Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 6 Episode 1
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for a sixth season with an intergalactic adventure and a recruitment drive for the team.
Last season ended on a profoundly emotional note with the death of one Fitz and the promise of Coulson’s life coming to an end. This season picks up a year later with some of the team searching for the pre time travel Fitz and the others trying to find their place in the world following the death of Coulson. I was concerned that Coulson’s powerfully executed exit would be somehow undone but I’m glad to say that isn’t the case as is made very clear by some early dialogue. May is back on the job after being with Coulson through his last days and Mack is trying to find his own way as the new director.
Coulson’s absence is felt throughout this episode in various ways. Tonally the scenes featuring the characters in the Lighthouse are almost funereal as that loss is dealt with. May is having trouble finding her rhythm as an agent and Mack is trying to hide his lack of confidence in his own ability to lead. He does a really good job of this when in the presence of his agents and clearly commands their respect judging by the way they react to him. When in private he consults a hologram of Coulson to gain leadership tips and switch off from the assured, confident demeanour he has to project any other time. May gets to see this side of him and offers her full support because she has every confidence that he has what it takes to run S.H.I.E.L.D. his way.
The Coulson hologram is a really nice touch as it’s the next best thing to having his ghost haunt the Lighthouse. For now it represents the responsibility that Mack has accepted and the yardstick he uses to measure his own worth as Director. Eventually he will have to let go of that crutch and accept that his way of doing things is different yet equally valid but he’s clearly somewhere near the beginning of that journey so it will take some time.
He has other ways to unwind from the stress of leadership; one of them is having a beer in a bar that he feels comfortable in and another is attending church on Sunday. All of this adds to a very quiet and compelling exploration of how Mack feels about his change in role and clearly outlines what he needs to overcome to become fully comfortable in this role.
One thing that he is championing is the growth of S.H.I.E.L.D. so all eyes are on recruitment. This is May’s main responsibility at this point and she is specifically tasked with recruiting “brains” because the is “plenty of muscle”. Her first recruit is Dr. Marcus Benson (Barry Shabaka Henley); a scientist who is drawn in by the fascinating prospect of studying a man stuck in a wall after a portal from somewhere in outer space goes horribly wrong. Mack wants him to head up a S.H.I.E.L.D. academy that will exist in honour of Coulson and guarantee the longevity of the organisation. It’s a strong plan especially if S.H.I.E.L.D. is to be rebranded as an organisation that protects the people and is defined by the integrity of its Director. Benson seems to be a good fit for that idea as his focus is on the expansion of knowledge.
Familiar faces like Elena are combined with new recruits like Keller (Lucas Bryant) who is a relatively recent addition to the team but seems to fully believe in Mack’s vision for the organisation. There is a potential complication caused by Elena and Keller being in a secret relationship that they are reluctant to go public with as they are concerned about what Mack would think about it. Keller fully understands the history Elena and Mack have and is willing to be patient with her for the moment plus he is concerned about how Mack will react. He also wants to tell him about it before he finds out some other way because he respects him so much.
It isn’t quite a love triangle and is being handled in a mature way where Mack’s feelings are the main sticking point. The immediacy of the issue is increased when May notices Keller flirting with Elena and also notices Elena actively working to not laugh at his jokes. This is perfectly in keeping with May’s spy skillset as she will be innately aware of unconscious signs that people are concealing information. She approaches Elena as a friend and advises her to pursue it as it isn’t worth going through life alone if you don’t have to. Moments like this are rare for May so this really stands out as an indication of how much her final days with Coulson have changed her. The suggestion is that she is more open to embracing the team as her family and is actively working to be more personally involved which contrasts with her more distanced approach in earlier seasons. Her relationship with Coulson is definitely the main driver for this but it also comes from all the time spent fighting alongside the others on the team. We know from an alternate timeline she has the potential to form deep and meaningful attachments even if that was a specifically maternal one.
The newly introduced villains are so far little more than a mystery. It’s unknown why they’re on Earth and what they plan to do now that they’ve arrived. It’s clear that they are formidable and their method of travel is visually spectacular while also having a measure of danger attached to it as shown by one of them becoming part of the wall when trying to travel through the portal. Their leader is referred to as “Sarge” and has Coulson’s face which adds to the sense of mystery as he as no idea what S.H.I.E.L.D. is so the reasons behind him wearing Coulson’s face seem to be unconnected. Of course it’s possible that he’s lying and not much can be concluded from the brief appearance but it could be a lot of fun seeing Clark Gregg taking on a different role and seeing how difficult it is for the team to separate their attachment to Coulson from the man who looks like him.
Daisy, Simmons, Piper and Davis are on an outer space mission trying to find the version of Fitz that had himself frozen to take the slower path to see his friends. It is quickly established that they have been at this for a while and are starting to burn out because they have been away from Earth for very long without a break. They also have the irritating problem of being constantly pursued by the Confederacy. There’s a lot going on here and almost all of it is really concerning. The effects of long term isolation are really profound on Daisy and Simmons in particular. Daisy has become cold and detached in a lot of ways and resorts to violence without any warning. Her justification is that strength needs to be shown in order to keep them safe but the others are starting to worry that this is inviting greater challenge in both frequency and power. This sets up a conflict that will likely see exploration in the coming episodes and likely sets up a major threat for the season.
