This article contains spoilers for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 finale, "Absolution/Ascension."
Here we are, the two-hour season finale to Season 3 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and not to be part of the Hive mind, but we think it was quite a doozy. Heroes fell, villains showed their true selves, a stage was set for the future, and we even got a sweet Star Wars reference.
To set it up, we’ve known since the show’s return from winter break that an agent would perish this season. Although the stakes have slowly been raised -- with glimpses of a Quinjet in space and an agent bleeding in zero G with a cross necklace floating on by – there haven’t been a ton of tangible clues about who might bite the dust. Instead, the second half of the season has largely been dedicated to neutralizing the Hydra threat, in the form of Malick, and dealing with Hive-Ward.
But in the finale, with Daisy being liberated from the Hive “sway” and in containment, Coulson and Co. are hot on the pursuit of Hive, Mr. Giyera, James/Hellfire, the Inhuman primitives and an unwilling (?) Dr. Radcliffe. While one team – Mack, May, Yo-Yo and Lincoln -- infiltrates a launch facility where Hive is trying to launch his mutant gas via warhead, Coulson and the HQ team (including Talbot hilariously pairing up with Fitz in a mo-cap suit) get launch codes to stop Hive.
During the assault, the team gets a few wins. Hive goads Lincoln with talk of Daisy, but Sparky manages to use a modified Tahiti device to scramble Hive’s brain. Yo-Yo gets one of a couple moments in the finale by placing the device that locks Hive into the gel matrix chamber.
So, everyone goes home happy, right? Not so much. Talbot, who remains largely likable in this episode, thinks so. But the warhead is swiped by Mr. Giyera. Meanwhile, Lincoln tells Coulson he’s outsies as soon as the warhead is retrieved, and doesn’t want to be an agent. On the upside, Mack and Daisy hug it out, and Fitz and Simmons plan a vacay – although that joyful moment is crushed when Fitz puts the cross (the same from the blown-up Quinjet) in his pocket!
Things go further downhill when S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ is infiltrated via bomb loaded with Hive’s mutagen (which made us think twice about ordering our hangar door parts online). Hive is released by newly formed primitives, who then proceed to trash the joint. It looks like Mack is going to take a machine gun to the face, but Yo-Yo uses her super speed to stop the bullets ... with one of them hitting her in the gut. After scrambling around for a while, Simmons uses her big brain to realize the primitives can't see if you crank up the heat, so she turns the base into a sweat box and helps turn the tide. Daisy tries to turn herself over to Hive, but Lash's rescue apparently made her impervious to Hive's sway. So she beats him up for a while, instead.
The heat trick buys enough time to get Yo-Yo stable, while Hive uses the chaos to steal a ship and use it to deliver his brainwashing warhead. But Fitz and May hitch a ride, too.Coulson manages to get the team out of the base safely and leads the charge to stop Hive once and for all. Daisy tries to sacrifice herself to take the warhead into space where it can safely detonate, but Lincoln pulls a switcheroo and goes on the rocket ship ride to kill Hive (and sacrifice himself) once and for all.
Best moment in the finale?
Aaron: The display of powers was on point in this episode, and it felt like we were in the midst of a high-stakes superhero throwdown multiple times. The fight between Daisy and Hive was relentless and action-packed (and really punctuated by how it began: with Daisy begging to be taken back). Her unleashing of the Quake powers felt earned, and set up the final three minutes where we see how badass a potentially bad Daisy can become.
Fitz was another continued highlight throughout this two-parter. As great as it was watching him banter with Talbot, and enjoying the magic of motion-capture, I loved watching him give Simmons a little teasing about her not being the romantic one. That scene in which they discussed vacation made me think he was going to meet his demise. Instead, he had a legitimate badass scene in which he takes out Mr. Giyera (after warning him that’s exactly what he planned on doing).
I must mention Dr. Holden Radcliffe. Played by John Hannah, the pragmatic genius has become a delight to watch in the last few episodes. In this episode, he tries to reason with the Inhuman primitives, then he decides to go full-on Team S.H.I.E.L.D. and develops a respect for FitzSimmons. Oh, and then there are those L.M.D.s – which I’ll talk more about later.
Before I’m done with Radcliffe, let me share one of my favorite lines of the night: “It’s not a hunch! It’s science!”
Finally, I loved the heck out of Hive’s reveal as the character we recognize from Marvel Comics. The makeup and CGI on Hive looked great, and I’m bummed we saw it so briefly (though that verbal sparring between him and Coulson was a delight to watch).
Trent: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Fitz and Simmons have truly become the heart of this series, and that was certainly on display in the finale. Giyera has been a thorn in the side of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a long time, and Fitz manages to take him out while literally telling him "I'm going to take you out." All in an episode where he gets to go full-on goofy with the mo-cap suit. Fantastic. His relationship with Simmons feels earned at this point, and it was nice to see them get a semi-happy ending here (or at least, you know, they're both still alive at this point).
No doubt Dr. Radcliffe definitely stole the show with the one-liners, and it's great to see that he'll apparently be sticking around in an even larger role next season. Plus, yeah, he's developing something that will certainly be familiar to Marvel Comics readers.
Loved the moment between Mack and Daisy in which he forgives her. Daisy's character was really starting to crash into her own self-pity here, but Mack manages to at least try and pull her out of it. She almost crushed him to death, but Mack can't help but hug her and let her cry it out.
The brain-busting acid trip/memory frying attack on Hive was also a stroke of brilliance, and was a great way to bring all the various personalities and minds trapped within Hive to the surface. Brett Dalton did a great job of playing that confusion, and it provided some great callbacks to the first two seasons when Daisy and Ward had a burgeoning romance.
