Full spoilers ahead
The season finale for "Agents of SHIELD" was not the time to have one of its choppiest, more poorly executed episodes while accenting the show's flaws by reverting back to its breadcrumb-trail pacing that plagued the first half of the season.
There were still plenty of great moments, but there were only more questions than answers. Yes, there are several hooks for the next season, but a finale needs to be about conclusions more than posturing and new plot points. It strangely feels like this episode, fittingly entitled "The Beginning of the End," is not at all placed in the right spot of the season.
The episode begins with Coulson, May, Skye and Triplett zeroing in on the tracker of Garrett's hideout. The tracker was placed by Fitz and Simmons at the end of the last episode as they risked their lives in the process. They evade capture only to end up at the bottom of the ocean in an escape pod of sorts.
The time in their little prison has the episode's most heartfelt scene. The duo, realizing there is no way out, eventually share final reflections with each other. Their scientific minds wander to contemplate the theories of evolution (a little too strongly suggested during this scene, in my book) and they recite the first law of thermodynamics—that no energy is ever destroyed—as they ponder what will happen when they die.
Of course, their train of thought eventually leads to a convenient conclusion that allows them to devise a way to escape. Well, one of them, since they only have one breathing device to survive the surge of tons of water crashing on them once they blast a window open. Fitz still makes it, but is left in bad shape.
But as Simmons surfaces in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go, out pops Nick Fury! The timing couldn't have been better. How convenient, but it was still a cool moment.
Meanwhile, Coulson and the gang follow the tracker to discover the location of Cybertek (mentioned earlier in the season several times). They come up with a great, manipulative scheme that sets the stage for the final showdowns between Coulson and Garrett. Ward and May also get into a fantastic fight, which also manages to bring an end to their personal bickering. May's "You were never on top" quip was all she needed to say.
Garrett, meanwhile, has gone off the deep end after injecting himself with presumably the same serum that Coulson used to come back to life. Garrett starts drawing weird images (more on that later), talks about grandiose plans to change the world and loses a sense of touch with reality. Raina, the "Flowers" girl, hints that Garrett might've given way to a better understanding of this drug (almost sounded like an X-Men thing).
Garrett calls on Mike Peterson, now Deathlok, for protection from Coulson, but Skye hacks Deathlok's feed and connects him with his son in a clever way: the kid says a line from the first episode of the season to remind his father who he really is. And, as the season started with Peterson and his son, so too did end with them as Peterson worked against his Deathlok protocol (very similar to the scene in “Terminator 3” when the T-1000 fights against his own programming to protect John Connor instead of kill him).
During one of the episode’s many cool moments, Coulson fittingly uses the gun that he had with him in The Avengers (made via the Destroyer in “Thor”) to take down Garrett.
After Cybertek is taken down, Coulson and Fury regroup with the others for the final moments of the season. Fury gives Coulson a mysterious toolbox and bestows upon Coulson the responsibility to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. This was one of the many poorly executed scenes as it needed to be heartfelt and a little heavy, but instead was extremely rushed.
So where does the show go from here?
Ward, now a bad guy, was the most intriguing character the past six weeks or so. He didn’t return to the good guys’ team, which I’m thankful to have guessed incorrectly, and now he’ll have to figure out who he really is now that Garrett, his mentor, is gone.
In one of the final scenes, Flower girl Raina shows a picture of Skye to a mysterious person and says “I found your daughter.” So rather than conclude the storyline of Skye’s origins, writer Joss Whedon only further muddies it up.
In the end, the group finds a new secret base, gathers what tech and resources they can on their way out of Cybertek, and are left with the task of starting over. In a sense, it’s freeing to know they can go their own way, but the whole point of the show was to show stories of the individual agents as they work within the framework of S.H.I.E.L.D., so not having that will drastically change the function and structure of the show from here on out, which isn’t necessarily for the better.
In the final scene of the episode, Coulson, now the new director of the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D., is seen waking up from bed. He walks around and observes Garrett’s weird drawings. It seems to trigger something in him, and Coulson spends hours etching the same drawings on the wall; it eventually looks like a blueprint of some sort. While we’ll have to wait until season 2 before discovering its meaning (yet another breadcrumb instead of a resolution), we’re left wondering why Coulson just now decided to do this despite having the same juice that made Garrett go crazy in him all season long. It was a peculiar ending to a peculiar episode, not one the season deserved.
The season was much better than it led on to be. It overcame some early missteps and turned out to be quite compelling and very involved with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hopefully Whedon and company better execute the game plan for Season 2, which already has several open plot lines that need resolutions.