NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, including multiple major character deaths, are present in this review
Fitz has finally returned! Thus, after the entire run of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s seventh and final season, the OG S.H.I.E.L.D. crew is finally back together again, just in time to begin the final battle against the Chronicom menace. “What We’re Fighting For” delivers the second half to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s series finale storyline this week, bringing the battle against the Chronicoms to a close, while resolving the current fates of these fan-favourite characters that series loyalists, and Marvel enthusiasts in general, have likely been following for seven whole years now. This truly marks the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s years-running television arm as well, which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first kicked off all the way back in 2013, before the recent dissolving of Marvel Television led to most of the MCU’s surviving TV offerings abruptly concluding their runs. Excluding the oddball outlier of Marvel’s Helstrom debuting on Hulu this Fall (for the U.S. anyway. Who knows how it’s being released internationally at this point!), this isn’t just the end for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but for the current incarnation of Marvel Television as we know it.
Thus, a lot of pressure is on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to deliver a satisfying wrap-up to not just itself, but the entire Marvel subsidiary that spawned it (considering that Helstrom appears to be too shy about its origins to properly sport Marvel branding at this point). Fortunately, “What We’re Fighting For” rises to the occasion, creating a fun, mostly satisfying conclusion for the lingering S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, while noticeably leaving the door open for their potential re-appearances in the MCU down the line. For now though, there’s still a battle against the Chronicoms to win, and that begins with Fitz finally, at long last, delivering more concrete insight into how the Quantum Realm works, and how he’s been able to monitor timelines for solutions against the Chronicom invasion, Doctor Strange-style.
This mercifully provides a more consistent, ironclad explanation as to how time travel works in the MCU, in contrast to the slightly clumsy way it was established in Avengers: Endgame last year. You see, according to Fitz, the Quantum Realm, true to its name, essentially allows the mainline MCU continuity to exist on a linear timeline, so long as you have an, “Anchor point” preventing you from getting lost in the infinite possibilities of time. With Fitz and Simmons thus inventing a time machine over the years with Enoch, they essentially reversed and exploited The Ancient One’s warning from Avengers: Endgame, namely by creating an artificial time loop out of their own timeline, one anchored around last season’s climax at Izel’s temple. This allowed Fitz and Simmons to intentionally create an alternate reality that worked to their advantage, by having the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, sans Fitz (who was in the time-removed Quantum Realm), piggyback off of the Chronicoms’ own efforts to tamper with Earth’s and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history, as Simmons previously indicated with the Time Drive mechanics. At the same time, Fitz also set a trap through his timeline manipulation, allowing the heroes to forcibly lure the Chronicoms back to their own timeline and trap them there, thus also saving the alternate reality from them in the process. The only problem is, someone has to stay behind in the alternate reality to flip the switch and spring the trap.
This is a fantastic way to amend and utilize the Quantum Realm-powered time travel mechanics that were showcased in Avengers: Endgame, finally allowing those time travel rules for the MCU to make a little more sense, while at the same time providing a surprisingly inspired way to defeat Sibyl and the Chronicom fleet. Despite Sousa initially volunteering to stay in the alternate timeline as well, it’s ultimately Deke that stays behind, since he’s already reached rock stardom in this alternate reality, and is a man out of time himself anyway. Deke’s presence in the original timeline is truly the biggest anomaly, and despite Enoch’s warnings, the idea that S.H.I.E.L.D. could never be in the same room all together again simply amounts to Deke having to stay behind in the other timeline, in order to successfully get rid of the Chronicoms. While undeniably bittersweet for fans of Deke’s character, it is nonetheless true that Deke is the logical choice to sacrifice his existence in the former timeline, especially when he’ll eventually be born back into the MCU’s main timeline anyway, in theory.
So, with Deke and Fitz putting their heads together to create an extended Time Drive ‘bubble’ out in space, the Zephyr effectively ‘lures’ the Chronicoms into the Quantum Realm, before Fitz’s anchor returns the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to the MCU’s regular timeline, carrying Sibyl’s and Nathaniel’s Chronicom fleet in tow. This turn is particularly great news for MCU loyalists, since it allays my former fear that the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, along with the Marvel Television characters in general, would possibly be banished to an alternate timeline in the end, thus preventing them from ever interacting with any MCU media in the future. Fortunately, in the case of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at least, that didn’t come to pass. The crew even manages to stay together for one last battle as well, after they invade Sibyl’s ship, and take on the Chronicoms one last time.
