In a landmark 100th episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 takes a nostalgic turn — and makes some major changes.

Reaching 100 episodes is a significant milestone for any series, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 chooses to celebrate in an unusual fashion. “The Real Deal,” written by executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, includes some epic moments, but its focus is touchingly granular.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 is ultimately about family — past, present, and future. Too vague? Here are a few more hints to keep you sated until Friday.

Whedon AF

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t felt Joss Whedon’s touch since he directed the pilot episode, but “The Real Deal” feels as thoroughly Whedon-y as Whedon-y can get.

Remember those old episodes of Buffy and Angel where some demon or magical doodad would topple the rules and let just about anything happen? Those times when the fabric of the fictional reality turned inside out, and it was hard to tell which side of the story we were looking at anymore?

Well, the events of episode 100 aren’t quite that extreme, but it’s a close thing. Tancharoen and (Jed) Whedon are fully cognizant of the storytelling arsenal they’ve stockpiled over five seasons, and they’re not afraid to put it all in a pot, turn on the heat, and serve us all the madness that boils out.

A secret revealed

Amidst the tension of a growing and unpredictable threat, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 finally pulls the curtain off of at least one pressing mystery. Yes, the reality of Coulson’s predicament is finally revealed, as is the truth of his mysterious connection to Ghost Rider.

But as is traditional for this show, the mythical mechanics of whatever’s going on with the Boss are much less important than the emotional fallout — and boy, is there fallout. “The Real Deal” wastes little time in cutting directly to the bone. Five seasons of character growth culminate in some wrenching, honest, and painfully lovely heart-to-hearts.

It’s great character work, and for fans who have stuck around from the start, it’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. It’s not all easy watching, either — you may want to keep some tissues on hand.

Don’t be a stranger

This being the 100th episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 is only too happy to take a stroll down memory lane. But obviously, this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and “stroll” is not really how we roll.

Instead, the events of “The Real Deal” spiral through a funhouse of old friends — and by friends, I mostly mean the complete opposite of friends. But while I encourage viewers to enjoy the ride, remember to keep a weather eye out for the bigger picture. Memory, after all, can be a treacherous thing.

An ending unlike any other

There is really very little I can say about the closing act of “The Real Deal,” (and trust me, it’s better that way!) But I can give you this: In its final minutes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12 goes to a place that the show has never, ever explored before.

And the consequences are truly mind-bending.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×12, “The Real Deal,” airs on Friday, March 9 at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.

What are your predictions for the 100th episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’?

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