In these unprecedented times, as the ads say, being on social media can get a bit overwhelmingly dark. Being in real life can be pretty overwhelming, too, admittedly more for some people than others. But when you get a breather from real life and sit down to read social media, you’re confronted with not only echoes of your own struggles, but everyone else’s, too. Plague! Injustice! Pollution! Problematic faves! Corporations that, whether they ignore or try to hype on the issues, just come across as insensitive! Well-meaning relatives sharing articles from propaganda outlets no matter how many times you’ve tried to teach them about Information Literacy! Reason after reason to feel despair!
And then one day in late May a corporate tweet comes along that’s different. It’s not an awkward attempt to capitalize on These Unprecedented Times, but it doesn’t come across as jarringly ignorant of them, either. It’s just trying to sell a new season of a TV show which, in all the unprecedence, you’d almost forgotten was coming back. And something about it cracks through all the despair.
I’ve always been a Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D lover, a staunch advocate for its deserving more love amid the MCU as a whole (from fans and creators). But I’m not obsessed with it, not the way Agent Carter drove me to cosplay and Legion drove me to fanfic; and since last season was a shortened summer season, and there hasn’t been much MCU in the news, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that it was coming back for one more short season this summer. Until the trailer for Season 7-and-final showed up on my Twitter feed and left me with a curious sensation…joy, maybe? Excitement? And, for some reason…was that a touch of relief?
I’ve always cringed at the tendency to refer to speculative fiction as “escapism.” It belittles or ignores the deep commentary speculative works can make about society and human (or inhuman) nature. But a story to get lost in, told by characters I love, is exactly what I’ve been needing to escape the daily despair.
While that description could apply to any number of stories, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (10PM Eastern Wednesdays on ABC, or next morning on Hulu if you’re a cable-cutter like me) is particularly doing the trick. It is simply a delight. If you haven’t been following along that closely, here’s why. See, the Season 5 finale was written as if it could be a series finale, so when ABC comes in like, “okay, here’s what’s what: we’re actually giving you two more half-length seasons after this, then that’s it,” they kind of had to scramble a bit to write a Season 6 that would even work after Season 5 (and there was no hope of it sticking to the continuity the MCU movie division had once held them to, this being smack in between Infinity War and Endgame—good thing Season 5 had already established the existence of multiple timelines). It might have come across as nonsense if you were taking it too seriously…or seriously in the wrong ways. Because here and there you got a sense of what was happening in the writers’ room, as if you could hear the writers saying, “You know what? We already know when we’re being canceled. We’ve already been sidelined by the movie division. Why should we try so hard to make this show fit some kind of mold? Why don’t we have some fun, and see where we can go?” Those Season 6 moments stuck out, and not in a bad way. They shone with the delight that the creators were obviously taking in it.
Season 7 has taken those moments of shining delight and built a whole season of them. This is it, it says, we’re going out, and we’re doing it our way. The season is literally going through history celebrating the show itself’s history along the way (and a bit of Agent Carter‘s history, too, which is the best. Okay, I actually have some mixed feelings about that—spoilers in the footnote*—but mostly, it is very awesome of them and I appreciate it). They’ve let loose the creativity and are following wherever it goes. They are having fun, and it shows, from the era-specific title cards to the lampshade-hanging jokes.
And it’s been, okay, an escape. An hour a week to get swept up in the sometimes hilarious adventures of a found family of superspies on their time-traveling spaceplane. Realism? When reality gets you down, who needs realism? I’ve felt lighter after each episode of this season. Re-energized, would be the most accurate word. And doesn’t that make “escape” worthwhile? It’s the hope a story gives you that grants you the strength to press on with your own life. After all, heroes don’t know they’re in a story while they’re in the middle of it. They’re just the ones who don’t give up. And seeing a story— safely from the outside— reminds us.
Want to catch up on the fun of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D this final season?
Obviously, you’re going to get more out of it if you watch the whole show, but I honestly think, with some brief catching-up, you might be able to just jump right in on Season 7 and go along for the ride. So if you stopped watching S.H.I.E.L.D at some point in the past and want to just jump right into this season without watching everything, let me try to give you a quick overview of background you need to know— as far as I can tell from the season so far, at least— I don’t doubt there will be other surprise callbacks to earlier seasons throughout the coming episodes, as well. But just so you know who everyone IS, I’ll sort this by Season so you can skip to wherever you left off. If you PLAN to watch the other seasons and fear spoilers, you should just stop reading now. I’m assuming you’ve seen enough of Season 1 to identify the original main characters.
SEASON 2: Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie is a S.H.I.E.L.D mechanic who originally joins the team as part of a rival faction of post-Hydra S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye the Hacker turns out to be a latent Inhuman, who, after some traumatic reunions with her birth parents, develops “Quake” powers and starts going by her birth name, Daisy Johnson.
