The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale, “The End,” took us on a heart wrenching, bittersweet ride… and we have questions.
What’s been going on?
Looking back, it’s not hard to view brokenness as a central theme of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5. The broken Earth animated the first part of the season, as the team fought their way back from a devastated future populated by shattered people. Eerie as that was, brokenness became a much more intimate and more awful prospect in the latter half of the season; Coulson’s body began to break down, Elena lost her arms, and Fitz’s mind cracked under terrible pressure.
Worse still, it was these same developments sent unprecedented fault lines splintering through the team. Fighting and differences of opinion may have temporarily divided the group before, but the final act of season 5 took an anvil to almost every bond they shared between them. Daisy fought bitterly with Fitz, Simmons, and Elena; Elena fought with Mack and May; May and Daisy found themselves antagonists to the very man they wanted to save, as Coulson resigned himself to a second death.
The villains of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 also echoed this theme of brokenness. Kasius dominated the Lighthouse as an failed outcast of greatness, while Ruby and Hale’s fatal flaws brought two sad and vicious stories to a close. Finally Talbot, the truly broken man, desperate to “fix” it all, cured his “brokenness” with Gravitonium and lost himself in the process.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale carried this theme home, and it’s enlightening to look at the events of “The End” through the frame of broken things.
The episode begins with a literal breaking — May, shattering the vial of Odium and apparently sealing the fate of the world. This appears to be finally shatter Elena, whose mind and spirit are already in tatters, driving her even further from the center of the group.
Later, Deke tells Daisy that he is leaving, a “broken man, from a broken world.” And soon, Fitz is literally broken, crushed under rubble. (It’s not an accident that Fitz dies murmuring, “I think my leg is broken,” after all. And yes, I’m sorry to make you relive that.)
But even as the awful tragedy of Fitz’s unfolds, something else is changing. Phillip J. Coulson, Robin as promised, will put all of the pieces together; it was he, not Talbot, who “fixed it.” The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale ends with a sense of closure, if not completion; Mack, he of the whole and great heart, is at the helm, while the rest of the team can take the time to heal their fractured pieces.
Yes, that includes Coulson. In fact, that’s question number one!
Some questions, some answers
Question: What is Coulson’s fate?
Answer: Dead. Probably. Maybe. Unless…
By all appearances, “The End” seems to leave Coulson at, well, the end. (Pun intended, and I’m sorry.) The final moments of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale reveal that Coulson is content to live out his final days with May, enjoying the beauty of (the real) Tahiti. Daisy used the only remaining Centipede serum to defeat Talbot, and no one seems to hold out any hope for another miracle cure.
If this is the case, it’s a bittersweet development. Losing Coulson once was hard enough; losing for a second time is a truly awful prospect. Our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have followed our Director from the earliest days of the MCU, and in many ways, he is the emblem of all that we love about this story. And for those who ship Phillinda, the pain is doubled as Coulson’s budding romance with May will end before it even has time to begin.
That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that, should this be the last we see of Coulson, the Director embraced his fate with incredible dignity and acceptance. (Parasailing aside, perhaps.) Coulson has had time to prepare for death, has made his feelings known to the woman he loves, and can slip away in peace. He lived his second chance at life to the fullest, resurrecting S.H.I.E.L.D. from the ashes and doing as much good as he possibly could have.
In a show that has given us many (many!) messy S.H.I.E.L.D. deaths over the years, that’s not a bad ending — even if no one could call it a happy one.
With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. renewed for season 6, there is really no way to know what’s going to happen. At present time, we haven’t heard anything about Clark Gregg (or Ming Na) making plans to leave the show, and the writers have almost a year to cook up a way to save our main man and bring him back for some post-Avengers adventures. (See below for further speculation on that particular issue.)
So don’t give up on #CoulsonLives just yet, True Believers. There is still plenty of story to come.
Question: Is Fitz really dead?
Answer: Yes. And no. It’s literally both, at the exact same time.
Follow-Up Question: How is Simmons so calm about this?
