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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is a show that has had a slow start. Many people could not get past the first season and even the second and the third were dogged by some serious issues. However, Season 4 demonstrated a show that had come into its own. It was a confident and solid outing that showed how far the show had come and I went into Season 5 hoping they could keep up the ante. The answer is...kind of. Season 5 was still a good season but had problems that did not seem to dog Season 4 as much. Some of those problems were unavoidable but others were due to some bad decisions.
The first arc of the show felt a bit slow, when the team were in space. A lot of time was spent on exposition and the reveals felt piecemeal. It was hard to care about characters in the future because we all knew the team would go back in time and probably undo the entire arc of the Earth being shattered. I don't think anyone for a minute felt the team would not succeed in that endeavour so anything that happened to the future people was just hard to care about. However, them returning to their time felt good and Deke, who started off as a seriously annoying character really came into his own as the fish out of water character in the present.
Where the show was strongest was in keeping us guessing who the Destroyer of Worlds would be. We thought for a moment it might be Daisy, or possibly Ruby Hale when she was popping up, but then it turned out to be Talbot, a character who we have seen from Season 1. Talbot probably plays one of the better villains in the show because we have seen his sympathetic side and we know that he is the hero of his own story. He infuses himself with gravitonium to save the team from an alien invasion but then loses his mind completely due to the torture and the harmful effect of gravitonium but yet none of his breaks go too far because we still see the character shining through and feel sad when he has to be killed. The role of Coulson finally accepting his fate and giving Daisy the serum needed to defeat Coulson rather than use it on himself was great and it was good that the show was willing to actually kill off one of its signature characters at the right time, which felt really good.
Speaking of killing characters, their decision to kill Fitz was also a good one. He was a character in crisis, afraid of the evil monster he saw in the Framework of Season 4 but yet still taking parts of the Doctor character when he needed to, like reactivating Daisy's powers. He was clashing with Mack a lot and being a lot more brash, but at the same time, his heart also kicked in when he needed to save people and he sacrificed himself to do that. It was a bit odd that he spent his last moments with Mack and not his wife, but it was still touching so well played to the show for doing that.
The main problem with this season and particularly its ending is that it feels too much like the end. It is clear the writers did not expect to get picked up for another season and wrote a finale that would serve as a good ending for the show, with some characters dead, a new roster but by and large the end of an era. However, we are getting the return of the show in summer 2019 (once Avengers 4 is out and The Snap is reversed). This will inevitably see some of the heavier moments undone. Fitz is going to be back in Season 6, we've already seen his actor confirmed in the star billing and they've even discussed how they would get him back so that entire arc is undone. Also in the same way that Deke was accepting his end by either going into a world that would be about to end and seeing it or being blinked out of existence since his timeline would be erased was a good moment that is undermined by the fact that his actor has been re-cast as well as a main for Season 6. While Clark Gregg has not been re-cast I am really afraid that they will undo all the capital they invested into Coulson as the leader and the moment where they accepted his death as necessary by finding a way to rejuvenate him. It was a good ending but risks being undone by the show's continuation into season 6, which is exciting.
Finally the decision to make Mack the leader of the team really stood at odds with the message of the show. This season was about accepting loss and not clinging to comfort too much. Daisy was unwilling to lose Coulson and made reckless decisions time after time to get him back and even risked ending the world to do so. The talk Deke gave her about the importance of being able to see the big picture and not always rely on others was good. Yet, Mack is the one person who does that. He is never willing to sacrifice people or see anything other than where his heart leads him. It utterly undermines the message of the show and the season to make him director. I get that they wanted an intermediary between Fitz's harsh realism and Daisy's emotional attachment, but Mack is even more emotional. It would have made more sense to pick Yo-Yo or Simmons. The season was good and it paid off but bad decisions like this really hurt it and made it less good than Season 4. It will be interesting to see how Season 6 does, whether it reaches or exceeds the heights of Season 4 or whether it is another step backwards.