Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s Two-Part Finale, “Absolution/Ascension”:

Of course. Of goddamn course Lincoln was the one to die. Look, I appreciate and don’t appreciate the “hot potato” game Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. played throughout “Absolution” and “Ascension,” both for genuinely keeping viewers on their toes as to who would end up in that outer space explosion, and for constantly tugging focus with every trade-off of that darn cross, but practicality seems to have won the day. Lincoln was the safest option of any to kill, a clear weak link only superficially tethered to the series, whose romance with Daisy never once came to life off the page. I wouldn’t fault Luke Mitchell necessarily, rather that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. often devotes such intense commitment to non-starters, just like …

Ward! Yes, the other big death of the night seemingly belongs to any* iteration of Ward, Hive, whatever we’re calling Brett Dalton’s characters these days, as the explosion left very little wiggle room to return Marvel TV’s most-enduring villain. Any regular readers well know I’ve said my peace on Agents’ need to finally commit to ending the character (Isn’t the prospect of a fresh big bad exciting?), but as the hangar fight with Daisy only proved, the series lacks a stellar track record with final showdowns, at least apart from the visual panache of Kevin Tancharoen’s eye for choreography.

*Ten bucks, Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy program ends up a way to keep Brett Dalton on the show in Season 4, just to spite me.

To wit, he will exclusively make this face.

There was a lot to dive into tonight, a tricky prospect whether or not “Absolution” and “Ascension” were expressly designed to work together, or stand alone. On the one hand, I found myself going back to a few setups in the first hour that never quite paid off, like that manipulative dream opener with Daisy and a dying Coulson on Maveth, or disorienting Hive with the memory machine (likely intended to flash back through Brett Dalton’s tenure on the series). In a way, the first half of “Absolution” felt designed to run the team through one last stretch of teamwork, having plenty of fun in that regard with Fitz and Talbot’s mo-cap antics, May’s fight with the primitive Inhumans, or the triumph of finally wounding and capturing Hive. If there’s one thing Agents does consistently well, it’s weaving humor and surprise into mission dynamics better than any show out there.

On the other hand, Agents has always struggled with a sense of visual panache, and where you could spot more than a few references to Jurassic Park in either hour (both the interior and exterior of the silo, Simmons hiding from the Primitives, John Hannah even referencing “clever girl”), such ambitious work needs a higher degree of stylistic flair. The same could be said of the Primitives themselves, and while I respect the effort to design such out-there enemies (who’d have ever thought we’d see May fighting borderline Sleestaks?), Agents never manages to capture their menace in ways that look less than silly. At best, it struck me during their crawl through the base that “Ascension” wanted to draft a visual metaphor of Daisy’s invasive body horror, and how that fed her despair through each hour.

After returning her to the fold last week, it made sense that we’d spend a great deal of focus on the requisite grief, and it’s worth pointing out how absurdly well Chloe Bennet* nailed every beat tonight. So very many colors ended up on display, from an impotent rage, to self-loathing; the Good Will Hunting-style breakdown in Mack’s arms, the desperate attempted return to Hive, and the powerlessness of listening to Lincoln’s final moments (with shades of Peggy and Steve). As has been stated of Hive’s sway before, Bennet very much played through the beats of a drug addiction metaphor, which itself made for a meaningful connection with one of Lincoln’s few memorable character traits.

*I briefly entertained the notion that Daisy might end up in the Quinjet after all, not solely for the fact that resurrection and season-to-season fakeouts are practically an epidemic these days, but also to lend context to Bennet’s damning remarks against Marvel ignoring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., easily construed as someone potentially out of a job.

Considering the finale spread across two episodes, it definitely felt like at least a few characters got short shrift; May having little to do beyond stoic advisory (and in one case knocked out before she could deliver it), or Fitz and Simmons seemingly making it through the season unscathed, including six months later. Coulson too got a few moments with Daisy to share his lessons on revenge, which made a nice segue between confronting Hive (in gnarly alien face mode!), and the reveal that he’d allowed the team to accompany him in the fight, rather than let vengeance get the better of him again.

Shotgun-axe vengeance is another matter entirely.

The jump forward six months also offers plenty to chew on for summer, as neither “Absolution” nor “Ascension” had much room to lay groundwork for the future on their own. Daisy out on the run (and finally going by “Quake”) is an interesting idea (in a terrible wig), as is Coulson and Mack as partners out in the field, under a new director (May is a good guess, but I’d bet someone new, if only to cede the position to May). Not to mention, keeping Radcliffe in the fold and finally introducing MCU versions of the Life Model Decoy could be a lot of fun, and a worthwhile diversion from all the Inhumanity and Secret Warriors of the prior two seasons.

This was definitely a solid two-part closer, if lacking in anything particularly shocking, or truly memorable set pieces, though more topical news at least gives us something to consider. If you hadn’t heard, Agents will be moving to the 10:00 P.M. slot next season, ostensibly allowing writers to “go a little bit edgier, go a little darker and take some risks.” That cold be interpreted any number of ways, but if it helps Agents skew farther from some of its more generic visuals, so much the better.

Season 3 was spectacular by most metrics, from a series growing by leaps and bounds each year, but there are definitely a few heights beyond outer space it could stand to reach.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • We’re still ignoring the whole “Inhuman Suicide Vest,” thing, aren’t we.
  • I wondered repeatedly why Hive’s memory loss or the fight with Daisy wouldn’t’ have caused him to revert to tentacle alien form, but I’m glad we got to see it at least once. It would have made sense for his final moments in the shuttle as well, but fingers crossed, Brett Dalton was just enjoying his final facetime.
  • Come on, no one on that hangar had a real gun to shoot the Primitives?
  • I have a feeling that ultra-clench face as Daisy first attacked Hive will come back to haunt Chloe Bennet.
  • “No, I want Mac to be the one to burn my flesh closed.” Romance!
  • Invisible gun! Cloaking tech, sure, but such a random solution to dispatch Giyera.
  • SHOTGUN. AXE. Also, Star Wars synergy!
  • I have serious questions as to how Lincoln managed to steal the cross, AND crawl by Daisy, but gift horses!
  • Way to ruin a one-off Tony Stark line with actual Life Model Decoys, otherwise-interesting twist.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will premiere this Fall on ABC, but stay tuned for more on tonight’s big finish.

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