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Photo: ABC

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Daisy Johnson is one of the MCU’s most underappreciated female heroes

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Jul 15, 2020

With the final season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Marvel television universe as we once knew it is over. The plucky little team-up series that could is swinging for the fences in its final season, telling a bizarre, confusing but deeply entertaining story that involves time travel, '80s film references, and the return of Agent Carter original Daniel Sousa. Will it ultimately make sense in the end? Maybe. Will we be sorry to see it go? Definitely. 

True, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t always told the best stories — remember that season that was set entirely in space? — and some of its riskier character moves were controversial, to say the least (i.e. almost everything involving Grant Ward). But the series has kept chugging along for the better part of a decade because it was always willing to chart its own path, telling stories that other areas of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just weren’t ready to tackle yet. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than with Daisy Johnson's incredible arc. 

It took Marvel’s film universe 10 years to give us a movie with a female lead, and almost that long to offer one starring a character of color. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has quietly been giving us both those things all along, touting the presence of Clark Gregg’s beloved Agent Coulson but building its primary narrative and emotional center around a woman whose journey has come so far, she doesn’t even have the same name as she did when she started.

When Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) first joined the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team, she went by Skye, a foster kid and hacktivist looking to find her parents. By the time the final credits roll, she’ll be remembered as the superhero known as Quake, a powerful Inhuman with seismic abilities who overcomes repeated traumas and tragedies to fight for what’s right — even in the face of difficult odds and painful choices.

Photo: ABC

Fans rightly complain about the ways the MCU often sidelines, erases, or otherwise straight-up ignores its women. But, for all its flaws, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves to be remembered — and celebrated, too — for giving us one of the Marvel universe’s first and most consistently intriguing female characters. (In truth, several of them!) Daisy is an underrated gem, a character who’s not just a remarkable hero and first-rate S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but a deeply human woman who searched and fought for a place to belong.

Over the course of seven seasons, Daisy has gone from civilian to superhero, gaining powers, finding a family, and learning to accept herself along the way. Though she was first introduced as the audience’s window into the complicated world of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its politics, she’s grown into the show’s most complex character. Daisy’s experienced both triumph and tragedy – she’s fallen in love, sacrificed friends, learned she was technically part of an alien race, and she's been betrayed by people she trusted. She’s also made plenty of poor choices, struggled to control her powers, battled guilt and depression over the consequences of her powers, and switched sides herself more than once. (Sort of.)

But despite her impressive superhuman — or Inhuman, depending on how technical you want to get — abilities, it’s ultimately Daisy’s humanity that makes her such a compelling character and hero. She’s allowed to be vulnerable and imperfect, and to grow and learn from her mistakes. Her search for acceptance and desire for stability drives much of the show’s early seasons, culminating in the realization that the family she was looking for was right there in the Zephyr all along. And though her powers grow to become frighteningly formidable — she’s labeled “The Destroyer of Worlds” at one point — it’s her heart that truly makes her a hero. Regardless of how many setbacks she must face (and trust me, it’s a lot), she never allows those losses and tragedies to define her.

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone on, Daisy has become somewhat less central to the show’s primary storylines, as its focus has shifted to the star-crossed love story of Fitz and Simmons, Coulson’s multiple deaths and resurrections, and Mack’s assumption of leadership. But that doesn’t mean her journey is over. In the show’s final season, we see a Daisy who has come through hell and made it to the other side. This is a woman who is at peace with who she is, at long last, and knows exactly who she wants to become. She’s grown into the most grounded and capable member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, the sort of leader and role model that her first season self would have only dreamed of becoming.

Photo: ABC

Daisy’s story isn’t a new one for a superhero. Much of it is based on her attempt to definite her own identity, as well as to accept and reconcile the heroic and non-heroic sides of her character. Comic book fans have seen this arc countless times before — with male heroes. It matters that she’s experiencing all this as a woman, simply because we as viewers have had so few opportunities to see these tropes unfold from a female perspective. Especially when that woman is not a token figure within the world of the show, but part of a larger group of female characters of all races, ages, and backgrounds.

In a world where female superheroes still aren’t terribly commonplace, Daisy and the women of S.H.I.E.L.D. are remarkable in how unremarkable their presence on the canvas is. The show doesn’t force them to compete with one another, nor does one woman’s narrative rise have to correlate with the sidelining of another. Instead, they collaborate and lift one another up. They mentor and challenge each other, and push back when one of them is wrong. They’re giving orders, kicking butt, and making decisions, and these actions not positioned as anything other than completely normal. Daisy Johnson is an exceptional hero, but a big part of the reason for her success as a character is that she’s not alone.

When S.H.I.E.L.D. finally ends later this year, we’ll lose a lot more than a scrappy little adventure series that’s defied the odds over and over again. We’ll also lose the MCU property that, more than any other, has shown the rest how it’s done when it comes to female representation. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last we see of Quake, or the show’s other groundbreaking women, in this universe.

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