SEASON 3: Seeking out newly activated Inhumans leads the team to Elena “Yo-yo” Rodriguez, a speedster who falls into an enemies-to-lovers thing with Mack and joins the team. Gideon Malick leads a doomsday cult branch of Hydra that worships a monster Inhuman through a rock-shaped portal across space. Mack becomes deputy director. And also invents the Shotgun Axe. I’m not sure if there will be a call-back to that one in Season 7, but there probably should be.
SEASON 4: Fitz nearly perfects LMD technology with the help of a cybernetics expert and his magically enhanced prototype who naturally goes Very Bad, and Coulson says for goodness sakes if I die again promise you will never ever turn me into an LMD, which is not at all ironic foreshadowing. Speaking of which, Coulson also strikes up a mysterious deal with Ghost Rider about his past history of cheating death. But honestly, Season 4, at least the back half, is possibly the best season ever so maybe you should just watch the whole thing anyway.
SEASON 5: A Chronicom— a race of artificial beings (don’t call them robots) from another planet— named Enoch, abducts most of the crew and sends them into the future to fix time, but meanwhile becomes Best Friends with Fitz, who is taking the long way forward. FitzSimmons’ grandson, Deke, hitches a ride back from the future with everyone. Nobody likes him, including his grandparents. Oh, also, FitzSimmons get married, but then Fitz dies, except that was a Fitz from the old timeline so now the current Fitz is lost in space with his new buddy Enoch, so Simmons and Daisy set out to find him. Before that, Yo-yo loses her arms. Also, Coulson’s borrowed time is finally running out so he confesses his love to May and the two of them head to the real Tahiti to wait out the last of his days in peace. He makes Mack Director in his place.
SEASON 6: The showrunners, unable to go on without Clark Gregg, have Coulson’s likeness stolen by an ancient god who destroys planets. Said god’s minions almost kill Yo-yo and she’s still feeling it. May does get killed but see a few sentences from now. The rest of the Chronicoms had their planet destroyed by said planet destroyers so now they want to conquer Earth as their new home, but Enoch likes his new Earth friends too much to allow that, so he does something as-yet unknown with time to allow he and FitzSimmons to turn the Zephyr (I completely forget in which season they lost the Bus and transferred to the Zephyr instead) into a time machine, revive May, and also make an LMD Coulson to use his S.H.I.E.L.D history knowledge. And because the other Chronicoms have copies of FitzSimmons’ brains the two of them are forced to remain separate so that the Chronicoms can’t predict their plans and also so Iain De Caestecker can have a non-S.H.I.E.L.D career apparently. That is in fact the only bad thing about Season 7. Fitz is in hiding somewhere. But he’s still considered part of the cast so presumably he’ll show up again SOMETIME in these last few episodes.
*There are definitely spoilers for the most recent episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D in this footnote, and also spoilers for Agent Carter and Avengers: Endgame depending how behind you are.
Because this deals with several fandom controversies I’ve had very strong feelings about, I can’t not go into them in detail here. Clearly, Agent Daniel Sousa got the short end of the stick from the writers of Endgame, if only for the implication that his paramour Peggy Carter had never actually gotten over her old boyfriend Steve; and if you can seriously buy into the writers’ improbable theory that STEVE FRIGGIN’ ROGERS COULD HONESTLY HIDE FOR DECADES IN THE MAIN TIMELINE NOT INTERFERING WHILE PEOPLE WERE IN DANGER (see that link for my thorough response), Sousa gets even more screwed, because either his adventures never happened or he just really wasn’t that important if Steve could just waltz into Peggy’s life again years later without incident.
So the writers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D decided he deserved better, which he most definitely does, and gave him a hero’s legacy: the first S.H.I.E.L.D agent fallen in the line of duty! And, as it turns out, it’s because he was the only one smart enough to connect the dots on Hydra’s infiltration from the start! But, as Coulson would do
before I mean after him, he would inspire others through his sacrifice but secretly live to do further good!
Only, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has already established that it takes place in a timeline without a Thanos Snap, so clearly multiple timelines do exist, and a time-traveling Steve wouldn’t necessarily have precluded Sousa becoming Mr. Peggy Carter (which he was clearly written to be, thank you) in this one. But if it’s now canon that it’s a big DEAL (so presumably across most timelines) that Sousa died (single) less than a decade after Agent Carter… that, uh, really does cancel out any possibility of us getting the further adventures of Agent Carter, with the whole cast, on Disney+, now, does it. I mean, dang, AoS, way to slam the door!
But I love having Agent Sousa back on my screen, and I appreciate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D making sure he’s remembered as a hero, so, yay.