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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 21 / 22 - "Absolution"/"Ascension"

Daniel Rasmus

Daisy Johnson's three-season journey from hacker to agent to outcast shows that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been her story.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 21 / 22 - "Absolution"/"Ascension"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2016-05-17

In some ways, it wasn't a surprise. Although the episodes' directors played hide the cross for much of the show, in hindsight, it had to be Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), not because he was the Inhuman most likely to kill Hive (Brett Dalton), but because his death was most likely to hurt Daisy (Chloe Bennet). After all, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really always been Daisy "Skye" Johnson's story.

Much gets conflated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); it’s proven difficult for a canvas that big to focus on a single character. Team Marvel, however, has succeeded pretty well in focusing on Agent Peggy Carter, though (just to see her series canceled after a two-year run) and on Jessica Jones.

While Daisy was always an important element of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show seemed billed as Phil Coulson's (Clark Gregg) story, with the main line aiming directly at exploring how a secret agency, infiltrated by a Big Bad (Hydra in this case) and discredited, still tries to perform its mission as it works in the shadows to rehabilitate its reputation. The show even took that position as late as episode 20, "Emancipation", as General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) suggests to Coulson that signing the Sokovia Accords is the path to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s return.

Yet there was Daisy in the end, drained and angry, guilty and rejected. Lash (Matthew Willig) not only cured her of Hive's sway, he made her immune to it. Unable to be reconnected to Hive's endorphin-generating collective, Daisy does what so many addicts with no other path forward do: first, lashing out at what she can’t have; second, becoming angry at the world; and third, if addicts survives their own anger, finding a personal path back to peace.

So we see Daisy in the epilogue to the season finale, no longer afraid of her powers, back in the shadows, being hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D., and it seems, regularly outfoxing them. She's helping Charlie Hinton's (Bjorn Johnson) family find its way back to normalcy after the loss of husband and father. Given the headlines, however, she may be living in the shadows, but she operates in the open, wrecking havoc at strategic locations.

The season ends with this glimpse into Daisy's new journey, a journey that simultaneously hints of retribution and mercy, absolution and fear. This is just the latest leg of a long journey for a young woman. Daisy was born of a physician bent on recreating the formula that created Captain America, and an Inhuman mother with an abnormal life span and healing capabilities. She was given up to the foster care system, and like many brilliant and undersupervised foster children, she forged a path that leaned toward the edge of legality. Skye became a hacktivist with Rising Tide, an organization dedicated to the revelation of people with powers. S.H.I.E.L.D. thought she was a threat, and then realized she was an asset, and eventually understood she was part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own history. Daisy's life was a roller coaster before and after her affiliation with S.H.I.E.L.D. During her tenure as captive-newbie-agent-captive, Coulson and team vacillated between trust and reliance, skepticism and fear.

Three seasons of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have allowed the audience to follow Daisy from outsider to family member, from orphan to daughter with more than one family -- none of those families normal nor functional -- from threat to agent. As the world spins out of control, she sits at the nadir of a personal centrifuge, relationships and people torn from her by forces beyond her control, while she tucks in her arms, going ever faster, her future unfolding as her past flies off in every direction.

There's another way that Marvel could go. Daisy has great parallels with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), delivered into the MCU through Netflix with a micro-focus on her character. Perhaps that’s where S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to go next, to do justice to Daisy, to save the show’s future.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s main flaw has always been that it tries to be too many things. In some ways it is, or should be, the glue between television and films, but that relationship is forced at best, and often ill-timed. The destruction of confidence in S.H.I.E.L.D. is pushed into the show, as are the Sokovia Accords, but there’s scant follow-through. Phil Coulson's resurrection after his death in The Avengers is the biggest touch-point, including the alien technology used to bring him back, but we've now seen two movies of the blockbuster variety that don't mention Coulson. It would've been nice to see him on the Helicarrier helping coordinate the evacuation of Sokovia, and equally interesting to see him help mediate the Civil War. His absence, be it from design or by lack of availability, or by some agreement between the films and television side of ABC seemed a slight, an opportunity lost. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should've received its own trailer during the Captain America: Civil War theatrical release. Instead, the connections remain tenuous, unable to truly cross the chasm.

Those are all issues way beyond the pay grade of this reviewer or the viewers of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. What matters to us is that ABC find a formula that attracts enough viewers to keep those show going into a fifth season, and that the fourth season not be an underinvested swan song.

That best chance perhaps, comes from Daisy Johnson and her quest to belong, from her leadership of the Secret Warriors and her relationships with other Inhumans. Clearly, ABC doesn't really know what it wants Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be. My answer: a show about a girl, standing before an audience, asking them to love her.

See you next season.


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