Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Real Deal

"There's an idea, a symbol that must continue, no matter what. A S.H.I.E.L.D."

For its landmark episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pauses the arc and focuses on the person that started it all. It's an hour devoted to Coulson, the man behind the S.H.I.E.L.D., as his dying status is disclosed and he decides to (possibly) sacrifice himself to save the team.

I want to start this review addressing that this episode was hyped. A lot. It was called a game changer, Clark Gregg said that it would destroy fans, and Elizabeth Henstridge told us to trust that we would not be disappointed. The truth is: it was not a game changer, the "destroy the fans" bit was nothing but misdirection, and while I wouldn't say I was disappointed – because I was not – the episode didn't really live up to the hype. I'm not going to hold the hype against this episode, though, because "The Real Deal" was pretty great, albeit having a couple of flaws.

This episode suffered from the same problem as "World's End": there was a lot going on in 43 minutes and some of the proceedings were rushed. Case in point, the transition from Coulson closing the rift to Fitzsimmons getting married was off. Coulson reveals he is terminally ill, goes to his possible self-sacrifice, survives and that's it. Next thing you know, there is a funny elevator scene and the wedding. May and Daisy are there, all happy. But what were their reactions to Coulson surviving? We never see them. There is no emotional relief, and that diminishes the power of what Coulson just went through.

At first, the whole thing was so surreal that I thought the rift was not contained and that something horrible was going to happen. I was on the freaking edge of my seat throughout the entire wedding ceremony, and it was a pleasant surprise when everyone survived the scene and the episode closed on a happy note.

Another flaw of the episode was the mostly pedestrian appearances of monsters past. I get that it was not about the physical threat, but why throw Lash and Hive into the episode and have them killed in two seconds? I also get that the show is working with a smaller budget now, but Lash is all prosthetic, there is no excuse there.

Now that I have addressed what could have been better, let's talk about what worked, because there was a lot that did.

"The Real Deal" was a quiet, contained hour that played with two classic genre tropes. Early into the episode, Fitz tells the team that the explosion and merge of the Monoliths have created an interdimensional rift to a "fear dimension", a very Buffy-esque gimmick if you ask me. I expected each character to have their fears explored, but once Coulson's dying status was disclosed, that became the focus of the story and everyone else's fears only manifested in small doses. Later, Coulson faces his deepest fear, and that's when the show borrows ideas from another trope – is it all just a dream?


But the story doesn't feel derivative at all. The exploration of Coulson's psyche was quite fascinating. I don't know if I have said this before (my memory is not the sharpest), but I really love how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings back characters' past traumas in inventive ways. Whether it's May killing an Inhuman child or Coulson going through actual death, these are defining moments for these people, so of course they will relive them. At the hands of less capable writers, revisiting those moments could lead to tediousness. Thankfully, Jed, Mo and Jeff are more than capable of pulling it off.

Coulson's biggest fear is that all of his accomplishments since being resurrected are irrelevant – as in, they could all be a product of his own mind. This fear comes to the surface not only because of the rift but because Coulson is dying again. He is not sure that his borrowed time was worth it. Fake Mike nearly convinces Coulson that everything is a figment and that he should just go into the light, but Coulson has enough of belief in himself and his time not to give in. Enter real Mike, the much missed Deathlok, who kills Fake Mike and helps Coulson contain the rift. Hope triumphs over fear. And that Deathlok entrance was amazing!

But not everything is solved, because Coulson is still dying. Earlier in the episode, the team was heartbroken to learn the news. Jemma could barely tell them. And what is killing Coulson makes sense, you know? I mean, the Ghost Rider is not punishing him or anything, the Rider simply "noticed" Coulson has died already and, as a ruler of life and death, he undid the Kree voodoo that resurrected Coulson.


All the actors made a good job reacting to the news, but I want to talk specifically about Chloe Bennet. She did terrific work, first when Daisy accused Coulson of making life and death decisions for them but failing to share his own illness, and when she said that Coulson was what she believed in. What an evolution since the beginning of the series! Gold acting stars for Ms. Bennet.

