sure I’ve processed it all yet. Still, that didn’t stop season 7 arriving on schedule. August 2, 2019 was the last new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's been so long—though not quite as long as the break between season 5 and 6—and yet somehow it feels too soon. Probably because I'm not ready for it to be over.

Although, if I think about it, MAOS already had a series finale in season 5. It was an incredible and terrifically devastating full-circle end that I never wanted to happen, but appreciated tremendously. It had been renewed for another season only a few days before, and they made the episode to serve as a series finale while leaving an opening to continue, leaving us all to imagine how it would play out for an entire year, how Fitz would react to finding out he died, if Coulson would be saved, if the Snap would be involved.

Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet, "From the Ashes," 6x11 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

After we'd all worked ourselves into a frenzy of possibilities, season 6 came along and helped with the pain of truly losing Coulson for good by giving us...more Clark Gregg! The emotional turmoil was stoked by having him play a different person, though, someone with ice in his heart. Yet, there was something there that Daisy and May pulled to the surface. There was a glimmer of hope.

Those fragments of memories. The pain that he was feeling. Sarge using the name "Skye," staying Daisy's hand. It all added up to the wonderful possibility of getting back the person we all missed so with the power of some demon god sort of being. It was a heartening and, in the end, too good to be true possibility.

Chloe Bennet, "New Life," 6x13 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

That hope was dashed in another agonizing turn when everything came to a head and Sarge mortally wounded May after deciding he had to literally kill his pain. During the ensuing final fight, Yo-Yo tried to kill Mack because of the shrike that had gotten her earlier. The team won by the skin of their teeth after May took out Izel, saving Yo-Yo in the process and leaving Sarge vulnerable.

If there had been any trace left of Coulson, it turned to dust when Mack picked up the sword that May had thrown and he and Daisy ended Sarge’s reign of terror. I audibly gasped at that and swear I heard a collective cry of grief across the fandom. That may have been the sound of furious tweeting. It was another significant blow to everyone who was certain Coulson would be saved after all. (We should never be certain of anything, only that this show will go in a different direction than we expect and be the better for it.) Not only that, but May succumbed to her wounds, Daisy crying by her side.

Ming-Na Wen, "New Life," 6x13 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

Just as “New Life” was echoing "The End" and we were all feeling awful about losing Coulson again—or never really having him back in the first place, only brief, brilliant moments of who he’d been—and wondering if May could be saved, the last seconds were unexpectedly joyful. I suspect there were more than a few hoots and hollers at seeing that new, advanced LMD version of Coulson.

Yet, the joy was tinged with sadness, having a good idea of how Coulson would feel about being in a new body; if that body would feel real to him or if he‘d feel disconnected from humanity; how much time would be given to grieving over this massive loss and rebirth; if his team would even tell him or if he would find out on his own; if he would remember everything he went through with his team, feel everything he used to feel; if Coulson’s beautiful and hard-won father-daughter relationship with Daisy would change again; if he and May could ever be together after this; if he would be absolutely trusted or treated as an A.I. rather than a person.

Clark Gregg, "New Life," 6x13| © ABC Network and Marvel Television

I'm really looking forward to seeing Phillip J. Coulson again in any form. I remember saying that exact thing months before the MAOS pilot and we were all speculating about whether or not he would be resurrected as human; LMD, which I didn't know about at the time; or something else. As long as it was Clark Gregg with his good nature, easy smile, and sense of humor, that's all the Coulson I needed. Now in the last chapter, we're getting that LMD version and it's going to be wonderful, because we get more of Clark and the leader who people would follow anywhere.

Whatever he is now, even if new Coulson may be an imitation of life, the beating heart Clark Gregg has given this great character over the years will draw us in and make us care about him. The way he's made us care from the day we met him until the days we lost him over and over and over.

Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet, "The Real Deal," 5x12 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

I can't wait to see (and don't have to much longer) how Daisy responds to this android version of the father she never had, one, I hope, with all the personality and memories that Simmons mentioned in "New Life." It would have to be quite an adjustment. Coulson will be the character we've always loved, just with a new, sad twist and apprehension and possibly depression about not being "real" anymore. I have no doubt he'll be struggling with identity, as he did when he was brought back the first time. (Confirmed by recent interviews.)

"The setup for this version of Coulson is that he is an LMD in name only. He's a much more advanced version using Chronicom technology that is beyond anything we've seen so far. So when we meet him, he's very much wrestling with, 'Wait a minute, I gave very specific instructions that this was not to happen. I'm not sure I want to be here in this form. And what am I, by the way?'"

Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, "FZZT," 1x6 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

Coulson going through an identity crisis reminds me of earlier—way earlier—in the series (s1e6, FZZT) when he was struggling with his first death and what had happened afterwards. Why was he still alive? What had been done to him to bring him back? Why couldn't he remember it? Why did he feel different? Leading to that intimate conversation with May.

"The point of these things is to remind us that...there is no going back. There’s only moving forward. You feel different because you are different."
—May to Coulson

Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, "FZZT," 1x6 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

The memory of that very personal scene then led me to the scene when Coulson was struggling with whether or not to use the machine to find the answers he so desperately wanted. That shattered look he gave Raina when she was telling him how he gave up not only his life but his chance at a normal life, at love, for S.H.I.E.L.D. said so much. In return for his loyalty and sacrifices, they refused to tell him what they’d done to him to keep him alive, instead keeping his memories from him. Of course, the truth was painful and horrifying. Not something you'd want to remember.

"Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. keep the details of your own death from you? They’re your family."
—Raina to Coulson

Clark Gregg, "The Magical Place," 1x11 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

Look at that face. That kind of says it all about what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does to us on a regular basis. It leaves us with an achingly bittersweet feeling, and outright tragedy in the last two. What happened with Coulson in season 5 and his copy in season 6 will always sting greatly. The beautiful, tender moments between Coulson, Daisy, and May will stick with us. All the quiet moments. The tears. The goodbye hugs. Those things replaced with grief after Coulson was gone.

That grief causing May to cling to the idea that Coulson was in Sarge. They'd had so little time together after they finally let their feelings for each other be known. She was desperate to believe that the man she loved was still alive. With all the impossible things they've seen, it was something to hold onto. Daisy taking the opposite approach, unwilling to let her guard down, hating Sarge for having Coulson's face. Too scared to let herself think that this could be possible, because what if it all went wrong? It hurt too much to lose him. She couldn't take it happening again. Sadly, Daisy and May were both right.

Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, "The Force of Gravity," 5x21 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

So many moments like this all come racing back one after another when I reminisce. Moments to cheer for. Moments to adore. Moments to rewind a thousand times. I didn't really intend for this to be a recap of the entire series, and I couldn't possibly list all the moments here anyway. There would be too many Missing Pieces (score one for me on the episode name drop). My brain would fry trying to think of them all; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is chock-full of character interactions that persuade the tears to flow.

All these wrenching scenes played beautifully by gifted actors who have honed these characters over years. We’re so lucky they made it this far, to put everything they have into every one of these poignant interactions, to make us feel deeply for these people. It's an exceptional cast that I'm going to miss.

Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker, "Inescapable," 6x6 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

The time Fitz became his alter from the Framework and lost his mind. The time he died! Simmons having to live through losing him after all they went through then getting him back only to be separated again. The two sharing each other’s memories and Fitz finding out the other “him” was married to Simmons. That Coulson sacrificed himself for the world after having hidden his condition from his loved ones for a long time. Not to mention everything that happened to these star-crossed soul-mates in the previous four years, including Fitz's traumatic brain injury and Simmons disappearing and having to survive on a hostile alien planet.

Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker, "Inescapable," 6x6 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

"This is too much."
—Fitz to Simmons

It was too much. So much of this show hurts. Don't get me wrong, though, it hurts in the best way. If it didn’t, then what would be the point? If there were no depth, no heart and soul to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., then there would be no reason to watch. It would be a waste of time if we didn't care. And, boy, do we care.

Natalia Cordova-Buckley and Henry Simmons, "New Life," 6x13 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

We care that Yo-Yo lost her arms after encountering her limbless self in the future. We struggled not to hate the messenger when she brought back a warning from herself that they couldn’t both keep Coulson alive and break the time loop to save Earth. We loved how she picked up the pieces and got back in the fight with Mack's help and her incredible will. Even bed-ridden she demanded to do her part. We couldn't believe it when Yo-Yo and Mack drifted apart. We were shocked when her new boyfriend, a good guy anyone would assume would be a new regular, died in the most horrific way imaginable.

Henry Simmons, "The Devil Complex" 5x14 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

"We'll protect you, mi amor, even if it's from yourself. That's what family does."
—Mack to Yo-Yo

We ached for Mack nearly giving up his life to stay in a simulation with his daughter. We cried over him losing his best friend, having to comfort Fitz as he lay dying. After having sort of already lost him over the season as Fitz slowly lost himself to his Framework personality, as he became harder, unpredictable, and unhinged.

Mack was the best boyfriend when he cared for Yo-Yo after she was maimed. He got her a new pair of robot arms and patiently helped her learn how to control them. Then there was the responsibility he had to take on taking over as Director from Coulson, making the impossibly hard decisions between saving the world and keep his people, the people he loves, alive. What a burden to carry. Coulson had to carry that weight for so long. (Providence reference! That's two without trying. Nice.)

"New Life" 6x13 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

But maybe that burden is almost done. Whatever is in store for this season and the second series finale, I'm sure it can't be as distressing as "The End." Right? They wouldn't try to top that one in terms of how many swimming pools they can fill with fans' tears. RIGHT?!!! No, I don't think so. Even if that does happen, we've already been through it. We can take it. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is always so good that I'll gladly take whatever they've got, even if the circle closes once again and Coulson is stabbed through his now synthetic, circuitry-filled heart. Still, I'm crossing my fingers that they go out in a way that simultaneously sends shivers down our spines, leaves our mouths hanging open, makes us cheer out loud at our decision to follow and love this series to the end, gives us the warm and fuzzies, and puts a smile on all our faces. I know they can.

Ming-Na Wen, Elizabeth Henstridge, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caesteker, and Brett Dalton, "0-8-4," 1x2 | © ABC Network and Marvel Television

After seven years of being a shield for the world, this team deserves a shot at happiness—and the cast deserves accolades. Sadly, it's unlikely they'll ever be welcomed into the MCU, the way it started, even though it's their best show. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has some of Marvel's bravest and most lovable characters, and it's the best representation of a world with superpowers and ordinary people being extraordinary to save it. They've had a tremendous amount of story that would take dozens of movies to tell and a cast that has a greater connection than anyone else, having been together for so long.

Well, let's see what happens. Bring on season 7. I'm ready...maybe. I don't know.

Update (Yes, already): Oh my goodness, in my rush to get this done, I completely forgot to include Jeff Ward. Deke is a fantastic character. Even though he gets on everyone else's nerves, he never fails to make laugh and can pull off the drama, too. As the alternate future grandson of Fitz and Simmons, his story was compelling. I love that he became a regular.

"Think of me as something beautiful, not the bitter end."
—Smash into Pieces, "Save it for the Living"

Thought that was an appropriate lyric to end on. Be happy this show existed, don't lament that it's over. I'm sure I won't take my own advice. It'll take a while to get over.

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