A Marvel Cinematic Universe era ended in 2020 with the conclusion of Agents of S.H.I.E.LD., which was both the first live-action MCU TV show and the last one standing after the cancellations of Agent Carter, Runaways, and more. The two-hour series finale in August was a sad affair for some among those of us who hung on through all seven seasons simply because S.H.I.E.L.D. was ending, but when the final credits rolled, I was left with the sense that it was the best series finale of the year, and the rest of 2020 didn't change my mind.
Admittedly, it's hard to compare a genre show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to comedies like Modern Family and Schitt's Creek or procedurals like Hawaii Five-0 and Criminal Minds, but shows that occupy certain genres or run for 5-6 seasons or just plain mark the end of an era are pretty comparable. Another superhero show even aired its final episode in 2020, and I don't think Arrow even came close to matching S.H.I.E.L.D. in the entertainment factor of the finales.
So, as we look ahead to everything that is in store on the Marvel front in 2021 and beyond, let's also look back at the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series finale and why I think that it was best finale of 2020.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Delivered A Happy Ending
While I love a good tragic TV twist as much as anybody when it comes to primetime dramas, shows are welcome to leave the dark and gritty behind when it comes to the final moments of series finales. Fortunately for the long-suffering heroes (and fans who watched them struggle for the better part of a decade), S.H.I.E.L.D. delivered a happy ending that was very much needed in 2020. Call me a sappy shipper, but I spent most of the last season hoping against hope that the FitzSimmons curse would be lifted. And it sure was!
Fitz came back, the secret baby theory was confirmed, and neither Fitz nor Simmons was ripped away through time and/or space. Daisy has a future with Sousa and a new job that may or may not be with S.W.O.R.D. May gets to live a quieter life after her badass final bow as the Cavalry. Mack has a new leadership position with Yo-Yo by his side. LMD Coulson's future is uncertain, but he didn't deactivate. Kora redeemed herself. Sure, Deke had to be left behind, but he was left behind by his own choice in a world where he's a rock star. The group did disband, which was bittersweet, but also realistic. None of the good guys died, and I'll take it!
An Open Ending Without A Cliffhanger
If there was one thing that I feared heading into the final season more than Fitz dying off-screen via flashback, it was that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would end on some kind of cliffhanger. I've seen enough MCU post-credits scenes to feel nervous about it, but the MCU is guaranteed to keep going. S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. characters are not. So it was pretty great when S.H.I.E.L.D. delivered the best of both and gave the characters open endings without actually ending on a cliffhanger.
Did the S.H.I.E.L.D. finale raise a whole bunch of new questions with the end? Sure, but it had answered the essential questions, and the open endings felt more about revealing that these characters are moving on with their lives in good ways, not leaving fans hanging on life-or-death cliffhangers. The loose ends were tied off, and that doesn't mean the stories have to be over. There's room for a spinoff or two. Will we get a S.W.O.R.D. story for Daisy, or S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0 with Mack and Yo-Yo, or whatever Coulson does next? Maybe not, and that's okay. But it's also super okay if they come back, Marvel!
It Was Planned Ahead Of Time
While the news that S.H.I.E.L.D. would end after seven seasons came as a bummer when it was announced before Season 6 even premiered, there was an upside. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. producers knew well ahead of time that the Season 7 finale would be the series finale, which was a big departure from the uncertainty that S.H.I.E.L.D. often faced heading toward the end of seasons. All the time travel shenanigans might have been a mess if they were written on the fly, or if the show had to scramble to invent a reason to write out Iain De Caestecker. Everything could be set up at the end of Season 6.
We weren't stuck with any life-or-death cliffhangers or characters tragically ripped apart or plot twists that were never untwisted. Plus, S.H.I.E.L.D. filming Season 7 well ahead of time made it one of the few major network shows in the 2019-2020 TV season that wasn't affected by production shutdowns. While other series had to end without an intended finale at all or be altered to accommodate new production guidelines, S.H.I.E.L.D. went out on its own terms. I wish I could say the same for all the Marvel TV shows of recent years, but S.H.I.E.L.D. stuck the landing and delivered something incredibly satisfying, even if the bosses would do some things differently.
It Solidified Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Legacy
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had such a wild ride over the years that the Season 7 stories and format were all but unrecognizable from Season 1, when S.H.I.E.L.D. was still more of an offshoot of the MCU movies than its own thing. While I was confident in the creative team that turned S.H.I.E.L.D. into a standout show that not nearly enough people were watching, there was always the possibility that it would join the likes of How I Met Your Mother and Game of Thrones in delivering a finale that just falls flat for a lot of people.
But nope! S.H.I.E.L.D. arguably ended far stronger than it started, with a finale that was a culmination of stories and relationships that the show built independent of the movies. Even if the show turned the corner in becoming more than an MCU TV procedural back with a certain Season 1 episode, it really came into its own down the line, and I really hope that more people will discover S.H.I.E.L.D. via streaming.
Speaking of streaming, you can find all seven seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for your binge-watching pleasure on Netflix now, along with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the other Netflix MCU originals that were abruptly cancelled. If you're in the market for some more superhero options on the way in the new year, check out our 2021 winter and spring premiere schedule.