May also has a one-on-one conversation with Coulson, and it's a moment that showcases how well the writers know these characters, and more importantly how much they respect them. There is no forced drama, May and Coulson share no tears but emotions still fly high. They are lifelong friends with a hint of romance, veteran soldiers who admire one another beyond words.

When Coulson is not at the center of the episode, the two main couples of the show are. First, we check on Yo-Yo and see how she is doing after losing her arms. Always brave and ready for battle, Yo-Yo seems more focused on preventing the end of the world than on feeling sorry for herself. Hey, that's totally logical, but it's admirable of her to get there so quickly. Yo-Yo tells Mack that she will get through her current situation with his help, and he reassures his complete devotion to her. It was possibly the most powerful moment between the two of them.

Finally, there was the Fitzsimmons wedding. Okay, I need to say again that it happens a bit too fast. The team has just learned Coulson is dying and it's been like, what, two days since Yo-Yo lost her arms? How the hell are these people in the mood for a wedding? I get Coulson's point that they needed something, anything happy going on. Maybe Coulson even said "I might drop dead in ten minutes, can I at least see you guys get married?" But what about Yo-Yo? Did she give her blessing for the wedding to happen at such a precarious moment for her?


All of that aside, the wedding was beautiful. I mean, what a gorgeous setting, and it was all so perfectly written and acted. I got all teary-eyed. I might have had my reservations towards Fitz and Simmons becoming romantically involved at first, but I can't see them in any other way now. The surprise wedding was just the coronation this couple deserved. And that geeky laugh they had at the end? Aw, it melts my heart.

As a bonus, we got confirmation that Deke is Fitzsimmons' descendant, which was immensely cool. The writers nailed the timing of the revelation. It was just perfect and more timey-wimey craziness – I won't get into that, my head will hurt – that Deke was the one who picked Jemma's wedding ring. She is his grandma, after all. How awesome is it to be Deke right now? The guy has left a wrecked world behind, he gets to enjoy the delights of an intact Earth and hang out with the grandparents he had never met before (as elders). And we now know that Fitzsimmons will have descendants, their love will live on, which was just the perfect way to close this emotional milestone episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Intel and Assets

- I'm borrowing the "title musings" section from fellow reviewer Victoria Grossack: At first, "The Real Deal" refers to Coulson's deal with the Rider, but it's also about Coulson himself. Fake Mike says that Coulson is the real deal, which is a callback to Coulson's speech to Mike in the very first episode of the series. It's a perfect title for the one hundredth episode.

- Future-Is-Coming-True Watch: Fitzsimmons got married.

- Not only Deke arranged the wedding details, his fear of a pretty forest brought to life the place his grandparents got married at.

- I kind of expected Deke to have an epiphany and realize that he hadn't picked a ring that was just similar to his grandmother's, that Jemma wearing that ring could only mean that she was his grandmother. I want him to find out first and be all goofy around Fitzsimmons before telling them. Yes, I'm ridiculously excited about this particular development.

How adorable is Deke now?
- Something Simmons said about Deke a few episodes ago: "oh, kill him, he's a snake." Ha! I love it.

- Will Fitzsimmons be their surname now?

- Some people have come up with a theory that Coulson was absorbed by the fear dimension and what we are watching now is either Coulson hallucinating or the Earth under the fear dimension's influence. I'm not sure that would work, it could be one twist too many.

- It's ridiculous that Fitz would so quickly create and build a device able to contain a interdimensional rift. Come on.

Those are all pretty basic equations, Leopold.
- Davis is alive! That was a nice surprise.

- Where were Bobbi and Hunter, though? It's preposterous that they didn't make it to the wedding. Also, shouldn't the team have already reached out to them to get in contact with Robin? She is literally responsible for sending them to the future and she might have more valuable intel.

- The showrunners have announced that they are writing the season finale as a possible series finale. Brace yourselves, people. I would hate to see this show end, it has been at such a creative high. In any case, I'm glad to know that they are prepared to bow out at their own terms.

