A Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD Primer: 20 Essential Episodes

27 Jan

Stewart here…

It’s hard to believe that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has managed to survive five seasons, let alone be renewed for a seventh one months (!) before the sixth is to be released.  It was meant to be adjacent to all the big goings on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but without a heavy link to them (save a cameo or two from Nick Fury early on), it seemed a slave to whenever those big events in the movies happened.  That was true of the first season (and we’ll get into that soon enough), but as the show continued and became less motivated by the movies, it became a better series for it. And now 110 episodes later, it’s somehow managed to survive fluctuating ratings and schedules, and with barely an end visible for now.

The setup in a nutshell: we follow SHIELD agent Phil Coulson (and since this is after The Avengers movie, it’s strange because he DIED in that movie) as he puts together a team of agents to deal with the growing superhuman threats across the world.  That team consists of field agents Grant Ward, Melinda May, scientists Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons (FitzSimmons, respectively), and newcomer Daisy Johnson, and they all have their own respective baggage with them.  As the show moved on, their ranks grew and shrunk, they dealt with betrayal between themselves and from SHIELD itself, and occasionally dealt with threats not just superhuman, but alien and supernatural. Hell, they even went to space.  Some of the team more than once.

So, in order to help you get caught up before the sixth season premieres sometime in the summer, here’s a list of 20 of its best and pivotal episodes from all five seasons that are worth watching.  There are mild SPOILERS, but the summaries are kept vague as possible to avoid revealing some of the surprises in store.

They haven’t had much time to kick back and just enjoy a beer.

Pilot — The episode that started it all, as Coulson assembles his team, along with rogue hacker Daisy, as the team tries to locate a single dad who has been given unstable superpowers by an unknown organization.  It’s a nice clean primer for the show.

The Girl In The Flower Dress — We confront Daisy’s hacker ties as her loyalties between her past associates and now SHIELD are tested, while the team runs into another superhuman test subject.  Also, there’s a woman in a flower dress that has some significance to note as the show goes on.

The Beginning of The End — This is the start of the big turn for the series (which lines up with a pivotal MCU movie), as the team thinks they have finally hunted down the Big Bad of the season, the mysterious Clairvoyant.  It also introduces one of the better guest stars of the whole series: the late great Bill Paxton as Agent John Garrett (I almost recommend watching the rest of the season to enjoy this performance in full).

Turn, Turn, Turn — And things really hit the fan when Coulson and company realize they can’t trust people within SHIELD and maybe even between themselves.  Whatever the show was when it started is not what the show is after this one.

The Things We Bury — Going into season two, we get to deal with HYDRA and alien related threats, and the twisted history behind the season’s big nemesis so far, Whitehall.  But this is here because of its focus on Ward and his reconnection with his father and family history. It does not go well.

Ye Who Enter Here — A lot goes down in this episode, as the team races HYDRA to a mysterious obelisk that could change the world.  Things change again, with a death or two, and one of our heroes changing forever.

The Dirty Half Dozen — We get our core team reunited after a while apart to attack a HYDRA base.  It’s a unsettling reminder that things can’t really be the same for them after all that’s happened before.  

S.O.S. — It’s technically a two-parter, but it’s a good one as Coulson and the gang have to face an Inhuman threat, and everything gets dicey for everyone in this season finale.

4,722 Hours — Into season three a bit, we learn about the bizarre experience Simmons runs into as she finds herself stranded on an deserted alien world.  As she struggles to survive, we learn she’s not the only one on that planet…

Maveth — The team has to stop HYDRA’s attempt to bring a worshipped evil alien god to Earth, and it brings a long standing conflict between Coulson and an old adversary to a brutal head.  But it’s cool.

— Welcome to the Groundhog Day episode of Agents of SHIELD, as an Inhuman with powers to make people see the future is key to avoiding a potential catastrophe for the team.  So, we learn practice better make perfect here.

— The third season wraps up with a major battle to save the Earth from an evil space god and a sacrifice must be made to do it.  And once again, things change for our team in a big way.


He’s upgraded from a cycle to a hardtop.

Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire — A lot of the early plotlines of season four converge here, as Daisy’s search for the Inhuman-killing group called the Watchdogs and SHIELD’s search for a mystical book end up in the same place.  And Ghost Rider is there too.

Self Control
— One the show finest hours finds SHIELD under siege by robot duplicates of the team, leaving those who are not duplicated figuring out how to know who’s who.  And the ending is quite a surprise turn.

What If…
— The team is now stuck in a virtual reality world where nothing is what it should be anymore, and with only a few who know the difference enough to try to find a way out.  

World’s End
— The fourth season finale brings all of the season’s plots together, as the virtual reality world is falling apart, while those not stuck in it have to recruit the Ghost Rider to help them fight their new enemy.  And then things take a turn for the crazy.

— The fifth season opening puts our heroes into space, where they have to deal with aliens and the humans enslaved by them.  It’s a two parter that puts SHIELD into some uncertain territory.

The Last Day
— Still stuck in space, the team finds out the key to getting home may be in someone the team already knows, but that person has a deeper connection to them than they all realize.  It’s an emotional one that plays with time in a novel and tragic way.

The Real Deal
— The show’s 100th episode is a jam packed one as our heroes are finally home, but get tormented by deadly manifestations caused by a rift in reality.  Also, a big event for certain members of our team happens.

The End
— This almost was “the end” of the series, and as such, a lot of show’s overarching plots come to a head here.  In order to stop the Earth’s foretold destruction, SHIELD has to sacrifice a lot to prevent it from happening. As a series ender, it’s a pretty good one, but of course, we now know that’s not the case…

Obviously this is a light list to get you started, but hey, what are some of your favorite episodes of
Agents of SHIELD?  Favorite moments?  Maybe least favorite moments?  What are your theories about the next season?  Comment below, and let’s chat…

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