Simmons is beyond obsessed with finding Fitz to the point where she’s willing to endanger the team in order to find him. It is identified that their next move should be to head back to Earth so they can rest, resupply and regroup. Simmons disagrees with this especially after they find the pod that Fitz once occupied and sees this as an encouraging lead that needs to be followed before the trail goes cold. She is completely on her own with this opinion as the other three want to return to Earth before resuming the search. It’s a fairly standard argument but it’s portrayed really well with the fatigue clear on both sides. In the case of Simmons this is contrasted by her obsessive determination. Ultimately she ends up forcing their hand and jumping the Zephyr deeper into space so that the search can continue.
The strained dynamic on the Zephyr carries this plot nicely even if it’s very predictable in terms of how it plays out. All of the actors do an excellent job portraying a small group of people who are exhausted by a fruitless mission. Piper and Davis receive less attention but add to the overall mood. They have a natural chemistry both with one another and with Daisy and Simmons. Some may find it jarring that this show has now moved into the realm of casual space travel but it feels like a natural continuation of the slow build towards this that has been happening over the past season or so. It’s visually very impressive and there’s an unpredictability to the setup that makes it feel unique. The specific focus on finding Fitz prevents it from becoming overcomplicated while also providing plenty of scope for varied threats.
These scenes excel in their quieter moments that keep the intergalactic adventure as grounded as it can be. Discovering Fitz’ empty pod and the reaction to that is the strongest example. Elizabeth Henstridge’s performance in the scene where she quietly regards the pod imaging the horrible things that may have happened to Fitz. It’s very subdued and dripping in emotion while serving as a reminder of everything that motivates Simmons at this point. It also sends a clear signal that the characters haven’t been forgotten about when it comes to delivering more ambitious stories.
Something that has to be remarked on is the lack of evidence that Thanos devastating snap has happened. Reasons for this have been given in interviews and I understand the reasoning though see it as a glaring omission considering Thanos was referred to on a number of occasions at the end of the previous season so to have this ignored is really jarring. Perhaps it will be references later in the season or maybe we just have to accept that the universe in general is taking it very well.
A strong and confident opening to the season that sets the stage for what is to come, builds mysteries well and does a good job juggling the various plots. Mack finding his feet as the Director establishes a strong arc for him to follow over the course of the season. it’s clear that the agents respect him but he’s still feigning confidence even though it’s clear that he is more than capable of doing the job well. Touches like consulting a Coulson hologram for advice on how to do the job and relaxing with a beer to get away from the stress of the job. It’s clear that this will develop into him finding his own way of doing things. This is starting to show itself such as his focus on recruitment and finding “brains”. What this will amount to is S.H.I.E.L.D. being a changed organisation after being rebuilt in Coulson’s honour and it’s a good direction to go. Dr. Marcus Benson is a good fit for this changed direction as his focus is on amassing knowledge with a genuine enthusiasm for scientific discovery. The other agents such as Elena and newcomer Keller are shown to fully believe in Mack’s vision for the organisation. Elena and Keller are also hiding a romantic relationship that May is starting to pick up on which could be complicated because of Elena and Mack’s prior connection. Thankfully this is being handled well with Keller wanting to be the one to tell Mack. May is becoming more open in general which suggests that she has accepted the team as her family and grown a lot through everything she has experienced. Her new dynamic with Mack is really strong and has lots of room to grow.
So far the villains are little more than a mystery but an engaging one. Their method of travel is visually interesting as well as clearly being very risky. Their leader wearing Coulson’s face is another compelling mystery as it seems that he has no idea who Coulson is unless he happens to be lying. At this stage it’s fine to have a lot of open questions as to who the villains are and what their plan entails. For now they’re formidable and that is sufficient for a first episode of the season. Daisy, Simmons, Piper and Davis are on an intergalactic adventure looking to find Fitz and bring him home. As the episode begins they have been in deep space for quite a while and tensions are running high. Daisy’s tendency towards violence and Simmons’ dangerous obsession lay the groundwork for problems that are going to get worse as the season progresses. The former invites escalation in the threats they face and the latter keeps them heading towards that danger. It’s handled fairly well but it’s fairly predictable in terms of how it plays out. This plot is at its best in quieter character moments such as the way Simmons reacts to the discovery of Fitz’ empty pod. Elizabeth Henstridge is excellent in this scene that serves as a reminder that the characters haven’t been forgotten about when telling more ambitious stories. It’s curious that the snap has been ignored even if the reasons behind it can be understood. Given how heavily Thanos was referenced at the end of the previous season it is something that should be addressed especially with this show existing in the same universe.
- Mack’s difficulties finding his feet as Director
- Mack and May’s dynamic
- the introduction of Dr. Marcus Benson
- mysterious villains
- establishing the tense atmosphere in the intergalactic Fitz hunt plot
- not losing the quieter moments
- the outer space plot playing out predictably
- not addressing the snap
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