Coulson: "I'd say that's impossible, but after our round trip to Tomorrowland, my threshold for preposterous is way out of whack."

Mack (to Yo-Yo): "You are the only world I care about."

Coulson: "The last thing you need is to waste your time on another lost cause."
May: "Who I waste my time on is for me to decide."

Coulson: "I won't be around forever, and despite appearances to the contrary, neither will you."

Daisy: "Can you hear me?"
Coulson: "Five by five."

Daisy: "This isn't Hydra, Leopold."
Wow, Daisy went in for the kill.

Fake Mike: "At least now you admit you're dying. What's the hardest part?"
Coulson: "The life I have yet to live."

Deke: "So, you full cyborg? Or..."
Mike: "Yeah."
Deke: "Cool."

Simmons' vows: "Fitz, I knew from the moment I saw you, from our first conversation about dielectric polarization, that you'd be in my life for a long time. But I didn't know you would be my life. My heart, my home. We joined this team for adventures and got more than we had hoped. But I can't wait for our next adventure, building a family together. My love for you grows deeper and always will, no matter where the universe takes us next."

Fitz' vows: "I've been thinking about what to say. Just... words don't really seem enough. I think that you are perfect. And I don't deserve you, Jemma, I don't, I don't deserve you. And I'm well aware that I'm the luckiest man on any planet."

A beautiful celebration of one hundred episodes. It was not perfect, but I'm going to use Billie's rule here: if it makes me cry, it gets a four. So, four out of four wedding rings.

9 comments:

Lamounier said...

Guys, I apologize for being so late with this review. The last couple of weeks have been crazy for me.

Anonymous said...

Hooray the review is here.

Definitely right about the World's End problem. There was too much in it as a result everything was lessened for its inclusion. You could have had either Coulson's demise news and the wedding, Coulson's demise new and the fear dimension stuff or the fear dimension and the wedding. Doing all three at once took away from each somewhat. Namely there was a fear dimension going on AND they learned Coulson was dying and half their focus was on getting that wedding prepared. Da hell?

I have a feeling if Ron Glass was still alive his character probably would have been the ideal person to try and convince Coulson that everything was fake. Maria Hill also would have worked (Fury and Stark would have also been appropriate but I don't think the show can have that kind of clout anymore, nice Iron Man mask cameo tho). Still Deathlok was a good guest for the 100th.

While everyone reacting to the death news was probably the highlight of the episode (actings stars for everyone) I have to say Coulson is being kind of dick allowing himself to die and pretty much forcing Daisy to take command. There were and are a lot of outs in this situation and he's apparently unwilling to endure anything that might let him live because he's either cowardly, apathetic or lazy. Again it wouldn't be so bad if he didn't take away Daisy's choice to stay in the future (which could potentially cause the near extinction of humanity) but the SHIELD crew is apparently supposed to just go along with his death willingly.

Although on the "Coulson's death" thing it would sure be nice if Yo Yo actually would tell them about how the SHIELD crew's attempts to save him being what actually causes the Apocalypse in the future. Seems like that would be an important thing to bring up.

While Fitzsimmons might have descendants in that future the fact is the the future is pretty likely to change at some point given the MCU still needs the Earth. So unless the multiverse theory thing is true Deke is probably gonna end up erased from the timeline and Fitz or Simmons (or any of the crew that survived the that timeline's Earth destruction) could still potentially be killed in the show's present and forward on.

I'm kind of bummed if this IS the final season since I feel that since the very end of Season 4 there have been some MAJOR writings problems. Still at least we'll have a sufficient wrap up at any rate and the characters that survive can hopefully appear in more MCU properties.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Lamounier. And congratulations on posting our 8,000th review! 8,000! Woo hoo! Appropriate that it was a milestone episode of a Whedon-related show.

Lamounier said...

Wow, this is so cool, Billie! Cheers to Doux Reviews! Yay. Here is to thousands more reviews.

----

You could have had either Coulson's demise news and the wedding, Coulson's demise new and the fear dimension stuff or the fear dimension and the wedding. Doing all three at once took away from each somewhat.

