Agents of SHIELD, Season 3, Episode 21 “Absolution/Ascension”
The series’ third season wrapped up with about as best case scenario a resolution as one can get when it comes to killing off characters. Importantly the journey to that end was what was really key. This trip ran the emotional gamut, featured twists and turns, team jackets and had top-notch special effects and fight choreography. In other words, much like the season itself – satisfying to the end. For those who haven’t seen the episode yet, major spoilers ahoy.
Daisy may be free of the physical control of Hive’s sway but the lingering effects are as bad as drug withdrawal. She is trying to help out the team but between the withdrawal, guilt over what she’s done and plain lack of any concrete information, Daisy isn’t much use to anybody. With warheads, missiles and superpowered bad guys running loose, SHIELD has no choice but to press on to save the world.
The Big Deal
Whether we knew it or not at the time, this series has been about the journey of the character played by actress Chloe Bennet. Call her Skye, Daisy or now Quake, the evolution of this character is the emotional core this series is centered around. The show built a scrappy hacker into an exemplary SHIELD agent and leader (with superpowers to boot) and tore her down to the foundation after her experience with Hive. Daisy spends most of this episode a withered husk of what she once was. The confidence and swagger that once defined her has been replaced with sunken eyes and the knowledge of the horrors she’s visited on friends and innocent bystanders alike. It took some empathetic alone time with Mack to start to pull Daisy out of her tailspin. But first given a chance for a confrontation with Hive, Daisy asks to be taken back under the sway. Lash’s cure made Daisy immune, and Hive’s rejection causes her to finally snap. She does everything she can to kill Hive but it doesn’t work. A later conversation with May sets Daisy on the path she follows the rest of the episode. It’s a motivation in common with Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Daisy has red in her ledger and she needs to work to wipe it out. At first Daisy believes (because of the vision she been having) it means she needs to sacrifice herself to kill Hive. Lincoln pushes Daisy out of the plane and sacrifices himself instead. This leaves Daisy (and the rest of the team) a sobbing mess.
We flash to six months later, and Coulson’s yard wall has been tracking Daisy across the country. She’s on a journey of absolution that is leaving destruction in its wake and SHIELD is hunting her. It’s another major change in the arc of Daisy and will surely fuel major parts of next season.
On the Side
Daisy wasn’t the only character to go through some major changes during the series’ run. Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward benefitted from a heel turn at the end of Season 1 that took him from a square-jawed (yet kind of wooden) agent to the ultimate evil taken human form by this finale. The black hat fit Ward (and Dalton) well, much to the benefit of the series which used Ward’s betrayal from within as a catalyst for a long time. This finale was a showcase for how far Dalton has come as an actor. He got to snarl and intimidate. He was manipulative in his attempts to lure Lincoln out of his hiding spot. He showed his ability with fight choreography in the centerpiece combat with Daisy. The quick shifting personalities Dalton showed after getting zapped with the guts of the TAHITI machine was eerie. Hive was ultimately philosophical as he met his end in the cold vacuum of space. The destruction of Ward/Hive marks the first original cast member to be killed off Agents of SHIELD (unless he’s that Life Model Decoy in the stinger). The show is going to miss such a deeply rooted enemy, but keeping Ward around another season would have been unsatisfying.
Observation and Speculation
*The show never seemed to get a firm handle on Lincoln, so he sort of pinballed around to fill different roles as needed – Daisy’s post Ward love interest, loose-cannon trainee agent and Inhuman expert. That lack of character definition lessened the impact of Lincoln’s ultimate sacrifice, but not enough undermine the finale.
*If there’s one legacy of the canceled Agent Carter, is that a little sweet makes the bitter go down easier. The little bit of mo-cap business that Fitz did in the beginning of the first act was riotous.
*The show gave John Hannah a little more room to be devilish this episode and he delivered as usual. After the stinger at the end of the episode, we can only hope there will be more of the amoral weasel Dr. Ratcliffe next season.
*YoYo was such a good addition to the show this second half of the season. Her flirtation with Mack and no-nonsense attitude was welcomed with every appearance, even when Mack had to take a blowtorch to her to save her life.
*Well Jemma, a romantic getaway with Fitz to the tropics is a nice idea, but have some empathy here. The last time Fitz had a surprise that led him underwater and took his breath away, it gave him brain damage – you should remember, YOU WERE THERE. Maybe a ski trip to the Alps is a better idea.
*It is sweet that FitzSimmons have their own nerdy shorthand that helps them avoid being turned into creepy proto-Inhumans.
*Hellfire always the bastion of practicality wanting to change the Inhuman formula so the ladies don’t go all bald and scary looking. A real humanitarian he is.
*Remember that one episode with the hologram? That trick worked for Coulson faster than you can say “Help me Agent Coulson.”
*The effects on the SquidWard head were some of the best in the series’ entire run.
*The dramatic radio conversation between Lincoln and Daisy was reminiscent of the end scene in Captain American The First Avenger between Peggy Carter and Steve.
*We finally got our shotgun-axe. That may have caused a few whoops across living rooms everywhere.
Word to Live By
“It’s not a hunch – it’s science!” – Dr. Ratcliffe. New rule, Agents of SHIELD must have one Brit with a big bag of one-liners in the cast at all times.
This finale checked off all the plot boxes it needed to and managed to spin the story forward for next season. The time jump may have been a bit of a cheat, but burning episodes watching Daisy turn to Quake isn’t really necessary. The team’s sudden interest in wearing their team jackets and passing the Necklace of Doom around rubbed up against the point of being laughable, but there was enough other stuff going on that it was easy to ignore those out of character moments. In all it was a satisfying ending to a satisfying season of superspy fun.