Worst thing in the finale?
Aaron: While I overall enjoyed the episode, it did feel overlong at times. The Mack/Daisy reunion lasted longer than it needed to, for one. There were a lot of moments that felt like they could have been trimmed or cut.
Regarding Hive’s final acceptance of his fate, and the brief bromance between he and Lincoln, it felt...odd. Hive doesn’t strike me as the kind of megalomaniac who wants to transform the world into a bunch of adoring primitives only to peacefully relinquish that quest once he’s heading to space. The character seems to me to be one that would fight, and rage, and try everything even after he knew he was beat.
Trent: Wasn't a huge fan of Daisy's arc in the finale. Seeing her struggle with the withdrawal from Hive was an interesting angle, and seeing her beg to be re-brainwashed was a brutal moment, but in a way it almost made Daisy seem weaker than she has become over the past three seasons. She's been through a lot, no doubt, but Daisy has proven to be a fighter. Seeing her surrender was heartbreaking, to be sure, but just didn't feel true to the character.
Did the season pay off?
Aaron: Yes. It has been a strong second half of the season, and my favorite batch of episodes thus far from MAoS. The show up its game and juggled a lot of characters, and managed to show off many super powers and effects without looking like a cheap-o hero show.
Trent: Yes and no. The Hive threat seemed to just spin its wheels out there for several episodes, until the final endgame came into view within just the past 2-3 episodes. The first half of the season was fantastic, with Simmons' alien adventure, and in a way, it was almost too good — to the point the Hive storyline didn't feel like a strong enough payoff.
What about the big death?
Aaron: Lincoln’s death was sad, but not gutwrenching for me. He has always stood out as a likely candidate for getting the axe on this show (I don’t know; romantic love interests are often doomed, and those electro effects can’t be cheap for a TV series).
It was sweet, it was sad. But it wasn’t a big shocker – even though I have enjoyed Luke Mitchell’s performance as Lincoln. The final conversation between Daisy and Lincoln over the comms was incredibly reminiscent of Steve Rogers’ final talk with Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. With Agent Carter canceled, and following the success and feels from Civil War, it was well played to evoke that touching scene, except this time in space.
However, how will they bring back Ward (Brett Dalton) next season? Is Dalton truly exiting this show? I doubt it. Even though Hive (and Ward’s body) are no more, there could be another way for him to return. For instance...Life-Model Decoy!
Trent: Meh, it was fine. Luke Mitchell has done a good job with the role, though it was hard for Lincoln to ever truly feel like a character in his own right. If anything, he probably had the most to do and the most growth in the past few episodes, so it's a shame to see him go right now. But, hey, it's always good to go out on top.
I really didn't like the constant fake-outs surrounding the necklace from Daisy's vision. It felt like a cheap gimmick, and if anything, was just distracting. You knew whoever had it on them at a given time wasn't going to die, because it'd be too obvious. Then, surprise, the guy who never touched it ends up on the Quinjet.
How about that cliffhanger?
Aaron: I am intrigued. I want to know more about Daisy as a potential super villain. It is something I’ve mentioned wanting to see here previously. So, I am crossing my fingers that she’s a nuanced baddie who has motives that S.H.I.E.L.D. (or whatever it is right now) feels it needs to tackle. And did I hear right that Coulson is no longer director? Interesting.
That could be a smart play for this show to see the team under the heel of a larger group (perhaps they’ve been reigned in, after all, following the Sokovia Accords?). It might additionally allow audiences to see Coulson as an agent in the field more, and could offer us more of a spy-fi vibe for some episodes, and that’s always a genre this show nails when it goes for it.
As for the scene with Radcliffe and Eva, I am hoping we’re going to be seeing a big A.I. android arc in the next season of MAoS. I will avoid spoilers, but Radcliffe’s work has some comic book precedence that might lend itself to an interesting story. Plus, it would give us a break from constant Inhuman plots (though I don’t want that to go away completely).
Also, catch that LMD shout out? That’s right, Life-Model Decoys are on the way, and just imagine how much turmoil they could cause if Radcliffe decides to replace real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with robot ones.
Trent: It was definitely a gutsy move to jump six months into the future, but they really managed to pull it off for the most part. We have some intrigue surrounding Daisy's motivations (is she doing her own thing now? Why go rogue? What's her endgame?), plus a nice set-up for the kind of show we'll be watching in Season 4. Much like the first season, it seems Coulson's gang is back to just being another team on the S.H.I.E.L.D. roster, as opposed to the director running the whole show (It also begs the question: Who's in charge now?).
I also really liked how the stinger sets up Dr. Radcliffe for Season 4. Life-Model Decoys? Yes, please. Great to see the show get a juicy piece of comic lore to explore, along with the lingering Inhuman situation.
Favorite Easter Eggs
Aaron: I did quite enjoy Coulson nerding out by quoting Princess Leia. I certainly wouldn’t miss the chance to say, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” if I’m ever projected as a hologram.
Another small Easter egg was in Coulson’s room at the end of the episode as he’s staking our Daisy. One of the newspapers on the wall is the New York Bulletin, which we’ve previously seen in the MCU on Netflix’s Daredevil series.
Trent: Just one thing: The legend of Mack's axe-gun returns. I would so watch a Mack-centric spinoff, where he just goes around fighting crime with that thing.
Is Ward gone for good?
Who is Coulson’s new boss?
Why is Daisy so goth?
Is Radcliffe friend or foe?
What cool new stuff will Coulson's hand do in Season 4?