Over the past two seasons Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become my absolute favorite superhero show, bar none. The character work has always been spectacular, but the storytelling and superhero action have become just as good and there’s no better example of that than the season 5 finale, “The End.” While this is just the season finale, this episode was presented as more of a series finale, due to the uncertainty over a now confirmed sixth season, and it certainly delivers a satisfying conclusion to everything we’ve seen so far.
This season has brought back so many elements and loose ends from previous seasons with everything leading to this final episode where the agents have to decide whether to use a modified concoction of the centipede serum from season 1 to either save Coulson from the injury that killed him in Avengers or to save the world from Graviton, a Gravitonium infused General Talbot who’s willing to risk breaking the world apart in order to be its greatest hero. The decision is taken out of their hands by Agent May, however, when she breaks the odium that was meant to kill Talbot. This may seem like she’s choosing to save Coulson over the rest of the world, and that may even be the case in her own head, but that moment is the one that truly defines who S.H.I.E.L.D. are. If they’re faced with two options, either save one man or kill another, they’re always going to choose to save a life, because like Captain America said in Avengers: Infinity War, they don’t trade lives.
That isn’t the only moment that’s reminiscent of an element of Infinity War. Fitz’ death is every bit as emotional as any death in IW and his line of “I think my leg is broken,” is just as impactful and tragic as Peter Parker’s “I don’t feel so good.” Also, similarly to Spider-Man’s death, this feels like a definitive death for Fitz but not a definitive end for the character, seeing as there is another Fitz out in space waiting to wake up in an apocalyptic future that is no longer coming.
This episode doesn’t just tie together loose ends from the past and mirror Infinity War, it also mirrors the pilot episode in order to highlight the ways things have changed since then. The pilot ends with S.H.I.E.L.D. taking on a good man corrupted by a dangerous superpower who’s trying to become a hero, especially in the eyes of his son, all the while endangering a great number of lives. The scale of this threat is much larger in this one, to the point that Daisy has to use the Centipede serum, the source Mike’s dangerous superpower in the pilot, to kill Graviton after having tried to talk him down and use a non-lethal solution, which worked for Coulson in the pilot.
The biggest change since the early episodes of the show, however, doesn’t come from the story or characters, it comes from the superhero action. This is a show that began with a group of regular agents adjusting to a world with superheroes and supervillains, while this finale has the team unleash their own superhero against a supervillain of their making: Quake vs Graviton. This fight is rather short, likely due to budget constraints, but is absolutely epic for what it is.
Quake goes full on Supergirl — and arguably does it better in this fight — and it’s absolutely amazing. And then there’s Graviton aka General Glenn Talbot. His journey from Military antagonist to ally to full blown supervillain reaches its truly tragic conclusion in this episode. Seeing the destruction he’s causing and knowing that he could potentially crack the world apart doesn’t make it any easier to stomach his death, knowing that this was just a proud, broken man trying to reassemble the pieces of his life and do what he enlisted to do in the first place: make the world a better place.
Ultimately, being able to generate that level of sympathy for a supervillain as dangerous as Graviton is the result of patient, masterful character work, which is what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been crafting over the past four and a half seasons. That character work extends to everyone else on the show as well. Yoyo has been a standout all season and remains so in this episode, playing a fascinating role as the one person who’s most at odds with the rest of the team and yet the one who’s most in line with Coulson’s point of view. Mack finally took his place as not just the moral center of the team, but as the leader. Simmons becomes determined to cross the universe to save Fitz, much the same way Fitz did for her back in Season 3.
Bringing all of those elements to a close in this season finale while also giving every individual character a chance to shine does make it feel as if this would have been a satisfying series finale had it not been renewed, but as such leaves enough open to make another season possible, beginning with the search for Fitz. The only disappointment is that we have to wait over a year for that season to come, seeing as it’s scheduled to air in the Summer of 2019, after the release of Avengers 4. I have all the faith in the world that it’ll be worth the wait. 5/5 S.H.I.E.L.D. Bibles.