NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, including a major character death, are present in this review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in a very tricky position with the start of its sixth season. After the fifth season was originally speculated to be the end of the show by much of the writing team, the series offered a pretty definitive conclusion with its fifth season finale last year, most notably a definitive conclusion to the story arc of Phil Coulson, who is now confirmed to have definitely died once again after the Season Five finale’s events. Not only that, but after ABC picked up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a surprise sixth season (as well as a seventh!), the network also moved the show to Summer, where it would have the difficult task of addressing the canon-changing events of Avengers: Endgame, released in theatres a couple of weeks beforehand, as well as potentially the post-Snap era that was kicked off with Spider-Man: Far From Home a couple of months of real-world time afterward. Considering that the new season’s release timetable was formerly up in the air, and the universe-altering conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War seemingly happened just a day or two after the events of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fifth season finale, this creates a canonical mess, one that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sixth season would now have to deal with.
Fortunately, the good news about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Season Six premiere, titled, “Missing Pieces”, is that it’s a very strong episode, one that shuffles the character dynamic quite extensively, while still keeping the storytelling plenty interesting and engaging. Now with Coulson having passed away for good this time, Mack has taken over as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., a smart choice that allows the show to experiment with some of its new personalities on Earth. I mention Earth specifically, since veteran agents, Daisy and Simmons now headline the effort to look for the missing Fitz in deep space, who is now even more missing, after a mysterious event rips his and Enoch’s ship in half!
These initial mysteries hit the ground running very well, and keep the excitement plenty high for fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Marvel fans in general. That’s why it’s unfortunate that the show having to work around the massive events of Avengers: Endgame creates several sticking points in the storytelling, which will prove incredibly distracting for Marvel Cinematic Universe enthusiasts. There is a one-year time jump after the events of the Season Five finale as Season Six begins, which fits nicely with ABC moving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. out of their regular season lineup and into their Summer programming lineup, but this means that the sixth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seemingly takes place when half of the universe is still dead from Thanos’ Infinity Stone-powered snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, despite none of the returning Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters having been killed by the snap. This kind of coincidence isn’t impossible, since all of the OG Avengers survived the snap, just as Peter Parker and all of his main classmates at Midtown High all died in the snap, but it is pretty damn unlikely, not to mention annoying that the show suddenly doesn’t appear to be following the canon of the MCU’s movies at all.
If you can deal with the fact that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is seemingly screwing with MCU canon during the start of its sixth season however, the storyline contained in this season premiere is still a very strong one when taken on its own merits, divorced from the rest of what’s going on in the MCU at this point. Splitting the characters between two different factions nicely keeps the scope of the show very widespread, with the quest to find Fitz in space being effectively balanced by the effort to stop a new threat on Earth. Apparently, mysterious reality distortions have been occurring across the planet in the year since Coulson’s death, which Mack is attempting to study and stop with his S.H.I.E.L.D. teams, two of which are headlined by May and Yo-Yo. Apparently, Mack and Yo-Yo have broken up off-screen as well, with Yo-Yo now pursuing a secret affair with another agent named Keller. This is a bold switch, but one that ties in nicely with Mack struggling to fill Coulson’s shoes. Mack even continually plays back holographic last instructions from Coulson at regular intervals, indicating that he still doesn’t feel up to the job, despite the fact that he’s well-liked and respected by the other agents. It’s a good character shift for Mack, and his tenure as director seems like it’s being realized very well from a narrative standpoint so far, which is great!
The unfolding mystery with the reality distortions is also pretty cool, continuing to allow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep re-inventing itself and its threats with every new season. In this case, strange, cybernetic people appear to be coming through anomalies like buses with holes, desert lakes that suddenly freeze, and concrete that seems to temporarily melt. After trying and failing to apprehend one of the mysterious people, Mack’s agents pursue the evidence to a museum in Indiana, with some help from Dr. Benson, a new S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy researcher that May and Mack attempt to recruit shortly beforehand. Despite Mack’s team’s best efforts however, the museum ends up destroyed, and the apparent leader of the mysterious individuals comes to Earth. The big twist here is that the new villains’ leader looks exactly like Coulson to boot! The guy obviously isn’t Coulson though, and is instead known as, “Sarge”, a stoic and uncompromising military man with some unknown agenda for Earth. This is a fantastic twist, one that effectively allows Clark Gregg to keep being a part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s lead ensemble, even after Coulson’s permanent death, while still allowing Gregg a convenient opportunity to direct this season premiere as well!
The effort to find Fitz in space is also realized excellently, with Simmons and Daisy being battered, exhausted, and reduced to a skeleton crew that now merely includes B-team agents, Piper and Davis. Making Piper and Davis a bigger part of the show, at least for the spacefaring plot, is a good idea, as is portraying an increasingly desperate Simmons and Daisy becoming harsher and more violent, and now making quick work of any hostile aliens they come across. The group does manage to find Fitz’s cryo pod as well, though neither Fitz nor Enoch are anywhere in sight. This motivates Daisy, Davis and Piper to order a return to Earth, though Simmons refuses to go along with the plan, forcibly sending their ship to a nearby planet where Fitz appears to have gone, right when a ‘Confederacy Destroyer’ targets the S.H.I.E.L.D. craft. Simmons’ controversial decision is bound to have plenty of exciting consequences to look forward to, and better still, Fitz is revealed to be alive and well in an epilogue scene, wherein he’s speaking an alien language, and working on a mysterious tinkering project. Just what exactly are the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew going to find when they finally make their way back to Fitz? It seems like he may not even truly be Fitz anymore!
It’s awesome to see that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. once again remains a standout show with its latest re-invention in Season Six, even considering its former lead character now being dead, and the conclusion of the previous season seeming like a pretty definitive ending for the overall series. Season Six also appears to clash with the rest of MCU canon at this point though, and that’s very distracting, even if it is possible that the series has now potentially been moved to a parallel timeline, which will allow it to better choose when it feels like referencing the events of the MCU’s movie catalogue. The events of Avengers: Endgame could still allow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to effectively exist in the MCU amid this canonical confusion, namely within one of the parallel realities created after the events of that movie, but perhaps this show is fully doing its own thing now, and maybe that’s fine. Regardless, the mystery of Sarge and his resemblance to Coulson, the mystery of Fitz and his new alien surroundings, and the mystery of the reality distortions seemingly created by Sarge’s crew, all create plenty of promising story material for the new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to explore, particularly when the character drama also remains as strong as ever!
- Effective splitting of the S.H.I.E.L.D. factions between Earth and space
- Exciting mystery with Sarge and the reality distortions
- Dramatic, desperate tension with the quest to find Fitz
- Storytelling openly clashes with the events of Avengers: Endgame