This entire episode’s heist-flavoured direction also feels very true to the style of Avengers: Endgame, especially when it carries over onto Sibyl’s ship. Even here, the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew brilliantly uses Sibyl’s calculations against her, taking out all of the Chronicoms in their way via a war of attrition, while also successfully rescuing Kora, since, according to Fitz, Kora is the key to defeating the Chronicoms for good. Even this rescue operation had a nicely creative hook too, despite it once again having to involve Nathaniel childishly defying Sibyl, and giving himself Kora’s powers, on top of Daisy’s powers. This creates a dangerous, highly unstable foe for Daisy to engage in one last battle, creating a highlight action scene, as Daisy must battle not only her own abilities, but that of her long lost sister as well! Ultimately though, Daisy tricks Nathaniel into destroying the Chronicoms’ delicate, radioactive machinery, which blows up the entire fleet, essentially stopping the invasion in its tracks, and saving the world from the Chronicoms, while killing Nathaniel in the process. Fitz, Simmons and Yo-Yo also take back the Lighthouse in turn, before Coulson and May trick Sibyl into inputting her authorization earlier on, allowing the agents to broadcast a signal, with some help from Kora, that disarms every Chronicom on the ground, and removes their hostile programming before they take back the Lighthouse. Handy!
This roundabout, crazy solution is cleverly realized and very true to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even if it does also serve as the point where the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew breaks up, and goes their separate ways. Still, a heartwarming epilogue also takes place in the final minutes of this finale, showing the agents virtually getting back together at Enoch’s old bar, one year after the Chronicoms’ defeat, whereupon they reconnect, and insist that they make it an annual tradition to do so. This is where we see some varied resolutions for each Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. personality, all of which feel fitting. Fitz and Simmons opt to retire and raise their recently-born daughter, Alya (even if Simmons still sneaks off to analyze data for Daisy sometimes), the LMD Coulson decides to see the world on his own terms, and May opts to teach at the freshly-opened Coulson Academy. In fact, this epilogue scene features an especially exciting duo of promising teases from the other characters regarding future MCU developments as well, with one even potentially tying into those otherwise head-scratching post-credits scenes from Spider-Man: Far From Home!
This tease specifically comes via Daisy appearing to confirm, albeit without bluntly stating it, that she, Kora and Sousa have all joined (and possibly founded) S.W.O.R.D., an offshoot of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Marvel Comics lore, which deals with assessing and studying potential alien threats out in space. Spider-Man: Far From Home also appeared to tease S.W.O.R.D. during its second post-credits scene, which showed Nick Fury ordering Skrulls around at what seemed to be a S.W.O.R.D. base. S.W.O.R.D. was formerly believed to be tied up in the Fox Marvel rights, specifically with its clear ties to the X-Men franchise (a reference to its existence in the MCU was even forcibly deleted from 2011’s Thor, presumably for this reason), but now that we know for sure that S.W.O.R.D. will be featured in this Winter’s MCU-set Disney+ series, WandaVision, it’s not unreasonable to think that Daisy, Kora and Sousa could be being teased for an appearance as S.W.O.R.D. agents on that show, or in the MCU’s future. Likewise, Mack continuing to serve as director for what appears to be a freshly-outfitted S.H.I.E.L.D. operation, complete with Yo-Yo working alongside Piper and an LMD Davis as an agent under Mack’s command, potentially suggests that S.H.I.E.L.D. could finally be re-legitimized in the MCU, starting in Phase Four. This seemed to be the end goal for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. practically from the beginning, and that’s good, since the big twist from Captain America: The Winter Soldier has probably gone as far as it can go at this point, especially with Steve Rogers now having retired as Captain America.
Whatever ends up happening in future however, it’s awesome to see that, even if they aren’t fully a unit anymore, and their flagship series has ended, the separate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters could still find ways to feature in the MCU in the years ahead. Whether it’s Daisy, Sousa and/or Kora showing up as S.W.O.R.D. agents, May being consulted as a celebrated professor, Mack and Yo-Yo finally delivering some fresh S.H.I.E.L.D. resources to a new roster of Avengers, or a wandering LMD Coulson being a potential wild card that carries all sorts of possibilities, this series finale for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels like an exciting new beginning as much as it does a bittersweet ending. “What We’re Fighting For” still has to rely on Kora bouncing around as the script demands, and Nathaniel trading in his former deviousness for more head-scratching childishness, but despite that, the final battle against the Chronicoms still came to a satisfying, remarkably clever end. The clear callbacks to the ‘time heist’ from Avengers: Endgame are icing on the cake for die-hard MCU enthusiasts as well, who can rest assured that these characters still carry esteemed stations in the MCU, even with their team seemingly disbanded. Deke is pretty firmly stuck in another reality, which is too bad for fans of his character, but I’m nonetheless thrilled to see that the Marvel Television canon doesn’t appear to be being scrubbed away by the MCU’s rapidly approaching new era. Now if only we could get some solid plans to bring the MCU’s Netflix characters back…
- Clever, satisfying defeat for Nathaniel and the Chronicoms
- Awesome callbacks to Avengers: Endgame throughout
- Fitting new stations for the characters that leave the door open for future MCU roles
- Nathaniel continuing to fall apart as a credible villain