Answer: Because there’s a backup.
Leo Fitz dies in “The End” — no getting around that. With the future changed and his “Invincible” status evaporated, Fitz is crushed by falling debris (thanks, Talbot) and dies as Mack and May stand tearful watch.
The reason why Simmons has not collapsed with grief (or otherwise responded as one might think she would, given that her other half is dead) is thanks to a lingering quirk of the timeline. This might make your head spin, but (as many fans have suspected) there have been two Fitzes since the events of episode 5.
Fitz took “the long way” forward in time, sleeping for 80-some years until he reached the broken future. But when the team traveled back to the present, they “caught up” (Harry and Hermione style) with the time that that Fitz had only just left.
The upshot of this madness is that there is still another Fitz floating out there in space with Enoch the Sentient Chronicom. As Coulson hints at the end of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale, Simmons is now on a mission to find this slightly-out-of-date version of her lost love. A Fitz who has not yet proposed to or married her, never escaped with the team from the Lighthouse, and is no longer destined to in space or under a pile of rubble.
It’s all pretty mind-bending (and it would have been nice to see Simmons reach this realization in “The End,”) but the upshot is that Jemma Simmons now has a quest: To find the tiny pod floating somewhere in the vast reaches of the solar system, and bring her husband home.
Question: What exactly happened to change the future?
Answer: Coulson chose, and Daisy listened.
In the wild tumble of action and drama of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment of change where the broken-Earth future was avoided. But it turns out that the key point wasn’t a death, an explosion, or a loss. It was acceptance.
Coulson, as it turned out, did not leave the life-saving serum back on the Zephyr. He had it with him, and could have changed his mind, turning back from death at any point. Coulson, quite literally, had the fate of the world in his hands.
And then he gave it to Daisy. When Coulson handed Daisy the serum, hidden in her gauntlets, the timeline shifted. The change that was solidified when Daisy accepted his choice and used the serum (not, it seems, her quake powers) to finish off the power-mad Graviton.
In the end, the world was saved from brokenness because it wasn’t Coulson who needed healing. It was Daisy, her denial and anger and sadness and fear, who needed to be made whole — and thanks to Coulson and her own strength, she was.
Question: Where is Deke?
Answer: We really don’t know.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale makes a tricky play with Deke. Throughout the back half of the season, the show has teased the idea that Fitz and Simmons’ grandson will basically poof out of existence if something fatal happened to either one… as, of course, it did.
But as discussed above, Fitz’s death doesn’t seem to mean the end of Fitz and Simmons’ relationship. And “The End” also seeds in a perfectly mundane way out for Deke. Admitting to Daisy that he is “a broken man from a broken place,” Deke tells Daisy that he is leaving the team to see the world, for as long as it (or he) lasts.
So that means that sweet, annoying, quirky, funny, Deke Shaw could easily still be out there in the world, drinking Zima and enjoying the sunshine. Will he be back in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6? We don’t know. But thankfully, we are left with a wealth of possibilities.
Question: What about the Snapture?
Answer: GOOD QUESTION.
Spoiler for the events of Avengers: Infinity War, but little do our agents know that half the population of the Universe is about to disappear.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 is scheduled to return next summer, after Avengers 4 has hit theaters and destroyed all of our souls. That means that (as usual), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be tasked with cleaning up the small-scale mess of that sure-to-be-epic film, and all of its consequences.
For example, could Coulson disappear before he dies, and return hale and whole? Would Deke, if he’s still around, even count as being part of the Universe? (I mean, he doesn’t technically even exist!) What if Simmons poofs, and Fitz remains froze in limbo? What if everyone poofs, and has to return with the knowledge that they have literally died and come back to life… much like Coulson in season 1?
This question is a good summary of what the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 finale leaves us with. Real sadness, yes, and possible farewells… but also, the intense hope of possibilities. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself in limbo, the story is wide open.
Anything can happen. And if I know anything about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we’ll never see it coming.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 will return in Summer 2019.