I'd stuck with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. simply because I'm a comic nerd and it had ties to the films Marvel are putting out. But one movie completely turned the show on its head. The big reveal that Hydra has long operated within the confines of S.H.I.E.L.D. changed the landscape of the entire Marvel cinematic universe, but it was really felt by the show that is actually all about that very organisation.
Which is amazing because their tie-in to Thor: The Dark World was atrocious. They just pinned the concept of Asgardian onto something unrelated to the film and hoped no one would notice. The later appearance of Lady Sif on the trail of an escaped convict from The Destroyer's jail-break was not only much more closely tied into the actual film, but it was a damn site better episode too. That Captain America wasn't a tie-in but what the status quo of the entire show hinged upon is not only fantastic, but has Disney, Marvel and ABC venturing into new territory for TV and cinema. Territory many people have spoken of – such as Ron Howard and Dark Tower – but no one has dared do to this extent yet. Well, maybe X-Files in the 90s.
With that Hydra reveal everything changed. Everything that was a problem in the first half of the season was because no one was telling the truth and hiding behind fake identities/agendas. May's reluctance at returning to the field and then being absolutely comfortable there was because it Fury asked her to keep an eye on newly resurrected Coulson and it was her the put the team together. Which Coulson wasn't pleased about and caused a nice upheaval in the two solidest members of the team. Making May, probably Coulson's most trusted ally, into the one person in the team he only just tolerates because he needs her was a stroke of genius. The slow rebuilding of their relationship was believable and made it much more stomachable as a result.
The reveal that Coulson's other trusted old friend, Garrett, had not only been Hydra for the majority of his career but was also the Clairvoyant they'd been hounded by all season just added to the betrayal. That the Clairvoyant wasn't a pre-cog telepath but just a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was a season long double bluff that paid massive dividends. It wasn't because Coulson had died and come back to life that the Clairvoyant couldn't read him, it was because the procedure was above Garrett's clearance level.
And of course there was Ward, who was apparently working for Hydra the entire time.
I called something needed to be done with Ward, but I certainly didn't expect that. The boring face we've dealt with for over half a season was all a façade, hiding his real intentions. That of a double agent. Genius move. Even better was Skye and him admitting their feelings for each other before his turn. It really made me think he was about to buy it, not switch sides. I'll admit, the week between Turn, Turn, Turn and Providence I was convinced he was a triple agent and ABC/Disney were going to wuss out in the long run, but Providence really proved it otherwise with him dropping secret after secret into Hydra's hands.
Clearly Ward is being set up for a redemption somewhere down the line, there were plenty of hints at it being a possibility in the last few episodes, but also a number of moments that solidified him being a complete arsehole. I tried to ignore the former, as it would be a terrible move, so I'm glad they decided to hold off on it for now. Having his redemption come right here would have ruined one of the best plots Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has offered. It's going to be a struggle somewhere further down the line, but further down the line could work fine. But the team pretty much hate him. Time might remove the sting of him lying and betraying them, but it isn't going to remove the fact that due to his actions Fitz now has brain damage. Fitz, who got elevated to hero status by Skye before she found out about his epic saving of Simmons, just for his belief that Ward might be good. That May kicked his arse in what was probably the season's best fight scene just made it all the sweeter.
The Deathlok angle I was originally feeling a lot less after Hydra had been exposed. It doesn't help that his design is possibly the worst live-action Marvel has had to date. The x-ray reveal of the comic Deathlok being underneath was a cute touch. Once he and Ward teamed up in the attempt to kidnap Skye it worked pretty well, with the cyborg getting to be both cold and yet still human with him unable to torture the lovely Skye, but happy to do it on the reprehensible Ward. His use in the finale was pretty damn smart too.
There's no denying that the first half season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty weak. There was the occasional good episode – F.Z.Z.T for instance – but the second half of the season wouldn't have worked quite as well without the slow build up the producers took, waiting for The Winter Soldier to completely change the battlefield. The second half has been some of my favourite tele of this year, and the ends more than justified the means.
That final shot of Garrett being reborn only for Coulson to disintegrate him was great, but felt a little out of tone. I get the distinct impression it was going to be the sting if they hadn't been confirmed for a second season before air date. Instead we got two massive hooks for next season. Skye's parentage was obviously already brewing and this just took it a step further. The Coulson reveal on the other hand was a massive jump forward in storytelling. Him potentially not being right after his resurrection has been hinted at a lot in the second half, but it felt like it was setting up why Garrett was as broken as he was, to immediately follow that up with Coulson going the same route, just after getting the blessing from Fury to resurrect S.H.I.E.L.D. was a fantastic cliffhanger, and I can't wait for September now.