Yes, you nailed it.

Patryk said...

So Fear Itself and Normal Again in one episode. I felt the Whedoness in this episopde very strongly. :D

It's very prudent of the the writers to treat the season finale as a series finale. After all we just watched the 100 episode (which is apparently the number required for syndication) so there is nothing that can motivate the network to renew it. And Coulson dying would solve the issue of him maybe appearing in the movies after Infinity War.

Also: great that it's confirmed that FitzSimmons won't die, at least in thte current timeline.

em said...

It's a nice show.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

Loved this episode! Yes, there were a few issues, but it brought so much full circle and was full of Whedon-y goodness.

I bought the apparent ease of closing the rift since they mention it's essentially a bandaid. I do wish they'd brought back more past villains (and let Hive wear Ward's face, to have the entire original cast back for the 100th). It was nice that they made Mike/Deathlok such a big part of it, though.

I didn't see this as a game-changer of an episode either - but if the writers do plan to have Coulson die, this is the beginning of that. I do like the impact of it being his original injury that's killing him - again. Does anyone else remember the #CoulsonLives rumors and fan tweets that were going out after The Avengers? And then this wonderful, impossible show was announced.

Though Coulson was experiencing plenty of weird things before he died, so, while things have had lots of additional weirdness in the show, that argument for it being "all in his head" rang very hollow.

I am so loving that Deke is Fitzsimmons' grandson! I'm getting lovely River Song with her parents vibes from this development. I'll save most of my thoughts about this for the next episode's review, though.

The wedding was lovely, though I did miss having Yo-Yo there. However, I don't see her as being super close to Fitz or Simmons, and if it was discussed with her (which likely happened, offscreen to not spoil the surprise), I'm sure she would have been urging them to go and make the most of the time they have before more of the future starts coming true. And I'm sure they wanted to be certain Coulson was there. Really, they haven't had a lull in the action since the LMDs - so why try and wait for a better time?

Anonymous said...

"Though Coulson was experiencing plenty of weird things before he died, so, while things have had lots of additional weirdness in the show, that argument for it being "all in his head" rang very hollow."

That's what I was thinking. I mean Coulson was a government agent in the Marvel Universe for years so trying to pretend that all the weird stuff he experienced since he came back had a rational explanation is just silly. Honestly if they were gonna try and pull this kind of "none of it's real" story with anybody it should have been Daisy. I mean a fantasy where you go from being an orphan hacker (with fab hair tho) to a superhero is much more prone to being a fantasy. I also would have liked a scene with Deathlok and Daisy together given how their relationship began. Also it'd be nice for her to actual have her powers back instead of this stupid implant. Yeah I like Daisy, what of it? Damn budget cuts!!!

Not really a big fan of the Deke plot (and not only because I guessed it as a hypothetical a couple months back (although helped by some season premiere spoilers/theories).

And yeah it would have been nice for Brett Dalton to be in this episode.

Lamounier said...

Really, they haven't had a lull in the action since the LMDs - so why try and wait for a better time?

That's actually a very good point, Katie.

As for the "it's all in Coulson's mind" subplot, I don't think the show was trying to make us believe that. While Fake Mike tried to deceive Coulson, the show cut to the agents worrying about Coulson as well as to the arrival of Deathlok, thus keeping us grounded in the reality of the series.

I also think - and this is something I planned to address in the review, but forgot to - that the whole scene was also a meta commentary on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s role in the MCU. S.H.I.E.L.D. is, by far, the show that has the biggest link to the movies, and yet no MCU movie has ever acknowledged the series. No cameo, no line (that vague line from Fury in Age of Ultron does not count), nothing. So does the show matter? Will it count in the future? Or when the movies decide to have a Daisy Johnson, they'll ignore S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Quake? In-universe, will the characters of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. matter or will they be disregarded as unreal?

So, when Coulson takes his stand for what he believes to be real, I can see it as the show taking a stand for itself. It is saying "we matter, our one hundreds hours of stories matter."