9:05 pm EDT, May 10, 2019

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 6 premiere review: Never really gone

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere opens and closes with a bang, and that’s not even the craziest part.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere, titled “Missing Pieces,” presses fast-forward on our agents’ lives. Some familiar faces are gone, or have turned strange, and some have changed in subtler ways. But first:

What happened in the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 6 premiere?

Out in space, Enoch ponders how best to proceed with the cryogenically-sealed Fitz as a whirling anomaly tears their ship in half.

One year later, Daisy and Simmons have toughened in the far reaches of the galaxy as they search for Fitz. A brief and nasty interrogation with an alien leads them (as well as sidekicks Piper and Davis) to an abandoned half of Fitz and Enoch’s vessel. Fitz’s cryopod is empty, devastating Simmons. The rest of the team resolves to return to Earth and regroup.

Back on Earth, Mack attempts to guide his agents toward the source of strange new energy surges. May and Elena’s attempt to apprehend the apparent culprit fails on a playground in Indiana, but the team recovers his compatriot who has fused with the concrete wall. Agent Keller, a cute new guy, proposes research into Lay Lines as a possible theory.

Mack returns to his office for more one-on-one time with Coulson’s hologram in the Toolbox, and he and May reflect on their passed Director. As the anniversary of Coulson’s death approaches, Mack charges May to continue her project, later revealed to be the long-defunct S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy. Meanwhile, Elena and Mack have broken up, but Elena puts her new relationship with Keller on hold.

May tries to recruit Dr. Marcus Benson as the head their new science division. Benson, an alcoholic mourning the loss of his husband, is skeptical but intrigued when he studies the left-behind body in the wall. The man briefly revives to cry that “something is coming,” and they “can’t stop it.” He drops a strange timer, which leads the team to their next energy surge.

Back in space, Simmons presents Daisy, Piper, and Davis with a wild new theory on Fitz’s location — a planet in extremely deep and dangerous space. Daisy backs up Davis and Piper’s refusal to jump that far into space, but the argument is interrupted by the arrival of the Kree Confederacy. The group attempts to jump home to escape, but Simmons has reprogramed their coordinates to what she believes is Fitz’s planet, and initiates the jump.

On Earth, two more members of Team Bizarro reach their companion and proceed to a museum where someone called “Sarge” will make his “crossing.” The S.H.I.E.L.D. team shows up in time to be blasted by the museum exploding. Dazed, May watches as a truck barrels toward them out of thin air.

The man who exits the truck, “Sarge,” looks exactly like Coulson. He shoots the shocked agent holding Snowflake, leaving May stunned in his wake.

In the stinger for “Missing Pieces,” a filthy Fitz bellows in an alien language at an unseen speaker while working on an engine. He shoots something into his own neck and his eyes bug brightly.

“Let’s do this,” he says.

Takeaways

“Missing Pieces” may not be Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s slickest season premiere, but it is certainly one which represents the most radical change. (Yes, even compared to the time they all woke up in a space colony 90 years in the future.)

Coulson is dead. Fitz has vanished. Deke is nowhere to be seen. Deep-space travel is now NBD, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is almost bustling again, the old days of innovation and organizational continuity finally feeling within reach.

The characters who have stuck around are deeply altered as well. Our far-flung team spans the spectrum of emotional health from Simmons (really not doing great!) to May (surprisingly well-adjusted) with a conflicted Mack in the middle. This arrangement works particularly nicely as it arranges the men and women of S.H.I.E.L.D. on unfamiliar emotional territory, forcing many to play against type.

Space has turned Simmons dark and cold, her optimism transformed into a single-minded obsession as she searches for Fitz. It’s a startling but compelling new direction for the once-sunny biochemist, and a canny observation from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere. The transformative power of love is usually a good thing on this series, especially where FitzSimmons are concerned. But the new Simmons and our brief glimpse at Fitz gently suggests that love can, and indeed sometimes must, work darker changes as well.

On the other end of the spectrum is May, who might be as content as we’ve ever seen her in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere. Coulson’s death has clearly made a lasting, painful impact, but May’s overall response is appreciably healthy. She uses her grief in positive ways, rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D., guiding Mack, and mentoring Elena. More than one character in “Missing Pieces” observes that May is unusually talkative, a signal that her pain — at least right now — is no longer her defining characteristic.

For Mack’s part, attempting to hold the center — of S.H.I.E.L.D. and of himself — is a familiar struggle only amplified by his new position. It’s clear that Mack is trying to approach his responsibilities in as healthy a way as possible (Coulson, bar, church on Sundays) but it’s less clear if such a thing is sustainable for the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mack is clearly preoccupied by every potential disaster, not yet confident in his instincts or decisions. Distancing himself from Elena is a fear-based decision disguised as logic, while the desire to live up to Coulson’s example can only take him so far.

All of this character work supports the wilder elements of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere (looking the you, displaced crew of weirdos who seem to have fallen out of an audition for Mad Max…) It also links “Missing Pieces,” at least thematically, to the emotional beats of Avengers: Endgame.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have spun out oddly in a new direction from the wider MCU (yes, the math of a Snap-less one year later is… difficult) but it continues to resonate emotionally with the big-screen story. The transformations wrought by loss; the consequences of deepest desperation; the constant struggle between moving forward and lingering in memory.

All of these ideas define both the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere and the grand finale of the (current) Marvel Cinematic Universe. Keep an eye on this — Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is nothing if not thematically keen, and this sad palate offers plenty of opportunities for a small-screen story.

Highlights

“Missing Pieces” thrives on its particularly strong performances. Ming-Na captures May’s lightened heart with a beautiful subtlety that highlights her shock in the episode’s final moments. Elizabeth Henstridge schools her face and voice into rigidity right up until the moment that she cracks, and even under stress, Chloe Bennet adopts a maturity we have not yet seen in her performance as Daisy.

And of course, Clark Gregg’s brief but powerful appearance as Sarge rings like a gunshot through the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premiere. From his body language to his voice, it’s already clear that this strange new player is in fact that — new — and perhaps even more unpredictable than we yet suspect.

Lowlights

Not to dwell, but the Sarge’s team has vastly less impact than he does. It’s hard to catch even their names, much less the logic of their actions. While mystery is certainly to be expected at this point in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6, Team Bizzaro and their grunge aesthetic are, at least in their initial outing, more opaque than interesting.

Best quotes

Elena: I don’t even know what to call them.
Agent: Anomalies?
Mack: No.
May: We used that word up last year.

May: If last year taught me anything, it’s that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

Elena: I’m not afraid of Mack finding out.
Keller: Well, I am! He is not small.

Piper: You learned to read alien?
Simmons: Of course, what have you been doing with the last year?

Simmons: We don’t need to whisper, sound can’t travel in a vacuum.
Davis: …it makes me feel better.

Agent: You’re from S.H.I.E.L.D.
Sarge: Never heard of it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6, episode 2, “Window of Opportunity,” airs Friday, May 17 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

What did you think of the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 6 premiere?

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